When Ellsbury is hot and healthy there is scarcely a sweeter swing in baseball from the left side of the plate. Credit: Bob DeChiara-US PRESSWIRE

The Ellsbury Dilemma. Can He and The Red Sox Find Happiness Together?

The debate over Jacoby Ellsbury is a conundrum; an enigma wrapped in a riddle. When he’s healthy and on, Ells is an electrifying game-changer. His speed and great ball tracking sense make tough plays look easy and impossible plays possible. At or near the top of the lineup he’s a threat to get on, get over and get home and has some decent pop to boot. One need only check out his 2011 stat line to understand why keeping Ellsbury in a Boston uniform is desirable.

Jacoby Ellsbury. Keeper or trade bait? Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

In 2011 Ellsbury hit .321, had a .376 on base percentage, slugged at a .522 clip and had a .928 slugging plus on base percentage. He walked 52 times, stole 39 bases, got 212 hits and scored 109 runs. He was an all-star, bagged a gold glove, a silver slugger and came in second in the MVP voting. That’s money kids.

That impressive campaign was, however, sandwiched between two injury plagued and largely unproductive seasons. After getting mowed over by Adrian Beltre in the sixth game of the 2010 season, Ellsbury’s season was a wash. He appeared in just 18 games so his 2010 numbers don’t mean anything.

In Boston’s 2012 home opener Ellsbury separated his shoulder in a collision with Rays shortstop Reid Brignac while sliding into second base. Ellsbury played less than half the season, 76 games, and his numbers were the very definition of pedestrian. .271/.313./.370/.682. He walked only 19 times, scored 43 runs and knocked in just 26 runs.

Which brings us to the most important question and what to do about it. Who is the real Jacoby Ellsbury? Depending on your answer you’ve got three options.

Let’s Make a Deal
If you think Ellsbury can stay healthy and you want a gazelle patrolling Fenway then Red Sox management should start talking with him now and prep him for a deal he can’t refuse.
Probability: Less than zero. After an iffy 2012 neither Ellsbury or his agent, Scott Boras, will be in a mood to negotiate anything as Ellsbury will look to come back with a productive and, more importantly, healthy 2013. He’ll be in a contract year and will be proving that he’s worthy of a big pay day. It’s hard to believe that the Boston medical staff’s misdiagnosis and further mishandling of Ellsbury’s broken ribs and the resulting drama that played out during the year as fans and the media questioned his toughness doesn’t stick in his craw to this day. It’s a certainty that Boras has been whispering that mantra in his ear for a long time and that it most likely has permanently poisoned the well in Boston.

Fish or Cut (Trade) Bait
As has been hinted by a number of sources, the time may be now to leverage Ellsbury as a bargaining chip to obtain badly needed starting rotation pitching. Hint to Red Sox management. The time for that was last year. Boras will predictably point to Ellsbury’s MVP potential and the 2011 season stats. Potential suitors will point to 2010 and 2012. The problem for Ellsbury, Boras and, by extension, the Red Sox is that his value is hard to nail down due his fragility, bad luck and the resulting under-production.

Other factors are making a do it now deal more likely. Boras clients always test the free agent market to both drive up the price and get negotiating leverage. It is rumored that Boras would be looking for a Matt Kemp style $160 million, eight-year deal for Ellsbury As proven by Boston’s recent trade and cash deal with the Dodgers in August that slashed $260 million from their payroll, they are moving away from mammoth long-term deals since they have been burned so often and so badly in the recent past by them. Boston wants payroll flexibility, not a high-risk roll of the dice with two or three potential franchise cornerstones.
Probability: High

Pay Me Now Or Pay The Price Later
In this nightmare scenario, two options of equal horror are possible.
Nightmare Scenario #1: In a cruel Redsoxian twist of fate, Ellsbury is dealt and turns into a younger version of Torii Hunter who batted .313 with an .817 on-base plus slugging percentage for the Angels in 2012. Ellsbury has a long and productive career, leading his team to three world championships in six years. He retires and is elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, inducted into Cooperstown as a New York Yankee.
Nightmare Scenario #2: Boston cuts any deal possible to retain Ellsbury’s services long-term. Ellsbury gets injured in a 2013 freak pre-season shower stall accident in Fort Meyers that sidelines him for the year. He’s never the same afterward, causing Gordon Edes to start calling Fenway’s centerfield Crawford’s Pasture. It sticks.
Probability: Given the recent state of affairs in Boston either scenario is preposterously probable

Personally, I don’t think Ellsbury will stay consistently healthy throughout his career. That alone seals the deal. The Fish or cut (trade) bait option appears most likely. It pains me to say it. I love the guy’s game when he’s right. I just don’t see enough of it.

I said my, my, my
I’m once bitten twice shy baby
- Once Bitten Twice Shy, Ian Hunter 

Tags: Boston Red Sox Jacoby Ellsbury

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