It happens all the time in relationships. You break up with a girl. She was nice, she was pretty; she might’ve even made you really happy at times. But ultimately it wasn’t working out. Weeks, months, years after the split, you think to yourself, “Did I make the right decision?” While a few prospects have exhibited initial promise, you haven’t met anybody else on her level.
So it goes for the Boston Red Sox in 2014. They broke up with Jacoby Ellsbury for Jackie Bradley and Grady Sizemore, and it hasn’t worked out. As the the Olde Towne Team rolls into a late-June series with the Yankees, seven games under .500 with historically bad offensive production from their outfielders, it’s tough not to look across the diamond and wonder, “Did I make the right decision?”
In 287 at-bats with New York, Ellsbury is having his typical season: .286 with 4 homers, 33 RBI and 21 steals. He’s getting on base 35.5% of the time. It’s not his bonkers 2011 when he slashed .321/.376/.552, but it’s a heck of a lot better than what the Red Sox have seen in center field.
Boston has employed three different players at the position: Bradley, Sizemore and Brock Holt. Sizemore was released last week after slashing .215/.288/.324 in 185 at-bats; a hot spring training giving way to the realization he isn’t even close to the same player he was five years ago.
Bradley usurped Sizemore defensively almost immediately, as John Farrell recognized Sizemore’s limits in the spacious pasture of the Fenway Park outfield. Conversely, Bradley has impressed with his defense: he gets a great jump on the ball off the bat and can cover substantial acreage. However, he too has been moribund at the dish, slashing an equally unimpressive .211/.292/.302 in 261 at-bats. The only difference is Bradley is a 24-year old former top prospect, so the team is sticking with him, at least for the time being.
The Red Sox wouldn’t have this level of heartache for the departed Ellsbury if Shane Victorino was in the lineup. The #2 hitter was a steady option last year. His injuries have created an additional void at the top of the order and ravaged outfield depth, forcing platoon players (Daniel Nava and Jonny Gomes) into larger roles and a player with no prior outfield experience (Holt) into that defensive alignment. The never-ending game of Connect Four going on around Bradley has heaped even more pressure on his shoulders. And Victorino doesn’t look to be returning any time soon.
Ben Cherington didn’t need to shell out $153 million over seven years for a 30-year old center fielder. That’s how these things work — unless you’re Carl Crawford – the deal looks great at first; then you’re saddled with a broken down player in his late 30’s with no wheels or power. Eventually, the Red Sox will point their fingers and laugh at the Yankees for their expenditure. Unfortunately, their near-term contingency plan has fallen flat on its face.