By Jeff Louderback
Who is Jacoby Ellsbury?
That is what Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and the club’s officials must ask this off-season as they consider the center fielder’s future.
Ellsbury had an injury-plagued 2012 season that saw him play in just 74 games while hitting .271 with four home runs and 26 RBI in 323 plate appearances. It was quite a reversal from 2011, when he was the American League MVP runner-up to Tigers ace Justin Verlander after batting .321 with a .928 OPS, 32 home runs and 105 RBI. In 2010, when he sustained broken ribs after a collision with third baseman Adrian Beltre, Ellsbury was limited to 18 games .192 with no home runs in 78 at-bats.
The 29-year-old Ellsbury will be eligible for free agency after the 2013 season, and considering that his agent is Scott Boras, he will undoubtedly enter the market unless he is offered an exorbitant extension from the Red Sox or a team to which he is traded.
The Rangers will reportedly not bring back free agent to be Josh Hamilton, so they will be searching for a new center fielder. The Red Sox would like to upgrade their rotation, and while the 26-year-old Holland is not the ace starter they desperately need, he does represent a durable and effective left-hander who is under affordable team control through as long as 2018.
Holland, who was 16-5 with a 3.95 ERA in 2011 before slipping to 12-7 with a 4.67 ERA this year, signed a five-year, $28.5 million deal in 2012 that will pay him $3.25 million in 2013 and increase his annual salary to $5.4 million in 2014, $7.4 million in 2015 and $10 million in 2016. He has team options of $11 million and $11.5 million in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
If the Red Sox trade Ellsbury this off-season, they would free up more money to fill holes in center field and other spots. They could sign veteran Torii Hunter to a one-year deal and then hand the reigns in center field to top prospect Jackie Bradley, who is expected to be Major League ready by late next season.
With the presence of Holland, the Red Sox could also sign a frontline starter like Jake Peavy (whose $22 million option for 2013 will likely be declined by the White Sox) and use an arm in the current rotation (like Jon Lester or Felix Doubront) in a trade package to land an outfielder like Arizona’s Justin Upton or Cleveland’s Shin-Soo Choo.
Even if the Red Sox part ways with Ellsbury this off-season, they can construct a legitimate contender for 2013. Acquiring a young and proven arm like Holland would bolster the rotation and create additional opportunities for Boston to upgrade in other areas.