By Jeff Louderback
Jacoby Ellsbury will remain with the Red Sox in 2013, even though he will likely explore free agency when the season ends, Boston general manager Ben Cherington has said.
If Ellsbury does spend 2013 patrolling center field for the Red Sox, it will benefit the lineup. Chances are, he will have an explosive season since he is about to enter free agency for the first time. Boston can make him a qualifying offer next offseason (which he would undoubtedly decline) and accept the draft pick compensation when he signs elsewhere.
The alternative is trading Ellsbury this offseason, especially to a team that has the resources to sign him to a long-term deal. Enter, once again as a trade partner, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers’ outfield is currently composed of Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. According to media reports, though, the club might trade Ethier and pursue a center fielder like free agent Michael Bourn. Another media report indicated that two American League teams have contacted the Dodgers about acquiring Ethier. One of those clubs could be the Red Sox.
Ethier, who turns 31 in April, is a close friend of Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. They were teammates at Arizona State University. That alone, of course, would not warrant bringing Ethier to Boston. His presence as a run-producing left-handed bat would, though.
Regarded as an average defensive right fielder, Ethier has a career .290 batting average, a .476 slugging percentage and a .838 OPS. In 2012, he posted numbers that include .284/.460/.812 to accompany 20 home runs and 89 RBI.
As long as they could sign him to a long-term contract, Ellsbury would likely have appeal to the Dodgers. Since the club is also searching for a left-handed reliever, perhaps the Red Sox can include Andrew Miller or Craig Breslow.
In a deal with Ethier, Boston could ask the Dodgers to send money to help pay for the outfielder’s remaining contract, which runs through 2017 with a vesting option of $17.5 million and a $2.5 million buyout for 2018. Ethier is due to receive $13.5 million in 2013, $15.5 million in 2014, $18 million in 2015 and 2016 and $17.5 million in 2017.
This type of trade would seemingly contradict Cherington’s preference to refrain from adding players who have long-term contracts, but Ellsbury will be leaving via free agency after 2013 and the club has Shane Victorino who can play center field until top prospect Jackie Bradley is ready.
Even if the pending free agent deal for Mike Napoli is not finalized, the Red Sox have a lineup that leans too right-handed. Adding Ethier would balance the lineup, and give the Red Sox a run producing bat and a player who is still in his prime.
The Red Sox still have the payroll flexibility to add Ethier’s salary, especially since they would be unloading Ellsbury and a left-handed reliever, which would free a spot on the 40-man roster as well.
If the Sox complete the deal for Napoli, and add Ethier, the 2013 lineup would look something like this:
- Shane Victorino, CF
- Dustin Pedroia, 2B
- David Ortiz, DH
- Mike Napoli, 1B
- Andre Ethier, RF
- Will Middlebrooks, 3B
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
- Jonny Gomes, LF
- Stephen Drew, SS
There would be variation, of course. Against right-handers, Gomes will likely sit in favor of someone like Ryan Kalish or Daniel Nava. David Ross will probably see extensive time behind the plate when opposing left-handers are on the mound since Saltalamacchia hits better from the left side. Boston will also probably acquire a left-handed hitter who can play first base and another position. Garrett Jones of the Pirates, perhaps?