Last night, amidst the depressing darkness of 5:30 pm, it was reported that the Red Sox had reached a deal with 32-year-old, free agent outfielder Shane Victorino.
This report was soon confirmed when the Flyin Hawaiian himself tweeted that he "just agreed to join the Boston Red Sox" and this was followed by Clay Buchholz's wife tweeting out a photo of Victorino and her shirtless husband getting cozy on the high seas. (Were they on John Henry's yacht? This has yet to be confirmed, but if so, we can only hope the pair celebrated with caution. I've heard the deck can get pretty slippery on that thing.)
Anyway, back in Boston, the reaction was nowhere near as positive. In fact, it's probably best described as a mixture of anger, confusion and apathy.
Did they really just spend 39 million for three years worth of a light-hitting outfielder whose success has been predicated on speed, and is at an age when speed typically suffers a sharp decline? Are they really prepared to trot out an opening day outfield of Jacoby Ellsbury, Shane Victorino and Johnny Gomes? Has nothing changed in that front office? Is there any hope that these guys can actually save this ship from sinking, or will Red Sox Nation (only card carrying members!!) have no choice but to spend the next few years gasping for air while praying that the young Killer Bs Boegarts, Bradley, Barnes and Brentz will be ready sooner rather than later?
But through all the craziness, another option emerged.
The Globe's Peter Abraham reported that, with the addition of Victorino, the Sox were now open to trading Ellsbury. In fact, he said the front office had gone as far as to reach out to Cody Ross (and other right field options) to let them know that, even with Victorino, the Sox may still be in the market for a corner outfielder. Shortly afterwards, ESPN's Buster Olney chimed in with the following tweet: "Rival officials believe that the Red Sox are laying the groundwork for a trade of Jacoby Ellsbury, for the pitching they need."
Now, we all know better than to get too carried away with hot stove rumors especially when they surface smack dab in the middle of baseball's Winter Meetings. But at the same time, this isn't the first we've heard about a potential Ellsbury trade. In fact, it's been widely speculated for the better part of a year. And when you think about it, forking over three years and 39 million for a starting centerfielder (who, even in his older age, has remained solid defensively), makes a lot more sense than doing so for a corner outfielder who will struggle to hit 15 home runs.
So, maybe there is a method to Boston's madness? Maybe this is the first step in a chain of events that will culminate with the Sox second blockbuster trade in the last five months?
As always, only time will tell, but just for fun let's take a look at some of the pros and cons of saying goodbye to Jacoby Ellsbury:
Why trade him?
For starters, because either way, this is probably Ellsbury's last season in Boston. As we know, he's a free agent after this year; he employs one of the most evil and ruthless agents in the business; and it's very unlikely that the Sox will meet the outrageous demands of an injury-prone outfielder on the wrong side of 30.
If Boston plays out this season with Ellsbury in center, all they'll get in return for him signing elsewhere is a first-round draft pick (assuming they tender him an offer). A first-round pick ain't bad, but it's nowhere near what the Sox can get if they trade Ellsbury now. There's no doubt that a trade would leave them in a better place moving forward. And unless the Sox are 100 percent convinced that, with Ellsbury in center, they have a roster that can compete for a World Series THIS year, the future is all that should matter.
Of course, the natural question is: How much is a team actually going to give up for the rights to one year of Jacoby Ellsbury?
Regardless of where he ends up, there's no doubt that Ellsbury will still dip his toes deep into the free agent waters next winter. His future will still come down to the highest bidder, and no GM in the league would be willing to mortgage the farm in the name of that kind of uncertainty. (There's also the fact that, by trading Ellsbury now, in the aftermath of last season's disaster, the Sox would essentially be selling low on their star center fielder. But let's get back to the potential suitors.)
Why would a team be willing to give up something significant for Ellsbury? First of all, because when healthy, he's still one of the most complete players in the game. On top of that, if a team is even considering forking over the big bucks next winter, what better way to evaluate Ellsbury's worth than by bringing him in for a test-drive, getting to know him a lot better, seeing how he works within the framework of the clubhouse and the city, and then, either making him an offer that he can't refuse or moving on to other options with the confidence that you've done your due diligence and your money will be better spent elsewhere?
And when you look back at some of the names and the level of prospects that are thrown around during every MLB trade deadline in some cases for a mere two-month player rental it's fair to assume that the Sox will be able to get something worthwhile in exchange for Ellsbury. And at the end of the day, that's still better than just letting him walk next year.
So, who's in the market for a 29-year-old potential-superstar center fielder?
For one, Seattle might be a good fit, as Ellsbury is a native of the Pacific Northwest and a EllsburyFranklin GuitierrezMichael Saunders combo would give the Mariners one of the best defensive outfields in the game. There's also the fact(s) that, with Ichiro gone, Seattle could really use some star power; that they have a wealth of pitching down on the farm; and that, if Boston feels like getting crazy, the Mariners also have the most sought-after pitching commodity in the free world (King Felix).
As for the one-year rental, Sons of Sam Horn commenter "sketz" astutely points out that, with the opt-out in their TV deal fast approaching, the Mariners are rumored to be up for sale. In that case, it would make a lot of sense to try and drum up immediate interest while keeping the books relatively clean for 2014 and beyond.
Then there's Texas, who lost Mike Napoli, will probably lose Josh Hamilton, and has two legitimate arms (Matt Harrison and Derek Holland) that might look nice in the Sox rotation. The Ellsbury for Elvis Andrus rumor has been circulating for a while, as well. I'm not sure how realistic that is, but if so, why the hell not?
Aside from the Mariners and Rangers, the Phillies, Reds and Brewers are all in the market for a center fielder andor lead-off hitter. One of those three teams will likely land Michael Bourn, leaving the other two desperate to fill a void that Ellsbury would fill with ease.
Bottom line: Even if it's just for one year, teams will be interested, and at the very least, willing to offer Boston much more than the prospect of one (assuming the Sox don't win it all) wasted season of Ellsbury and a future first round pick.
And in that case, all signs and common sense point towards the Sox pulling the trigger on a deal. That is, assuming a potential deal exists. And of course, assuming a shred common sense still exists inside the front office.