Ellsbury to New York, Part Four: Who'll get on base?

Ellsbury to New York, Part Four: Who'll get on base?
December 4, 2013, 1:00 pm
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The fourth of five thoughts, after a most busy day, about the fallout from Jacoby Ellsbury leaving the Red Sox to sign a seven-year, $153 million deal with the New York Yankees.

Thought Four: The biggest difficulty the Red Sox face in replacing Ellsbury is not his defense, but his on-base ability.

The Sox believe that, defensively, Jackie Bradley Jr. can play an elite center field in the major league right now. But there's uncertainty about how much Bradley can contribute offensively, especially in 2014. He may replace Jacoby Ellsbury in center, but he's nowhere near ready to replace him at the top of the lineup.

The argument can be made that the Sox lack a leadoff hitter on their roster. Sure, Dustin Pedroia could do it, but he's better suited in the second or third spot.

The only other logical option in terms of on-base ability is Daniel Nava, who had an excellent .385 on-base percentage during the regular season. But Nava isn't guaranteed to be in the lineup all the time as the team's left fielder, with the Sox needing to get playing opportunities for Jonny Gomes.

There remains a scenario where Nava could see more playing time at first base next season if the Sox fail to re-sign Mike Napoli. But that would leave them short of power, creating another problem for the lineup.

There's also this to consider: while it's not necessary for a leadoff hitter to be a stolen-base threat -- in the way that Ellsbury was/is -- it is important to have a good baserunner. And Nava is anything but that.

Could this mean the Red Sox might be more aggressive in their pursuit of Shin-Soo Choo? Choo is an on-base machine (.423 in 2013; .389 career). But that would mean moving Shane Victorino from right field to center, something the Sox would like to avoid.

Coming up next, in a few hours: The Ellsbury signing brings to light the contrast between the two franchises.