It looks like the Red Sox are beginning to formulate a strategy to replace Jacoby Ellsbury, and it involves a familiar face . . . or at least one familiar to them in the last week-and-a-half of October.
The New York Post reported Friday that "a person who knows Carlos Beltran [says] the switch-hitting right fielder has drawn strong interest from [the Sox] . . . The person said the Yankees and Orioles are in on Beltran, too, but the Red Sox have been more aggressive."
Beltran, of course, was the Cardinals' right fielder in the recently concluded World Series. He hit .294 (5-for-17) against the Sox and robbed his friend David Ortiz of a grand slam with a leaping catch at the bullpen wall in Game 1.
The Sox appear resigned to losing Ellsbury -- who, represented by super-agent Scott Boras, is expected to receive a contract in the seven-year, $150 million range in free agency -- and, in fact, have felt that way for quite some time. It's clear they long ago decided not to make that sort of time/financial commitment to Ellsbury, in light of his medical history (he missed virtually all of 2010, and more than half of 2012, to injury) and inconsistent play (his OPS-plus numbers over his career: 131, 88, 98, 30, 146, 84, 114). Ellsbury performs at an MVP level when he's both healthy and on top of his game, but he's rarely both and sometimes is neither . . . and for the kind of money (and length of contract) Ellsbury and Boras are seeking, the Sox want a guarantee they're going to get maximum bang for their back.
While Beltran -- 37 years old, and with a checkered injury history of his own -- may seem a strange choice to replace the 30-year-old Ellsbury, the Sox' reasoning no doubt goes something like this:
-- They still have hopes that Jackie Bradley Jr. will eventually take the center-field job, but a somewhat disappointing 2013 indicates the need for more seasoning. Thus the need for a short-term replacement.
-- While they wait for Bradley, they can move Gold Glove outfielder Shane Victorino to center and put Beltran in right.
-- It's true Beltran missed large portions of his age-32 and age-33 seasons to injury, but he's played 142 or more games in each of the last three years. He hit 22, 32 and 24 home runs over that time (2011 was split between the Mets and Giants, 2012 and '13 were played with the Cardinals) and batted .300, .269 and .296. Unlike Ellsbury, his OPS-plus numbers are the picture of consistency: 128, 128, and 154 in the last three years, with a career average of 122.
The Sox may be looking to give Beltran the kind of short-length, high-money contract they specialized in passing out last winter. He just completed a two-year, $26 million deal with St. Louis, and is expected to reject the Cards' $14.1-million qualifying offer. Because of the qualifying offer the Red Sox would have to surrender their first-round draft choice if they sign Beltran, but they expect to get a pick in return when Ellsbury signs elsewhere.
Will it work? It could depend on how desperate the Yankees get, especially if they lose Robinson Cano and -- in light of missing the playoffs for only the second time in 17 years (and seeing their hated rival win the World Series) -- feel the need to make a big-name splash. If they do, they may quickly escalate the bidding out of Boston's comfort level.
If not, Beltran-to-Boston might happen.