With the rampant rumors that the Padres would consider moving Adrian Gonzalez to Boston only if the Red Sox were willing to ship Jacoby Ellsbury to Southern California, the question has been brought to the forefront.
Some people believe the Red Sox would be crazy to send the 26-year-old speedster away in a trade, while others think adding a cleanup hitter to a nearly complete lineup would complete Boston’s batting order. Of course, Ellsbury’s assets are undeniable, but this conversation focuses more on philosophy than skill sets.
For the better part of the past two seasons, speed has been atop the order in the Red Sox lineup. Ellsbury has batted leadoff in 244 of his 331 career games. That has given the Red Sox a legitimate game-changer batting ahead of legitimate RBI men. When speed such as Ellsbury’s is leading off first base, every pitch is affected. The value simply can’t be overstated.
On the other hand, in looking at Boston’s lineup, it’s missing a clear-cut cleanup hitter. The lineups of 2004 and 2007 boasted a formidable one-two punch of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Opposing teams needed to plan how they approached every single hitter while keeping Ortiz and Ramirez in the back of their minds.
Now, things are very different. Kevin Youkilis is an excellent hitter, and he can do anything the team asks of him. But asking him to be a power hitter turns him into more of a one-dimensional player. Victor Martinez has a sweet stroke, but it’s more suited to drive the ball to the gaps than it is to send shots over the wall. With Jason Bay most likely out of the picture altogether, the Red Sox are lacking the impact hitter in the 4-spot that they need.
So what do the Red Sox do? Trading away Ellsbury would mean trading away one aspect of the game that is nearly impossible to find again. He’s not Ted Williams at the plate, but when Ellsbury is on base, there’s nobody more dangerous. The Red Sox could find their power bat, but what would the ultimate cost be?
There really is no answer. However, as valuable as Gonzalez’s power bat may be to the team, acquiring a bat before the July 31 trading deadline is a much more realistic possibility than replacing speed like Ellsbury possesses (with 2004 being an exception).
The unenviable task of making the decision rests in the hands of Theo Epstein and the rest of the Red Sox staff. In dealing with philosophical questions and hypothetical situations, there just aren’t any easy choices. If Ellsbury is traded for Gonzalez, there will always be the question of “what if?” The same will be wondered if Gonzalez stays in San Diego.
For Epstein, the good news is that regardless of what he does, the Red Sox are in a position of power. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey should help counteract some lack in offensive punch, and Youkilis, Martinez, Dustin Pedroia and J.D. Drew still lead an effective lineup.
Ideally, Epstein could work out a trade without sacrificing Ellsbury. Realistically, Jed Hoyer probably wouldn’t agree. In this case, there’s no right decision, but there’s always the risk of making the wrong one. The trouble is not knowing until it’s too late.