Jacoby Ellsbury’s Departure Will Impact Red Sox In Several Ways In 2014 (Mailbag)

Jacoby EllsburyWe’re less than three weeks away from the start of spring training. Who’s jacked up?

Of course you are, especially if you’re a Boston Red Sox fan. The Red Sox haven’t been too busy this offseason, but they’re in good shape to contend in 2014. It should be another season-long battle in the American League East.

The Red Sox’ good standing doesn’t mean there aren’t questions, though. The Red Sox have the new-look New York Yankees to deal with in the AL East, have a pair of rookies in their projected starting lineup, and have to cope with the losses of both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Plus, there’s the whole Stephen Drew saga that has yet to be resolved.

This week’s mailbag was loaded with questions, which is awesome. Keep them coming. This week’s bag ‘o mail, however, focuses on expectations for Grady Sizemore, Will Middlebrooks’ future, the loss of Ellsbury and more.

Let’s not dip the toes. Let’s dive in — feet-first or head-first, the choice is yours.

I think Jacoby Ellsbury’s departure will hurt more than Red Sox fans and sportswriters think. He was a key contributor in many ways last year. That being said, who do you think can help replace that kind of production – offensively, defensively and on the bases? Big shoes to fill, in my opinion!
–Dean Marchand, Bennington Vt.

Couldn’t agree more, Dean.

While I agree with the Red Sox’ decision not to pay Jacoby Ellsbury $153 million, there’s no question that he’ll be missed this season. It’s all about minimizing the blow, and it wouldn’t be surprising if there’s an adjustment period, particularly early in the year.

Ellsbury ranked third on the Red Sox in WAR (5.8) — according to Baseball-Reference.com — last season, trailing only Dustin Pedroia (6.5) and Shane Victorino (6.2). That’s considered an “All-Star Quality” output, and the Red Sox not only are losing that production, but they’re attempting to replace it with a rookie and a 31-year-old who hasn’t played a full season since 2008.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think Jackie Bradley Jr. will become a steady major leaguer, perhaps as early as this season. Ellsbury’s departure, as you mentioned, impacts the Red Sox in so many areas, though, that it’d be foolish to think there won’t be at least some repercussions.

Bradley should be able to hold his own defensively right away. He’s not as fast as Ellsbury, but you could make the case that he’s already as good a defender because of his route-running.

The Red Sox will be impacted most offensively. Ellsbury was an elite leadoff hitter last season, and he and Victorino wreaked a tremendous amount of havoc on the bases, inherently applying pressure on opposing pitchers. That played right into the hands of the Red Sox — a team reliant on driving up pitch counts and on backing opposing pitchers into high-stress situations.

The most likely scenario is that the Red Sox will begin the season with some combination of Victorino and Daniel Nava atop the order. While those players’ on-base ability makes them well-suited for the role, the combination certainly lacks the dynamism that Ellsbury provided.

There isn’t one guy who will replace Ellsbury’s production in 2014. Instead, it’ll be a team effort in which the lack of speed perhaps is mitigated by an uptick in power — assuming Will Middlebrooks bounces back, Xander Bogaerts breaks out, Bradley provides more pop and A.J. Pierzynski nears his usual home runs total.

I think Grady Sizemore will be a total non-factor. How can he get up to speed on major league pitching after missing two-plus years, and not playing much at all for the last five years? I can’t imagine him being competitive at the plate with players that have played continuously over that time. Pitchers will smoke him. Do you think he can do it?
–Mal, Burlington, VT

One thing working in Grady Sizemore’s favor is the Red Sox’ ability to be patient. While Sizemore is expected to compete with Jackie Bradley Jr. during spring training, it’s not as if the Red Sox are relying on the injury-plagued 31-year-old to suddenly return to All-Star form in 2014.

Essentially, the Red Sox can see what they have and go from there. It might work out. It might not. But if you’re the Red Sox — a team looking for a backup center fielder in an extremely scarce center field market — doesn’t it make sense to at least roll the dice on someone like Sizemore, especially given his familiarity with Boston’s coaching staff?

I agree that the odds are stacked against Sizemore, and I, too, am skeptical about whether he actually has anything left to give. But if I’m the Red Sox, I’d rather take a chance in the hopes that he does have something left than kick myself later if he makes an impact with another team.

I believe “cautiously optimistic” is a good way to describe the Red Sox’ outlook on Sizemore.

It seems to me that the Yankees’ offseason, in many ways, is similar to what the Blue Jays did last offseason — except with a lot more money. What happens when the Yankees’ brain trust finds out they wasted the $500 million just to make a splash? Who gets the axe?
–Jim, Denver

It’s funny. While there inevitably will be some finger-pointing if things don’t work out in the Bronx this season, it’s Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner who will be most to blame. Steinbrenner, after all, green lighted the Masahiro Tanaka signing that put the Yankees over the $189 million luxury tax threshold.

If anyone ultimately gets the ax, general manager Brian Cashman seems like the most logical candidate.

Joe Girardi showed his managerial chops last offseason, and the Yankees did everything they could to ink the skipper to a four-year extension. It’s hard to imagine the Yanks turning around and firing him after one bad year, regardless of their crazy spending.

I just get the feeling the Red Sox are far from done this offseason, and I still get the sense of an impending blockbuster trade. Is Matt Kemp still on the radar? Is Giancarlo Stanton still a possibility?
– Scott Bettano

I’ll be shocked if the Red Sox make any major moves before Opening Day. It seems they’re simply fine-tuning the roster at this point, and the biggest potential move could be re-signing Stephen Drew.

Things could change later in the year, though. By then, the Red Sox will have a better understanding of what they have in certain areas — Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., etc. — and could become aggressive on the trade market.

The Red Sox have a lot of flexibility beyond this season — both financially and in terms of high-level prospects. I don’t think they’ll jeopardize that by backing themselves into a corner right now.

Why in the name of Red Sox Nation is Daniel Nava still making the minimum?
–Adam Jagodowski, Hagerstown

Because life isn’t fair, sometimes.

I noticed that Christian Vazquez is not on the “Top 100 Prospects” list. Is he not considered a prospect?
–Chuck Lobosco, Saratoga Springs

Christian Vazquez absolutely is considered a prospect. The 23-year-old only has played one game above the Double-A level.

You seem to be implying that Vazquez got snubbed, and I can see your point. While I might not put Vazquez among baseball’s Top 100, the young catcher is an extremely intriguing prospect because his defensive prowess is so unique.

It’s nuts to consider that Vazquez was ranked the Red Sox’ 14th-best prospect by Baseball America this offseason. That really speaks to the club’s organizational depth.

What are the chances of converting Will Middlebrooks to the first baseman of the future?
– Tom Oleary

Good question, especially since the Red Sox had to consider that possibility earlier this offseason when Mike Napoli was still a free agent.

Here was Ben Cherington’s response in early November:

“Having a young third baseman with Will’s ability — power, athleticism — is a really important thing for the organization. I think you only consider moving someone like that off a spot if it’s driven by the need of the team. We’re not there yet. We see Will as a third baseman, and that’s where we want him to be focused on this offseason.”

Cherington’s comments aside, I wouldn’t be shocked if Middlebrooks someday ends up at first base. Third baseman Garin Cecchini is climbing the ranks, and that could create a logjam down the line.

Big loss in the outfield, which includes their leadoff hitter. Rookie at shortstop. A guy who was sent to the minors last year at third base. With all of these negatives, how do the Red Sox repeat?
– Jim Kirchner

Pitching.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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