The Boston Red Sox have a lot of work to do on their roster this offseason as they begin a rebuilding process following the team's worst season in decades. One of the biggest decisions Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington will have to make revolves around the future of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Given all the other factors surrounding the 2013 Red Sox, the decision seems clear - it is time to trade him.
Sure, Ellsbury finished second in the American League Most Valuable Player voting just last season. The injury that sidelined him for much of this year is not a long-term concern. But that just means that Ellsbury's value is at its peak right now.
Looming free agency
Ellsbury can become a free agent at the end of next season. His agent, Scott Boras believes almost religiously that his clients should never sign a long-term deal without going onto the free agent market first to maximize their value. So the chances of the Red Sox reaching a reasonably-priced extension are virtually zero. It will take at least the kind of deal the Los Angeles Dodgers gave Matt Kemp - eight years and $160 million - to keep Ellsbury, and the Red Sox are adamant that they are moving away from those kind of long-term, big-money deals.
No more draft picks
If the Red Sox wait to trade Ellsbury during the season, the team acquiring him will get nothing if he departs at the end of 2013 for free agency. The old days of two compensation draft picks are over. But the new team would get draft picks if they trade for Ellsbury before the start of the season. Again, his value is higher now than it will ever be.
With the holes in the lineup created when the Red Sox unloaded Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and a quarter billion dollars in salary commitments last August, Boston is unlikely to be a favorite to contend for the World Series in 2013. Their young players are further away than that, and serious contention probably begins in 2014, after Ellsbury would be gone anyway. He just isn't as important to the Red Sox this coming season as he might be to another team.
There's no doubt that Ellsbury's potential production - as opposed to the actual production he has managed due to injuries over the past several seasons - would be difficult to replace next season. But if the Red Sox front office is convinced that the team is unlikely to contend in 2013, now is the time to trade him to another team. Boston would maximize their return, and Cherington would have the rest of the offseason to build the roster in Ellsbury's absence and around the player acquired. It's the smart move.
Rick Blaine, an award-winning broadcaster and columnist, is a lifelong Red Sox fan. Follow him on Twitter @RickBlaineCT.
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