If the Red Sox had won one more game and made the playoffs in 2011, Jacoby Ellsbury may well have won the AL Most Valuable Player. He has proved he is capable of great work.
But because of circumstances, there would appear to be an extremely limited market for him if the Red Sox decide to trade him for pitching this winter -- and that's an option they're able to seriously explore now that they have signed career center fielder Shane Victorino. Maybe an Ellsbury deal is even likely at this point, which would go a long ways toward explaining why the Sox have maintained contract talks with free agents Cody Ross and Nick Swisher.
Ellsbury will become eligible for free agency next fall, and he's represented by agent Scott Boras, so the presumption is and will continue to be that he won't sign a contract extension with the Red Sox or any other team before hitting the market. Ellsbury has been plagued by injuries in two of the past three seasons, so it would behoove him to have a strong 2013 before going out and selling his wares.
For many, many teams, it makes no sense to trade for Ellsbury now. Cubs president Theo Epstein knows Ellsbury well, but Chicago isn't close to contending, so there's no reason for the Cubs to swap assets for Ellsbury now. The same could be said for the Indians and a lot of other clubs working to get back to the top of their division.
Some small-market teams must desperately cling to their young pitching, which is what the Red Sox are looking for. Some teams, such as the Royals, have other priorities.
But here are some teams that could theoretically be a fit in an Ellsbury deal. (WARNING: SPECULATION AHEAD)
They want to win now and Ellsbury would be perfect for their every-day lineup, placed at the top. The Braves could stack up this way with Ellsbury:
3B Martin Prado
2B Dan Uggla
LF B.J. Upton
They could use a leadoff hitter and a center fielder and they have some depth in their rotation, especially with Aroldis Chapman slated to make the transition from the bullpen into the starting five. Homer Bailey made great strides in the second half of last season, posting a 3.21 ERA -- in fact, the Reds have talked to him about an extension. He could be a fit for the Red Sox. Maybe Mike Leake, still early in his career, could interest Boston. It all depends on how they evaluate the Cincinnati staff. The Reds also have Mat Latos, but it's hard to imagine Cincinnati swapping the talented right-hander for a one-year rental, given all that they traded for him last winter.
If the Reds got Ellsbury, this is what their roster framework could look like in 2013:
1B Joey Votto
LF Ryan Ludwick
RF Jay Bruce
3B Todd Frazier
SS Zack Cozart
With starters Bronson Arroyo, Latos and Bailey, plus bullpen arms in Sean Marshall, Jonathan Broxton and Chapman, it's a team capable of winning a World Series. Though they probably feel the 2012 team was, too.
We don't know yet if they'll re-sign Josh Hamilton, but either way, Ellsbury could fit, and could do tremendous damage at the top of their lineup, in the Rangers' home ballpark. Texas has a range of pitching prospects it could deal. The Rangers are good enough to be in win-now mode every year.
They desperately need some outfield help, and the Red Sox have had interest in Cliff Lee in the past and have the ability to absorb his extraordinary salary -- he's owed $87 million over the next three seasons. Among lesser options the prospect-thin Phillies could offer would be Vance Worley, though again, it all depends on how the Red Sox would evaluate him. Boston is not going to get a huge package of players in return for Ellsbury, given that he's so close to free agency.
Ellsbury is far from a perfect option for them, because they're probably still a ways away from seriously contending. But if the Mariners were desperate to change the conversation in Seattle, and they want an alternative to the expensive Michael Bourn, the Mariners have the young pitching to make a trade.
Other long shots: Arizona, which has been discussing a lot of possibilities and could use an outfielder in return if it swaps Justin Upton; San Diego, which has the prospect power to make a play on any major player it targeted. The Padres are becoming a sleeping giant, given the depth of their organization.
Elsewhere, people have discussed Boston's moves so far. The signing of Shane Victorino is adding fuel to the Ellsbury trade talk, writes Scott Lauber. Jarrod Saltalamacchia could be on the block. Boston's signings are no sure thing, writes John Tomase.
The signings are being widely panned in the industry. As this offseason began, one team assessed Victorino's market value at something in the range of $6 million or $7 million for one year. A lot has changed in a month, for sure.
The Red Sox are changing the culture of the team, writes Nick Cafardo.
• Dale Sveum was shot in the ear and his reaction was classic Dale Sveum: No big deal.
1B James Loney
2B Ben Zobrist
OF Matt Joyce
On one hand, the addition of Escobar makes sense for them, because he has a tremendous team-friendly contract and, when he's at his best, he's a great value. On the other hand, the Rays have to play an efficient style to win and Escobar is known as a player who makes a lot of mistakes, in his decision-making, in his defense, in his baserunning, in his situational hitting. So, we'll see how it goes.
Andrew Friedman believes Escobar learned from his eye-black mistake. By the way: Other teams are convinced the Rays will deal one of their starters, with the Royals seen as the most likely trade partner.
• The Diamondbacks have been extremely creative and aggressive in their attempts to land a shortstop. Among their discussions to fill that spot has been a four-team concept that would have netted them Asdrubal Cabrera from the Indians -- presumably, young pitching would have gone to the Indians. That deal was dormant as of Tuesday evening, although some involved hoped that it would be resurrected.
As Nick Piecoro writes, they have a lot of balls in the air.
• The Nationals agreed to terms with Dan Haren. Three key words: Pending a physical. The Cubs and other teams passed on possible deals for Haren -- a highly respected pitcher -- because of concerns about his right hip.
Meanwhile, the Nationals won't budge on their two-year offer to Adam LaRoche. He doesn't have a lot of places to possibly land to begin with, and the draft-pick compensation attached to him if he signs elsewhere is an impediment for him.
From Adam Kilgore's story:
- Though nothing has advanced between the two sides, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and LaRoche's agent, Mike Milchin of the SFX agency, continue talking. Rizzo reached out to Milchin on Monday night and the two have already met face-to-face during the winter meeting at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville.
"I still feel optimistic that we can get him signed," Rizzo said during his Tuesday session with reporters. "He wants to be here and we want him here. I'm optimistic."
• The Phillies are quiet amid the frenzy.
• Stephen Drew's agent is here talking to a number of teams, but one official says the notion of him signing with the Yankees as a superutility player doesn't fit with what Drew will want -- a chance to be an every-day shortstop. The teams that could theoretically want him for that: Detroit and Oakland.
• Kelvim Escobar, who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since 2009, is throwing well again in winter ball and is drawing interest.
Moves, deals and decisions
2. Gene Lamont has been shifted from third base coach to bench coach.
5. The Cardinals are monitoring the second base market. The Giants thought they were their biggest competition for Marco Scutaro.
7. The Indians lost out on Shane Victorino. They probably were used for leverage.
9. The Reds remain very optimistic about signing Ryan Ludwick.
11. The White Sox are laying a lot of groundwork.
12. The Brewers are unlikely to make a big splash this offseason. They are talking with Ryan Dempster, and as written here last week, he could be a fit for them because of his preference to live near Chicago.
13. The Yankees find themselves priced out of the market. They are talking with Kevin Youkilis, along with Jeff Keppinger and just about anybody who can play the left side of the infield. Curtis Granderson's days with the Yankees may be numbered.
16. Jon Daniels says the talk of the Rangers making progress on a deal with Josh Hamilton is overblown ... but the two sides will be talking.
17. The Mets continue to discuss trade offers for R.A. Dickey here.
19. Joe Girardi will go into next year as a lame-duck manager.
22. The Mariners could be in the market for two outfielders. Unless the Phillies swoop in to sign Michael Bourn, it's hard to see where he's going to get a big payday unless he goes to the Mariners.
24. The Padres are quiet here.
Dings and dents
There is a chorus of players from the steroid era who now have this view. You wish that chorus had been there in the midst of the problem, when the union was the most dominant force in baseball and had the power to make change.
• The Blue Jays would be the favorites to win the AL East if the season started tomorrow, writes Richard Griffin.
• Ron Gardenhire will be judged on more than wins and losses, says Terry Ryan.
• John Mozeliak has a lot of power, writes Joe Strauss. Mozeliak has earned that.
• R.A. Dickey was on the Daily Show.
• Producer Jennifer Chafitz did this excellent piece on Todd Frazier's work to help those in his New Jersey community.
And today will be better than yesterday.