Injuries Should Not Be A Concern With Ellsbury

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In 2011, when Jose Reyes was approaching free agency with the Mets, the biggest argument against giving him a long-term contract was highlighted when, in the midst of a season in which he would go on to win the batting title and for a brief time was the most dynamic player in baseball, he strained a hamstring and missed a chunk of the second half. When he returned, he appeared to be running at partial speed only stealing 9 bases between July and the end of the season and putting forth the image of personal interests—staying healthy—being above playing all out.

The hovering injury bugaboo was repeatedly scoffed at by Reyes supporters saying that his hamstring problems had been more prevalent early in his career; that the 2009 hamstring tear and subsequent surgery were, in part, due to the Mets forcing him to play when he was already hurt; that his missed time in 2010 was because of a medical scare with his thyroid; and that his durability was proven when he played every day from 2005-2008.

In truth, Reyes has had and will always have that question mark following him as to whether his hamstring is set to blow at any moment. It was a recurring worry whether admitted and accepted or not.

Another speed player preparing for his final year before free agency and whose name has surfaced in trade talks is Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. With the Mets in desperate need of a center fielder and pitching to trade and the Red Sox having signed Shane Victorino, there is reason to speculate on the Mets making a move on Ellsbury, perhaps dangling R.A. Dickey to the pitching-short Red Sox. If the Red Sox trade Ellsbury are his physical problems that limited him to 18 games in 2010 and 74 games in 2012 reason to shy away from him the way the Mets, in part, did Reyes?

If there’s anything to fear regarding Ellsbury, it’s not injuries, but his agent Scott Boras and pending free agency after 2013. Ellsbury has shown himself to be an MVP-caliber player with speed, power, and Gold Glove defense in center field. Despite baseless assertions to the contrary, he’s tough. His injuries, unlike those of Reyes, have not been to one specific part of his body and of the pull/tear variety. Ellsbury’s injuries have been due to impact. One was a broken rib sustained in a collision with Adrian Beltre in 2010; the other was a partially dislocated shoulder on a slide into second base in 2012.

To a degree, it’s something to be watchful over, but not overly concerned about. A player getting injured because he crashes into things is significantly different from a player who has continually had the same issue with the same part of his body.

Ellsbury is going to be expensive if the Red Sox trade him and Boras will likely resist efforts to sign his player to a contract extension during the season. These are legitimate reasons to hesitate before giving up a ton to get him, but the term “injury prone” is simply not accurate and shouldn’t be used as an excuse to dismiss trying to get an All-Star player who fills a desperate need for many teams.

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The Red Sox Are Different, But Are They Better?

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Calling Shane Victorino a “fourth outfielder” as Keith Law did yesterday on Twitter is flat out wrong and obnoxious in its wrongness, done so for affect. He’s not a fourth outfielder. He’s an everyday player who provides speed, pop, good defense, versatility, and toughness. His subpar 2012 season was an aberration because he was placed in an unfamiliar situation of having to bat either third or fifth for the Phillies due to injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley; he was singing for his free agent supper; and was traded to the Dodgers in July, adding more uncertainty. Statistics can’t quantify the mental adjustment it takes for a player to adapt to different circumstances, responsibilities, and a new surrounding cast. Victorino is best-suited to bat second and presumably that’s where he’ll hit for the Red Sox.

Does this add up to him being worth $39 million over three years to the Red Sox? (Some reports have it at $37.5 million.) They obviously think so. It’s a lot of money for Victorino and, as of right now in spite of the flurry of acquisitions and subtractions the Red Sox have made since mid-season 2012, they’re not much better than the .500 team they were before they cleared the decks in August. Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and David Ross turn them into a more likable team than the dour and infighting group they were with Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis, but as for being “better”? No.

As has been proven repeatedly—and exemplified by the 2011 Red Sox—hot stove championships mean nothing. Nor do accolades or criticisms for an unfinished product. The Red Sox aren’t done shopping because they can’t be done shopping. What they’re doing now is abandoning the fractious and dysfunctional with what appears to be a cohesive statement of purpose and conscious decision to return to the grinding, tough-it-out Red Sox of a decade ago.

But it’s not a decade ago and the players they’re acquiring with GM Ben Cherington calling the shots, along with a new manager in John Farrell aren’t going to bring back those days when it was possible to write the Red Sox and Yankees down in ink for a playoff appearance and eventual collision and be safe in the knowledge that it wasn’t probable, but likely.

They still need pitching in the starting rotation and bullpen—both of which are woefully short; they have to come to a decision of what they’re going to do with Jacoby Ellsbury and their stash of extra catchers; and they need to do more than simply go in the opposite direction from collecting the biggest names on the market to “feisty, dirt-caked” tough guys before thinking they’re “back”.

Rather than spend their money spaced out over 5-7 years as they did with Carl Crawford and John Lackey—neither of whom were fits for Boston—the Red Sox decided to go shorter term and big money for Napoli and Victorino. Instead of dumping their prospects for Gonzalez, they’re holding their prospects and signing veterans. They might trade Ellsbury for pitching and bring back another tough as nails player and one of the few who acquitted himself professionally as a Red Sox in 2012, Cody Ross. The Victorino addition is a signal that they’re willing to move Ellsbury to get some pitching because if they weren’t looking for someone who could seamlessly shift to center field, they could’ve signed Nick Swisher, presumably for that same amount of money.

The short-term/heavy pay deals are less onerous and intimidating than the huge numbers they gave to Crawford and Gonzalez. If they don’t work, the players will be gone by 2016 and the club will have had time to rebuild the farm system while maintaining a semblance of competitiveness in the big leagues.

Competitiveness isn’t what the Red Sox and their fans are accustomed to. They’re used to a World Series contender each and every year. With the additions they’ve made, they’re certainly better than they were, and they’re less loathsome; but Farrell has proven nothing as a manager and his main attribute to the Red Sox was that he was there during the glory years and the players don’t hate him as they did with Bobby Valentine.

This team is okay. Not great. Not bad. Not in desperate straits like the Yankees.

Before jumping back on the Red Sox bandwagon, however, it has to be understood that “okay,” “likable,” “professional,” and “organized,” are not going to cut it as stand alone attributes. The team is different. That doesn’t make it good.

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