For the Red Sox, the latest harsh reminder that baseball is very much a business came on Tuesday night when they heard the news that Jacoby Ellsbury had jumped to the Yankees for $153 million.
Not only was their center fielder and leadoff hitter leaving, he was going to their rivals.
“For us, it was the biggest jolt since the end of the season,” manager John Farrell said Wednesday during an appearance on WEEI.
But it was not unexpected. Ellsbury steadfastly had refused all entreaties to sign an extension with the Red Sox and entered free agency at a time when baseball is awash in revenues. For months now, it was evident that Ellsbury would have to be replaced.
That Ellsbury went to New York was a bit of a surprise. But if not the Yankees, it would have been another team.
“When you get into free agency with a player of Jacoby’s caliber, you know going in that there’s probably a handful of spots where he could end up,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “Certainly New York is always going to be one of those potential spots.
“We wish Jacoby well. He was obviously a really good player here in Boston. During the time he was here, he was a big part of two World Series teams. We would have loved to keep him. But we felt like there was an area, a range, we were willing to go to and the market just got past that.”
That range was around $100 million, far less than the Yankees were willing to pay after finishing tied for third place with their fewest wins since 1995.
The Red Sox play their first game against the Yankees April 10 in New York. Unless he is on the disabled list, Ellsbury will wear pinstripes at Fenway Park for the first time April 22 and perhaps pick up his World Series ring.
That’s for later. On Wednesday, there was little panic or fretting by the Red Sox. In 23-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr., the Red Sox have a former first-round draft pick ready to step into center field.
“We certainly feel real good about some of the in-house alternatives and one of those guys is certainly Jackie Bradley,” Cherington said. “That doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t add an outfielder. It doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t add a player at another [outfield] spot.
“We’re not going to talk about exactly what the team’s going to look like on Opening Day because we don’t have to yet. There’s still time and we’re working. We’re going to work through different options. We certainly feel fortunate that Jackie is in our organization and we would feel good if he was playing center field if that’s the way it plays out.”
Bradley hit .189 over 95 major league at-bats last season. But he is a career .297 hitter in the minors with an .876 OPS — statistics that are comparable to what Ellsbury did in the minors before joining the Red Sox full-time in 2007.
Right fielder Shane Victorino has played center field for much of his career. But Cherington and Farrell have said repeatedly they prefer to keep the Gold Glove right fielder where he is. Victorino’s glove and strong arm saved numerous runs in Fenway Park’s spacious right field last season.
If the Red Sox elect to stay with Bradley, they could sign a veteran center fielder as his backup.
Free agents Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson have appeal. But Choo, like Ellsbury represented by Scott Boras, could command a contract of at least $130 million. If the Red Sox were uncomfortable with that commitment to Ellsbury, signing Choo is unlikely.
Granderson, who missed considerable time with injuries last season, would be cheaper and offers the appeal of lefthanded power, having hit 84 home runs for the Yankees from 2011-12. But, like Choo, he is a qualified free agent who would cost the Red Sox their first-round draft pick.
Granderson would become a more attractive piece if the Red Sox were unable to retain free agent first baseman Mike Napoli for the middle of the order.
The Red Sox have the depth to execute a trade. The Dodgers have made two-time All-Star Matt Kemp available but he has six years and $128 million remaining on his contract. Los Angeles would have to pick up a significant amount of that.