- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
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Jacoby Ellsbury is a free agent after this season, and in an ideal world for him and the Boston Red Sox, Ellsbury would begin to turn around his season today, delivering many hits and home runs, fueling the team and his market value at the same time. The best-case scenario for Ellsbury and the Red Sox is for him to play so well that he puts himself in position for a big offseason payday, so well that Boston can offer him a one-year deal and set itself up for draft-pick compensation.
But if that doesn’t happen, well, it could get very complicated. Because Ellsbury is hitting .242, with a .307 OBP -- among leadoff hitters with at least 50 plate appearances in the No. 1 spot, he ranks 31st -- and if this continues, there will be a time when his interests and those of the Red Sox will diverge. It’s not going to be today, it’s not going to be tomorrow, but eventually, it will happen.
Ellsbury demonstrated how good he could be in 2011, when he racked up 83 extra-base hits, 119 runs, 105 RBIs and 39 stolen bases, finishing second to Justin Verlander in the AL MVP race. But injuries limited him to 74 games last season, and in those, he hit .271, with a .313 OBP. So what he has done at the plate in 2013 more closely resembles the player he was in 2010 and 2012 than who he was in 2011.
In a vacuum -- if his name wasn’t Jacoby Ellsbury, and he hadn’t shown a high ceiling -- he would be a candidate for a platoon arrangement, given his .578 OPS against lefties this year. He has two extra-base hits against lefties this year, after having four in 110 plate appearances last year.
The Red Sox know that Ellsbury won’t sign with them before becoming a free agent in the fall; he probably is not a part of their future. So at what point do they stop waiting for the 2011 Ellsbury and move on, to help the 2013 Red Sox as well as their own organizational development?
It’s a situation that could become difficult, because it’s obviously in Ellsbury’s best interests to play every day, to take a strong performance into his free agency, and the Red Sox would love for that to happen. But if they reach the conclusion that it’s not going to happen, it’s in the best interest of the Red Sox to play somebody else, for the sake of this year’s team and future Boston teams.
For example: Bryce Brentz, the 36th overall pick in 2010, has seven multihit games among his last 12 games in Triple-A. He’s a right-handed, power-hitting outfielder with an .836 OPS against lefties, and he is a part of Boston’s future. If the Red Sox began looking at alternatives to Ellsbury, they could use Brentz against lefties and start Shane Victorino in center field.
But part of Boston's decision-making for anything like that would have to include an assessment of how Ellsbury would react. Would it be a problem? Would it drive him? Or would it drive him away, mentally? And how important is Ellsbury’s reaction, given the fact that he’s almost certainly on his way out? Should the Red Sox explore a possible trade of the center fielder to a contender needing temporary outfield help?
None of those questions need to be asked if Ellsbury begins to play like the player he has shown he can be.
Around the league
• Think about this: On his current pace, Mike Trout will finish this season with 191 hits, 83 walks, 93 extra-base hits, 112 runs and 121 RBIs.
Trout filled up the box score Tuesday night, becoming the youngest player in American League history to hit for the cycle after a 408-foot homer put the exclamation point on his great night. Mark Simon has a full breakdown here.
• Kevin Gausman, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, is getting the ball on Thursday.
• Dan Straily seemed to get in his own way in his first starts this year, falling behind in the count. But on Tuesday, it was as if a young pitcher climbed another rung on the ladder. Straily shut down the Rangers and bested Yu Darvish.
From John Shea’s story:
Jurickson Profar was one of only two Rangers who got a single off Straily, and the pitcher picked him off. He had two three-ball counts, none after the first inning.
"I was really myself out there," Straily said. "It felt different. I had confidence to start the game. I was not going to let 'hurting myself' be what happened in the ballgame. The last few times out, I walked people, hit people. I wasn't getting hit hard. I was hurting myself. Tonight, my goal was to fill up the strike zone."
Straily was aggressive and efficient with his pitches. He struck out five, Andrus and Mitch Moreland twice, and walked nobody. He threw 88 pitches, 63 for strikes, and reached seven innings for the first time.
He said he's never been more confident as a big-leaguer.
"Any time you're a young player and not having the type of success you would like to have, yeah, you want to have one of these games where you go out and believe," Melvin said. "It would've been nice to give him three, four, five runs for a little breathing room. But who knows? Maybe that's what he needed, an outing where he had to be borderline perfect."
We had Scherzer on the podcast the other day and he was funny talking about how he runs all of the Tigers’ various pools and leagues.
From ESPN Stats & Information: The home run was his fourth game-tying or go-ahead home run in the eighth inning or later this season (no other player has more than two). It came on a slider on the inner half, as he continued his dominance against inside pitches this season. He's hitting .354 with six homers on pitches on the inner half, .186 with three homers on the outer half.
But Washington lost again, when Pablo Sandoval basically punished a baseball, and the Nationals continue to drift in the standings. They’re just a game ahead of the Phillies. Washington and Philadelphia have this going for them in the playoff chase in the weeks ahead -- they get to play a whole bunch of games against the two worst NL teams, the Mets (when Matt Harvey doesn’t pitch) and Marlins.
• Sandoval had felt terrible before hitting the baseball into what Alex Pavlovic referred to as Bonds Territory.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Sandoval’s home run was calculated at 464 feet, the longest of his career and longest walk-off home run in MLB during the last eight seasons. It was also the second-longest home run hit in AT&T park over the last eight seasons (Mark Reynolds hit a 471-foot homer on Aug. 27, 2009).
• The Mets are 7-2 on the days when Harvey pitches, 10-24 on the days he doesn’t pitch. He goes today against the Reds.
Moves, deals and decisions
Dings and dents
From ESPN Stats & Info, how he won:
A. Great control: 61 percent of his pitches were in the zone, his second-best rate as a starter in his career (career average: 50 percent).
B. Good fastball: Hitters were just 1-for-14 against the pitch, striking out four times. It was just the third time in his career that he allowed one or fewer hits with a minimum of 10 at-bats. He also hit 94.5 mph on the radar gun, the fastest pitch he’s thrown in his major league career.
6. The Phillies broke out.
• Another rookie is set to join the St. Louis rotation.
• For the Royals: Desperate times, and a comeback.
• Yu Darvish’s response to a question about run support could not have been more perfect.
• The Astros have hired Larry Dierker as a special assistant.
• The whole spitting on the ball thing ended as you might have imagined it would. It’s not 1921 anymore, with pitchers working with the same baseball for most of the game. The balls are rotated out constantly.
• The kangaroo court is a fading phenomenon, writes Nick Piecoro.
• Arizona prospect Archie Bradley just keeps getting better.
And today will be better than yesterday.