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Jacoby Ellsbury replacement options

4/15/2012

Think back to how a potential season-ending injury to Boston Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury would have been viewed two years ago. Back then, he was mainly a stolen base guy, a Michael Bourn type with a bit more power, and when he missed nearly all of 2010 because of a serious rib injury, it certainly mattered in fantasy, but stolen bases are replaceable. That's not really the case with players that go 30-30 and get chosen in the first round of fantasy drafts.

Those who own Ellsbury these days, coming off his monster 2011 season in which he finished second on ESPN's Player Rater to Matt Kemp, are going to have a tougher time replacing him, after Ellsbury partially dislocated his right shoulder in an unfortunate collision Friday at second base. Ellsbury was breaking up a double play, Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Reid Brignac fell on him, and the result is Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney are going to be playing a whole lot of center field for the Red Sox.

For now, the Red Sox believe Ellsbury will miss approximately six to eight weeks, and after that, a decision will be made whether surgery is necessary. Hopefully Ellsbury, the No. 8 player chosen, on average, in ESPN live drafts, can return to game action by the start of June. If surgery is needed, it could end his season. Ellsbury played 18 games in 2010, 158 last year. It would be a bit unfair to call him brittle, since one major injury happened when teammate Adrian Beltre ran him over, and this time an opposing player fell on him. This is another fluke injury. He's already been placed on the 15-day disabled list, so fantasy owners can use the roster spot immediately and look elsewhere.

When healthy, Ellsbury is an obvious difference-maker. It's premature to release him off your roster until word comes down that his season is actually over. It's certainly possible Ellsbury can still provide four excellent months of fantasy numbers, though I have to admit his immediate power potential worries me some even if his shoulder is healed. Still, we know he can steal bases, score runs and hit for a high batting average. Keep him owned.

As for how the Red Sox replace Ellsbury, we saw the likely scenario Saturday, when the team lit up the Rays for 13 runs. Ross was already playing regularly in left field and will shift to center field. While he's no Ellsbury, he has hit more than 20 home runs in a season twice, and it certainly wouldn't be a surprise if he accomplished this again. Ross won't help fantasy owners in the batting average category or steal many bases -- he has never reached double digits -- but his Saturday blast wasn't a fluke. Ross is owned in 8.4 percent of ESPN standard leagues -- down from 16.9 percent a week ago -- and while he's not a particularly strong fantasy replacement for Ellsbury, at least he'll hit some home runs.

Meanwhile, Boston's leadoff batter Saturday was shortstop Mike Aviles. Now 31, Aviles was a late bloomer who likely overachieved as a rookie and has struggled with injuries and consistency since. But if he can stick at the top of the lineup, he would see a boost in fantasy value thanks to the extra runs scored. Still, as with Ross, it's tough to call him a good 10-team mixed league pickup.

I regard outfield as a deep fantasy position for this season, even knowing how many outfielders are needed to fill rosters (five per team, at least). Anyway, there's nobody like Ellsbury available in free agency for the power/speed combo, but here are 10 options I think should be more popular that are available in at least 50 percent of ESPN leagues:

Brennan Boesch, Tigers (owned in 47.6 percent): Suddenly and oddly on the most dropped list after struggling for one week, but he's still hitting second in a strong Detroit lineup.

Jordan Schafer, Astros (37.1): Well, he takes walks and he steals bases. He could swipe the 39 bases Ellsbury did last season, but he might not reach three home runs, let alone 30.

Dexter Fowler, Rockies (29.4): Perhaps this is the year his terrific speed turns into a lofty stolen base total. He's worth owning in 10-team formats.

Alejandro De Aza, White Sox (22.5): He's scoring runs, can steal a base and should remain Chicago's leadoff hitter. I like him more than Schafer.

Jon Jay, Cardinals (18.7): Looks safe in terms of batting average, but he's not likely to hit more than 10 home runs or steal more than 10 bases.

Denard Span, Twins (10.0): Stole a total of 49 bases in 2009 and 2010, but he doesn't hit for power.

Jose Tabata, Pirates (5.4): He's off to a terrible start, but he (and teammate Alex Presley) can run.

Bryan LaHair, Cubs (4.9): Playing first base but is outfield-eligible, and he's certainly hitting. Won't run at all, though. Seems a safer bet than rookie Yonder Alonso, who has the same eligibility.

Will Venable, Padres (1.7): Doesn't make a lot of contact but has delivered 24 home runs and 55 steals the past two seasons.

Nolan Reimold, Orioles (0.3): More of a long shot, but he is off to a nice start while batting leadoff, and maybe he could steal double-digit bases.