Late yesterday, when word leaked out that Red Sox GM Theo Epstein had removed the “untouchable” label from young centerfield sparkplug Jacoby Ellsbury in the Johan Santana sweepstakes, Bostonians immediately began making contingency plans. Option A: Grab one of Big Papi’s 33-ounce bats and use it to smash Epstein’s hands, preventing him from signing any deal involving the popular rookie. Option B, should Option A fail: When Minnesota GM Bill Smith and his goons when they arrive to collect, form a human chain with Jacoby safe inside.
Assuming that cooler heads will prevail in the halls of Yawkey Way and that the Red Sox will lose out on lefty ace Santana and retain Ellsbury, there will still be plenty of teams interested in Boston’s other centerfielder, the defensively spectacular Coco Crisp—whom Ellsbury’s phenomenal play renders expendable. In fact, if the Red Sox were determined to get a lefty starter in exchange for Crisp, there are plenty of other deals to consider. For instance, the Atlanta Braves are in the market for a new CF and have prospects to deal, including lefty pitcher JoJo Reyes. In Baltimore, they want new everything, and almost nobody is off-limits, including lefty pitcher Erik Bedard. If the Marlins can’t get a centerfielder as part of a deal for Cabrera, they might be willing to part with southpaw Dontrelle Willis as part of a deal for Crisp. The Brewers have pitching to spare, including lefty Chris Capuano, and even Coco’s mediocre offense would be an upgrade over Bill Hall. The Padres, Giants, and Rangers are all looking to upgrade at centerfield as well, and the Sox have been talking with Billy Beane about a move involving Crisp and young righty pitcher Danny Haren, whose UFH should help him fit right in in the Hub. Crisp could be part of a deal with any of these ballclubs.
The fact that so many teams are hunting for centerfielders only underlines the fact that the Red Sox should not be induced to part with Ellsbury for any price—even for Santana. Not only did Ellsbury perform way above his pay grade down the stretch in September, his insertion into the ALCS lineup saved Boston’s season. He’s already a front-runner for 2008′s Rookie of the Year. While I would be loath to see Santana end up in pinstripes, such a scenario is still preferable to watching in horror as the Red Sox go temporarily insane and empty their savings account to get Johan for themselves.