According to reports, Jacoby Ellsbury has strained his relationship with the Red Sox, who are open to trading the young centerfielder. Along with many other suitors, the Braves are believed to have interest in Ellsbury. But what separates the Braves from other potential trade partners is their tremendous minor league pitching depth; an asset that the Red Sox surely would covet.
The Braves' obvious weakness lies in centerfield. The struggles of Nate McLouth have been well documented, and Ellsbury would be a welcome sight in a Braves uniform. Since the departure of Rafael Furcal, the Braves have lacked a legitimate stolen base threat. McLouth was brought in to be such a weapon, but his dramatic uppercut swing and his unwillingness to run in the past two seasons has been a major disappointment for the Braves.
If the Braves are going to take a legitimate run at Ellsbury, they are going to have to part with at least two of their top prospects. The Red Sox will look to maximize Ellsbury's worth on the trade market, and the beginning bid for his services could be quite substantial.
The Braves organization, and fans alike, would likely balk at the possibility of trading prospects for an individual who has struggled to stay on the field. But if Atlanta wants to be a World Series contender in the coming years, they have to be willing to take such risks. And Ellsbury, who certainly won't break the bank, would be an incredible asset to the Braves lineup.
A superior defensive centerfielder, Ellsbury would be a huge improvement over McLouth. Although his arm is nothing to fear, his career UZR is 15.1, compared to McLouth's -39.3. Beyond that, the insertion of Ellsbury into the top, or even bottom, of the Braves order would make them the best lineup in the National League, and one of the best in baseball. While they might lack elite power, their balance and talent from top to bottom, along with the addition of Ellsbury's speed, would be a force to be reckoned with.
Ellsbury burst on to the scene in 2007, and was given an opportunity to start full-time in both '08 and '09: posting an average slash line of .291/.346/.406. While these numbers aren't overwhelming, they're not bad for a gap-to-gap hitter. But above all else, Ellsbury brings elite speed and an ability to score runs. In '08, Ellsbury had 50 stolen bases and in '09, he had 70 stolen bases. Yes, 70 stolen bases. And in those seasons, he had 98 and 94 runs respectively. Putting that kind of ability in front of the likes of Jason Heyward, Chipper Jones, Brian McCann and Dan Uggla could prove fatal for opposing pitchers.
While I may be getting way too excited a little ahead of myself, I think it's fair to say that Ellsbury would be a great fit and excellent asset for the Braves. The Red Sox may ask for a (great) arm and a leg, but I have a feeling that Frank Wren and company could convince Theo Epstein to lower his price tag. Ellsbury's 2010 injury troubles and his disgruntled relationship with the Red Sox could be beneficial issues for teams looking to buy low on the centerfielder.
In the end though, it will be up to the Braves front office in deciding whether or not they want to acquire Ellsbury. Not only will they have to factor in Ellsbury's injury history, but they also have to weigh their willingness to pay their fourth outfielder (McLouth) $6.5 million for the 2011 season. Also, they must determine if they are willing to part with some of their top prospects. While the Braves could put together the best trade package, their trading of Elvis Andrus and Neftali Feliz in the Mark Teixeira deal may be a big reason not to rid themselves of talented prospects.
I do not expect the Braves to take such a risk. I'm certain that Wren will consider making such a deal, but the asking price and injury history of Ellsbury would likely be too overwhelming for the Braves. However, this opinion is coming from the guy who completely dismissed any possibility of acquiring Dan Uggla. So if I wake up sometime over the next few months and Ellsbury is Brave, I'll be ecstatic, but not the least bit surprised.