Coco Crisp addressed the media today at the Red Sox spring training facility, speaking on his team’s current CF controversy. QB controversies seem to pop up everywhere in the NFL, but in baseball, legitimate position controversies are few and far between. Perhaps it’s because of the flexibility of athletes in MLB compared to the NFL, switching positions or use of the DH. In the NBA and NHL, there are plenty of minutes to go around because guys often need to catch a blow on the bench, so they are fairly rare there, as well.
But the position the Red Sox are currently in is a unique one. On the surface, you might ask what the problem is; the team has a talent-rich outfield that is arguably six deep (Ramirez, Drew, Ellsbury, Crisp, Kielty and Moss). Obviously they’ll only keep four, maybe five, so there’s going to be some shifting around come the end of spring training. But when four of those players are legitimate starters in this league, with only three positions in-game and the DH spot already tied up in Ortiz, that can be an adverse problem.
After Crisp’s comments today, it’s the clear that’s what the Red Sox have.
Here’s my solution:
Three years ago, a solid MLB outfield by the nombre Jay Payton was “that guy”, sitting fourth on the depth chart of another talent rich outfield including Ramirez, Damon and Nixon. The reality was Payton can start in this league. Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be in Boston. While the team insisted he was vital as a fourth outfielder in case someone went down or as a late game replacement, he wanted to start. For the record, Payton played 142 games for Oakland in ’06, hitting .296, and 131 games for Baltimore last year, hitting .256. Again, he can start in this league.
Basically, Payton didn’t want to be in Boston given those circumstances. He voiced his concern and after nothing was done, tension built up and boiled over during a dugout confrontation with Francona leading to his dismissal and subsequent trade for Chad Bradford.
Fast forward to ’07 and the emergence of Ellsbury in the Red Sox lineup. Given, this is more of a controversy with the amount of talent between Ellsbury and Crisp. Both possess terrific speed (edge to Ellsbury), outstanding defense (edge to Crisp on experience), mediocre throwing arms (push) and great baserunning ability (edge to Ellsbury based on going 2nd to home on a pastball). At the plate, Crisp has not been the same since injuring his finger two years ago. His average and power have taken a nose dive, and quite simply, he just hasn’t gotten better.
But let’s not forget, he young and has played over 100 games in only four seasons. His first two years in Cleveland were still as a rising prospect, but in ’04 and ’05, he absolutely broke out, leading the Sox to acquire his services as the successor to Damon. But it hasn’t panned out, and while there is still time in his young career to turn things around, it’s also time for the Sox to begin the Ellsbury era in CF.
Last season, he hit .353 in 33 games with nine stolen bases. While there was no significant power numbers nor were the SB’s eye-opening, it was his game speed that really impressed. I saw first hand how his speed could change a game, whether beating out an infield grounder, the aforementioned 2nd to home or running down a fly ball in the gap like a seasoned vet, this kid showed he’s a serious gamer. Raw as he may be, he’s got the tools, poise and moxy to be a formidable player at the major league level.
Not to mention he hit .438 in the World Series and was my pick to be WS MVP over Mike Lowell. But that’s a whole other article…
Moving forward, the Red Sox should continue to see how Ellsbury develops in spring training. As long as he doesn’t take a nose dive, use Crisp as trade bait for a team looking to add a starting outfielder right before opening day. You can keep him as insurance throughout spring training, but once Ellsbury pans out, deal away Crisp to fill another void that has opened and become more apparent before the team breaks camp. Much like Payton did in ’05, Crisp has voiced that he will not settle for a non-starting role. He wants to play, and because both are full of talent, it’s going to be hard to keep one out of the lineup. Ellsbury brings more to the table in my opinion and should be handed the reigns.
And so, come Opening Day Coco Crisp should no longer be a member of this team. His patience has worn thin with the media, and while he claims to understand the decrease in PT at the end of last season, he wasn’t happy with it. He’s bitter and will not tolerate being a 4th outfielder on this team. Simply put, that’s not a guy you don’t want in your clubhouse. I don’t care if we’re talking about the most dysfunctional clubhouse in the game, no team needs a player venting about his situation publicly. Jay Payton did it in 2005 and eventually forced the hand of the Red Sox. It wasn’t good, but they were able to use him to fill a void. Theo should do the same thing, but with less agony.
Ideally, Ellsbury and Crisp will both be in the lineup on Opening Day. Except that they should be starting for different teams.