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Source: Red Sox actively exploring outfield market, but pickings slim for now

04.15.12 at 1:36 pm ET
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The Red Sox are still trying to determine with greater precision the severity of the subluxation suffered by Jacoby Ellsbury on Friday. Manager Bobby Valentine said that the injury would be treated with ice to reduce the swelling for 48 hours; once the swelling subsides, the outfielder will be re-evaluated to get a more precise determination of the possible course of recovery.

Even so, the team is planning on spending a not insignificant chunk of time without the runner-up in last year’s AL MVP balloting, and so it should come as little surprise that one major league source said that the Red Sox are “actively” exploring the market for available outfielders to determine whether the team will be able to shore up an area where there is limited organizational depth.

However, because it is so early in the season, the idea of identifying a legitimate starting center fielder remains far fetched. Teams aren’t exactly rushing to make All-Star-caliber outfielders available at this time of year.

Two American League talent evaluators wondered whether there eventually could be a potential match between the Red Sox and A’s regarding Coco Crisp, given that Crisp — who was re-signed by the A’s to a two-year, $14 million deal this offseason — was pushed from center field, where his value is greatest, to left field by Oakland’s signing of Yoenis Cespedes and based on the fact that the A’s like several prospects in Boston’s system (a notion reinforced not only by the trade of Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox, but also by the fact that the two teams came close on a deal that would have brought left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez to Boston).

Crisp has been one of the better defensive center fielder’s in the game since his emergence as an elite glove in center with the Sox in 2007. Though off to a slow start offensively this year (.176/.222/.176/.399 in 36 plate appearances), his offense is more than adequate for a center fielder. He’s a career .274/.329/.404/.732 hitter, and last year, playing in a home park and division that tends to kill offensive numbers, he hit .264/.314/.379/.693 along with an AL-leading 49 steals.

However, it’s probably premature for there to be traction between the Sox and A’s (or, for that matter, the Sox and virtually any other club) on a trade as both teams must figure out more about where they stand for the season. In particular, if the Sox are going to be without Ellsbury for six to eight weeks, they may prefer to explore internal options (or identify role players in a trade) rather than giving up a significant prospect (perhaps one of the impressive lower level outfielders who now comprise a strength of the system — with Bryce Brentz, Brandon Jacobs and Jackie Bradley Jr. all representing players who have impressed other clubs) for an outfielder who would be little more than a place-holder until Ellsbury’s return.

The Sox selected the contract of outfielder Jason Repko on Sunday, optioning Che-Hsuan Lin back to Triple-A Pawtucket. Repko was immediately inserted into the Red Sox lineup in the nine hole. The 31-year-old is limited as an offensive player (he is a career .226/.297/.350/.647 hitter in parts of six seasons), but he is considered a very solid defensive center fielder and a good baserunner, making him a useful complement (especially against left-handed starts) to the rest of the Sox’ group of outfielders.

Looking ahead, Carl Crawford could return to games in extended spring training as soon as Tuesday. If he is ready to return to the big leagues within a few weeks or a month, then the Sox might well conclude that they have the pieces — Crawford, Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney, Darnell McDonald, Jason Repko) to complement what remains a formidable position playing core, especially if Crawford can return to his pre-2011 form. On that front, the Sox appear to be encouraged.

“Carl is swinging the bat extremely well,” noted manager Bobby Valentine. “He’s taken a lot of batting practice. He might have even been part of the inspiration for our play yesterday. He was taking it during the game in the cage. The sound was so loud that I think it inspired some of our guys to hit the ball hard. He was really making a loud noise in that batting cage.”

If Crawford appears likely to return by early next month and Ellsbury looks like he’ll be back within a couple of months, then in all likelihood, with a lineup that features Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis, the Sox offense can more than hold its own in Ellsbury’s absence. (Again, it is worth recalling that in 2010, with Ellsbury playing just 18 games, Dustin Pedroia missing half the year and Kevin Youkilis missing the last two months, the Sox were second in the AL in runs.)

That said, there is little doubt that the lineup will be worse off without Ellsbury than with him. One scout looked at Sunday’s Red Sox lineup, which features a six-through-nine of Ross, McDonald, Kelly Shoppach and Repko, and took stock.

“It looks like a National League lineup,” the scout said, half-kidding.

Unquestionably, the Sox are still trying to figure out what they have as internal solutions, as well as how long they will be without Ellsbury and Crawford. As such, while the Sox will explore upgrades in Ellsbury’s absence, the landscape is not yet ideal for a significant trade, both because the Sox have yet to define precisely what they will need and because teams are not yet eager to make moves.

Read More: carl crawford, Coco Crisp, Jacoby Ellsbury, jason repko
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