With the introduction of Mike Cameron as the Red Sox's newest speedy outfielder, some have begun to speculate that the Red Sox might include Jacoby Ellsbury in a trade for San Diego's Adrian Gonzalez.
Before the Red Sox trade Ellsbury away, though, it's worth thinking about the comparison so widely made when the center fielder was drafted. Ellsbury might not be OBP'ing .380 the way Johnny Damon has so often in his career -- his on-base percentage of .355 last season ranked him fifth among Red Sox regulars, well behind Dustin Pedroia's .371 -- but he's certainly on the right track.
Consider this: At the end of the 1997 season, when Damon had two-plus years of major-league experience and close to 1,300 career plate appearances, the future on-base machine had a career line that looked like this:
* .274 batting average
* .325 on-base percentage
* .387 slugging percentage
* OPS+ of 83
(Note: 100 is defined as average.)
His walk rate was 6.6 percent. His strikeout rate was 12 percent.
He'd hit a total of 17 home runs.
Two years later, in 1999, Damon took an enormous step forward. His walk rate skyrocketed to 10.2 percent, and his strikeout rate dropped to 7.6 percent. (He struck out just 50 times in more than 650 plate appearances.) His on-base percentage jumped to .379. He hit 14 home runs.
Consider, now, Ellsbury's first two-plus seasons -- a career that consists of a little more than 1,400 plate appearances:
* .297 batting average
* .350 on-base percentage
* .414 slugging percentage
* OPS+ of 96
His walk rate so far is 6.9 percent. His strikeout rate is 11.8 percent.
He's hit a total of 20 home runs.
He's still just 26 years old.
For what it's worth, Bill James projects Ellsbury to compile a line of .302/.360/.420 next season with a walk rate of 7.6 percent and a strikeout rate of 11.6 percent. But if Ellsbury can take another step forward in his patience and his plate discipline -- something he seemed already to be doing in the second half of last season -- he might be in line for a Damon-esque leap.
If the Red Sox can land Gonzalez from San Diego for a package centered around Ellsbury, well, they'd be crazy not to consider it. Gonzalez is an elite hitter, a franchise-changing bat.
But those who are suggesting that the Red Sox cash Ellsbury in while his value is at its highest, well, his value might still have some climbing to do.