Four reasons why an Adrian Gonzalez trade will make more sense on July 31 than it does now:
1. San Diego's motivation
If Jed Hoyer trades Adrian Gonzalez right now, he'll be announcing to his fan base that he's given up on the 2010 season. Done. Finished. Over and out. He might bring back a nice haul of ready-for-prime-time talent -- especially if he lands Buchholz and Ellsbury -- but the only reason Padres fans have even heard of Buchholz and Ellsbury is because they're inundated with Red Sox coverage on national networks and Web sites.
(Quick: Name San Diego's top prospect, the first baseman who would replace Gonzalez if Hoyer traded him. Too tough? OK. Quick: Name a player on San Diego's roster.)
A trade of Gonzalez would tell the casual fan of the Padres to head off to the beach and not bother reporting back until 2011 or 2012. If Hoyer holds onto Gonzalez until July, though, he at least gives his fans reason to care while he kicks off the rebuilding process -- and it's unlikely the value for Gonzalez is going to decrease at all between now and July 31.
2. Jacoby Ellsbury's defense
Dreamboat certainly has all the tools -- except for an arm, but that's forgiveable -- to be an elite defensive center fielder. Advanced defensive metrics, though, suggest he had a miserable season in center field last season. FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating statistic ranked him last among center fielders with a minus-18.6.
Here's the issue: Ultimate Zone Rating, especially when it comes to outfielders, is subject to random fluctuations and can't be quoted as gospel the way batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage can. Consider the evaluation of Torii Hunter in center field over the past few seasons:
* 2009: minus-2.1
* 2008: minus-13.0
* 2007: minus-6.5
* 2006: minus-11.6
* 2005: 4.5
* 2004: minus-0.2
* 2003: 13.1
Before the Red Sox conclude that Ellsbury can't play center field on a permanent basis, it might be worth using the first three months of the season to see if his numbers drift back to where his physical skill set suggests they should be.
3. Clay Buchholz's ascension
In case you missed it, the skinny righty looked like one of the best pitchers in baseball not too long after the Red Sox called him up for good. From Aug. 8 until Sept. 24, Buchholz went 6-2 (if you care about that sort of thing) with a 2.37 ERA and an opponents' OPS of under .600. He struck out 44 hitters in 64 2/3 innings and walked just 22. Against Toronto on Aug. 29, he went 8 1/3 innings and allowed just one run, striking out nine Blue Jays in the process.
"We’ve always been a champion of Clay and his potential," Theo Epstein said after the Cameron and Lackey press conferences. “He started to show it last year, and there was a six-start stretch in August and September where he was one of the best pitchers in baseball. We think that’s what he is. We think that’s what he can become. You’re not talking about a young, unproven guy anymore. We still think he’s a top-of-the-rotation guy. He’s under control for five years to this ball club. He’s got the makeup to succeed in Boston. He’s got the stuff to succeed in the American League East."
The Yankees have refused to trade Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes. The Rays aren't going to trade David Price. The Braves won't even talk about Tommy Hanson.
If Buchholz can show next spring that his six-week run of starts last season wasn't a fluke, the Red Sox aren't going to trade him, either. That's not the type of arm you let get away -- even for a bat like Adrian Gonzalez.
4. Ryan Kalish's progress -- and Josh Reddick's, too
Should the Red Sox trade away Ellsbury, someone will have to play left field -- and the hope here is that that someone isn't Xavier Nady.
Neither Kalish nor Reddick are ready to start the 2010 season as an everyday player with the Red Sox. Reddick has all of 62 career plate appearances in the major leagues and not much more than that at Triple-A. Kalish hasn't even yet touched Triple-A.
But Kalish and Reddick both are viewed as cornerstone-type outfielders who made it easier for Epstein to bid farewell to Jason Bay. They might not be ready by Opening Day, but both ought to be ready by the time Mike Cameron's two-year contract expires.
One or both also might be ready for a promotion in July -- and if Ellsbury is dealt away, either Kalish or Reddick could step in for him. Epstein won't know if either of the two outfielders is ready, though, until he's had a chance to see how they perform in April and May.