Commentary

30 Questions: How does center field shake out?

Updated: March 20, 2008, 2:23 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.

How will the Jacoby Ellsbury-vs.-Coco Crisp situation be resolved?

The Red Sox play two regular-season games against Oakland in Tokyo next week, and both Crisp and Ellsbury are going to be on the roster. This is probably the worst of all possible worlds for fantasy owners.

Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury
Elsa/Getty ImagesJacoby Ellsbury and Coco Crisp can't always share time in the outfield together.
The best thing for everyone involved would be for Theo Epstein to send Crisp someplace where he can play every day. Make no mistake: Crisp is overvaluing himself when he tells the Boston Herald, "I want to play. It's just a matter of getting out there and having to re-prove yourself. It's kind of bogus." That logic would be great if Crisp had shown anything offensively in his two years in Boston, but he's posted OPS seasons of .702 and .712, and hit 14 homers and 96 RBIs combined. Yes, he's a very good (nee excellent) defensive center fielder, but Ellsbury is faster and has the potential, later in his career, to feature an equal glove. The Sox would be better off getting that future under way now.

By the same token, evidently the Sox aren't giving Crisp away, unless the guy pulls a Jay Payton on them. (Payton was famously angry about playing time with Boston on a West Coast trip a couple years back, and whined so hard in the dugout one night that Terry Francona called Epstein and said Payton was getting back on the team plane over his dead body. If Coco's going to complain, he'd best wait until he's safely back from Japan.) Teams like the Mets and Padres already have use for a starting outfielder, and that need will only increase around the league once April and May roll around. If the Red Sox can convince Crisp to stay quiet and be a good soldier as a fourth outfielder for a while, the chances of a deal only increase.

In the meantime, though, there are two speedy center fielders and stolen-base threats for one position. While I do think Ellsbury will get more action, as long as Crisp is around, I don't think it'll be a landslide. Heck, if Crisp's groin injury has healed enough, I think each of them probably starts one of the Japan games. Epstein won't want his possible trade chip wasting away at the end of his bench, and Francona is a master juggler of personalities and playing time. Plus, it isn't like the veterans on this team can look at Ellsbury's performance this spring and be convinced he's ready for 600 and 162. The kid went .209 this spring while leading the team in at-bats. For as long as both of these guys are on the Sox's big league roster -- and that's at least going to be the case for two regular-season games in March (and probably a month or so longer) -- they're going to cut into one another's fantasy values.

In the long run, I do think Crisp gets dealt. (Or J.D. Drew gets hurt very early, and one of these popgun-armed center fielders tries to man right.) He probably goes someplace where he can reassume a regular role and steal his 25 to 30 bases, making his fantasy owners quite happy. And Ellsbury probably will hit well enough to stay in the lineup, but perhaps not quite well enough to stay near the top of said lineup. But he'll probably steal 30, too.

As we head into the final week of fantasy drafts, though, the risk associated with each guy simply has to drive down their draft day values a bit. Can I envision a scenario in which these guys share a lot more time than the month or so I'm projecting here? If Crisp can keep his mouth closed, I can. And that's the nightmare scenario for fantasy owners of each.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.

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