The Red Sox’s Decision to Let Jacoby Ellsbury Go Is Working Out Great

The emergence of Jackie Bradley Jr. vindicates one of Ben Cherington's boldest moves.

The Red Sox haven’t done many things right recently, but the one sound decision the club has made couldn’t be more clear with the Yankees in town this week.

From a baseball perspective, not signing Jacoby Ellsbury to a mega-contract two years ago was probably an easy call to make. Investing more than $100 million in a player who’s older than 30 is risky business, especially if his injury history is as pronounced as Ellsbury’s.

But of course, sometimes factors other than baseball seem to influence the Red Sox’s decision-making. Presumably, the same conference room in which the club decided to move on from Ellsbury is the same place where consultants hired by team ownership once claimed the Sox need to sign more “sexy guys” in order to spike TV ratings, if former manager Terry Francona’s memoir is to be believed.

Ellsbury is the ultimate “sexy guy,” beloved by casual fans for his good looks and dynamic play. When the Red Sox let him go after 2013, they lost perhaps their most marketable player this side of David Ortiz.

But the baseball people won, and Ellsbury’s performance in New York is already beginning to peter out. He’s missed 48 games this year due to injury, and has an OPS in the low .700s. He has 19 extra-base hits this season, which is the same number Jackie Bradley Jr. has since August 9.

When the Red Sox opted to not match the Yankees’ seven-year, $153 million contract offer to the then-30-year-old Ellsbury two winters ago, conventional wisdom said Bradley would step in for him in center field. The older player was moving on, and his younger, cheaper replacement was getting ready to step in. That’s the way it was supposed to work.

But the results were disastrous in 2014. Bradley, 25, looked completely overmatched at the plate, hitting .198 in 384 at-bats. Though he displayed his dazzling defensive ability in the outfield, he was one of the worst offensive players in baseball. The Red Sox sent Bradley to the minor leagues at the end of last August, and he only played sparingly in September.

When Bradley woke up in Detroit on August 9 this year, he was hitting .121 and slugging below .200.

But since then, he leads Major League Baseball in hitting. Oh, and he’s still really, really good in the outfield.

Bradley’s reemergence has compelled the Red Sox to pull the plug on Hanley Ramirez’s failed, if not embarrassing left field stint after just five months. Now Ramirez is taking ground balls at first base, likely in a last ditch attempt to save his Red Sox career less than a year after it had started.

Entering next season, the Red Sox can feel good about running a young outfield of Bradley, Mookie Betts, and Rusney Castillo out there. Even factoring in Castillo’s $10.5 million annual salary, those three players will make nearly $10 million less combined than Ellsbury next year.

Though new president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski deserves credit for recognizing what he has, outgoing general manager Ben Cherington is the man who’s responsible for this brilliant trio of outfielders. Betts and Bradley were developed under his watch, and he signed Castillo from Cuba last summer.

One of the shames of the Cherington era is that we’ll never know which moves were his ideas, and which ones an overbearing ownership group forced him to make. Maybe the same consultants who reportedly told Theo Epstein to sign “sexy guys” years ago are the people who recommended Cherington give $98 million to a Portly Panda and an additional $88 million to Ramirez last offseason.

But given Cherington’s background in player development, it’s fair to assume he’s the one Red Sox fans have to thank for cutting the cord on Ellsbury, and paving the way for Bradley, Betts, and Castillo.

That’s not a bad legacy to leave.