Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox: The enigmatic center fielder played in just 74 games last season, batting .271/.313/.370 with four home runs, 26 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases. No matter what happens next season, the Red Sox want the 2011 Ellsbury to resurface in 2013, with his gaudy .321 average with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs in a near-MVP season. If the Sox find themselves out of contention by the end of July, the 29-year-old Ellsbury could be shipped out of town before agent Scott Boras has a chance to relocate him elsewhere in the offseason.
Brett Gardner, Yankees: The Yankees sacrificed some offense when they replaced Raul Ibanez with Brett Gardner in left field ... except that Gardner starts the season in center to replace the injured Curtis Granderson while Vernon Wells starts the season in left. The 29-year-old Gardner played in just 16 games for the Yankees last season due to ongoing elbow issues. Gardner’s biggest assets are his defensive coverage and speed. His best season at the plate was in 2010, when he finished .277/.383/.379 line with 32 extra base hits and 47 RBIs and 47 steals. In 2011, the light-hitting but patient Gardner led the AL in stolen bases with 49 while his batting slipped a bit.
It was a season of highs and lows for Granderson in 2012. He belted a career high 43 homers last season with 106 RBIs, but batted a career-low .232 followed by a woeful 3-for-30 in the 2012 postseason. Expected to bat fifth in the order when he returns, Granderson still brings some speed with the power, plating 102 runs last season. The free-swinging center fielder who had 195 strikeouts last season is also known as a defensive liability. Manager Joe Girardi could decide to move Brett Gardner to center if Granderson’s fielding becomes costly. The 31-year-old outfielder becomes a free agent after the 2013 season.
The edge: Red Sox. Ellsbury and Granderson are both in a contract year, and the speedy Gardner has a weak bat. If Ellsbury is still closer to the player who was an MVP candidate in 2011 than he is to the injury-riddled versions of 2010 and 2012.