As soon as the Red Sox signed Mike Cameron, manager Terry Francona said he knew what he would do. It was obvious to him that Jacoby Ellsbury belonged in left field, and that he’d prefer Cameron to man center. He just needed to check with general manager Theo Epstein and bench coach DeMarlo Hale.
That done, it took just a call to Ellsbury to let him in on the switch.
“The way we’re constituted with [Cameron’s] long strides and Jacoby’s first-step quickness, it seems that we’re set up better that way,” Francona said.
He could hear in Ellsbury’s voice that it wasn’t his first choice, that he would probably rather have remained in center field. But, with the Sox working toward the best defense they’ve had in the tenure of the current management, he’ll instead be replacing Jason Bay in left.
“I think he was a little disappointed, a little concerned that it was like a demotion,” said Francona, who made the call with Hale from Florida about a week before Christmas. “We explained that it’s not. Again, we’ve got a guy with longer strides. Jacoby can be a force in left, kind of like Carl Crawford in Tampa. We’re going to have an outfield where not a lot of balls hit too much ground.”
Francona said that Cameron, despite playing only three games in left in his career, had offered to play either spot for the Red Sox when he signed. But Cameron, who turns 37 on Friday, also has three Gold Gloves, and is regarded as an outstanding center fielder.
“It came down to the fact that Cameron’s experience is almost exclusively in center and Jacoby demonstrated in 2007 and 2008 that he can be an impact corner outfielder defensively,” Epstein wrote in an e-mail. “We are more than comfortable with Jacoby in center. We just feel that — for now — this alignment puts us in the best position to win games.
“Both Mike and Jacoby were great about it and said they would do whatever was best for the team. Jacoby knows he’ll still be a centerfielder in the long run, and Mike looks forward to helping Jacoby any way he can.”
With the additions of Cameron, Marco Scutaro, and Adrian Beltre, the Sox are shaping up to have an outstanding defensive club. Their rotation, bolstered by the signing of John Lackey, should also be superior to the staff they used in 2009.
“This is going to be our best defensive team we’ve ever had,” Francona said. “Every time we’ve played good, we’ve caught the ball very well. You won’t see too many sloppy games. Those runs we put together when we’re catching the ball, we’ve got a chance to be really good defensively. You’ve got to score, things like that, but this gives us a chance to be a solid team. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish.
“If you’re scoring 10 runs, but you’re giving up 11, that’s a tough way to play. This is going to make a tough pitching staff better. That’s the idea.”
The idea, too, is that the move for Ellsbury won’t be permanent. It’s unlikely that Ellsbury will remain in left field for the rest of his career.
“I know there will be a day in Jacoby’s career where he goes back to center,” Francona said. “Just for the way we’re built now, this makes us a better team.”