The Red Sox have taken flak this offseason because of their lack of major moves. Apparently, it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. According to Jim Salisbury of, Boston recently had a proposed Jacoby Ellsbury-for-Cliff Lee trade squashed by the Philadelphia Phillies.

“According to multiple sources,” wrote Salisbury, “the Red Sox approached the Phillies and a Jacoby Ellsbury for Cliff Lee deal and were told Lee was not available.” He went on to explain that the Phillies want to see what their three-headed pitching monster of Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels can do this upcoming season.

The Phillies had been in dire need of a center fielder, but were able to acquire Ben Revere from the Minnesota Twins earlier this week. Having just completed his second full season in the majors, Revere made only $492,500 last season and represents a significantly cheaper option than Ellsbury.

In addition to wanting to maintain their pitching strength, the Phillies may have been turned off by a couple of major issues with Ellsbury.

Despite his enormous talent, Ellsbury has struggled mightily with injuries throughout his career, averaging just 83 games per season over the past three years. He was the 2011 AL MVP runner-up but played in just 74 games last season, and his .271 batting average and .682 OPS were big disappointments.

Trading for Ellsbury may have also wound up being just a one-year rental for the Phillies. He is arbitration eligible this offseason and will likely make in the neighborhood of $10 million in 2013 before heading into free agency. Since he is represented by Scott Boras, he will be looking for a major payday when he hits the market, something the Phillies may not have wanted to become involved in.

For their part, the Red Sox would have assumed major risk of their own if they had taken on the left-handed Lee. He has three years and $75 million remaining on his current contract. In 2016 he can have an additional year vested if he pitches 200 innings in 2015 or a guaranteed $12.5 million buyout if he combines for more than 400 innings between 2014-15.

Lee’s 6-9 record in 2012 may look like he slipped in his performance, but his secondary stats tell a different story. He had a 3.16 ERA and struck out 207 batters in 211 innings, clearly maintaining his status as one of the best pitchers in baseball.

The Red Sox may not have been able to land Lee, but their pursuit of Lee shows how serious they are about making a significant upgrade to their starting pitching. It will be interesting to see if they continue to use Ellsbury as a trade chip and, if so, where they might next set their sights.

Statistics via BaseballReference 

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