FORT MYERS, Fla. - Unlike Jacoby Ellsbury, the up-and-coming rookie who said all the right things about the Red Sox' center-field competition, Coco Crisp made it clear yesterday that being relegated to the fourth outfielder spot would not be desirable. Though he stopped short of demanding a trade on the first day position players were required to report, Crisp made it clear that was a possibility, depending on how the competition goes.
When reminded that his agent had said in the offseason that if Crisp didn't win the center-field job, it might be best to move him, Crisp was asked if those conversations might be revisited if Ellsbury earns the starting spot.
"Honestly, I think so," Crisp said. " 'Cause I want to play. Like I said, I wouldn't be happy sitting on the bench."
Losing didn't seem to be an option for Crisp. He already lost a starting center-field job to Grady Sizemore in Cleveland, but in that case, there was an open left-field spot to fall back on. This time, there is only a reserve role.
"I want to play every day," Crisp said. "I think everybody wants to play every day. If you don't, I think there's something wrong with you. I don't want to sit on the bench. I mean, I can cheerlead with the best of them. That's not where I want to be, though. I would honestly rather be somewhere else and play than be on the bench, but like I said, I'll take whatever comes and deal with it."
Manager Terry Francona has reiterated that Crisp is the incumbent and there will be a competition, but Crisp seemed unconvinced. Does he think he will get a fair shot?
"I'm not sure," he said. "I'm not sure how everything's going to break down. I'm really unsure of a lot of things this year, and with that, all I can do is just go out there and, like I said, try to have fun like I did in the past."
When Francona was apprised of Crisp's comments, he said, "I have no interest in discussing that right now. We want Coco on our team. I've been very open about that, very honest. We have two good center fielders. Our intent is to win and we'll handle it.
"Whoever starts Opening Day, they're going to play. They're too good not to play and they're too valuable. We talked about Wily Mo [Peña] last year and how are you going to get him the at-bats? I couldn't figure out how to do that. This will be different. Because of their speed, their defensive ability, it will be a lot easier."
Crisp, who declined to speak with the media during portions of last season, held two sessions yesterday, one inside the clubhouse and one outside by the batting cages. He acknowledged he has had a difficult time in Boston, especially offensively, and that he was bothered by being left out of the starting lineup for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Indians in favor of Ellsbury.
"It was really tough because you kind of helped the team get there," Crisp said. "I battled through little nicks here and there. The season doesn't go exactly how you wanted offensively. But to sit down and watch the team go out there when you helped them win some games and get them there, it was tough."
Crisp is aware there are teams with needs in center, including the Twins, Cubs, and Rangers. Crisp's name appeared in various permutations of the packages requested by the Twins in the Johan Santana trade talks.
"I didn't really think too much into it," he said. "It was just whatever happened kind of happened. I didn't wish that a trade would go down."
But that may no longer be true, especially as Crisp participates in a competition he seems to think could be rigged from the start. He said he's bigger and stronger, going from 173 pounds to 187. More than that, he's trying to enjoy himself, to have fun, even though, he said, "The last couple years have been real tough for me to do that."
Indeed, he hasn't had an easy tenure in Boston. He broke his left index finger less than a week into the 2006 season after being traded from Cleveland, and never performed offensively as he had done with the Indians. In 2005, his last year in Cleveland, he batted .300. With the Sox, he has hit .264 and .268.
That doesn't make him less determined to be the starting center fielder for the Red Sox - or some other team.
"A lot of people say, well, I don't deserve it," Crisp said. "Well, that's understandable, too. I didn't have a good offensive year like I did in the past. I think I proved that I can win healthy and [have] shown that my defense is way better than what people thought. People think that my offense is terrible. Now it's time to show them that my offense really isn't. Went through a couple of bruised-up years; everybody goes through that. Unfortunately, I just went through that when I came over here to megamedia central."
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.