The Red Sox seem to have so many needs — better rotation, thunder in the lineup, outfield, shortstop, first base — that it is easy, now that we are officially in free agent season, to get sucked into the mindset that the team must go out and sign up that help this offseason in order to win in 2013.

It is exactly that mindset that the Red Sox need to avoid like the plague.

Trading Jacoby Ellsbury, however, looks to be the smartest way to proceed, and here's why.

Winning in 2013 — meaning, reaching the playoffs — is far from a longshot, but just as far from being a lock. Obviously, if the Red Sox are not in contention for a wild card spot at the least by next August, then something will have gone horribly wrong this winter, because the team's returning core is still well above average compared to the other teams in the league. Still, whether they use the word or not, the Red Sox are in "rebuilding" mode and must not get caught in the same vicious cycle of buying their way out of roster needs, a la the great spending spree of the last three years. What needs to be stressed at this point in the offseason is that the self-discipline that general manager Ben Cherington has been stressing since the Nick Punto deal in August is no joke.

The most important component to a bright future for the Sox does lie in players not with the team right now, but they are not free agents or major league trade bait. The quickest way for the Red Sox to get better and stay better is ensuring that they bring up their best young prospects as soon as possible.