Jobu welcomes Jacoby Ellsbury to the New York Yankees.
The Yankees officially announced the Brian McCann deal today, but they made an even bigger splash on Tuesday night, when word leaked that the team had signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven year, $153MM deal. We’d spent the better part of the week wondering and buzzing all about Carlos Beltran, so the sudden Ellsbury deal was a bit shocking to say the least. Either way, the Yankees landed themselves quite the player in the former Red Sox center fielder, and as usual, Jobu has to officially welcome him to the squad. Let’s get to know Jacoby and break down the pros and cons of this deal, shall we?
First of all, in case you’ve never watched a Yankees/Sox game, or have rocks for brains, meet Jacoby Ellsbury! The 30, year old, Oregon native was drafted by the Red Sox out of Oregon State in the first round of the 2005 draft and was in the bigs as an every day player just two years later, making his debut in 2007. This means he won a World Series in his first and last season with the Sox. Kudos to him. Here’s a quick scouting report: Speed. That’s what Ellsbury brings to the table. He’s like the rich man’s Brett Gardner, although i hesitate to call him that, since he did have 32 homers in 2011 and can hit .300. Other than that one season though, he’s never hit more than 9 homers in a year… go figure. Back to his speed… he’s one of only nine active players with at least 200 SBs and an 80% success rate, and he’s topped 50 SB every healthy season three times in his career, leading the league with 52 last season. His elite speed also makes him an elite defender in center field, which makes him the latest in a line of historically great Yankees CFers.
As with every deal, there are pros and cons. Let’s start with the pros. The Yankees just bought themselves one of the most impactful leadoff hitters in all of baseball. He’s a guy that can hit .300 and get on base at the top of the lineup while playing elite defense in center (as I just said earlier). You can’t go wrong with that. He’s also a relative spring chicken for the Yankees, as he just turned 30 in September. Also, this deal will make him a free agent at age 37, which I think is a great time to break from an expensive player. If you stick Ellsbury on top of this lineup, one that is going to include a healthy Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner and, if he comes to his senses, Robinson Cano, you end up with a solid combination of speed and power that will make the Yankees’ offense potent once again. Ellsbury and Gardner (unless the Yankees flip him for a pitcher), will make a blindingly fast 1-2, or 9-1 punch, hopefully wreaking havoc on the base paths while the boppers drive them in.
Defensively, the Yankees now have what is probably the best outfield in the game. Gardner plays elite level center field when he’s there, so shifting him to Yankee Stadium’s cavernous left field gives them a relative stranglehold on fly balls hit to that area. Soriano should now man right field, which gives him less room to cover. He held his own in mostly left field last season, so shifting him to right should help him be even better, and keep him a little healthier. On days when Ichiro plays right, nothing’s dropping in at the stadium.
I also love that Ellsbury comes from within the division. He knows what it’s like to play in the high-pressure American League East. More importantly, as he proved in 2007 and 2013, he knows how to win in the high-pressure AL East. He’s a proven winner, and he’s tough too. He was knicked up during the Red Sox World Series run last year, and still produced a .343 average in the post-season. With him, and McCann, the Yankees have a couple of guys who will fit into the Yankees culture quite well.
Also, I know the Sox just won the World Series, so they shouldn’t care, but that’s a big piece to replace for them. Will they now sign Shin Soo-Choo (if the Yankees don’t also sign him), or hand the center field reigns over to young Jackie Bradley and hope his 2013 flop was just a normal bout with growing pains? Also, the Sox had expressed interest in bringing back Ellsbury, and they were also in on Brian McCann. The Yankees swooped in and took both guys, which indirectly hurts them too. The Sox ended up signing 37-year old A.J. Pierzynski to catch, and will platoon him with David Ross. I know it’s petty, but stealing players from your biggest rival, especially when they’re coming off a championship, is always fun.
First of all, this is a ton of money. The seven years don’t scare me as much with Jacoby, because it’s not like he’ll be 42 when the contract ends. He’ll be 37. By that time, the Yankees will know if they need to keep him or let him go. The money scares me a little, but only in the sense that shelling out $153MM to Ellsbury (or $169MM if the Yanks pick up the 8th year option) might keep them from addressing other needs. The Yankees still need to sign Cano, bring in a starting pitcher or two and maybe one more reliever, so I hope they didn’t rob Peter to pay Paul on this one. If Cano walks away, the Yankees would then have a lot more wiggle room to sign pitchers and another second baseman (like Omar Infante), but I hope it doesn’t come to that. One thing to note, is that the $189MM plan the Yankees are on only affects this season. If they stay under the threshold this year (or even if they don’t), they don’t have to worry about luxury taxes for another five years, so they could always go fishing on the free agent market again next year if they can build a decent rotation this year.
The other large con in this deal is Ellsbury’s health. When he’s healthy, Ellsbury is an electric player. He can start rallies, continue rallies and even put exclamation points on rallies from time to time. That being said, staying healthy has been a bit of an issue for him in his young career. He missed most of the 2010 season due to injury, more than half of 2012 with injuries and about 25 games last year. Is he brittle, or does he just have bad luck? Hopefully, the new Yankees strength and conditioning coach can keep him healthy. I’m just glad he wasn’t on the team last year, because with the bad luck the Yankees had when it came to injuries, Ellsbury might have just spontaneously combusted. Here’s hoping he stays healthy.
Long Term Thoughts
Like with any seven year deal, you’re hoping you get at least four top notch seasons before decline starts happening. I think Ellsbury, providing he stays healthy, will produce this for the Yankees. After that, he’s going to be an expensive bonus. However, he has the potential to be another Johnny Damon type player for the Yankees. While I hope Ellsbury won’t change his game to fit the short porch in right quite as much as Damon did, I do expect an uptick in homers for him. We don’t need him to hit 32, but in certain situations, we know he has the power to muscle up on one. When Damon got to the Yankees, he took full advantage of that short porch, hitting 77 homers while still stealing 25-30 bases most seasons. Damon was effective with the Yankees through his age 35 season, which is when they let him walk. If Ellsbury can be like Damon, but actually play defense, then I’ll be very happy with this deal.
Featured image courtesy of: Paul Sancya/AP
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