The worst contract in the history of the Yankees was one that never made any sense. This wasn’t the Yankees competing against several other contenders to add Carl Pavano or even Jaret Wright after the 2004 ALCS collapse. This wasn’t the Steinbrenners overruling Brian Cashman to give A-Rod a 10-year, $275 million after his second MVP season in three years. This wasn’t the Yankees continually upping their offer to CC Sabathia to put so much money in front of him that he would have to say no to California. This wasn’t the Yankees giving A.J. Burnett $82.5 million because he led the league in strikeouts once (with an above-4 ERA). This wasn’t the Yankees stepping in and stealing Mark Teixeira away from the Red Sox with an eight-year, $180 million deal. This was the Yankees deciding to pass on their own homegrown, All-Star talent to sign essentially a one-year wonder to a seven-year, $153 million contract (with a $5 million buyout for an eighth season, which we can’t forget) when NO ONE ELSE was bidding.
Given the contract and performance, Jacoby Ellsbury is the worst player in the history of the New York Yankees. Pavano is not a counter argument. There is no argument. And all of the weird injuries and issues aside, Ellsbury made more in his first two seasons with the Yankees than Pavano did in his four, and two years from today, Ellsbury could still be a Yankee, weakly grounding out to the right side, hitting for no power, stealing no bases and blocking prospects with real baseball talent from reaching the majors.
The idea that having Ellsbury and Brett Gardner hitting first and second at the top of the order was what the Yankees needed after the disastrous 2013 season was such a bad idea that it makes choosing Gary Sheffield over Vladimir Guerrero look good. Like that Sheffield-Guerrero decision, maybe this decision also wasn’t Brian Cashman’s call after the 2013 season since ownership had to watch the Red Sox win their third World Series in 10 years while the Yankees put together the 2006 All-Star team with Ichiro, Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay. If it weren’t for Alfonso Soriano’s MVP-like return in the middle of the summer to string Yankees fans along until early September, maybe the front office would have done something more drastic than signing Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Maybe they would have also signed Shin-Soo Choo to a seven-year, $140 million deal. (Unfortunately, that’s not a joke as Cashman and Co. did offer Choo a seven-year, $140 million deal.)
I never thought I would find a hitter streakier than Gardner, but Ellsbury has been that, except his hot streaks last a quarter of the time of his cold streaks. Yes, the Yankees’ plan was to put the two streakiest hitters in the game back-to-back at the top of their lineup in hopes that hot streaks would occur at the same time. Why would you want to do that? If you know the answer then maybe you can also tell me why you would want two Brett Gardners on the same team? And then maybe you can also tell me why would you want to pay the real Brett Gardner $13 million per year and the bad Brett Gardner $21.1 million per year?
If it the decision wasn’t Cashman’s then it needs to be made public. I can’t sit here four-plus years later with potentially three seasons left of Ellsbury (his fourth season will be bought out) and not know whose decision this was. Cashman has gotten a lot of praise in the last year and a half after he tore down a team he built and netted valuable assets like Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Justus Sheffield and Dillon Tate. But if the Ellsbury signing was Cashman’s decision, I need to know. If it was someone in his front office then I need to know that they are no longer making decision for the New York Yankees. And if it happened to be ownership’s decision, well, that would make the most sense since Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine’s smart decision-making track record starts and ends with the Rafael Soriano signing. And if it weren’t for Mariano Rivera shagging fly balls in Kansas City, they wouldn’t have a smart track record.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whose decision it was. What does matter is that it can be fixed. The person responsible for the worst contract in Yankees history, which produced the worst Yankee in the team’s history, can salvage the monumental mistake that cost the franchise $153 million (plus his $5 million buyout for 2021) and Robinson Cano. And it’s very easy. Release Jacoby Ellsbury.
No team wants Ellsbury, not even for pennies on the dollar. Unless the Yankees eat a significant portion of his remaining $68 million and attach a prospect or prospects to him, no one is touching the one-year wonder, and that was made abundantly clear this offseason. Despite all the rumors and reports of November, December and January, no team was ever close to acquiring Ellsbury and Ellsbury made that known at spring training when he said the Yankees never asked him to waive his no-trade clause. I’m not even sure any team even entertained the thought of trading for Ellsbury.
The Yankees aren’t getting out of this mistake. They can’t pay Ellsbury to play for another team through a trade like they did with David Justice or A.J. Burnett or Brian McCann. The only way out is to release him and find out which team is the dumbest in the league. If the Yankees release him and he signs with another team for the league minimum, which he most likely will, so be it. He’s not going to become the player he was for one season of his 11-year career. That one season also happened SEVEN YEARS AGO! He’s not going to be rejuvenated and revitalized with a change of scenery and more playing time because he isn’t good. He’s not going to come back to hurt the Yankees. He will most likely play like a Hall of Famer against them when he faces them because every ex-Yankee does, but he’s not going to be the missing piece of another contender, and he’s not going to get some big hit or make some big play against the Yankees that ruins their own championship aspirations. Because in a game of that magnitude, Ellsbury will be on the bench, like he was for the 2015 Wild-Card Game and like he was for nearly the entire 2017 postseason aside from a few DH at-bats.
Aside from tying up $21.1 million that could have been used on Yu Darvish or can be used on Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn, Ellsbury is destroying the development of Clint Frazier. (Sure, the Stanton signing and the belief that two good months of Hicks’ career is enough to make him the starting center fielder are helping, but let’s stay with Ellsbury here.) If Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are going to be the right fielder and designated hitter the majority of the season and Brett Gardner is in left and Aaron Hicks is in center that puts Ellsbury on the bench. And that puts Frazier in Scranton. And if one of Judge (knock on all the wood) or Stanton (knock on all the wood again) or Gardner or Hicks goes down, that means playing time for Ellsbury. Right now it’s going to take two injuries from those four or Ellsbury-like seasons from two of those four for Frazier to get to the Bronx, and even then, it might not be enough. And I certainly don’t want any of those four to get injured and if two of those four have Ellsbury-like seasons and the two are Judge and Stanton, well pack up the bats and balls and we’ll see you in 2019. The path to the Yankees for Frazier without some sort of injury bug or 2013-14 season repeat is incredibly hard. Ellsbury makes it that much harder. Not even just for Frazier. For everyone. That roster spot and position player bench spot is a big deal.
2013 was an embarrassment. 2014 was a disappointment. 2015 was great until the trade deadline and awful after it. 2016 sucked until after the trade deadline. 2017 was unexpected and the most fun I have had as a Yankees fan since the moment before Derek Jeter’s ankle was ruined in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS. 2018 and moving forward is going to be like it was before 2013 when the Yankees were the Yankees and winning a World Series was an attainable goal. If the Yankees don’t win a championship this season it will be a disappointment like it was for eight years after 2000 and again for three years after 2009. Ownership likes to apologize to the fans when the goal of winning a championship isn’t met and they promise to do better and do the things necessary to win moving forward. Getting rid of Ellsbury is doing better and doing something necessary. It doesn’t matter if he’s the last man on the bench or the 25th man on the roster. He’s there and he’s a reminder and a holdover from the recent run of disappointing seasons and the bad contracts that led to those disappointing seasons.
It’s just the money, and it’s just $68 million at this point. The other $90 million has already been wasted. Sure, the Yankees could have used the Ellsbury contract to sign Cano, or give 765 New York City high school students $200,000 towards college, or give a $100 ticket or food credit at the Stadium to 1.53 million Yankees fans, or done anything other than give a one-year wonder on the wrong side of 30 a seven-year contract to play Major League Baseball. But they did and now it’s time to fix it. Release Jacoby Ellsbury.