I never wanted the Yankees to sign Jacoby Ellsbury. No Yankees fan did. No one thought the Yankees’ decision to bid against themselves and give a 30-year-old outfielder, whose game is based on speed, a seven-year, $153 million contract was a good idea. No one outside of Boston.
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.
In five seasons as a Yankee, Ellsbury has played in 520 of a possible 810 regular-season games (64.2 percent) and missed the entire 2018 season. He has hit an anemic .264/.330/.386 and averaged a .716 OPS and has averaged 9.8 home runs, 49.5 RBIs and 25.5 stolen bases when he has played. He was benched for the 2015 AL Wild-Card game, and then in the 2017 postseason, he went 0-for-9 with three strikeouts and two walks, sharing time with Chase Headey as the designated hitter before losing that part-time job the way he lost his full-time one in center field to Aaron Hicks.
The Yankees have paid him $105,714,285.75 for that performance and he will “earn” $21,142,857.15 in 2019 and another $21,142,857.15 in 2020. And then in 2021, instead of paying him $21 million for his age 37 season, the Yankees will have to buy him out for another $5 million.
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 the decision wasn’t Cashman’s then it needs to be made public. I can’t sit here five-plus years later with potentially two seasons left of Ellsbury (his third 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 $47 million and attach a prospect or prospects to him, no one is touching the one-year wonder, and after that was made abundantly clear last offseason, it has been reinforced in this one.
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 12-year career. That one season also happened EIGHT 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, in which he went 0-for-9 with three strikeout and two walks.
Ellsbury’s comical injury saga of 2018 should be the fitting end to his Yankees tenure. He has no place on this team, other than to give the Yankees front office an out when they choose to not sign Bryce Harper, citing a “crowded outfield” as their reason. Ellsbury has no place on this team even if a series of unfortunate injuries or a rash of underachieving decimated the team. Even having him in spring training as a potential depth player is an insult. There’s no need to try to salvage even one penny of his remaining contract.
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 was enjoyable for the first three months of the season before a second half of .500 and embarrassing postseason ruined the year. But even with the disappointing end to last season, the Yankees are back to playing like the pre-2013 Yankees where winning a World Series every season 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 holdover from the run of disappointing seasons from 2013-2016 and the bad contracts that led to those disappointing seasons.
It’s just money, and it’s just $47 million at this point. The other $105 million-plus 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.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!
The book details my life as a Yankees fan, growing up watching Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams through my childhood and early adulthood and the shift to now watching Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, Aaron Judge and others become the latest generation of Yankees baseball. It’s a journey through the 2017 postseason with flashbacks to games and moments from the Brian Cashman era.
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