Yankees Release Jacoby Ellsbury, Worst Contract in Team History

I have been waiting for this day since the day the Yankees regrettably and unnecessarily signed Jacoby Ellsbury. I never wanted the Yankees to sign 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, 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. Ellsbury will get paid $26 million in total from here on out to not play for the Yankees thanks to a $5 million buyout on an option that was never going to get picked up. But at least he won’t be 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 six seasons as a Yankee, Ellsbury played in 520 of a possible 972 regular-season games (53.5 percent) and missed the entire 2018 and 2019 seasons. He hit an anemic .264/.330/.386 and averaged a .716 OPS with 9.8 home runs, 49.5 RBIs and 25.5 stolen bases when he 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 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 was that, except his hot streaks would 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?

The Yankees couldn’t get out of their $153 million mistake. They coudln’t pay Ellsbury to play for another team through a trade like they did with David Justice or A.J. Burnett or Brian McCann because at pennies on the dollar, he wasn’t healthy or wanted. The only way out was to finally release him now that the insurance coverage has run out and maybe there is a team dumb enough to sign him to the league minimum and see if he has anything left, which he doesn’t. He’s not going to become the player he was for one season of his 13-year career. That one season also happened NINE 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. If he does land a job somewhere, he will most likely play like a Hall of Famer against the Yankees 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 and 2019 was a fitting end to his Yankees tenure. He had no place on this team this past season 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, and he had no place on this team in the upcoming season 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 was no longer a need to try to salvage even one cent 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. 2019 ended disappointingly, but even with the disappointing end to the last two seasons, 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 again in 2020 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 was doing better and doing something necessary. If he were to ever get healthy, it didn’t matter if he were the last man on the bench or the 25th man on the roster. His presence would serve as a reminder and holdover from the run of disappointing seasons from 2013-2016 and the bad contracts that led to those disappointing seasons.

The money finally became just money for the Yankees and protecting prospects who may or may never actually help the Yankees at the major league level was more important than continuing to roster a lost cause. It’s just money, and it was just $26 million at this point. The other $127 million-plus had 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 they will pay him to not play for them if he ever plays again at all. The worst Yankee in history is no longer a Yankee.


My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!