Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Yankees Ink Ellsbury

It's bad enough Ellsbury left Boston, but for the Yankees? (LATimes)
The rumors that Jacoby Ellsbury would sign a deal before next week's winter meetings came true when Ellsbury agreed to a seven year, $153 million contract with the New York Yankees last night. It's a move the Yankees are probably going to regret.

I'm not sure how he did it, but Ellsbury eclipsed the deal that his former teammate Carl Crawford signed with Boston prior to the 2011 season (and we all remember how that turned out). Crawford had a much better track record at the time he signed his deal, whereas Ellsbury's history raises several questions. Can he stay healthy? Will he ever come close to repeating his monster 2011? Can he keep playing top-notch defense in center field as he moves into his 30s?

$153 million is a lot to gamble on somebody who's not all that different from Michael Bourn or Shane Victorino (value-wise). I knew Ellsbury was going to strike gold in a paper-thin free agent market, but I'm still stunned that New York just made him the third richest outfielder in baseball history. We're talking about a guy with one truly magnificent season on his resume--2011--largely thanks to a power surge he has since shown incapable of duplicating (I do think Ellsbury will see an uptick in home runs--he should be able to clear double digits easily and will likely settle in the 12-15 range--thanks to the short porch in right).

I mean, just look at the list of his most similar batters on Baseball-Reference: Shane Mack, Angel Pagan, Russ Whitestone, and Johnny Bell? Who are those guys? I wouldn't pay $153 million for the lot of them, that's for sure. Don't get me wrong, Ellsbury's a fine player and a great talent, but he's not that good. He's not better than Crawford was, or Josh Hamilton was, or even Dustin Pedroia, who took a hometown discount to stay in Boston.

So why, then, did the Yankees--who just gave Brian McCann a boatload of money and are trying to re-sign Robinson Cano--give Ellsbury so much darn money? Especially when they already have their own version of Ellsbury (Brett Gardner) patrolling center?

I can't help but think back to the winter of 2009, when New York spent 423 million dollars upgrading its roster in the aftermath of its first season without playoffs since the strike-shortened 1994 season. The Yankees had been hit hard by injuries in '08, losing Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui and Chien-Ming Wang for big chunks of time. They were short on pitching, too, but still managed to win 89 games. But the Yankees aren't supposed to finish third, so they raided the open market for Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Nick Swisher, then promptly went out and won 103 games and the World Series.

New York's 2013 was a lot like that 2008 season. Lots of injuries (to Teixeira, A-Rod, Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Kevin Youkilis) and not enough pitching, but in spite of all that they still won 85 games and finished third. So New York is doing what they've always done: pay top-dollar for elite talent. They have McCann, one of baseball's best catchers, and now they have Ellsbury, one of baseball's better center fielders. Let's say they do keep Cano for roughly $200 million, and they'll have spent close to $450 million on a trio of position players. Granted, all three play premium, up-the-middle positions and excel at what they do, but $450 million for three guys? None of whom have won an MVP, I might add, and all of whom will be on the wrong side of 30 come Opening Day. It's a good short-term plan, bun in the long-run looks plain dumb.

 The Yankees didn't need Ellsbury, but they acquired him anyways. Maybe because they want to demonstrate that they're serious about contending in 2014. Or perhaps they felt the need to make a big splash after having a relatively quiet and unproductive winter by last year. It's hard not to throw money at an exciting, dynamic, multi-talented leadoff man who teased the baseball world with his superstar potential in 2011 (and might rediscover his power stroke in a ballpark better-suited for him). Maybe they just wanted to steal Boston's thunder and remind the Red Sox who really holds all the cards in the AL East.

Those are good reasons, sure. But why do I feel the Yankees put Ellsbury in pinstripes simply because they could?

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