I like Jacoby Ellsbury. Jacoby Ellsbury is a good, perhaps even great, player and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching him grow as a member of the Red Sox. I’m not torn apart that he signed with the Yankees. He made a purely financial decision and I’m proud of him finding his big payday. After all, if anybody should be torn apart that he signed with the Yankees, it’s the Yankees themselves.
Let’s disregard the two major injuries he has undergone in the past four years. Those were freak injuries caused by large men literally falling on top of him. Let’s look solely at the value that Jacoby Ellsbury brings to the Yankees.
In his seven year career, Ellsbury is a career .297/.350/.439 hitter, stats brought up significantly by a 2011 season that saw him hit 32 home runs– a number he has not even come close to in any other season. However, it’s worth considering that the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium will elevate his power numbers, so we’ll leave it be. That’s not the type of slash line that players receiving a 7 year/$153 million contract normally have over their careers. No, Ellsbury’s money maker is his speed as he has averaged 55 steals per 162 games during his career and has led the American League three times.
That speed is what makes Ellsbury one of the best, if not the best, leadoff hitter in baseball. That speed is what makes Ellsbury an elite defensive center fielder who has won a Gold Glove. Most importantly, that speed is what propels Ellsbury from a $10-$15 million player to a $21 million player.
However, Ellsbury is 30 years old. It’s common knowledge that guys who rely on their speed to be effective do not age well. Regardless of that, the Yankees will still be paying Ellsbury more than $20 million a year well into his mid-30′s. For a team which (allegedly) is trying hard to get under the $189 million luxury tax threshold, that is devastating.
Of course, it is possible that the Yankees will abandon this new way of thinking and return to their free-spending days of yesteryear. However, a huge contract to a speed guy without his speed is still a significant blot on their payroll. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a solid chance that Ellsbury will be worth every penny for the first three or four years of this contract. After that, however, there’s an equally solid chance that the Yankees will woefully regret this signing.
It will be hard to see Ellsbury playing on another team, particularly the Yankees. However, I’m glad that Ben Cherington and the Red Sox front office stood their ground and didn’t give Ellsbury a contract of this size. That’s not even considering that this contract may well prevent the Yankees from signing Robinson Cano, and I’d face Ellsbury over Cano any day of the week.