Following in the steps of Johnny Damon, Jacoby Ellsbury is moving from Beantown to the Bronx. He has reportedly agreed to a seven-year, $153 million with the New York Yankees – the third largest contract for an outfielder in the history of baseball.
Ellsbury, 30, is coming off a championship year with the Boston Red Sox during which he batted .298/.355/.426 with nine home runs and 53 RBIs. He also stole 52 bases, the most in baseball. That’s nothing compared to his 2011 campaign during which he hit .321/.376/.552 with 32 homers, 105 RBIs and led the majors with 364 total bases.
Truthfully, he was robbed of the MVP Award that year. Ellsbury is no doubt a phenomenal ball player who brings a combination of speed and power that few players possess. He’s also one of the best defenders in the game.
Still, signing Ellsbury has a major downside. Anyone who watched the Yankees in 2013 understands how injuries can derail a season. Ellsbury has been plagued with injuries throughout his career. He played in only 74 games in 2012 and 134 in 2013, when he was 28 and 29-years-old respectively. Who knows if he’ll be able to stay healthy towards the end of the deal when he’s 35?
The deal is truly shocking and not just because of how lucrative it is. For starters, Ellsbury’s agent Scott Boras tends to wait and gauge the market before committing to a deal — even though I doubt anyone would have topped New York’s offer. The deal is also surprising because, even though he’s one of the best outfielders in the league, he’s not a perfect match with the Yankees like Brian McCann is.
The Yankees needed a right fielder, and still do. They were a serious contender for Carlos Beltran and Shin-Soo Choo, but are likely out of the running for those players now. They already had a solid center fielder in Brett Gardner. Ellsbury will probably take over in center and Gardner will slide over to left field, which will force Alfonso Soriano into a greater DH role.
Thus, the Yankees still need to add a right fielder or have someone play out of position — that, or rely on an Ichiro Suzuki/Vernon Wells platoon again.
The deal also makes a Robinson Cano re-signing more questionable. The Yankees set the bidding for the Cano at seven years, $160 million and claimed they would not wait for the second baseman to begin signing other free agents. Clearly, they weren’t bluffing. But now that they’ve committed so much money to McCann and Ellsbury and still have to fill three spots in the starting rotation, you have to wonder how much dough the Yankees will have left for Cano.
Ellsbury’s a premier player right now and the Yankees are much better off with him than without him (if he stays healthy), but signing him doesn’t totally address the team’s needs.