Seven questions on the Ellsbury signing
December, 4, 2013
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com
NEW YORK -- Having had a night to sleep on it, I have come to the conclusion that, on balance, the Jacoby Ellsbury deal might work out well for the Yankees, at least for a few seasons. Some random thoughts on the matter:
1. Did they pay too much? Only if it's coming out of your pocket. The size of the contract -- $153 million over seven years -- raises legitimate questions about how well the Yankees' seven-year, $160 million offer will sit with Robinson Cano and his advisers. But again, that's Hal's problem. He and his staff must have realized the ripple effect this could have on the Cano negotiations, and maybe that was their intention, to send a message Robbie's way.
2. Is the contract too long? Maybe, because 37 years old, which is what Ellsbury will reach in his final season, could turn out to be ancient for a player whose game is so dependent on his legs. But remember, most free-agent contracts pay players for past performance, not future production, and Ellsbury might be that rare case of a big-ticket free agent whose best days are still ahead of him. Don't worry about what kind of player he will be in five years; get the most out of him for the next three or four.
3. What about the injuries? True, Ellsbury missed a ton of games in 2010 and 2012. But the nature of his injuries -- broken ribs and a dislocation of his right (non-throwing) shoulder -- don't seem to be the type that leave residual effects behind. It's not like he's had knee or hip surgeries or anything like that. I wouldn't worry a heck of a lot about them yet.
4. What about Brett Gardner? He looks more and more like an expendable piece now, because Ellsbury is a slightly younger (18 days), somewhat more powerful (32 home runs in 2011) and demonstrably more aggressive base stealer than Gardner, and really, does any lineup need two players like that? Gardner had an excellent 2013, but what the Yankees really needed was someone to drive him in. What the Yankees have done with this deal is essentially add two players, Ellsbury and that rarest of commodities for them, a bona fide tradable piece of big league talent with which to begin shopping to fill the many remaining holes in their roster. Would not be a bit surprised if the Yankees began shopping Gardner around for a starting pitcher, since they have at least two vacancies in their rotation.
5. Will Ellsbury hit more HRs at Yankee Stadium? Quite possibly. Although he hasn't come close to that 32 home run total in the past two seasons, one of which was severely curtailed by injury, 15 of his home runs in 2011 came at Fenway, which is much deeper and less forgiving in right field than Yankee Stadium is. So while Ellsbury is unlikely to fill the void left behind with Curtis Granderson's departure, he might come close.
6. What does this mean for the Cano signing? Unless Robbie is insulted that the Yankees are paying Ellsbury nearly the same as they are offering him and decides to bolt out of spite, probably nothing. The Yankees say their ceiling on Cano is approximately seven years and $175 million, an average of $25 million a year. They also say they will not match a $200 million offer under any circumstances. I believe them on both counts. Assuming the Seattle offer is legit, if Cano is willing to take a little less to be a Yankee, he will be. If he isn't, he won't. It has nothing to do with Ellsbury. Then again, this signing could have a positive effect, demonstrating to Cano that the Yankees have a renewed commitment to winning and perhaps swaying his decision somewhat. Time will tell.
7. What about that $189 million payroll limit? For months, Hal Steinbrenner has been saying -- and I have been writing -- that the number is no longer a mandate, merely a goal. Sometimes you attain your goals, and sometimes you don't. I get the strong feeling that if the Yankees don't attain this goal, they will not only survive but also will put themselves in a better position to attain their real goal -- becoming a winning baseball team again.