Thoughts on Jacoby Ellsbury’s Future
It was safe to say that at the end of the 2017 season, Jacoby Ellsbury had become the major league’s all-time highest paid 4th outfielder. The emergence of Aaron Hicks, who finally began to fulfill the promise that made him a first-round draft choice of the Twins, the MVP caliber season of Aaron Judge and the continued steady play of Brett Gardner had relegated Ellsbury to the bench. During the magical playoff run, Ellsbury became little more than an afterthought.
Still, Ellsbury did make some important contributions with his legs down the stretch, so you could sort of understand his refusal to waive his no-trade clause. Better to be on a potential World Series winner, even in a bench role, than starting for a team going nowhere.
Then, the Yankees did the most Yankee thing of all: they traded for the
NL MVP. Just like that, Ellsbury went from the 4th outfielder to a player without any clear role. A very well paid player without any role, who still insists on not waiving his no-trade clause. And…I do mean no role. I suppose he would be useful as a pinch runner in the late innings. But really, how often are the Yankees going to find themselves with Greg Bird or Gary Sanchez standing on second in a tie game in the 8th or 9th inning?
Let’s face it, as fans we all feared Ellsbury’s decline at the end of that massive contract he signed prior to the 2014 season. We just had no idea how quickly that decline would come, or how dramatic it would be. Over the past three seasons, he has struggled to an 89 OPS+, while injuries have held him out of 114 games. Even what was once his best asset, an ability to swipe bases seemingly at will has slipped. He’s totaled only 63 steals and watched his steal percentage drop from 85% to 74%. Defensively, he’s lost some range but can still be a serviceable center fielder. He would probably be better suited to left, because of his throwing issues. We don’t know because he’s refused to even try playing there.
At the same time, his presence on the roster is making it impossible for the Yankees to get an extended look at several of their top outfield prospects, kids like Clint Frazier and Billy McKinney. In other words, Ellsbury has become a luxury item that you might have found a spot for on a National League team in the 1970’s. But not an American League team in the 2010’s.
I think it’s fair to say that Ellsbury has reached Mark Teixeira/Alex Rodriguez territory: an overpriced, aging player that the Yankees will pay to make go away. Already there are reports that Yankees are willing to eat a substantial amount of the money owed him, as much as $40 million of the $68.5 million on his contract. If I were Ellsbury, I would be on the phone with my agent daily, finding me a place to play. Because while Ellsbury can probably force his way onto the 2018 roster by means of his contract, I doubt he’ll be in the Bronx past that. In fact, he would be the best paid unemployed man in America next offseason. And he shouldn’t be under any illusions about this. After all, the Yankees paid A-Rod $42 million to go home – and Ellsbury isn’t half the player he was.