The New York Yankees made another off-season splash on Wednesday by agreeing with former Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. The deal is reportedly worth $153 million over seven years with a club option for an eigth. It also includes some form of no-trade clause, of which the details were not immediately known.
The deal arguably creates more questions than answers for the Yankees front office. By adding Ellsbury’s contract at almost $22 million per year, it will be difficult for Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner to remain below the $189 million luxury tax threshold, which they have publicly stated they want to do in order to save 50% of every dollar spent beyond that level. The addition of Ellsbury’s contract means the Yankees have just above $140 million in salary already promised it will be a tough task to fill in all of the gaps the Yankees currently have. Second base has become an issue after Robinson Cano bolted today to the Mariners. The club could also use another starting pitcher and another big bat.
The deal also creates a question of what to do with Brett Gardner, whose contract is due to expire at the end of this coming season. Will the Yankees place Gardner and Ellsbury at the top of that lineup as table setters and keep their current dynamic defensive outfield? Or will they deal Gardner for pitching help or minor league prospects to replenish a depleted farm system? There is certainly some flexibility here, which Brian Cashman will be happy to work with.
The merits of adding Ellsbury are obvious. He is an above average center fielder with fabulous closing speed, which will prove useful in the vast expanses of Yankee Stadium. Offensively, he has stolen over fifty bases three times in his career. He is also a .297 career hitter and gets on base at a clip of .350. In short, he is the ideal table setter for any lineup and will provide an immediate boost to the position in New York. The more petty benefit of adding Ellsbury is that he played his entire career as a member of the Red Sox. To lure a former Red Sox farmhand and two-time World Series champion to the Yankees is an attractive notch in Brian Cashman’s belt.
However, as with any deal, there are risks. Ellsbury has gotten the reputation for being injury prone and registered only 78 and 303 at-bats in 2010 and 2012, respectively. Essentially, the Yankees are paying $22 million a season to a player that may or may not be there for them down the stretch (this may be a reason to keep Gardner in place). In addition, Ellsbury’s most valuable asset is clearly his speed. The center fielder will be 37 by the time the deal is done and his speed will certainly diminish as he moves through his mid-thirties. Having said this, the deal is certainly a win-now type of move and the Yankees must have been comfortable with the financial risk they will bear throughout the deal.
If the Yankees are to succeed, Ellsbury will certainly be a catalyst for their prosperity. At the very least, the signing is a bold move, something fans hope to see more of after a down year for their team.