For years we’ve seen comparisons drawn between new Yankee Jacoby Ellsbury and entrenched Yankee Brett Gardner. Naturally, people speculated that the Yankees might trade the latter, given their $153 million commitment to the former. “Absolutely not,” according to an ESPN NY source. The source further speculated that both will bat atop the order, which might mean an ego hit for Derek Jeter (though Jeter could presumably hit second against lefties). It’s certainly an interesting approach, both atop of the order and in the outfield. Much of the success, I imagine, rests on the power that Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, Alfonso Soriano, and hopefully Robinson Cano, generate behind these guys.
The Yankees made their second huge splash of the offseason last night, landing Jacoby Ellsbury with a seven-year contract worth $153M that could wind up paying him $169M thanks to an eighth year club option. He still has to take a physical and all that before the deal becomes official, but apparently that could happen as soon as today. Here are some thoughts while we wait for things to wrap up.
1. Might as well come right out with it: I am not a fan of the signing at all. Don’t get me wrong, Ellsbury is a very good player when he’s healthy and he will be an enormous upgrade next season, but the Yankees are paying him like he’s an elite player and I just don’t see it. His one truly elite skill is stealing bases and best base-runners in the game provide maybe one win of value with their legs (Ellsbury was at ~1.2 WAR base-running in 2013). That’s nothing. His glove is very good but the net defensive upgrade from Ichiro Suzuki (who I assume is losing his starting outfield spot as a result of the signing) to Ellsbury is small. The offense isn’t anything special at all, especially when you treat that 2011 season like the giant outlier it is. Ellsbury is a ~.350 OBP leadoff guy who will hit single-digit homers. That ain’t elite. That’s pretty good. Ellsbury is going to help the Yankees a ton in the short-term but there’s no way I view him as a $150M+ player. Not even close.
2. As for Yankee Stadium boosting Ellsbury’s power output, yes it will help some. There will inevitably be a fly ball or two that sneaks over the wall each summer that otherwise would have been caught for an out, just like some of those routine fly balls turned into doubles thanks to the Green Monster over the last few years. Ellsbury is not the kind of hitter who can really take advantage of the short right field porch though. He’s a classic speedster, hitting the ball on the ground and using his legs. He also does most of his hitting the opposite way to left:
Going the other way is not a bad thing. The Yankees could use someone who can hit for a relatively high average, but be careful not to make the blanket assumption that his power output will improve just because he’s a left-handed hitter moving into Yankee Stadium. Ellsbury would have to change his hitting approach to seem meaningful uptick in power and … no. Stick to what works. The idea of having two powerless hitters in the outfield full-time is not appealing at all, especially if they can’t retain Robinson Cano.
3. Speaking of Cano, you know all that talk about holding a hard-line with him? Pretty worthless right now. Refusing to budge off that seven-year, $165M-ish offer after bending over backwards to give Ellsbury all that money is borderline insulting. Cano’s the far superior player and he’s the homegrown star. He deserves more. A lot more. Maybe his rookie agents will botch these negotiations and the Yankees can bring him back at something far below fair value, but the team set the market by giving the second best free agent that huge contract. The gap between Cano and Ellsbury is a lot bigger than the gap between Ellsbury and the third or fourth best free agent and he should look to be paid accordingly. The Yankees might be trying to put the pressure on Robbie but I think there’s a chance they’ll wind up pushing him away, and if they lose him after spending all this money on Ellsbury and Brian McCann … I would not be pleased. Losing an actually elite player after giving a non-elite player elite player money would really suck.
4. The plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold is obviously not happening. I mean, I guess it still could if Alex Rodriguez gets suspended for the entire 2014 season, but that’s pretty much the only way it happens. It seems like the Yankees decided to spend as if A-Rod is getting banned for the year and if he doesn’t, oh well, then they’ll go over the limit. It’s hard not to notice the timing — his appeal hearing ended on a Thursday and the McCann deal was struck on Saturday. Maybe the Yankees know something is up. I guess the plummeting television ratings and overall decline in attendance could have spooked them into changing course as well. Either way, staying under the luxury tax limit almost certainly isn’t going to happen after the Yankees spent the last two years making sure they had as much flexibility under the threshold as possible.
5. This is worth exploring further in a full post, but the Bombers are going to be very vulnerable against left-handed pitchers next season if Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter don’t rebound. Ellsbury and McCann have noticeable platoon splits and Brett Gardner’s been up and down against lefties through the years. Their best weapon against southpaws right now is Alfonso Soriano, but it’s pretty much him and him alone until Cano re-signs and Jeter and/or Teixeira show they’re healthy. The AL East isn’t a lefty heavy as it once was but there’s still David Price, Matt Moore, Jon Lester, and maybe Felix Doubront to contend with. Another right-handed bat (Mark Reynolds?) or two is a necessity, and no, Vernon Wells doesn’t count.
On the same day they officially announced the Brian McCann signing, the Yankees made their second huge signing of the offseason (and it wasn’t Robinson Cano). New York has agreed to a seven-year contract worth $153M with former Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. That’s a $21.9M luxury tax hit. The deal is pending a physical and includes both a club option for an eighth year that could push the total value to $169M and a full no-trade clause. Jon Heyman and Mark Feinsand originally broke the news.
Ellsbury, who turned 30 in September, is the 18th player to receive a $150M+ deal in baseball history. It’s the third largest contract ever given to an outfielder, behind the identical eight-year, $160M contracts signed by Manny Ramirez and Matt Kemp prior to 2001 and 2012, respectively. The Yankees will forfeit their next highest draft pick to sign Ellsbury — either their second rounder or the compensation pick they receive when Cano, Hiroki Kuroda, or Curtis Granderson signs elsewhere. Their first rounder was already surrendered for McCann.
In 134 games and 636 plate appearances this past season, Ellsbury hit .298/.355/.426 (113 wRC+) with 31 doubles, eight triples, and nine homers. He hit 32 homers in that giant outlier of a season in 2011 but has otherwise never managed double-digit homers in a single season. The short right field porch will help Ellsbury’s power output somewhat but not a ton unless he changes his approach — he’s a classic speedster who hits the ball on the ground (50.8% grounders) and slashes it the other way to left field. After seeing what’s happened with Mark Teixeira, let’s hope those approach changes are not made. Stick what what earned him that huge contract.
Ellsbury is baseball’s premier base-stealer, going 52-for-56 (!) in stolen base attempts in 2013. He provides both bulk steals and tremendous efficiency. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say he figures to be the team’s best base-stealing threat since Rickey Henderson. Surprisingly, Ellsbury is not all that great at taking the extra-base (first-to-third on a single, etc.), doing so only 42% of the time this past season. That’s roughly league average. I suspect that’s at least somewhat attributable to funky orientation of Fenway Park, especially in left field. Outfielders can play shallower and prevent runners from taking that extra base. Ellsbury has a 70-steal season to his credit (2009) but I’m not sure if that will ever happen again.
In addition to being a great base-stealer, Ellsbury is a high-end defensive center fielder who has graded out exceptionally well in UZR (+29), DRS (+23), FRAA (+18), and Total Zone (+19) over the last three seasons. His arm is awful though, legitimately Johnny Damon-esque. The Yankees will play Ellsbury in center and shift Brett Gardner back into Yankee Stadium’s spacious left field while Alfonso Soriano moves to right, a position he has never played as a professional and doesn’t really have the arm for. Runners are going to be going first-to-third on Soriano like crazy. Outside of Ellsbury in center, the outfield alignment is a bit of question at the moment. The team could always sign another outfielder and make Soriano the full-time DH.
Injuries have been an issue for Ellsbury over the years. He missed 144 games in 2010 with fractured ribs suffered after colliding with a teammate and then missed 88 games in 2012 with a right shoulder injury after a fielder landed on him while sliding into second. Ellsbury played through a foot fracture this past September and some kind of left hand injury in the postseason. He had an MRI after the season but I’m not sure what the tests revealed. Ellsbury has played in only 384 of 648 possible games over the last four seasons so the Yankees will really have to check him out — the ribs, shoulder, foot, hand, everything — during the physical.
Obviously, given his time with the Red Sox and as an important player on two World Series winning teams, there is no concern about how Ellsbury will handle New York. The spotlight won’t be anything new to him. He’s a career .301/.361/.414 (104 wRC+) hitter in 38 postseason games, in case you’re wondering. The Yankees have placed a renewed emphasis on makeup and work ethic in recent years and I’m sure that is an especially serious consideration with a contract of this season. There are no concerns about Ellsbury in that department. He knows the big market/super high expectations routine by now.
The Yankees had their worst offense since 1991 this past season and have made two pretty huge upgrades in McCann and Ellsbury already this winter. McCann replaces one of the game’s least productive catching situations while Ellsbury essentially replaces the mess New York had in right field last year. I have to think the signing moves Ichiro Suzuki and/or Vernon Wells that much closer to the chopping block, so hooray for addition by subtraction. Even though they still need to figure out third base and take care of the Cano situation, the Yankees need to start focusing on their pitching staff. They still need to dig up two starting pitchers and a reliever or three. Ellsbury did not exactly come at a reasonable price, but will he will be an enormous upgrade next season and should give the club another few years of high-end production in center.
3:56pm: According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are “currently engaged” in talks with Beltran, Drew, Kuroda, Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, and various unnamed mid-rotation starters. Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez are not in the mix at the moment.
1:12pm: Via Buster Olney: The Yankees still have offers out to various free agents even after agreeing to sign Brian McCann last night. He says there is currently no traction in talks with Robinson Cano and the team doesn’t want to sit around and wait. I dig it. In addition to Cano, I’m guessing they have offers out to … Carlos Beltran, Stephen Drew, Grant Balfour, and Hiroki Kuroda. Whaddya think?
Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are discussing free agents Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Matt Garza as they look for ways to improve their team this offseason. They’ve also been connected to Stephen Drew, Paul Maholm, Shin-Soo Choo, and Masahiro Tanaka in recent weeks. Free agents can start signing with new teams on Tuesday (Tanaka has to be posted).
Ellsbury, 30, hit .298/.355/.426 (113 wRC+) with a league leading (and ridiculous) 52 steals in 56 attempts this summer. He dealt with a compression fracture in his foot in September and played through a hand injury in the postseason. Ken Rosenthal says he’ll have an MRI in the coming days. McCann hit .256/.336/.461 (122 wRC+) with 20 homers in 2013 and showed no ill effects from offseason shoulder surgery. He turns 30 in February. The 29-year-old Garza had a 3.82 ERA and 3.88 FIP in 155.1 innings split between the Cubs and Rangers this year. He missed the start of this season with a lat strain and the end of last season with an elbow fracture.
Ellsbury and Garza both have plenty of experience in brutal AL East races and McCann is an elite player at a position of great need. The appeal is obvious. The Yankees already have two no power outfielders on the roster and I’m not sure what they’d do with a third, especially since Ellsbury is likely to require a nine-figure contract and forfeiture of a first round pick. McCann is worth the draft pick and simply makes a ton of sense. Garza will not require giving up a pick since he was traded midseason. The team could be considering him an alternative to Tanaka more than Plan A, so to speak.
Got four questions for you this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box to send us your questions or anything else throughout the week.
Mark asks: If Jacoby Ellsbury stays healthy and has a productive 2013, should the Yankees consider signing him as Curtis Granderson’s replacement in the unlikely event Robinson Cano signs elsewhere this offseason? Even though he is a Scott Boras client, I cannot imagine he will get anything close to the 7-10 guaranteed years Cano likely will get from some desperate team given his past injury history.
Ellsbury, 29, desperately needs to have a strong season in 2013. He was a monster in 2011, but otherwise has only played 92 games with four DL trips in 2010 and 2012 combined. I’m pretty sure the Red Sox will let him walk — or even trade him at the deadline — after the season because Jackie Bradley Jr. is coming, so Ellsbury really needs to have a good healthy season if he wants to cash in next winter.
Here’s the thing though: if Ellsbury does stay healthy and has a strong year, Boras will be looking for $100M+. No doubt about it with an MVP-caliber season so close in the rear-view mirror. If he gets hurt again, then you’re talking about signing an injury prone player and expecting him to play everyday. Not the wisest idea. Ellsbury is a good player but I don’t thing he’ll ever repeat his 2011 effort, so I don’t like the idea of signing him to replace Granderson. Even if he stays healthy this summer, there’s still a long injury history there and it would make me wary considering his likely asking price.
Kevin asks: What about Francisco Rodriguez? He isn’t is former self obviously but I refuse to believe he is useless. He could give us insurance with closer experience if Mariano Rivera has a set back.
K-Rod, 31, pitched to a 4.38 ERA (3.83 FIP) in 72 innings for the Brewers last year, his worst season in the big leagues. His strikeout (9.00 K/9 and 23.6 K%) and walk (3.88 BB/9 and 10.2 BB%) were right in line with his career rates, but his swing-and-miss rate (7.9%) was by far the worst of his career (career 12.4%). His homerun rate (1.00 HR/9 and 12.3% HR/FB) were his worst since he first broke into the show. On the bright side, Rodriguez’s fastball velocity spiked back up last summer after a steady multi-year decline.
Last week Jon Heyman reported K-Rod will pitch in the upcoming World Baseball Classic and use the event to showcase himself to teams. The Yankees have a good amount of bullpen depth behind right-handers David Aardsma, Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, and Rivera, but K-Rod would be the first guy I’d call if one of them got hurt in camp. He’s had continued off-the-field troubles and I doubt the makeup-loving Yankees would go for that, however. Rodriguez isn’t what he once was, but he’s still a useful reliever and someone New York should keep tabs on during the WBC.
David asks: Just happened to be surfing during a boring part of SNL and took a look at the MLB list of players with no options. What do you think of Conor Gillaspie? If the Giants don’t keep him, I’m sure someone will claim him, but I’m wondering if it makes sense to try to work out a trade? Yankees would use a young lefty bat who plays third with good minor numbers. Could be a useful left-handed bat on the bench to pinch-hit for a catcher or someone to spell Youk.
I’m willing to bet you are able to do a whole lot more than skim the out-of-options list during the boring part of SNL these days. Ba-dum ching!
That was my attempt at humor. Anyway, the Giants drafted the 25-year-old Gillaspie with the 37th overall pick in the 2008 draft and rather than give him a Major League contract, they promised him a September call-up. He made his big league debut that September and has since burned through his four minor league options (he qualified for a fourth because he used his original three during the first five years of his pro career).
Over the last two seasons, Gillaspie has hit .289/.368/.447 (~107 wRC+) with 25 homers and strong walk (11.1%) and strikeout (13.7%) rates in nearly 1,000 Triple-A plate appearances. He’s had three big league cups of coffee but hasn’t hit (60 wRC+) in 48 total plate appearances. Gillaspie is primarily a third baseman but the Giants have tried him out at first and in left field in the past. Baseball America did not rank him as one of the 30 best prospects in a brutal San Francisco farm system — system ranked 26th by Keith Law and 28th by BA — in their latest Prospect Handbook, which gives you an idea of how farm his stock as fallen. At this point he’s more of an organizational player than anything.
The only locks for Bruce Bochy’s bench right now are backup catcher Hector Sanchez, infielder (and former Yankees farmhand) Joaquin Arias, and outfielder Andres Torres. That leaves two spots open, one of which figures to go a left-handed hitting pinch-hitter. Given the names on their 40-man roster and non-roster invitee list, it sure looks like Gillaspie has a great chance to make the team. If he doesn’t, then I doubt he’s good enough to crack anyone’s bench. The “former (supplemental) first round pick” stuff means he still has a little bit of prospect shine, but I’m not sure Gillaspie is a legit big leaguer. He might be worth a minor trade or waiver claim, but I wouldn’t offer up much of anything even though he appears like a nice fit for the Eric Chavez role on paper.
Update!: The Giants just announced that they traded Gillaspie to the White Sox for a fringy minor league pitcher. I suppose the Yankees could look to acquire him from Chicago, but meh.
Sal asks: Who is the best player the Yankee farm system EVER produced? I’m guessing Derek Jeter or Mickey Mantle?
Without looking, I’m guessing Mantle. Now here are the top five position players and top five pitchers in franchise history according to bWAR…
Yogi Berra (56.2 bWAR) was a distant sixth behind Jeter and Lefty Gomez (39.5 bWAR) was right behind Ruffing, in case you’re wondering.
Ruth obviously wasn’t homegrown, so he’s not relevant in this discussion. Gehrig and Mantle are essentially tied — a difference of 3.0 bWAR spread across nearly 10,000 plate appearances is nothing. Gehrig is the best first baseman in history by a not small margin (Albert Pujols is second at 88.5 bWAR) while Mantle is “only” the fourth best center fielder (behind Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Tris Speaker). Is that enough to say Gehrig is the greatest homegrown Yankee over Mantle? Eh, sure. Why not.
Now, we have to remember that back in Gehrig’s and Mantle’s day, every amateur player was a free to sign with whatever team. The draft and international free agency as we know it (more or less) were implemented in 1965. The best homegrown Yankee during the draft era is Jeter by a mile. Rivera is the second best, then you’ve got Bernie Williams (45.9 bWAR), Thurman Munson (43.3 bWAR), Pettitte, and Guidry essentially tied for third. Fred McGriff was a Yankees draft pick who was traded away before reaching the big leagues, and he managed to rack up 48.2 bWAR. He’s the second best player the team has ever drafted with the caveat that Pettitte could pass him in 2013. Pretty crazy.
Another rainy, yucky afternoon in New York, so I’ve got some inks that will hopefully brighten up the late lunch hour…
Berkman, Ellsbury named Comeback Players of the Year
MLB announced today that Jacoby Ellsbury and former Yankee Lance Berkman have been named the AL and NL Comeback Players of the Year, respectively. Call me a homer, but I think Bartolo Colon should have taken home the AL award. I view this season as a breakout year for Ellsbury, not a comeback. Colon’s career was basically over, it had been four full year since he was last an effective pitcher. Put it this way, what would have surprised you more in March, Ellsbury having the year he had, or Colon having the year he had? Oh well, just my two cents. Congrats to Puma.
Ortiz and the Yankees
Amidst the chaos going on in the Boston, David Ortiz told ESPN’s Colleen Dominguez that he didn’t want to be part of the drama next year. That led to an exchange about the Yankees, and possibly wearing pinstripes in 2012…
“That’s something I gotta think about,” Ortiz said. “I’ve been here on the Red Sox a long time, and I’ve seen how everything goes down between these two ballclubs.”
Ortiz stopped well short of saying he wanted to play for the Yankees, but did express respect for the organization.
“It’s great from what I hear,” Ortiz said of the Yankees. “It’s a good situation to be involved in. Who doesn’t want to be involved in a great situation where everything goes the right way?
Well, I’m glad Ortiz is willing to spend some time thinking about joining the Yankees, but it takes two to tango. As Joe explained yesterday, acquiring a DH is so far down the team’s priority list right now that it’s one notch above “get a new second baseman.” They’d have to give up a draft pick to sign Ortiz since he’s a Type-A free agent (and will certainly be offered arbitration), and then deal with the inevitable PED questions when the Red Sox throw him under the bus as part of their smear campaign like they do everyone else.
Yanks exec interviewed for Phillies gig
Just a small note, but George King reports the Yankees allowed assistant pro scouting director Will Kuntz to interview for the Phillies minor league director position, but he did not get it. This comes on the heels of the news that both Billy Eppler and Damon Oppenheimer were given permission to interview for the Angels vacant GM position (Kuntz works under Eppler). I guess it’s good to know the Yankees front office people are wanted around the league.