Saturday Links: Cole, Ellsbury, Diamondbacks, Judge, Fowler

Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

As of today, pitchers and catchers are 59 days away from reporting to Tampa for Spring Training. Two months. There’s lots to do in those two months too. The Yankees need another pitcher and probably another infielder. and eventually the top free agents are going to have to sign. Anyway, here are some notes to check out.

Yankees, Pirates talking Cole trade

As rumored during the Winter Meetings, the Yankees and Pirates are indeed talking about a Gerrit Cole trade, reports George King. The deal “possibly” could include Clint Frazier, and the Pirates are said to want a young big league ready pitcher as well. Chance Adams is the obvious fit there, though who knows, maybe the Pirates prefer Domingo German or Luis Cessa. Strangers things have happened.

On one hand, Cole turned only 27 in September, and he has obvious ace-caliber upside. Plus he’s under control for two seasons, not just one. On the other hand, Cole has gone backwards the last two years. He had a 4.26 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 203 innings this season, which is as close to league average as it gets. League average is fine! A league average workhorse is quite valuable. I just worry about trading an ace package for a guy who hasn’t been an ace in two years.

Yankees, D’Backs talked Ellsbury trade

The Yankees and Diamondbacks discussed a Jacoby Ellsbury trade at some point recently, according to Brendan Kuty, though apparently it was a one-sided conversation. The D’Backs weren’t interested. Arizona appears to be one of the few potential landing spots for Ellsbury given the fact they need an outfielder, and Ellsbury and manager Torey Lovullo know each other from their Red Sox days. Plus Ellsbury has a house in Arizona, apparently.

Supposedly Ellsbury does not want to waive his no-trade clause, which could simply be his way of playing hard to get, and leveraging the no-trade clause into some sort of compensation for agreeing to a deal (pick up his 2021 option)? That might be pushing it. Or maybe Ellsbury doesn’t really want to leave the Yankees because he wants to win, and is willing to accept a reduced role. Whatever it is, he is in control here. If he doesn’t want to go to the D’Backs (or anywhere else), he doesn’t have to.

Judge will be ready for Spring Training

Earlier this week Brian Cashman told Brendan Kuty that following his shoulder surgery, Aaron Judge will be ready for the start of Spring Training, though the procedure will throw a wrench into his offseason workouts. Judge will have to start hitting a little later than usual. Here’s what Cashman said:

“He won’t be hitting in the winter the way he’s used to doing but in terms of hitting the ground in spring training he should be fine,” Cashman said. “But as far as his normal cage work and picking up a bat at a certain point, that’s going to be delayed for a period of time. But in terms of the recovered and the rehab puts him well in advance of spring training.”

While every surgery comes with risk, I’m not too worried about Judge because it was a fairly minor procedure — they scoped out a loose body and repaired some cartilage, there wasn’t any damage to his labrum or rotator cuff — and he has plenty of time to recover. Missing some offseason cage time isn’t the end of the world. As long as Judge is ready in time for Spring Training, he’ll get more than enough at-bats to be ready for the season.

Fowler suing White Sox for injury

According to Tom Schuba, former Yankees farmhand Dustin Fowler is suing the White Sox and the agency that manages Guaranteed Rate Field over the injury he suffered this summer. Fowler suffered an open rupture of the patella tendon when his knee hit an electrical box along the sidewall chasing a foul pop-up, as I’m sure you remember. It happened in his first inning as a big leaguer. From Schuba:

The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, claims the White Sox and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority acted negligently by not securing the metal box or taking precautions to prevent players from colliding with it. In addition, the suit alleges the White Sox and Sports Facilities Authority failed to adequately inspect the right field wall and the box. The box was installed at knee-level “in a manner so as to create a hidden and undetectable hazard” to Fowler and other ballplayers, the suit alleges. By failing to properly pad, guard or cover the exposed box, the defendants showed “an utter indifference to or conscious disregard” for Fowler’s safety.

The lawsuit says Fowler, who later went to the Athletics in the Sonny Gray trade, suffered “severe and permanent” injuries as well as mental pain and anguish, and adds Fowler has had to spend “large sums of money” on medical care related to the injury. I have no idea whether he has any chance of winning the lawsuit, but I hope Fowler cleans them out and they have to rename the ballpark after him. He started baseball activities as part of his rehab last month, so it seems he’s doing well. Hopefully Fowler wins the A’s center field job in Spring Training.

Looking at potential landing spots for Jacoby Ellsbury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

For the very first time, I went into this offseason believing the Yankees would make a serious effort to move Jacoby Ellsbury. They’re going to have to eat money to do it, but that money is a sunk cost anyway. Either the Yankees pay Ellsbury and keep him on the roster, or they pay him to play elsewhere so they can put the roster spot to better use. Any savings are a bonus.

Aaron Hicks started in center field in the postseason and Brian Cashman made it clear a few weeks ago the Yankees plan to keep Hicks in center field next year. Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge aren’t going to be unseated in the corners, plus Clint Frazier is knocking on the door. Then the Yankees went out and traded for Giancarlo Stanton over the weekend, knocking Ellsbury further down the depth chart. Here is that outfield depth chart, which I think is better explained through tiers than a straight 1-6 ranking.

  • Tier One: Judge and Stanton
  • Tier Two: Gardner and Hicks
  • Tier Three: Ellsbury and Frazier

Ellsbury is at best fifth on the outfield depth chart and I am very willing to hear arguments that he’s really sixth behind Frazier. Point is, Ellsbury is getting pushed out, so it’s no surprise reports from the Winter Meetings indicate the Yankees are willing to eat half the $68M left on his contract to trade him. Will that be enough? Would Ellsbury get three years and $34M as a free agent? Probably not, but start by saying you’ll eat half, then go from there.

Ken Rosenthal floated the idea of the Yankees attaching prospects to Ellsbury in a trade, which I hate. Giving up prospects to rid yourself of a bad contract when you’re the richest team in the sport doesn’t sit well with me. This all started because the Yankees a) gave Ellsbury that ridiculous contract in the first place, and b) are adhering to the luxury tax threshold, thus voluntarily throwing away the financial advantage that comes with playing in New York.

Anyway, attached prospects or not, moving Ellsbury will not be easy given his production and contract, plus the whole no-trade clause thing. His market is very limited. How limited? Let’s look. Here are the teams that most stand out as potential Ellsbury suitors. (Given the way these things usually go, this means Ellsbury will be traded to a team not listed in this post at all.)

Arizona Diamondbacks

Current Outfield: A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, Yasmany Tomas

The D’Backs are likely to lose J.D. Martinez to free agency, and the new front office doesn’t seem particularly fond of Tomas, which is why I traded Ellsbury to Arizona in my offseason plan. I thought maybe there would be a fit, especially since Ellsbury and D’Backs manager Torey Lovullo were together on the 2013 Red Sox. (Lovullo was bench coach that year.) There’s a connection to Lovullo, an open outfield spot, and the D’Backs are good enough to contend, which might be enough to convince Ellsbury to waive his no-trade clause.

Chicago Cubs

Current Outfield: Jason Heyward, Albert Almora, Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber

Zobrist has declined — he hit .232/.318/.375 (82 wRC+) in 2017, you know — Almora is a platoon player, Heyward is a younger version of Ellsbury, and Schwarber runs around the outfield like he has a full diaper. There’s also the connection to Theo Epstein and the rest of his front office crew, who drafted and developed Ellsbury back in the day. The Cubs are likely to lose Jon Jay, a left-handed hitting center fielder, to free agency. If the Yankees eat enough money — or kick in a pitching prospect, which the Cubs desperately need — would the Cubbies be interested in Ellsbury? I don’t think it would take much convincing to get him to waive his no-trade clause to join Chicago.

Cleveland Indians

Current Outfield: Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall, Bradley Zimmer, Brandon Guyer (Jason Kipnis?)

There’s a decent chance Brantley will spend more time at DH than in the outfield going forward given his injury problems the last two years, meaning Edwin Encarnacion will have to play first base. The Indians showed they’re willing to play Kipnis in the outfield despite his inexperience, so they could end up with Kipnis-Zimmer/Guyer platoon-Chisenhall in the outfield and Brantley at DH. Adding another outfielder isn’t an absolute necessity, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea. And, obviously, there’s the Ellsbury-Terry Francona connection from Boston. As always, the question with Cleveland is money. They don’t have much of it, so how much would the Yankee have to eat to make it happen?

Houston Astros

Current Outfield: George Springer, Josh Reddick, Marwin Gonzalez, Jake Marisnick

A long shot, for sure. Springer and Reddick are locked into two of the three outfield spots and Gonzalez was too good last season to bump out of the lineup for Ellsbury. Marisnick is younger, cheaper, and better defensively than Ellsbury as well, so Ellsbury wouldn’t even fit as a reserve player. I have to think Ellsbury would okay a trade to the defending World Series champions, but the Astros don’t need him.

New York Mets

Current Outfield: Yoenis Cespedes, Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo, Michael Conforto (rehabbing from shoulder surgery)

Could you imagine the reaction if the Mets took on Ellsbury — essentially the Yankees’ scraps — after the Yankees traded for Stanton? It would be ugly, and for that reason I don’t think it would happen. Even the shameless Wilpons would consider the optics terrible, even though adding another center field capable outfielder wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. Would Ellsbury waive his no-trade clause to stay in New York? Something tells me he won’t even have to think about it.

San Francisco Giants

Current Outfield: Denard Span, Hunter Pence, Jarrett Parker, Mac Williamson

This past season Giants outfielders hit .253/.311/.374 (79 OPS+) with 38 home runs in a little over 2,000 plate appearances, if you can believe that. It’s no wonder why they were in on Stanton. Ellsbury’s defense would fit well in spacious AT&T Park, though I get the sense the Giants, who ranked dead last in MLB with 128 home runs in 2017, want a bigger bat. Maybe they’d take on Ellsbury on a secondary piece? Sign Jay Bruce or someone like that first, then trade for Ellsbury and a small piece of his contract for depth? An Ellsbury-for-Jeff Samardzija bad contract swap doesn’t make any sense for San Francisco since they need pitching too. Also, the Giants did lose 98 games this year. I’m not sure Ellsbury would waive his no-trade clause to join a team that far away from contention, despite their recent World Series titles. Stanton sure didn’t.

Texas Rangers

Current Outfield: Nomar Mazara, Delino DeShields Jr., Shin-Soo Choo, Willie Calhoun

That is a sneaky bad outfield. Choo and Calhoun would both be a full-time DH if they were on separate teams, but since they’re on the same team, one has to play the outfield, and that’s not good. Both DeShields and Mazara are young enough and talented enough to stay in the outfield full-time going forward. A Choo-for-Ellsbury bad contract swap makes sense for Texas — they’d be able to put Calhoun at DH and upgrade their outfield defense — but doesn’t help the Yankees at all. They’re looking to clear the roster spot for a younger player and save money, not rearrange the furniture with another bad contract. I don’t see much of a fit here, even before considering whether Ellsbury would waive his no-trade clause to join the Rangers.

Toronto Blue Jays

Current Outfield: Kevin Pillar, Steve Pearce, Teoscar Hernandez, Ezequiel Carrera

Goodness. That outfield. The whole intra-division thing complicates a potential trade, though I don’t think the Yankees would be afraid to dump Ellsbury on an AL East rival. I think they’d do it if that’s their best option. Would the Blue Jays take on Ellsbury in a salary dump? Would Ellsbury sign off on a trade to that sinking ship in Toronto? Despite the desperate need for outfield help north of the border, I don’t see the Blue Jays as a realistic fit for Ellsbury.

Washington Nationals

Current Outfield: Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, Michael A. Taylor, Brian Goodwin

Jayson Werth’s contract just expired, but the Nationals don’t really need an outfielder to replace him because the guys who replaced Werth when he was on the disabled list this year (Taylor and Goodwin) were way better than him. The Nationals dried up as a potential Ellsbury landing spot as soon as they acquired Eaton last year. I think Ellsbury would okay a trade to Washington should a deal be worked out, plus the Nationals are a haven for unwanted Scott Boras clients, so I can’t completely rule them out as a possibility. I just think it’s unlikely.

* * *

Rebuilding teams like the Athletics, Padres, Phillies, Reds, Royals, Tigers, and White Sox would very likely be interested in trading for Ellsbury as long as a good prospect(s) is attached. Take on, say, $5M a season and get a prospect(s)? Why not. What caliber of prospect? Well, that’s up for debate. The Twins ate $4M or so to trade Jaime Garcia to the Yankees and they ended up with Zack Littell and Dietrich Enns, but that was $4M. We’re talking about eating $5M or so with Ellsbury each year for the next three years, so $15M total.

The bigger issue with that sort of trade is why in the world would Ellsbury agree to go to a rebuilding team? The solution could be releasing him. As a condition of accepting the trade, Ellsbury could ask his new team to release him, allowing him to sign anywhere for the prorated portion of the league minimum. The Yankees clear a roster spot and part of Ellsbury’s contract, the rebuilding team gets a prospect(s) for taking on some cash, and Ellsbury gets to pick his next team and offer his services at a dirt cheap price. A win-win-win? Not sure I’d go that far. But it could work.

Like I said, I don’t love the idea of attaching prospects to Ellsbury to unload the contract, but that may be the Yankees’ only choice, unless one of those clubs listed above decides Ellsbury is worth a couple million bucks and trading a non-prospect or two. I do think the Yankees are very motivated to move him right now though, especially after the Stanton trade. Perhaps they believe they have a deep enough farm system that trading a prospect or two to free up cash at the MLB level is worthwhile.

2017 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Tuesday

Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)
Cole. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty)

The first day of the Winter Meetings came and went with little activity. At least aside from that big Giancarlo Stanton press conference, of course. There were a few low-profile signings and the usual array of rumors, yet most of the top free agents remain unsigned. That’ll change soon enough. Will the Yankees sign one of those free agents? Eh, hard to see it after Stanton.

“We have to do more. We have unfinished business,” said Brian Cashman following the Stanton press conference yesterday. “We have payroll space because we have more work to do. (The Stanton trade) fits because we still have room to accomplish all of our stated goals, but obviously it takes up some of that space, clearly.”

Yesterday we learned the Yankees have interest their 2008 first round pick, Pirates righty Gerrit Cole. Pitching help was mentioned more than a few times after the Stanton press conference. Once again, we’re going to keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors from the Winter Meetings right here, so make sure you check back for updates. All timestamps are ET.

  • 5:18pm: The Yankees are working hard to add a starting pitcher, so says Aaron Boone. Boone is still new here. I don’t know if he’s just saying that to say it, or because the Yankees are moving down the line with a trade or free agent. Probably the former. [Kuty]
  • 4:47pm: Brian Cashman has been talking to Frazier’s agent now that third base is open. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 2:46pm: It is very possible the Yankees will add two starting pitchers. In all likelihood, they’d trade for a younger pitcher under control and re-sign CC Sabathia [Kuty]
  • 2:31pm: The Yankees are one of several teams to check in with the Royals about lefty Danny Duffy. There is currently no traction with any team, though that can change quick. [Joel Sherman]
  • 12:20pm: If you’re thinking about a Todd Frazier reunion in the wake of the Headley trade, Frazier has let teams know he wants a multi-year contract. [Brendan Kuty]
  • 11:17am: The Yankees have traded Chase Headley and Bryan Mitchell to the Padres for Jabari Blash. The deal clears Headley’s entire $13M salary. Here’s our post.
  • 10:27am: The Yankees are trying to trade for a starter and have both Michael Fulmer and Patrick Corbin “on their radar in early talks.” Corbin will be a free agent next year. Fulmer is under control for another few years. [Bob Nightengale]
  • 9:30am: The Pirates are willing to listen to offers for Cole, though they are not actively shopping him and they do not appear to be particularly motivated to trade him this week. [Buster Olney, Rob Biertempfel]
  • 9:30am: It is “unlikely” Jacoby Ellsbury will waive his no-trade clause to leave the Yankees. He is no higher than fifth on the outfield depth chart, but hey, the Yankees look pretty good. I wouldn’t want to leave either. [Mark Feinsand]
  • 9:30am: At some point between the Shohei Ohtani rejection and the Stanton trade, the Yankees expressed interest in Carlo Santana. That’s not happening now, obviously. [Ken Davidoff]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

2017 Winter Meetings Open Thread: Monday

2017-winter-meetingsSo this offseason went from boring to crazy in a hurry, huh? After weeks of inactivity, Shohei Ohtani signed with the Angels and the Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton (!!!) in the span of 48 hours. Just like that, the two most intriguing storylines of the offseason were resolved. Ohtani is an Angel and Stanton will be mashing dingers in the Bronx.

That doesn’t mean the Winter Meetings will be boring this week, of course. There are still plenty of quality free agents on the board — nearly every top free agent remains unsigned — plus surprise trade candidates always emerge. The Stanton trade is all but certain to be the Yankees’ biggest move of the offseason. They do still need some pitching though, and possibly a second baseman.

“I do think that the future is bright. We’ve got a lot of good stuff that is already in place, and we’ve got more good stuff coming. I thought everybody got a chance to see that on the baseball stage this year play out. It has a chance to play out that way even further in the future. I don’t think there is a lot for us to have to do. I think we’re going to be patient, and we’re going to be diligent,” said Brian Cashman to Bryan Hoch, barely three days before the Stanton trade.

Stanton will be introduced at a 2pm ET press conference this afternoon, which I assume will be on MLB Network and MLB.com. Now that the Winter Meetings are underway, we’re going to keep track of all the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here. I honestly don’t know what to expect in the wake of the Stanton trade. The Yankees could very easily sit back and let the market come to them now. We’ll see. Make sure you check back often for updates throughout the day. All timestamps are ET.

  • 2:37pm: Brian Cashman confirmed the Yankees talked to the Marlins about Stanton at the GM Meetings a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t until they lost out on Shohei Ohtani that they pursued him seriously. [Bryan Hoch]
  • 2:01pm: The Yankees are interested in Gerrit Cole, their 2008 first round pick. The “initial impression” is the Pirates are not trading him, however. [Heyman]
  • 10:57am: The Stanton trade is official. The Yankees made the announcement this morning. Here’s the press release. The trade is as reported: Stanton and cash for Starlin Castro, Jorge Guzman, and Jose Devers.
  • 10:30am: The Angels and CC Sabathia have had contract talks. Sabathia said many times he wants to remain with the Yankees, so maybe he’s using the Angels for leverage? [George King]
  • 10:30am: The Yankees are continuing to weigh Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley trade options. Ellsbury has a no-trade clause and apparently wants to stay in New York. The Yankees are said to be willing to eat half the $68M left on his contract to facilitate a deal. [Jon Heyman]
  • 10:30am: The Marlins initially asked for Justus Sheffield, Chance Adams, or Estevan Florial in Stanton trade talks. They settled for Jorge Guzman and Jose Devers. [Heyman]

(Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.)

Saturday Links: Profar, Ohtani, Stanton, Ellsbury

Didi and Profar in the WBC. (Matt Roberts/Getty)
Didi and Profar in the WBC. (Matt Roberts/Getty)

Monday should be a pretty busy day, folks. It is the deadline the MLBPA has set to hammer out the posting agreement for Shohei Ohtani. If a deal isn’t done by Monday, he’s going to stay in Japan next season. Also, Monday is the deadline for teams to set their 40-man roster for the Rule 5 Draft. There’s going to be plenty of roster shuffling that day. Here are some other bits of news to check out.

Yankees interested in Profar again

Once again, the Yankees have some interest in former Rangers top prospect Jurickson Profar, reports Joel Sherman. Pretty sure this is the third straight offseason the Yankees have been connected to Profar. They’ve been trying to buy low on him since his shoulder problems started a few years ago. Interestingly, Sherman says Texas has interest in some depth arms at the bottom of New York’s 40-man roster, and a deal could be built around them. Huh.

Profar, 25 in February, missed both the 2014 and 2015 seasons with shoulder surgery. He’s hit only .227/.316/.315 (71 wRC+) since coming back, including .172/.294/.207 (40 wRC+) in 22 big league games in 2017. The Rangers sent Profar to Triple-A, where he hit .287/.383/.428 (116 wRC+) in 87 games. They did not give him a September call-up though, and Profar is reportedly preparing to file a grievance because the non-call-up pushed his free agency back a year.

Acquiring Profar would be very similar to acquiring Aaron Hicks. The Yankees would be betting on talent and a chance of scenery. Profar was a tippy top prospect not too long ago, he’s still only 24, he’s a switch-hitter, and he’s played basically every position other than pitcher or catcher. He is out of minor league options, so it’s MLB or bust. That’s one drawback. Ultimately, just stockpile high-end talent. If all it takes is some fringe 40-man roster arms, this is a no-brainer.

Ohtani wants to hit and pitch

Not surprisingly, Ohtani wants to both hit and pitch whenever he comes over to the big leagues, reports Yahoo! Japan (translation via @NPB_Reddit). “Ohtani said he wants to play both ways in MLB. I plan to respect that wish,” said his agent. If you’re interested, Dan Szymborski put together statistical translations and ZiPS projections for Ohtani, which seem quite relevant. Here are the 2018 projections:

  • As pitcher: 3.55 ERA (119 ERA+), 10.4 K/9, +3.3 WAR in 139.1 innings
  • As hitter: .266/.328/.466 (112 OPS+), 12 HR, +2.2 WAR in 305 at-bats

That would be pretty incredible in his first year as an MLB player. And, for what it’s worth, ZiPS projects a 125 ERA+ and 121 OPS+ at Ohtani’s peak at age 27. That would be amazing. I think everyone has kinda assumed Ohtani will want to hit and pitch when he comes over, but now we know for sure. His agent confirmed it. We’ll see how it goes. Doing one thing well is hard enough. Doing both well would be rather remarkable.

Yankees checked in on Stanton

Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton. (Eric Espada/Getty)
Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton. (Eric Espada/Getty)

As expected, the Yankees have reached out to the Marlins to discuss Giancarlo Stanton this offseason, reports Jon Heyman. They also checked in back around the trade deadline. Stanton is the big trade commodity this offseason — Heyman says at least eight teams are involved, and I expect more to get involved before it’s all said and done — and so far the Cardinals and Giants have emerged as the most serious suitors.

The Yankees typically check in on everyone during the winter, especially any star players who become available. That doesn’t mean they’re seriously interested in acquiring Stanton. Would they take him if the Marlins make an offer that’s too good to be true? Of course. In that case you get Stanton and figure out where he fits later. That’s why you make the call. In case a favorable deal can be made. Otherwise this is just due diligence. The Yankees have more than enough outfielders as it is.

Ellsbury not yet asked to waive no-trade clause

According to Brendan Kuty, Brian Cashman confirmed this week that the Yankees have not yet asked Jacoby Ellsbury to waive his no-trade clause. Last offseason they approached Brian McCann about waiving his no-trade clause fairly early. I assume that’s because there was legitimate interest in McCann at the trade deadline and serious interest again in the offseason, so there was a real chance of a trade. That probably isn’t the case with Ellsbury. Here’s what Cashman told Kuty:

I have not had any dialogue with Scott (Boras), haven’t even approached Scott, I guess it’s a similar situation. I think in both cases — in McCann’s case as well as if there is going to be something for consideration with Jacoby — I would make sure I would stay ahead of it and have to include anybody in the process on their side of it to make sure it’s handled the proper way.

“They have a full no-trade for a reason, and I would walk through that process with the highest level of communication and respect because of it. I haven’t connected with Scott at all, but I know he’s here somewhere, and I’ll make sure I’ll get a chance to talk to him before I leave just generally about everything Scott Boras related for the winter, and I’m sure we’ll also talk about Jacoby as well.

Cashman also said that, as of right now, Ellsbury is the fourth outfielder. Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge are entrenched in the corners, and Hicks is the man in center going forward. “They were the best that we had (in the postseason), and so I think we would anticipate going (into 2018) that way again,” said Cashman. The Yankees are going to have to eat a lot of money to trade Ellsbury, but I think they’re more willing to do it right now than ever before, so I expect them to shop him around pretty aggressively. And when the time comes, they’ll ask about the no-trade clause.

Picking a Course

(NY Daily News)
(NY Daily News)

In my personal and professional lives, I try to be open-minded and give things lots of consideration before making a decision. Of course, that comes with a fair amount of vacillation sometimes, and it wouldn’t be inaccurate if you were to call me indecisive at times. At times, this spills over into my “life” as a “writer” and baseball fan; it’ll take me a while to figure out what I’d want the Yankees to do and I end up spilling lots of digital ink in lots of directions before coming to a “decision.” This is completely true of my thoughts on the Yankees’ DH situation for 2018. Or it was. I’ve made up my mind.

My gut has been wrong this offseason once so far–I really didn’t think Shohei Ohtani was going to be posted, but that appears imminent–but my gut tells me the Yankees aren’t going to find a trade partner for Jacoby Ellsbury and they’re going to be left holding the bag, so to speak, with five capable outfielders deserving of Major League time: Ellsbury, Gardner, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier. The obvious fix to that is that you start Frazier in AAA and let him work on things there. But let’s assume he has a Spring Training like Aaron Judge did last year and there’s really no way to justify holding him down there. This also all presupposes that there will be no full-time DH, which I think is a likely scenario, given what happened with Matt Holliday this year.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

That leaves us with five bodies for four spots, including the DH. How would I shake these guys out in a lineup? Four of them would play, with one as the DH, and one as the bench guy, depending on what the matchups or needs of the defense dictated. Now, obviously, right field never gets touched unless there’s a rest day or an injury to Judge. That’s his spot for the year almost no matter what.

Against righties, you’d line up Judge in right, Gardner in left, and one of Hicks or Ellsbury in center. This part gives me hesitation because I’m not sure if the new manager will want to give Ellsbury a chance to reclaim his spot or if what happened in the playoffs will continue. If it’s the former, Ellsbury plays center and one of Hicks or Frazier is the DH. Normally you’d just default to the switch hitting Hicks here, but batting lefty is the weaker position for him. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to bury Frazier; might as well have him playing every day in AAA instead of riding the pine with infrequent at bats.

Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Frazier. (Mike Stobe/Getty)

Against lefty pitchers, Hicks plays center, Frazier plays left, and Gardner gets a half day off at DH. He’s getting up there in age and it makes sense to let him rest a bit while the younger guy roams left field. Once again, we relegate Ellsbury to the bench here, unless he manages to improve against lefties while Gardner falls off a bit.

So my five man plan is really a four man shuffle with Ellsbury relegated to the bench. If they manage to trade Taco, this plan is uninterrupted. But, there is another wrinkle, and that’s Ohtani. If he signs with the Yankees, will he be getting DH at bats between starts? If he does, this plan may not work. Setting that aside for the moment, though, I think this is the best way to balance rest and playing time for the outfielders. Of course they’ll have to throw in some DH days for Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird every so often ,but doing this day in, day out probably gives the Yankees the best possible lineup most of the time. Until something big happens, keep it this way.

Year Four of the Jacoby Ellsbury Era [2017 Season Review]

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

At this point, the best thing the Yankees can say about the Jacoby Ellsbury contract is that they’re finally closer to the end than the beginning. Year 4 of the Ellsbury era played out very much like Years 1-3. There were months of poor production, an injury, and a hot streak that had everyone wondering whether Ellsbury would finally provide some bang for the buck.

In the end, Ellsbury hit .264/.348/.402 (101 wRC+) with seven home runs and 22 steals in 25 attempts in 112 games in 2017, which isn’t bad by any means. It is a bit deceiving though, because Ellsbury bunched all the good into a four-week hot streak from August 26th through September 20th, in which he hit .397/.494/.616 (194 wRC+) in 89 plate appearances. In his other 320 plate appearances, he hit .230/.303/.346 (~77 wRC+).

Now, don’t get me wrong, those 89 great plate appearances from August 26th to September 20th count. Ellsbury was phenomenal those weeks! He helped the Yankees win a lot of games. The season is not four weeks long, however. There was a lot of bad sandwiched around those four weeks, bad enough that Ellsbury was relegated to fourth outfielder duty for long stretches of time, including in the postseason.

A Lineup Demotion, In Theory

Following the end of the 2016 season, both Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman hinted at a lineup change for the 2017 season. The Brett Gardner/Ellsbury tandem would be broken up atop the lineup. The Yankees signed Ellsbury hoping he and Gardner would form a dynamic one-two lineup punch with speed and sneaky power. It never really materialized.

The question was who would be demoted, the more productive Gardner or the more highly compensated Ellsbury? Money talks. In a perfect world teams wouldn’t consider salary in making roster decisions, but they do. They all do. The Yankees are no different. In this case, Ellsbury salary didn’t matter. Girardi dropped him from second in the lineup all the way down to … fifth. He even batted fourth for a few games.

On one hand, dropping Ellsbury from the second spot in the lineup was the right move. On another hand, dropping him to fourth and fifth meant he was still hitting in the premium lineup spot, and would still be a significant part of the offense. And for the first few weeks of the season, it was fine. Not great, not terrible. Fine. Ellsbury hit .277/.333/.410 (99 wRC+) in April and even swatted his first career grand slam.

Ellsbury played well enough in April — and the season was still young enough, of course — that he stayed in the lineup even with Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks hitting the snot out of the ball and forcing their way into the lineup. Judge played every single game because he had to. Hicks, Ellsbury, and Gardner spent most of the month rotating in and out of the lineup, with Hicks getting the least playing time.

The Concussion

On May 24th, with his batting line sitting at .281/.349/.422 (108 wRC+) through 153 plate appearances, Ellsbury crashed shoulder-first into the center field wall making a catch against the Royals. He initially stayed in the game, but was removed one inning later with a concussion.

Ouch. Concussions are no joke. They’re a brain injury and if they’re not treated properly and quickly, they can lead to very bad things down the road. The concussion sidelined Ellsbury for almost exactly one month — he returned on June 26th. Ellsbury’s injury gave Hicks a chance to play everyday, and it was a Hicks injury that brought Ellsbury back from the disabled list a little sooner than expected. Hicks hurt his oblique on June 25th and the Yankees brought Ellsbury back from his rehab assignment a few days early to fill the roster spot.

The first few weeks back from the concussion did not go well, and while that is understandable — again, concussions are a serious matter — it also fit a career-long pattern for Ellsbury. He has a history of getting hurt and not hitting once he returns. We’ve seen it in pinstripes a few times, most notably after he tweaked his knee in 2015. In his first 41 games back from the concussion, Ellsbury hit .186/.289/.297 (60 wRC+) in 136 plate appearances. Yeesh. At one point he went 3-for-29 (.103) during a 13-game span. That dragged his season batting line down to .237/.320/.364 (85 wRC+).

Ellsbury’s Best Four Weeks As A Yankee

That ugly 41-game slide ended August 25th, a cherry-picked date. The very next day, Ellsbury started his monster four-week hot streak, a 38-game stretch in which he was not only New York’s most dangerous hitter, but also one of the best hitters in the game not named Giancarlo Stanton. Those four weeks were incredible.

Those four weeks were so great they represent Ellsbury’s best four-week stretch as a Yankee, bar none. He hit .397/.494/.616 (194 wRC+) those four weeks. His next best four-week stretch in pinstripes is a .324/.366/.539 (150 wRC+) batting line back in August 2014. Here is Ellsbury’s tenure with the Yankees:

jacoby-ellsbury-2014-17-wrc

More valleys than peaks, though some of the peaks are quite high. None are as high as his second half this season. Ellsbury was the Yankees’ best player during those four weeks late this season and the Yankees needed him to step up, because Hicks was hurt again and Judge was still working his way out of his second half slump. The Yankees were noticeably short a bat down the stretch. Ellsbury helped pick up the slack.

The hot streak was the very best of Ellsbury. He was a contact machine — he drew 13 walks and struck out only nine times in those 38 games — who sprayed the ball all around and used his speed. There is always going to be some element of luck involved when a player hits .397 across 38 games — Ellsbury did have a .444 BABIP during the hot streak — but Ellsbury created his own luck by putting the ball in play so often. He saw 375 pitches during the hot streak. He swung and missed only 28 times.

The biggest moment of Ellsbury’s torrid hot streak came during Players Weekend, when he swatted a go-ahead three-run home run against the Mariners. The Yankees suffered a tough extra-innings loss the night before and basically half the AL was trying to catch them in the wildcard race. Ellsbury’s homer contributed to an important win.

By the end of the hot streak Ellsbury had raised his season batting line to .273/.361/.420 (110 wRC+). It was an uneven distribution — he started well enough, stunk in the middle, then got crazy hot — but it was the first time since his first season with the Yankees that Ellsbury was an above-average hitter that late into the season.

The Beginning Of The End

The hot streak didn’t last, of course. They never do. Ellsbury went 5-for-30 (.167) in his final eight games of the regular season, and with Hicks back from his second oblique injury, Ellsbury again found himself on the bench. It was Hicks, not Ellsbury, who played center field in the postseason. The Yankees played 13 postseason games this year and Ellsbury appeared in six of them. He started four, all at DH. In those six games he went 0-for-9.

There were stretches throughout the season in which Ellsbury was dropped down into fourth outfielder duty, though the Hicks injury and the general day in, day out nature of the regular season meant he still played a few times a week. In the postseason though, with every game meaning so much, Girardi and the Yankees determined Ellsbury did not give the Yankees the best chance to win. Not at the plate and not in the field. He was a pinch-runner, basically.

As things stand, the Yankees are deep in outfielders going into the 2017-18 offseason. Ellsbury, Gardner, Hicks, and Judge are all under control for at least two more years, and Clint Frazier is very close to ready for full-time MLB action, if he isn’t already. Ellsbury is the one outfielder who clearly deserves less playing time going forward, not more. That the Yankees already scaled back on his playing time this summer leads me to believe Ellsbury’s days as a starter are close to over, at least when he’s not in the middle of a hot streak.

2018 Outlook

For the first time since Ellsbury joined the Yankees, I feel like the team will make a very serious effort to unload him this offseason, to clear room for Hicks and Frazier and the other outfielders. It’s going to hurt to trade Ellsbury, and it should hurt. The signing seemed completely crazy at the time, and when you make a decision that bad, you deserve to deal with the consequences. The Yankees will have to eat a lot of money to move Ellsbury. There are four questions now:

  1. Will Ellsbury waive his no-trade clause?
  2. Does any other team even want Ellsbury?
  3. How much money will the Yankees have to eat to facilitate a trade?
  4. How badly do the Yankees want to open the roster spot?

That’s what this is about, right? Opening a roster spot for a younger player (Frazier) and saving as much money as possible. The contract is a sunk cost. Right now the Yankees have to pay all of it no matter what. Saving some of it, even a few million a year, to open the roster spot and create a more flexible roster makes sense given where the Yankees are. It’s hard to see Ellsbury as a meaningful piece of the next great Yankees team.

Trading Ellsbury won’t be easy nor will it yield any sort of meaningful return. It’ll be a reverse Vernon Wells trade, basically. The Yankees get non-prospects in return for saving some cash. Ellsbury is better than Wells, sure, but his contract is more onerous. If the Yankees can unload Ellsbury, I think they’d jump at the chance this winter. And if not, they’ll have no choice but to go into next season with him penciled into a bench spot.