If the Yankees are so eager to overpay for Jacoby Ellsbury, then why are they so reticent to do so for Robinson Cano?
One-hundred-fifty-three million here, a couple hundred million there, and as a cynic once said about spending in Washington, pretty soon it adds up to real money.
The Yankees once said they wanted to keep their payroll to $189 million, which is the luxury tax threshold. And if you believe MLB’s compulsive shoppers can do that, you probably believe Alex Rodriguez’s protestations of innocence. The Yankees already have nearly $100 million committed to just five players next year — Ellsbury, Mark Teixeira, Brian McCann, CC Sabathia and Derek Jeter — and that’s assuming Rodriguez and his $25 million, or part of it, get wiped out by a suspension. And they say they want another pitcher and another bat. They must be planning on getting them wholesale.
Give the Yankees credit for this: they’re true to their philosophy. If spending money doesn’t solve their problems, they spend more, and never stop to think that part of the problem just might be that they spend too much. A team that collapsed in 2013 under the burden of long, expensive contracts decided the way to fix things was to award more long, expensive contracts.
In the short term, the Ellsbury signing helps the Yankees and hurts the Red Sox, and that might be enough for the Yankee psyche. The Yankees of December 2013 are better than the team which ended the season — contingent upon Cano re-signing.
But whether Cano’s agent is Jay Z or a member of the Jaycees, the first question after the Ellsbury signing to the Yankees is: Why so much money and so many years for him, but not for Cano? We’d all like to hear Brian Cashman’s answer.
The Yankees will pay Ellsbury $21 million a year until he’s 37, and then will pay him either $21 million more in 2021 or $5 million not to play for them. Can you say Carl Crawford?
Ellsbury has played six major-league seasons and part of a seventh, and he was worth that kind of money for two of them and something close for two more. One of them he barely played at all (78 at-bats in 2010) and one he only played half (74 games in 2012).
You would think a team which paid Teixeira, Jeter and ARod $67 million-plus to idle on the disabled list this year would be more cautious about paying another player who’s been susceptible to injury $20 million-plus. At least if Ellsbury is on the DL, he’s likely to have company.
The other issue is exactly what are the Yankees paying for? Ellsbury, next to Brett Gardner, will certainly improve their outfield defense, just as positioning Shane Victorino next to Ellsbury did for the Red Sox.
But as a leadoff hitter, only once has Ellsbury’s on-base percentage topped .355 (.376) in 2011, and for his career it’s .350. As a speedster with power, only once has Ellsbury hit more than nine home runs (32 in 2011), though his career slugging percentage is an unleadoff-like .439.
The Yankees paid Curtis Granderson $15 million in 2013 and got a Vernon Wells return on it. Ellsbury should be far superior to Granderson’s 2013. But is he millions better than Granderson in 2011-2012 when Granderson hit 84 home runs and walked 160 times? And will Granderson be that player in 2014 for someone else?
(Of the three-team trade four years ago between the Yankees, Tigers and Diamondbacks, the Tigers are now officially the winner. They still have centerfielder Austin Jackson and pitcher Max Scherzer. The Yankees, who acquired Granderson, are only the first loser; the D’backs traded Scherzer for Ian Kennedy, who’s now a Padre).
Ellsbury is an unusual collection of talents: superior defender and base stealer, good hitter, with an average eye and power and an erratic ability to stay healthy.
Two important questions accompany the Ellsbury signing. Which Ellsbury are the Yankees getting? Because the 2011 or 2013 version shakes the AL East up.
And what impact will Ellsbury’s signing have on Cano? Will it entice him to stay to play for a better team? Or inflame him to leave because the Yankees are rewarding an outsider, and lesser player, with the kind of contract they’re not as quick to offer him?
If Cano stays, the Yankees win. If he departs, it’s quite a price to pay for Ellsbury.