The Impact of Jacoby Ellsbury's New York Signing
The Yankee’s made a big time acquisition this past Tuesday by signing Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153-million deal. Not only is it a strong short-term addition for the Yankees, who finished third in the AL East last year with 85 wins, but it also takes away a strength from their perennial rival, the Boston Red Sox.
How impactful it is for both teams will be discussed in detail later, but make no mistake, this is a “statement” signing to the Yankees. The main words you’ve heard from Yankee executives the last twelve months include, “budget, farm system, short term commitment, etc.” After the signings of Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury, you can throw all that talk out the window. At the end of the day, these are the Yankees, and losing simply isn’t an option.
The irony here, however, is that long-term, monstrous commitments are partly to blame for the Yankee’s recent lull in production. But one thing needs to be abundantly clear: They don’t care. These are the Yankees, and winning doesn’t have a price worth not paying.
Ellsbury has been one of the more dynamic leadoff hitters in the game since he showed up out of nowhere to help the Red Sox win the 2007 World Series. He steals bases at a prolific rate, with 50, 70, 39, and 52 steals in the 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013 seasons respectively. And with a .350 on-base percentage, he resembles the ideal leadoff man.
Let’s take a look at his WAR by season.
Obviously the main outlier in Jacoby’s “healthy” seasons in 2011, when he belted 32 homers, hit .321, and slugged .552 all while playing high-level center field defense. He probably should have won the MVP that year, as he almost single-handedly kept the Red Sox away from the “September Collapse.” Bottom line, Jacoby Ellsbury, barring health, is one of the most valuable center fielders in baseball.
But speaking of health, Ellsbury missed 2010 and a large chunk of 2012 because of injury. Since he has missed major time two out of the last four years, he's often labeled “injury prone.” This is probably an unfair assessment considering his 2010 injury was caused by a collision with third baseman Adrian Beltre and in 2011, Reid Brignac fell on him on a second base “take out” play. Really, he doesn’t have a history of injuries popping out of nowhere and hindering his performance. His two main injuries were caused by two clear fluke accidents.
Overall, his floor is a top-40 player - production that is valuable but not elite. His ceiling, however, could be considered the best player in the game. And with the short porch in Yankee stadium, it wouldn’t shock anyone to see Jacoby find his power stroke once more.
What does the signing mean for the Yankees immediate success? Obviously they have added a pretty stellar player, but how much of an upgrade will it be from their 2013 squad?
Brett Gardner started most of year in center field for the Bronx Bombers, where he was a very productive player, posting 3.2 wins above replacement. At first glance, it looks like the Yankees added a couple wins with the Ellsbury-to-Gardner upgrade.
But the real upgrade comes from the ability to move Gardner back to left field full time. The last time Gardner was a full time left fielder was in 2010, when he posted a career best 6 wins above replacement. Most of that added value is tied into having a legitimate center fielder playing left field in Yankee Stadium.
It'll be an upgrade from Vernon Wells, who was a below replacement player last year. It's a potential 6-win differential for New York, which would make this contract, at least in 2014, absolutely worth it's weight. An outfield of Gardner-Ellsbury-Ichiro is potentially the best outfield - defensively - in baseball. I'm sure any Yankee fan would tell you, whatever you have to do to get Vernon Wells off the field, you do it.
It's pretty obvious that Ellsbury is a fantastic player, and I don’t think you will find anyone who would argue against it. The discussion, especially when looking at this in a team-oriented way, begins and ends with the value of the contract.
His AAV (Average Annual Value) of nearly $22,000,000 puts him ahead of guys like Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and many more. In fact, only eight players were paid more in 2013 than Jacoby’s AAV. Plain and simple, he is being paid as a top-10 player.
Not only that, he’s being committed to for seven years. At 30 years of age, Ellsbury is still in the prime of his career, but the first few years aren’t what worry you if you’re a Yankee fan. What you worry about is when Ellsbury hits the inevitable “mid-30s wall." You don’t have to tell Yankee fans how frustrating it can be watching a fading star struggle to be the player they once were.
At the end of the day, the production the Yankees get from Jacoby’s 34-37 year old seasons will determine the value of this contract. He’s a stellar player, but seven years for anyone is throwing out any sort of predictability (See: Pujols, Albert). It’s a scary contract. Any team other than the Yankees, or perhaps the Dodgers, should be terrified of that type of contract, but as I stated earlier, they simply don’t care. Wins are wins, and the money is burnable.
It always comes down to this, right? Who won? Did the Red Sox, showing restrain while sticking to their plan, win? Or was it the Yankees, who do what they do best, acquiring a star player at any cost?
Honestly - and it’s an annoying answer for both Red Sox and Yankee fans - they both win. The Yankees have the ability to overpay and overextend themselves. They added one of the better players in baseball, and if they hit the Ellsbury 2011 production gold mine, which isn’t unlikely considering that short porch in Yankee stadium, then sure, it’s a move they make 1,000 times over.
The Red Sox, on the other hand, showed something that needs to be commended. They have learned from their past. They aren’t making the same mistakes over and over. They have a clear-cut plan and they aren’t afraid of sticking to it. With prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. waiting in the wings, they have a young, major league ready center fielder ready to contribute at the minimum. They can use the resources they would have spent on Ellsbury in other areas, and have kept something that is obviously of up most importance to them, roster flexibility.
So what did we learn here? The Yankees are still the Yankees, and the Red Sox, World Series Champions, aren’t worried about it.