Yankees Will Need to Get Creative to Move Jacoby Ellsbury

Jul 30, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (22) at bat against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 30, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury (22) at bat against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

While the New York Yankees are nearly out of the woods with many of their terrible long-term deals, the four years remaining on Jacoby Ellsbury‘s contract remains a problem.

It is notable that while nearly every other New York Yankees veteran’s name came up in rumors leading up to the August 1st trade deadline, there was never once a mention of starting centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury being moved.

While the Yankees primarily dealt away players whose contracts expired after the season, like Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman, and Ivan Nova, they were also willing to talk about their other veteran guys with significant long term commitments like Andrew Miller, Brett Gardner, and Brian McCann.

Even 36-year-old CC Sabathia, who will make a whopping $25 million in 2017 assuming his option vests, drew some interest.

With Masahiro Tanaka widely expected to opt-out of his contract after next season, that leaves the four years and $89.4 million remaining on Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract as the single largest commitment remaining on New York’s payroll.

The seven year deal given to Ellsbury looked like a big mistake from the moment it was signed, but man does it look even more awful now. Jacoby’s first season in pinstripes was solid, but he has failed to produce like even an average regular in years two and three.

In 2015, a knee injury hobbled Ellsbury down the stretch as he hit .257/.318/.345 (83 wRC+) and seemed to lose considerable range in centerfield. He has failed to bounceback to his previous form this year, putting up a .266/.329/.365 (88 wRC+) slash line. On the plus side, his work in center has looked better in 2016.

While the overall package is still a playable regular as Jacoby Ellsbury approaches his 33rd birthday, Yankees fans are understandably not looking forward to see how much further he declines over the next four years.

What makes this even more painful is that the organization has so many MLB-ready outfielders looking for their chance. Aaron Hicks will be relegated to the bench when Brett Gardner returns from his injury, despite hitting .289/.319/.511 (120 wRC+) since the trade deadline.

The Yankees have found a regular spot for Aaron Judge, but Hicks, Ben Gamel, Rob Refsnyder, Mason Williams, Jake Cave, and Clint Frazier will all need jobs shortly as well. At least a few of them are likely to outproduce the husk of Jacoby Ellsbury that remains, at a fraction of the price.

At this point, the front office would have to pay down Ellsbury’s salary considerably if there is to be any hope of moving him. It was apparently like pulling teeth to get the Yankees to throw in $2.5 million to facilitate the trade of Beltran to the Rangers. They were similarly unwilling to eat salary to move Brian McCann to Atlanta.

Some contenders who might be looking for an upgrade in centerfield this winter include the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, and Houston Astros. All of those clubs have the financial means to absorb Ellsbury’s contract, but the Yankees would still probably have to throw in something close to $30 million to get it done.

The front office was willing to pay $21 million to get Alex Rodriguez to go away next year, but obviously that was an extreme circumstance given their rocky history. Every season that ticks by increases the likelihood of an Ellsbury deal as his price tag becomes more and more manageable and the kids behind him on the depth chart begin to push harder.

Next: Projecting Yankees Budding Star Aaron Judge

Will this be the winter that things come to a head? Probably not in all honesty. But it is conceivable that some stirrings of a trade begin at next year’s trade deadline assuming Ellsbury is healthy and at least this productive. If I had to bet, the winter following 2017 seems like the time the Yankees will be forced to move him.