Not only has Jacoby Ellsbury been replaced as a starting outfielder by rookie phenom Clint Frazier, he risks falling further down the Yankees depth chart following the return of Aaron Hicks from the disabled list.
On Tuesday night, before the Yankees 6-2 win over the hapless Reds, manager Joe Girardi officially told Jacoby Ellsbury that he’ll see limited playing time for the foreseeable future. As one would figure, the 11-year veteran was none too pleased, telling NJ.com:
"It’s just getting back to where I was before I was out,” the center fielder said. “Nothing’s permanent."
The defiant Ellsbury, who turns 34 in September has been downright awful since returning from a month-long stint on the disabled list due to a concussion. In his past 19 games, Ellsbury is hitting a lowly .174 with no home runs and only three RBI.
For the season as a whole, Ellsbury has compiled a .244/.318/.353 slash line, four home runs, 17 RBI and a 0.7 WAR.
Those looking for a silver lining to the man still owed $77 million through the 2020 season (a $5 million buyout exists in 2121), Ellsbury does have 12 stolen bases and 31 runs scored in 201 at-bats.
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Clint Frazier’s ascension to the everyday lineup has pushed Brett Gardner and his 17 dingers to center field. With the news that Comeback Player of the Year candidate Aaron Hicks will finally begin swinging a bat this week, it’s entirely possible that by Mid-August Ellsbury could find himself as the Yankees’ fifth outfielder and strict pinch runner.
Even if the organization decides to demote Frazier to open a roster spot upon Hicks’ return (which I think would be a huge mistake), the only way Ellsbury gets back his starting job back is if the injury bug strikes.
Regarding what the organization should do with the man who replaced Robinson Cano — none of the options are all that enticing.
Designate for assignment, release, trade or keep
Much like the Red Sox did with epic failure Pablo Sandoval and his remaining $48 million, the Yanks could DFA Ellsbury. Since no one in their right mind would claim that horrendous contract, the club would then have 10 days to release Ellsbury or send him down to the minors.
Ellsbury obviously has five years of service time in the majors which means he’d be forced to accept a demotion or risk losing his remaining guaranteed salary. Can you imagine the chaos a trip to Triple-A would do to Ellsbury’s self-esteem? For those who say he couldn’t get much worse, I bet you’re wrong.
Any hypothetical trade scenario where the Yankees are fortunate enough to deal the aging speedster would involve them taking on an equally atrocious contract.
ESPN’s Buster Olney recently detailed a list of potential candidates to do just that. The interesting thing about the article is that of the six names Olney suggested, four of them are pitchers. Those names include Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmerman, Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto.
All are expensive — have a record under .500 — and likely will never ever again be a staff ace.
Cueto is the one I’d personally take a chance on as he can opt out of his 6-year, $130 million deal after this season. Similar to the Masahiro Tanaka situation, Cueto is owed $87 million should he decide to stay put.
Since that’s approximately $10 million more than Ellsbury is set to make, it’s possible the Giants are willing to flip-flop porous contracts without the inclusion of stud prospects.
Only one season removed from compiling an 18-5 record, 2.79 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and a 198:45 K:BB ratio, Cueto would be wonderful middle of the rotation addition, and a mentor for emerging No. 1 Luis Severino to learn from.
Of course, the Yankees could always decide to keep Ellsbury in his current role, but I’m not sure how much more the team, its fans or Ellsbury himself can take of this increasingly contentious situation.