Yankees Payroll Cuts: Breaking down a potential Jacoby Ellsbury deal

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 13: Jacoby Ellsbury
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 13: Jacoby Ellsbury /

Would the Yankees front office trade away Clint Frazier if it meant getting rid of a bulk of Jacoby Ellsbury’s contract? The Arizona Diamondbacks seem like a team Jacoby Ellsbury would waive his no-trade clause for.

Time and time again the game of baseball has proven that the impossible can happen. The bright minds that make up Baseball Operations Departments across the industry continue to come up with creative alternatives and unique ways to improve rosters. Brian Cashman, Yankees General Manager and one of the best in the business, has done this time and time again by acquiring players such as Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius while shedding unneeded pieces like Chase Headley.

The Yankees need to get rid of a large chunk of Jacoby Ellsbury’s remaining contract in order for the team to maintain roster and payroll flexibility in the present and for the future. Moving Ellsbury’s contract will be extremely difficult due to his lack of consistency and health over the last few years. The Yankees have a full outfield as it is with the expectation that Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Giancarlo Stanton, and Brett Gardner will all play big roles in 2019. That said, Ellsbury has no real place on the 25-man roster, let alone the 40-man, even if he is healthy.

Ellsbury, who is owed over $21 million a year through 2020 with a $5 million buyout for 2021, is said to be progressing in his rehab and will be ready for Spring Training. Moreover, Ellsbury’s contract contains a full no-trade clause. A resident of Arizona in the offseason, it would make sense that Ellsbury would only approve a trade that sends him closer to the West Coast.

In order to get a team to take on the bulk of Ellsbury’s contract, the Yankees will have to include solid minor league—or lesser major league—talent. A baseline for the amount of talent the Yankees will have to send to Arizona is the Chase Headley trade from last offseason.

The Yankees sent Headley and RHP Bryan Mitchell to the Padres in exchange for AAAA outfielder Jabari Blash. San Diego took on the $13 million owed to Headley for 2018 while acquiring Mitchell, who never produced consistent results as a swingman-type arm for the Yankees. In almost 100 innings as a Yankee, Mitchell had an ERA of almost 5.00 with 44 walks. The Padres gambled on Mitchell’s high fastball velocity, long-term team control, and a more pitcher-friendly ballpark than Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees will have to include a young, projectable piece—probably better than Mitchell—in order for the Diamondbacks to take on a large chunk of the $42+ million Ellsbury is owed. In order to make room for Ellsbury on Arizona’s 40-man roster, the Yankees will probably need to take on a player comparable to Blash.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are a potential trade partner. Below is a dissection of how the Yankees can work out a deal with Arizona.

Arizona seems like the team that would be most appealing to Ellsbury. Remember, Ellsbury has complete veto power over any trade proposal. A trade that would send him to his offseason home is the logical destination. It helps that Arizona seems to be in the process of rebuilding, and at the very least, transitioning, in an effort to contend in the National League West in the coming years.

The Diamondbacks have an extremely low payroll and one player, Zack Greinke, makes up over 50% of their 2019 roster. Currently, the Diamondbacks have only four outfielders on their 40-man roster: Steven Souza Jr., David Peralta, Jarrod Dyson, and Socrates Brito. Though three of those four are left-handed hitters like Ellsbury, most NL teams carry five outfielders on their 25-man roster. With a low payroll, enough roster space to take on another outfielder(s), and the ideal location in terms of Ellsbury’s preferences, the Diamondbacks match up well.

The remaining issue is what kind of assets and how much talent the Yankees will have to package with Ellsbury in order for Arizona to agree to such a deal. In 2018 the D’Backs had the 10th best ERA in baseball while their offense ranked 19th in runs. They also ranked last in the majors in production from their right fielders. Teams will never turn down high-upside pitching, but outfield help—especially right-handed outfield help—should be of interest to the Diamondbacks.

Insert Clint Frazier. Frazier is young, controllable, and a right-handed bat with the athleticism to play anywhere in the outfield. There are the injury concerns, especially lingering concerns from his concussions in 2018. Yankee fans may vehemently disagree with the thought of shipping Frazier away, but if Arizona is willing to take on a considerable portion of what Ellsbury is owed, the Yankees should strongly consider moving forward with such a deal.

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Frazier fits the controllable, high upside, but “better than Bryan Mitchell” mold mentioned above. In this scenario, the Yankees could get back Brito, who would have no place on the Diamondbacks roster if Ellsbury and Frazier were both acquired. Brito fits the Jabari Blash mold. Brito would have the opportunity to compete for a bench role with the Yankees in Spring Training, while also having minor league options left.

Nick Ahmed, who won’t be a free agent until 2021, could be discussed as well if the Yankees are willing to eat more of Ellsbury’s contract or include additional prospects. Ahmed would slot in nicely as a utility infielder capable of starting for long periods of time in the instance of an injury. This scenario is less likely with the recent signing of SS Troy Tulowitzki.

The focus of this trade proposal is to get rid of as much of Ellsbury’s contract as possible. Better players packaged with Ellsbury will lead to Arizona taking on more of his contract. Getting Arizona to take on $30 million or more of Ellsbury’s remaining $42 million and change would save the Yankees $15 million in payroll for 2019 and 2020.

To sweeten the deal the Yankees could throw in a lottery pick or two, i.e. a very young player that excelled in the Dominican Summer League or the Gulf Coast League in 2018.

Besides the obvious pursuit of SS/3B Manny Machado, the Yankees could use that $15 million in salary to sign two more relievers out of the group of David Robertson, Zach Britton, and Adam Ottavino. They could also use that money to extend players like Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius. it could also make a potential run at Bryce Harper more realistic.

Next. Middle-Infield Targets for the Yankees. dark

It is imperative that the Yankees find a way to get rid of a bulk of Ellsbury’s contract any way they can. In the long run, that money can be used to help make them a better team with a stronger and more fiscally efficient roster.