Yankees release Jacoby Ellsbury and designate Greg Bird for assignment

The Yankees announced Wednesday night that they released OF Jacoby Ellsbury and designated 1B Greg Bird and LHP Nestor Cortes Jr. for assignment. The moves were made to make room on the 40-man roster for top prospects RHP Deivi Garcia, CF Estevan Florial, RHP Luis Gil and four other minor leaguers.

Finally, Jacoby Ellsbury’s tenure with the Yankees is officially over. He will likely go down as the worst free-agent signing in franchise history. The 36-year-old was set to enter the final year of his seven-year $153M contract in 2020 and earn $26M. The Yankees will swallow the remaining money owed to him and cut ties with him in order to open up a spot on the 40-man roster.

We knew heading into the day that some roster moves were coming with the 8 pm deadline looming for teams to add players to the 40-man roster that they wanted to protect from being eligible for next month’s Rule 5 draft. The Yanks entered Wednesday with 36 men on their roster but following the moves to release Ellsbury and DFA Bird and Cortes Jr., they’re now at an even 40. Rounding out the roster additions are RHP Miguel Yajure, RHP Brooks Kriske, RHP Nick Nelson, and RHP Luis Medina.

The decision to release Ellsbury was somewhat shocking but it makes sense considering he wasn’t going to play for the Yankees in 2020. He sat out the last two seasons due to various injuries and stayed away from the club throughout that period of time. Paying him another $26M next season to do nothing isn’t ideal, but these roster spots are too valuable to waste. The Yanks needed to find a way to protect the seven prospects they added to their 40-man roster from the Rule 5 draft and this was the best way to clear up another spot.

As for Greg Bird, his run with the Yankees ends after four straight injury-plagued seasons. Bird was never able to stay healthy after bursting onto the scene as a rookie in 2015 when he hit .261 and hit 11 HR in 46 games. When he was healthy enough to play he couldn’t live up to his potential and really struggled to produce offensively.

After the emergence of Luke Voit in 2018 and Mike Ford this past season, Bird fell to the bottom of the Yankees’ first base depth chart and became expendable. The Yanks probably tried to trade him before deciding to release him but his value has declined rapidly since his rookie year. Bird should get claimed and find a new home in the coming days but if not he could wind up back with the Yanks at Triple-A Scranton.

The same goes for Nestor Cortes Jr. who will also try to find a new home after he posted a 5.67 ERA in 66.1 IP with the Yanks in 2019. Cortes struggled mightily down the stretch with a 12.10 ERA in September and gave up 16 HR over the course of the season. The left-hander wasn’t overpowering and used funky deliveries to mess with hitters timing but the more he pitched in the second half the harder he got hit. I think the Yankees realized that and decided to let him go.

The Yankees have high hopes for all the prospects they added to their 40-man roster especially Deivi Garcia. The 20-year-old is the top overall prospect in the organization and could compete for a spot in the starting rotation next spring. The right-hander has electric stuff and struck out 165 in 111.1 innings pitched and made it all the way up to Triple-A after starting the year at A-Advanced Tampa.

Next: Yankees: Top five free agents they should sign this offseason

Estevan Florial entered the season as the Yankees top prospect but his stock has taken a hit after back to back injury-plagued campaigns. However, he’s still a five-tool talent and the Yankees aren’t going to give up on him just yet.

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