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How long until the Yankees are regretting giving Jacoby Ellsbury a 7-year contract?
So here’s what happened: In the midst of a whirlwind day in which their two top priority free agents, Robinson Cano and Carlos Beltran, were rumored to have received offers far in excess of what they were willing to pay, the Yankees instead wind up landing Jacoby Ellsbury for seven years, $ 153 million and deal a potentially major blow to their arch-rival Red Sox.
Or was it?
No question the 30-year-old Ellsbury, coming off an outstanding season in which he hit .298 with a league-leading 52 stolen bases and an on-base percentage of .355, was one of the elite free agents on the market this winter in an otherwise mediocre class, and a key component in the Red Sox’s remarkable run from last place to world champions. But, as history has proven, contracts of more than six years for players 30 or older have proven time and again to be disasters, especially with “legs” players such as Ellsbury.
There is no better evidence of that than the seven-year, $ 142 million contract the Red Sox bestowed on then 29-year-old Carl Crawford three years ago when he was coming off a season in which he hit .307 with 90 RBI, 110 runs and a league-leading 13 triples. In the three years since, Crawford, beset by injuries, has hit .255, .282 and .283 with 65, 23 and 62 runs scored, respectively, and 56, 19 and 31 RBI. In his eight-plus years with the Tampa Bay Rays, Crawford had had only one season in which he missed an inordinate amount of time to injuries.
By contrast, Ellsbury missed nearly all of 2010 with fractured ribs and much of 2012 with what was called a shoulder subluxation.
Obviously, the word that Beltran was closing in on a three-year, $ 48 million deal with his original team, the Kansas City Royals, prompted the Yankees to re-address their outfield while they remained more than $ 40 million apart with Cano, who was said to be aggressively pursued by the Seattle Mariners.
Supposedly, the Mariners were willing to more than meet Cano’s demands from the Yankees of eight years, $ 200 million. If nothing else, Cano’s agent, Jay Z, has finally taken a page out of the Scott Boras handbook by coming up with a mystery bidder to create a market for Cano.
Will the Yankees, who have held fairly steadfast on their reported offer of seven years/$ 160 million for Cano, now bite? It appears they will. While denying the Ellsbury deal was done Tuesday night, Yankee officials were also saying they could still sign both Ellsbury and Cano and remain under the $ 189 million luxury tax payroll threshold next year. And sign the Japanese pitching prodigy Masahiro Tanaka as well? Why not?
At the same time, the Yankees have privately been saying that their offer to Cano essentially an annual average value of $ 23 million is more than in line with the highest-paid players in the game, given the fact that Cano has never won an MVP award.
The seven highest annual average value paid players in the game, Alex Rodriguez ($ 27.5M), Justin Verlander ($ 27M), Albert Pujols ($ 25.4M) Ryan Howard ($ 25.5M), Josh Hamilton ($ 24.6M), Felix Hernandez ($ 25M), Zack Greinke ($ 24.5M) and Cliff Lee ($ 24M) have all either won MVP or Cy Young awards.
In A-Rod’s case, he’d won three MVPs, two with the Yankees, and had not yet admitted doing PEDs, and was the acknowledged best player in the game when the Yankees signed him to that 10-year, $ 275 million extension in late 2007 they are now so regretting. In the case of all the position players A-Rod, Pujols, Howard and Hamilton the contracts are already looking like financial boondoggles, and you can throw Prince Fielder’s nine-year, $ 214 million deal in there, too.
I’m just not sure what the Yankees are trying to prove here. Now they’ve agreed with Ellsbury on a $ 21.8 million per year deal that will almost certainly be another financial disaster three or four years down the road, while giving them another “legs” player in the outfield when what they really needed there was a power bat. What happens to Brett Gardner? Are they trying to send a message to Cano that, if he doesn’t come drastically off his eight-year, $ 25 million per year demands, they’re moving on? Is this their way of saying to the Red Sox: “We’re back!”?
Whatever, this reckless, show-their-financial-might signing by the Yankees makes no sense, other than being another example of the Yankees’ intention of buying their way out of a situation in which their player development department has been bankrupt for years.
I suspect, before this winter is finished, the Red Sox will have some sort of countermove to compensate for the loss of Ellsbury at the same time, feeling the same sense of relief they felt when they were able to unload Crawford’s contract on the Dodgers, and the same sense of relief the Cardinals felt when Angels owner Arte Moreno outbid them for their 30-year-old franchise player, Pujols.