Wednesday, December 4, 2013

4 reasons the Yankees will regret the $150 million Jacoby Ellsbury deal

USA TODAY Sports' Bob Nightengale is reporting jacoby ellsbury wife-ellsbury-free-agent-contract/3864129/">Jacoby Ellsbury has signed a seven-year contract with the New York Yankees that is in excess of $150 million, ending his seven-year stint with the Boston Red Sox.

Reactions to the deal were mixed. Some Red Sox and Yankees fans felt the signing was the second coming of the Johnny Damon deal, with the Yankees grabbing away another likable Red Sox center fielder and, in doing so, hurting their biggest rival.

This is silly. The Red Sox were never going to pay what Ellsbury (and his agent Scott Boras) wanted. Ellsbury is 30 years old and has been injury-prone is his career so far. The Yankees just gave him a seven-year deal. Let's count all the ways this is problematic.

1. The Yankees will be paying Jacoby Ellsbury $20 million a year until he's 37

So the Yankees just went through a nasty ordeal in which they needed a league suspension to get out of paying a declining superstar (Alex Rodriguez) a massive amount of money every year. So, granted this incredibly lucky reprieve, they turn around and offer a another massive contract to a guy entering his 30s? Um, what?

2. Ellsbury is known for his speed, something that typically declines in human beings when they are in their late 30s

Yankees fans lamented Alex Rodriguez's decline, and the massive amount of money he was owed, when his bat speed slowed down a bit. Know what deteriorates faster than bat speed in guys as they age? Speed speed. Ellsbury is a phenomenal hitter, but he relies as much on his legs as anything, both on offense and defense. We'll see how fast he is when he's 35, and how happy Yankees are that he still has two years left on his deal.

3. The Yankees already have Brett Gardner

Wait, the Yankees already have a speedy, 30-year-old center fielder who's stolen 50 bases in a season before? Yes, yes they do. Now, Ellsbury is a better player than Gardner. No one is arguing that. But is he that much of an improvement to justify spending $150 million over seven years? To the people who respond: "But Gardner is injury prone!" um, have you met Jacoby Ellsbury?

4. The Yankees have not learned from the mistakes of others

Two years ago, the Angels spent huge bucks to sign Albert Pujols. Last year, they spent huge money signing Josh Hamilton. Both were in their early thirties, and had produced big numbers up until that point. Both immediately fell off from their peak production, and now the Angels are saddled with two massive contracts, when all they want to do is build around their young phenom Mike Trout.

Everyone thought those two deals made the lessons clear: Don't pay guys for past performance. Don't overpay for guys entering the tail end of their careers. Don't get stuck with long-term deals with aging superstars that you'll regret later.

The Yankees apparently learned nothing from these deals. They threw big money at Ellsbury, and they'll probably throw big money to keep Robinson Cano, who is 31. If they can win a title in the next couple years with Ellsbury and Cano at the heart of their lineup, then they made a good call. If they miss that window, though, might be a rough few years in the Bronx.

Yankees sign Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million deal

They were shut out of the postseason for just the second time in the wild card era, they watched their bitter rival waltz away with a championship, they were dragged through an ugly public feud with their star player, they watched their TV ratings and attendance numbers plummet. It was not a good year for the Empire. So how would the Empire respond to defeat, debacle, and humiliation?

Like they always do: The Empire strikes back. The Yankees and jacoby ellsbury agreed to a seven-year, $153 million deal Tuesday, according to multiple reports. The deal, the third-richest ever contract for an outfielder, is pending a physical that is expected to take place Wednesday. The signing came on a breathless day that saw a flurry of moves in major league baseball, none bigger than the All-Star centerfielder's move to New York, a move that significantly strengthens the Yankees in the short-term but will be a deal they regret years from now if Ellsbury's injury history continues. (Yes, the Yankees have money, but just how easy has it been for them to unload A-Rod or Mark Teixeira?)

Here's the thing: even after their big moves this offseason - the signing of All-Star catcher Brian McCann also became official on Tuesday - the Yankees are not done. What's next? Shin-Soo Choo? Carlos Beltran? Masahiro Tanaka? Robinson Cano? Everything is still in play.

Clearly, though, the Yankees in recent days began to feel like their longtime second baseman was slipping away. (Reports had the Mariners emerging as serious players in the sweepstakes.) So instead of forking over the more than $200 million to Jay-Z, the Yankees went out and landed the second-best free agent available, a 30-year-old centerfielder who, when healthy, is one of baseball's best all-around players (he should have won the AL MVP in 2011), an impact hitter who plays elite defense and is a plus runner who adds value with his baserunning (he led the AL in stolen bases in '08, '09, and '13). Ellsbury is also the kind of dynamic player who will make the Yankees exciting again-the early expectation is that he will play center with Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano in the corner outfielder positions and Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells on the bench.

It's hard to believe - considering that we're talking about the Yankees here - that almost no one saw this coming. The deal rocked the baseball world Tuesday night, but it is far from a crazy gamble for New York. In the short term, the signing will look good for the Yankees. Speedy outfielders like Ellsbury do tend to age well, and even when Ellsbury is no longer an elite burner, he can still be an impact bat in the Yankees order. Ellsbury will see an uptick in his power numbers, with Yankee Stadium's short rightfield porch.

But let's remember what kind of player he is-the big question with Ellsbury has always been his health. He had a huge 2009 season, then played in just 18 games in 2010. He looked like one of the best players on the planet in 2011, then played just 74 games in 2012. It's reasonable to expect three our four great seasons from Ellsbury, but odds are, in 2017 or 2018 we'll be talking about Ellsbury as one of the more overpaid players in the game.

After 2008, the last time Yankees missed the playoffs, they went out and spent on CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and A.J. Burnett, and they won the World Series the next year. This Yankees club still does not look like a championship team - they still have too many questions in the rotation. But there's no doubt that they are already much better and good enough to make a run at the Red Sox and Rays in the AL East in 2014. They are already the big winners of this strange, unpredictable, wild offseason. And the Empire is not yet done - far from it.