The bad old days are here again. The New York Yankees, as is their five-year tradition, are spending money like only the New York Yankees can. The Brian McCann signing isn’t even official yet (press event Thursday) and now the Yankees have signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year contract reportedly worth more than $150 million dollars. US dollars. Legal tender.
The new big dollar Yankees won’t look like the swaggering Yankees of old. The days of the four-hour slugfest might be over, as the Yankees give top dollar to a speed and defense center fielder with just 13 home runs over the last two seasons. Even without traditional home run power, Jacoby Ellsbury authored two of the best non-Trout seasons of the past few years. His 15 Wins Above Replacement from 2011 to now rank him third among CFs, trailing only Andrew McCutchen and Mike Trout. Go back two more years and he still ranks sixth.
There are significant injuries in his past, injuries suffered under freakish circumstances. The Yankees don’t appear too concerned, about injury history or speedy players aging or the luxury tax or anything, really. The Yankees want to win the World Series again and are going to bring in as many good players as they can get their hands on to do so. Ellsbury’s skills should play well at Yankee Stadium, with its short porch boosting his power numbers and his center field speed saving the Yanks runs in the expansive left field power alley. He’s patient and battle tested in the AL East, a winner of two World Series rings and the one reliable Red Sock during the famous September collapse of 2011.
Which isn’t to say this Ellsbury deal doesn’t offer all manner of risk and the ample opportunity to go sideways right from the start. With most moves made this year, I try to think from the team’s perspective. To think positively about the possibilities the moves presents. If Ellsbury ages even as well as Shane Victorino, the Yankees can come out ahead by winning. But the potential for injury-shortened years of years without power and walks somewhere in the future. A future of a former speed guy playing left field until his contract runs out so he can go home.
The dollars mean different things to different teams. For all the attention the Yankees devotion to the $189MM luxury tax got this winter, it sure looks like superficial foreplay ahead of this buying spree. No contract is untradeable and the Yankees merely lay in wait before reloading with the one thing they have more than anybody else – money. Sitting through the Vernon Wells experience is a door prize for those willing to wait for the big ticket items to arrive.
The Yankees have money to throw at the luxury tax and don’t really care about losing two draft picks (recent history suggests they wouldn’t make much of those picks anyway) but the Yankees have money to throw at their problems and good money to throw after bad should the situation arise. They’re the Yankees – if they aren’t operating this way, something is missing from the baseball ecosystem.
The other teams in the American League East will take notice. The Red Sox merry band of bearded superfriends worked for one year, Boston struck when the Yankees were at their most vulnerable. The Rays will keep smoking resin and the Orioles and Blue Jays sure hope the national TV deal checks keep coming through. The tide rises, everybody better get on board if they don’t want to drown.
Of course, we’ve been here before. The Red Sox blew their brains out spending money after the 2010 season, bringing in known commodities and good players at long-term market deals, deals that got worse by the day until the team unceremoniously dumped that dead money on the Dodgers. The Sox, of course, picked themselves up and promptly won the World Series 15 months later. Noting is forever, not even contracts that seem that way as the ink dries.
The Yankees still have serious deficiencies in other areas but here we are again – the bad old days. Back again. And they aren’t finished yet, not by a long shot. Things are only going to get better. Or worse. But probably both.