As they always tend to do, nobody quite makes waves like the Yankees in December, and they have decided to get this one started off in their traditional fashion. A week after making the first big splash of the free agent season by acquiring catcher Brian McCann for $85 million, the club handed out another big-money heavyweight deal to Jacoby Ellsbury tonight, and have made it clear that what happened last year will not go down quietly.
But there is always risk in handing anybody the type of guaranteed money that Ellsbury is now on the hook to receive. Over the next seven years, he will net $153 million, with an option for an extra year that could raise the total to $169 million. All for a player who has a checkered health history, and one reliable plus skill. So why would a deal like this make sense?
1. The Market Makes Its Own Rules
Remember that the value of a player is set by the commodity of that player, as well as the recent history of players like himself. Just last winter, the Braves made the first big impact of the season by handing B.J. Upton a $75 million deal over five years. He is for all intents and purposes the same type of player as Ellsbury: an elite speed threat who covers plenty of ground in the outfield and on the bases and has flashed some plus power as well.
However, Ellsbury surpasses Upton in literally every provable way. He has led the American League in stolen bases three times, with totals of 50, 70 and 52 in those respective years. For his career he’s a .297 hitter, with a seasonal high of .321 in 2011. Also in that season he hit 32 home runs, which he has never gotten close to reaching again, but bodes well with the short right field in Yankee Stadium. Add on top of that that he is a one-time Gold Glove winner and two-time World Series champion, and the immediate value of the player is both reasonable and clear, regardless of potential decline.
Worth is often dependent on the angle it is seen from, as well as who is deciding it. With the Yankees’ resources, $153 million is a reasonable expenditure.
2. Making A Splash
The Yankees have to come out swinging this winter, because that’s the Yankee way after a season like 2013. They struggled to remain relevant, often put out lineups that needed a sports encyclopedia to be familiar with and stumbled to a finish in third place that could be seen as overachieving. That doesn’t fly in the Bronx, and the declines in attendance and TV ratings showed it. Putting up a remarkable effort in the open market is not only expected, but needed, and landing not only another premier player, but a premier name as well, is needed on more level than one.
Plus, when was the last time the Yankees beating out the Red Sox (or vice versa) was not seen as a win for the prevailing side?
3. Thinking About The Future, Within Reason
No deal is about the last two or even three years, when Ellsbury will be 35-37 and likely resemble ‘Johnny Damon: The Later Years,’ but as they always do, they’ll have a contingency. This is about winning, and doing it now. The Yankees are a better team tonight than they were this morning, and with an annual cost of about $21 million, they’re paying top dollar for the best at what he does, today. And that is, and always will be, the Yankee way. Tomorrow never knows, but today (and next four years following it) looks much better.