If you are a New York Yankees fan then the name Jacoby Ellsbury might make you shiver as it brings back bad memories and thoughts of an uncertain, and expensive, future. Right now, Ellsbury is on the disabled list for a hip issue. He also has managed to acquire two other injuries while rehabbing his hip. It has been revealed that Ellsbury also has an oblique issue and now plantar fasciitis.
Honestly, at this point it is hard to remember which injury came first. It also doesn’t matter at this point. Ellsbury signed a seven-year, $153 million deal prior to the 2014 season. He doesn’t come off the books until after the 2021 season. Unless of course he is traded but would any team really look to acquire an outfielder who can’t stay healthy, has always had injury issues, and is only getting older and more brittle?
Ellsbury went from potential offensive centerpiece (we all know he wouldn’t be but the Yankees thought that) to being the outfield version of Carl Pavano. Remember Pavano? He is the pitcher who the Yankees signed prior to 2005 to a four-year, $39.95 million contract. He would appear in only 26 games for the Yankees over the life of that contract, 17 of which came in 2005. He became the standard for a bad free agent signing.
Right now, Ellsbury is the cautionary tale for signing players on the wrong side of 30 to extensive contracts. Ellsbury will go down as one of Brian Cashman’s biggest mistakes, potentially outweighing his trade of third base prospect Mike Lowell to the then Florida Marlins for Ed Yarnall, Todd Noel, and Mark Johnson. In fact, signing Ellsbury might be the worst. All the signs were there. He had one career year with the Boston Red Sox. He had trouble staying healthy. The move reeked of desperation by Cashman who was trying to cover losing Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners.
As good as Cashman has been lately a lot of credit has to go to the Ellsbury deal. Yankees fans have to admit that having Ellsbury around, or on the DL, has actually helped the Yankees into their rebuild. If he was the player he was in 2011 for the Yankees then they probably don’t undergo the limited rebuild they initiated over the past couple of years.
Nobody wants to pile on Ellsbury. He knows how fans feel about him. He knows he hasn’t lived up to expectations. He would much rather be on the field than down in Florida dealing with the realization half of him is made of glass. He is a competitive ballplayer who has given his all on the field and I will always respect him for that. He didn’t slink like Pavano did. He never shrank from anything and he does deserve respect for that.
The Ellsbury deal might be a blunder but that free agent blunder helped convince Hal Steinbrenner you can’t rebuild through free agency. It helped convince him that the Yankees were sliding backwards and weren’t going to live up to the expectations the Yankees have had every year since the 1920s, at least seemingly. Prior to the 2016 season the Yankees literally signed zero MLB free agents. That doesn’t happen if Ellsbury is the 2011 version or even 2013 Ellsbury.
In the 2014 season, Ellsbury actually had a decent year for the Yankees. It was pretty similar to his 2013 season with the Red Sox the year before. However, in 2015, Ellsbury appeared in only 111 games and wasn’t very effective as he slashed just .257/.318/.345 with seven homers and 15 doubles. His base stealing days were few and far between. He wasn’t getting on base at the top of the lineup. He was seemingly always banged up. If that Ellsbury doesn’t show up the Yankees would most likely have continued down the path that was causing them pain and anguish. The culture wouldn’t have changed no matter how often Cashman asked Steinbrenner to rebuild.
The next time you curse Ellsbury remember, if Cashman didn’t make that mistake the Yankees most likely never get Gleyber Torres, Dillon Tate, Justus Sheffield, Billy McKinney and others that have helped team with draft picks to give the Yankees one of the best farm systems. In a way, the Ellsbury contract, as bad as it is, played a part in getting the Yankees to where they are right now. If he contributes on the field from here on out, well that is just gravy. Don’t hate on the guy. Sometimes the biggest mistakes are actually just painful learning processes that make you better.