The New York Yankees have a crowded outfield. There are eight outfielders who likely will be in the organization on February 13 when Spring Training starts. That does not even count Jabari Blash, who is prime trade or waiver bait for a new player. Three of the outfielders (Clint Frazier, Billy McKinney and Jake Cave) are all destined for AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Four outfielders are guaranteed to play every day in some fashion: Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. Any questions of those four being the starters, the Yankees have confirmed. That leaves one man, Jacoby Ellsbury.
Jacoby Ellsbury’s future on this team is murky, at best. Most of the fan base has given up on him. The Yankees took his hot September and basically benched him in the postseason. Some of that was his inability to DH and some was based on Chase Headley coming to life in the postseason. The 34-year old outfielder has paled in comparison to his colleague, Brett Gardner, in sustained success. Ellsbury is declining and quickly, but the Yankees handed him a contract that leads us into the situation.
Sweeny Murti noted on SNY’s Baseball Night in New York that Ellsbury is a square peg in a round hole. Jake Cave can do everything Ellsbury could at $545,000, while Ellsbury makes over $21 million. Most teams would never spend $21 million for a fifth outfielder, but with the acquisition of Stanton, it has become exactly that. The Yankees cannot find a trade partner for Ellsbury. No shock really. Who would want him at that price? If that was not enough of a hamstring, the Yankees gave him a full no-trade clause. Instead of having a $545,000 outfielder, you now have a locked $21 million outfielder who refuses to waive his no-trade clause.
Murti also noted that the competitor that Ellsbury is, he would probably dislike the fifth outfielder role. Despite what Scott Boras, his agent has stated, most fans do not want Ellsbury in that fifth outfielder role. There are some reasons why it will not be such a bad thing. First off, Jake Cave is not a sure guarantee. Cave is a fourth outfielder-type on most teams. He can play all three outfield positions and provide some offense. However, he has never sniffed the majors and already been a Rule V reject before. With Ellsbury, you know what you are getting, when healthy. Ellsbury, while his power is gone, still has his speed and glove tools. Ellsbury (and Tyler Wade) both can pinch run when necessary.
Second, who expects Aaron Hicks to start 162 games? This writer certainly does not. There is a pretty good chance one of the main four outfielders will get injured at some point in the season. One injury gets Ellsbury playing time on a regular basis. Some fans have suggested that Ellsbury could only get 175 at bats or so this season for that $21 million. That is not true. One injury, that number probably becomes closer to 300 ABs. Now if we’re paying him $21 million to make 300 at bats, then there is a little less pain.
Where Jacoby Ellsbury could get himself some help is learning to play outfield positions not named center field. Brett Gardner can play center and left at Yankee Stadium. Hicks can play all three positions. Judge and Stanton will man right field and get a lesson in left field. Ellsbury being able to play left field and right field would help his cause. (Some fans would probably shove him at first base, but that will never happen.)
Jacoby Ellsbury will be here in 2018, unless he changes his mind. However, there is no sign that will ever happen. He may not be the five-tool player, but he still has tools that can help the New York Yankees.