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Swing and a miss: Ellsbury’s contract among worst in history

Tom Hagerty
Tom Haggerty | Flickr

At this point, fans are no longer outraged at the enigmatic outfielder’s inability to stay on the field.  Some may have even understandably forgotten that he’s still on the team, given the fact that he hasn’t played in a major league game since 2017. 

All of this would be easy to shrug off if he wasn’t the third highest-paid player on the roster.

When all is said and done, there is little doubt that Ellsbury’s contract will go down as one of the worst in sports history.  It’s difficult to find a more disappointing player, especially one who was once regarded with such promise. This is a guy who once finished second in the 2011 MVP voting, led the league in stolen bases three separate times and consistently managed to make circus catches in centerfield. 

His résumé looked extremely impressive when he hit free agency in 2013. Coming off a big World Series win, the Boston Red Sox desperately wanted to retain their superstar, which made it even sweeter when the Yankees snatched him up for seven years.

It seemed like the ultimate power move and one that would shore up the Yankees’ outfield for years to come.  Instead, it’s been a deal that’s consistently grown worse over time.  Ellsbury’s batting average has significantly dropped, as have his stolen bases and athleticism in the field.  He has essentially become a replacement-level player in the Bronx, and that’s when he was healthy.

Aside from his debut season in pinstripes, the Yankees have received three years of mediocrity from Ellsbury, followed by a completely lost season.  

The Steinbrenners certainly aren’t dishing out $21.1 million a year for a player who’s batting average is hovering around .260. In 2017, things seemingly reached a low point when Aaron Hicks, who is making $6 million a year, usurped Ellsbury for the starting job.  There were three spots in the outfield and apparently Ellsbury didn’t fit into any of them. 

 Rookies and lesser-known names had all proven themselves to be more valuable than the $21 million man.  The former All-Star was relegated to the role of fourth outfielder, with three more years of his immovable monolith of a contract left to go.

Somehow, 2018 was even worse.  Ellsbury missed the entire season due to a compilation of injuries.  Just when it seemed that he was finally getting healthy, he has now suffered yet another setback that is going to yet again delay his return to the field.  Ellsbury has become so removed from the team that he is electing not to report to spring, instead opting to rehabilitate at home in Arizona.  

This gesture, though perhaps innocuous, is symbolic of the growing rift between player and their organizations.

As the Yankees prepare to build on a season in which they won over 100 games, it might be best if Ellsbury stays away until he is ready to contribute.  

His presence in spring training would serve only as an ugly reminder of the money the team wasted on someone who’s turned out to be a huge non-factor.

The Yankees have played in 19 playoff games since Ellsbury inked his deal with them back in 2013 and he’s only started in four of them.  He’s been pedestrian at the plate and gradually worsening in the field.  His speed, which was once a signature part of his game, has also eroded with time along with his health.

Though the Yankees have tried to find a trade partner across the MLB, there unsurprisingly isn’t much of a market for an injury-riddled 35-year-old who lost his job two years ago. 

 If Ellsbury was a free agent right now, he most likely wouldn’t even receive an offer from any major league club.  

In all likelihood, the Bronx Bombers will probably end up cutting Ellsbury loose before the end of his deal is up.  They already have a glut of talented outfielders and little room on the roster for an aging speedster with a weak arm.

Though the Ellsbury era isn’t over yet, it definitely seems to be in its final stages.  When his time in New York comes to a close, his deal will go down as one of the worst in MLB history.  

General manager Brian Cashman, perturbed by the fact that the Red Sox had won yet another World Series title, was enamored by the idea of snatching away one of their homegrown superstars in the offseason.  

He most likely envisioned the Yankees celebrating multiple championships with Ellsbury at the forefront.  Instead, the Red Sox are fresh off the heels of an additional World Series title, while Ellsbury has become an albatross to the organization.  

This was an incredible, and unusual, swing and a miss by the Yankees.

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