Is Yankees' Massive Jacoby Ellsbury Gamble Going to Pay Off?

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Is Yankees' Massive Jacoby Ellsbury Gamble Going to Pay Off?

Tuesday December 3rd, 2013
Boston Red Sox: Is Yankees' Massive Jacoby Ellsbury Gamble Going to Pay Off?

On one of the busiest days of roster activity in recent memory, the New York Yankees made the biggest splash when they agreed to terms with center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury on a seven-year deal that was first reported by Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.  

Worth a reported $153 million—an eighth-year option can boost the total to $169 million—Ellsbury's contract is the biggest of the offseason and will likely end up being the second largest once Robinson Cano signs.

The Yankees have now guaranteed $238 million—Brian McCann signed for five years and $85 million—to two players and don't appear to be finished by any means. 

The biggest questions still remain, though. Who are the two starting pitchers the Yankees plan on acquiring, and will it be enough to catapult them back to the top of the AL East? We don't know. It's not Ellsbury. 

But what we do know now is that the Yankees mean business. All that talk of them trying to stay under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold was cute and all. But these are the Yankees. The Evil Empire! They have a seemingly endless stream of revenue dollars coming in. Avoiding a luxury tax isn't going to have a major effect on their operation.

With more holes to fill than any other team in baseball heading into the offseason, they were a team on thin ice. Failure to significantly upgrade their roster could've resulted in a disastrous season that Yankees fans haven't experienced in over 20 years.

Signing McCann was a step in the right direction. Signing Ellsbury, one of the best center fielders and leadoff men in the game, away from the division rival Boston Red Sox has all of the baseball world focused on the Yankees again and wondering what they might do next. 

Now that they've drummed up more than enough excitement for a Tuesday evening, let's just take a deep breath and think about what they've done here. 

For Ellsbury's ages 30-36 seasons, they'll be paying him an average of more than $21 million per year. Any significant injuries or decline along the way, and it will be hard for him to validate making such a massive salary. There is very little room for error when you make that kind of money.

Considering that he's already missed the better part of two seasons due to injury, has had one MVP-like season in 2011 (.928 OPS, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 46 2B, 39 SB) and subpar numbers the next in 2012 (.682 OPS, 4 HR in 74 games), there is certainly some risk involved.  

But there's no questioning his impact on the Red Sox in 2013, especially in the postseason when he likely became a much richer man with his performance.

While Dave Cameron of ESPN Insider recently pointed out (Insider subscription required) that players like Ellsbury who lack power and rely heavily on speed have traditionally continued to produce into their mid-30s, it's not easy to predict when any player will exit his prime.

Still, as is the case with most contracts that exceed four or five years in length and end somewhere around a player's mid-to-late 30s, a decline is to be expected. 

The Yankees had to know that Alex Rodriguez wasn't going to be a great player in the last few years of the 10-year contract he signed prior to the 2008 season. But that was the cost for one of the best players in the game. They didn't overpay, at least not by a significant amount.

Can they say it was worth it because he gave them three great years—Rodriguez had a .914 OPS with an average of 32 homers and 109 runs batted in from 2008-2010—and put up big numbers in their championship season of 2009? Not quite. But I'm sure it makes the last seven years of the deal much easier to deal with.  

It's simple. If you want to sign a talented player for, let's say, five years of his prime, you probably have to give him at least a seven- or eight-year contract. And that's what the Yankees are doing with Ellsbury. 

Four or five years that resemble his 2013 performance (.298/.355/.426, 52 SB), to go along with a World Series title during the span of his deal, and there will be no second-guessing this move.

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