TAMPA, Fla. — Brian Cashman said all winter that Jacoby Ellsbury would come to spring training to compete for a job.
Ellsbury, with three years left on his seven-year, $153-million contract, said Sunday morning that he’s more than ready to do that. Unlike the player he’s competing against for the starting centerfield job — who happens to be the odds-on favorite for the spot — he made no declarations.
“I want to be the starting centerfielder for the Yankees,” Aaron Hicks said after a Feb. 9 workout at the club’s minor- league complex.
Ellsbury took a different route in a nearly 10-minute gathering with reporters Sunday, spending much of that time deflecting questions that mostly revolved around one theme: a $153-million player coming to camp having to fight for a job.
“I love playing, I’ll just leave it at that. That’s why you play the game,” he said when asked if, as a competitor, being a starter is what he wants. “But I’ll try to be the best teammate possible. Whatever my role is, all I can do is go out there, be prepared and be ready to play. Ultimately, it’s about winning. But yeah, I’m a competitor, I love playing.”
Ellsbury got off to a good start last season before suffering a concussion in late May. Hicks, who had an even better start as a reserve outfielder, assumed the job in center and didn’t lose it until he went to the disabled list June 26 with a right oblique strain.
Ellsbury, who had a .264/.348/.402 slash line in 112 games, actually played well in September but did not start any of the Yankees’ 13 playoff games.
“It’s about winning,” he said. “I’ve been in winning organizations. Every team I’ve ever been on, the goal’s been to win, so I don’t know any different. That doesn’t change my job as a player.”
Though speaking evenly and without emotion with reporters, he dug in a little bit at times.
“Never one year the lineup’s been made already in my 10 years in the big leagues,” Ellsbury said, meaning the first day of spring training. “There’s not a lineup made up yet. That’s the way I look at it . . . There’s nothing set in stone. I don’t see a lineup up there [for] Opening Day; 162 games, a lot can change.”
It’s no secret that Cashman unsuccessfully tried to move Ellsbury during the offseason. To this point, he has found little or no interest from other teams. Ellsbury has a full no-trade clause in his contract and said Cashman has not reached out to ask him about waiving it, nor has he had those conversations with his agent, Scott Boras.
“I’ve never been asked that question,” Ellsbury said. “There’s no reason to play the ‘what if’ game.”
Earlier in the conversation, when asked if his desire to continue with the Yankees changes at all based on playing time, he said, “I love playing here. I’ll leave it at that.”
Asked if he is “embarrassed” to be in this position, Ellsbury said, “I can only control what I can control. Just put the time in. Nothing changes. I’m going to get ready for a season.”
In evaluating his Yankees career to this point — whether he thinks it’s been good or a disappointment — Ellsbury said, “We still have three years.”
“Whatever you did last year, as a team, as an organization, everybody starts at square one,” he added. “You don’t get bonus points for the year you had last year. Each year’s a new year . . . I always go into the offseason trying to improve, get better. There’s always things you work on.”