From the moment he signed a seven-year, $153-million deal in December 2013, Jacoby Ellsbury has been a bad fit in pinstripes.
He’s either been injured or has underperformed. When he was penciled into the sixth spot in the lineup Wednesday night, few eyebrows were raised. Ellsbury was signed to be a dynamic leadoff man, to reproduce the best seasons he had in Boston, but it just hasn’t worked out.
None of that is meant to take away from what Ellsbury did on the first pitch of the game. He sacrificed his body to make a spectacular catch, crashing into the centerfield wall and suffering a concussion and sprained neck to open a 3-0 win over the Royals at the Stadium.
Question Ellsbury’s effectiveness as a player. Question the Yankees for signing him to what even at the time was a head-scratcher of a deal. But don’t question Ellsbury’s willingness to play the game hard, which is all any fan or employer can really ask.
“It’s unfortunate,” Joe Girardi said. “He’s hit the wall a couple times hard. Obviously, we’re going to miss him for a while now. But he plays hard.”
Noted first-pitch swinger Alcides Escobar crushed a long drive to center off Luis Severino. Ellsbury ran back and caught the ball as he crashed into the wall.
“Not too many people in the game make that play,” Aaron Judge said. “First pitch of the game. You’re still trying to get into the game. Crack! Get a good jump, good read. I don’t know how he held onto that ball.”
Ellsbury stayed down on his knees after the grab. He was slow to get up, and it wasn’t clear he would stay in the game until Girardi and trainer Steve Donohue jogged off the field together.
The staying in didn’t last long. Aaron Hicks replaced Ellsbury in center for the top of the second. A few innings later, the Yankees announced Ellsbury’s injuries. Girardi said the team will place him on the seven-day concussion disabled list. But no one knows how long he’ll be out. The neck is a concern, too.
It’s the second time Ellsbury has been injured crashing into a wall this season. The first time, he suffered a bruised nerve in his left elbow on a catch on May 1. He returned four days later.
Ellsbury is often not thought of as being tough enough. You run into a wall at full speed face first and then get back to us on that.
The good news for the Yankees (and the bad news for the Yankees) is that losing Ellsbury is just not that big a deal to the lineup. They have Hicks to play center and Brett Gardner to back him up.
In 2011 with Boston, Ellsbury finished second in the AL MVP voting. He has not been nearly that good with the Yankees. He’s 33. His contract has three guaranteed years left at more than $21 million per and the Yankees hold a $21-million option for 2021. When they decline it, he’ll walk away with a buyout of $5 million.
Scott Boras has negotiated some mind-boggling contracts in his day, but this one should earn him a spot in the agent Hall of Fame. First ballot.
The Yankees know all this now. They know Ellsbury isn’t a $153-million player, if he ever was. They also know what he sacrificed for one measly out on a Wednesday in May.
“It’s just the type of player he is,” Judge said. “He’s going to give it his all, on defense and offensively. You’ve got to love that.”
Even if you don’t love Ellsbury.