It’s too early to worry about how Jacoby Ellsbury fits in with Yankees
This may be an unpopular take for those who want Jacoby Ellsbury traded to Elon Musk and strapped to the next Falcon Heavy rocket, but let’s exhale and consider a more measured approach to what the Yankees have in their $153-million outfielder.
Granted, Ellsbury is never going to live up to that contract. We’re past that argument. And with a guaranteed $68 million coming to him through 2020, the Yankees are at a point of diminishing returns with the 34-year-old, unless we’re hopping a time machine back to 2011.
Here’s the perspective you need now, though. As crowded as the Yankees’ outfield looks after the trade for Giancarlo Stanton, it’s helpful to remember that none of these goliaths — yes, we’re including the newly jacked-up Aaron Hicks — is invincible. They’re as human as everyone else, with wrists, knees and elbows capable of betraying them for prolonged periods.
Hicks, despite his breakthrough power surge, was limited to 88 games last season by twin oblique injuries, one on each side of his torso. The most games he’s logged in a season is 123, in 2016, and he batted .217 with a .617 OPS for the Yankees that year.
Stanton played all 162 games during his 2017 MVP campaign but has had the misfortune of dealing with severe groin, hamstring and shoulder injuries throughout his career. The broken hand and the terrifying ordeal of being hit in the face with a pitch were very unlucky accidents.
Aaron Judge is coming off arthroscopic surgery to “clean up” a shoulder that clearly bothered him at the plate during the second half last season, and manager Aaron Boone said he’ll be eased into the routine and be kept out of the first several Grapefruit League games. Brett Gardner, as tough a player as there is, has a history of wrist and hand issues, troublesome spots when it comes to wielding a bat effectively.
But this is mid-February, and to get all lathered up about where Ellsbury slots into the outfield equation is way too premature.
“There’s nothing set in stone, there’s no lineup up there right now,” Ellsbury said. “There’s 162 games to go. A lot can change.”
Ellsbury gets ripped plenty, but it’s hard not to agree with him on this. During a 10-minute interview at his locker, not once did he say he was coming in to win the starting centerfielder’s job, as Hicks told reporters a week earlier. Knock Ellsbury for that if you’d like to see more fire, but that’s not his game. He plays hard, as last year’s collision with the centerfield wall illustrated, but he doesn’t talk tough.
Sunday’s conversation with reporters basically looped around in circles, with Ellsbury content to repeat variations on the same theme: I’m here to help the Yankees win however they need me to help.
Ellsbury did say Brian Cashman never approached him in the offseason about waiving his no-trade clause, so that means nothing ever got very close to happening.
For now, Ellsbury and the Yankees are stuck with each other, and there’s no sense thinking much beyond that. When asked if he’d be better off somewhere else rather than feeling like an outsider on the Yankees, Ellsbury went to his default position: the nonplussed shrug.
“I love playing here, so I’ll leave it at that,” he said. “It’s not even Day 1 of camp yet. There’s no reason to play the ‘what if’ game.”
He’s not wrong. Ellsbury can be a productive player, and he’s always a bad break or two from becoming a lineup staple.
The pre-concussion Ellsbury batted .281 with four homers and eight stolen bases (in 10 attempts) in the first 39 games last season. He wound up at .264 with seven homers and 22 steals in 25 attempts in 112 games. The Yankees could need him again, and Boone is smart enough not to attach any labels before the first official practice.
Boone went as far as to say that Gardner probably can expect to lose some playing time this season, particularly against lefties. That’s the new reality with Stanton on board. Otherwise, the Yankees have six weeks to determine who fits where, and ranking them now serves little purpose.
“We’ll see where we are as far as judging the equal footing part at the end of March,” Boone said.
And that could depend on who’s left standing.