As fiscal years go, 2017 hasn’t featured some of the Yankees’ smarter investments.
There’s the $21-million buyout of A-Rod, who splits time between his broadcast duties for Fox, cameos on “Shark Tank” and making Instagram posts with J-Lo. Another $21 million is sunk into Jacoby Ellsbury, the insanely compensated fourth outfielder, and finally, the $17.2 million to Aroldis Chapman, who currently is persona non grata in the Bronx bullpen.
We won’t blame the Yankees for Alex Rodriguez’s victory lap on the team’s dime. Not anymore. That story line has mostly run its course. The other two, however, make for some interesting debate, as in which contract is worse — the one belonging to Ellsbury or Chapman?
By worse, of course, we mean to the Yankees. There’s no downside from the player’s perspective. But after all this time bashing Ellsbury’s seven-year, $153-million deal, a funny thing happened. He’s actually become valuable to the team again, even after being demoted to a part-time player, and that continued Saturday as Ellsbury’s three-run homer sparked the Yankees’ 6-3 victory over the Mariners.
“He’s definitely played better,” Joe Girardi said afterward. “I think he’s handled it pretty well.”
Compare that with Chapman’s sorry state, which only seems to worsen with every appearance. Like Ellsbury, he’s already lost his primary job — Girardi stripped him of his closer duties Aug. 19 at Fenway — and now the manager basically tries to hide him on a nightly basis. That’s a stunning turn of events for Chapman, who still averages a 100-mph fastball and touches 103 regularly but can no longer be trusted in high-leverage situations.
Ellsbury and Chapman are each guaranteed more than $68 million after this season, but the outfielder’s contract expires in 2020, the closer’s the following year. In the meantime, Ellsbury may have the opportunity to build himself back into a marketable player, which would help any Yankees’ effort to shop him during the winter.
Forget ever making that $153-million tab look anywhere near reasonable. But if Girardi truly intends to utilize his most productive pieces down the stretch, Ellsbury is deserving of additional consideration, especially in light of Aaron Judge’s second-half slide. Sizing up the two of them was lunacy before the All-Star break. Put them side by side now, however, and the results may surprise you.
Ellsbury chipped in with a pair of hits Saturday and four RBIs. Over his last 71 plate appearances, he’s batting .206 (13-for-63) with three homers and 14 RBIs, striking out 10 times and walking seven. Not All-Star caliber, obviously, but better than what Judge has done during his 71 PAs: .190 (11-for-58) with two homers and four RBIs. He also has 23 strikeouts during that stretch, with 12 walks.
Sitting Judge for Ellsbury sounds unthinkable, we know. But Ellsbury does add a speed element for a lineup that has struggled to score lately, and he also plays very good defense. Like we mentioned, it’s another option, and Ellsbury appears to be getting more accustomed to the limited role.
“I just prepare every day like I’m a starter,” Ellsbury said. “That’s how I go about it. Just be ready when your number is called.”
As long as Ellsbury helps the Yankees win, as he did Saturday, the conversation won’t be about the misspent cash. Chapman should be so lucky. He still seems incapable of fixing himself. The latest indignity came Friday, when Chapman teed up the winning homer to the Mariners’ Yonder Alonso — a lefty hitter — in the 11th inning of the 2-1 loss. In his last six appearances, Chapman has a 10.50 ERA and allowed three homers in six innings, with teams raking him for a 1.019 OPS.
From what we’ve seen, it appears unlikely Chapman returns to be the closer again this season. The best the Yankees can hope for is that Chapman struggled with a 2016 hangover — brought on Joe Maddon’s full-throttle use en route to the World Series title — and Chapman will be recharged from a more restful winter this year.
They don’t want to contemplate the other possibility. That Chapman has become obsolete, as hard throwers are more common, and batters are catching up to 100-mph fastballs now. The Yankees have thought about it.
“I think the hitters are more accustomed to it than they were,” Girardi said.
Reducing Chapman’s value to pennies on the dollar. Only slightly more valuable to the Yankees this season than A-Rod.