By Sweeny Murti
» More Columns
If everyone is healthy who is the Yankees’ best player?
There was a point in time when Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran were among the elite players in the entire sport, but their age and lack of mobility take them out of the running now.
There is a good bit of excitement about the potential in the young double play combo of Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro, and they may be the most irreplaceable given the depth at those positions.
When I contacted a handful of baseball insiders and asked them the question, one voted for Gregorius, another voted for Brett Gardner, who showed his growth as a player during an All-Star-worthy first half in 2015. One voted for Mark Teixeira, about whose combination of power and defense we were reminded last year.
And then came a vote for Jacoby Ellsbury, to which I replied, “That is the correct answer. Thank you.”
My basic idea here is that if games played is the most important statistic, which player’s talent will stand out the most.
Ellsbury’s numbers across his last two full seasons, 2013-14 were good (.285/.342/.423) in 283 of possible 324 games. His OPS+ for that period was 111. And he stole bases at a 91-percent (91 for 100) success rate. Defensively, he stood out for his gap-to-gap ability, covering large chunks of ground with ease, and among the fastest in the game early last season according to StatCast.
The problem is keeping Ellsbury on the field. Last year he played in only 111 games and was his best self in just a third of them, and his overall numbers were quite pedestrian (.257/.318/.345). This is not what the Yankees were thinking of when they locked in for $153 million for seven years.
Remember, after the 2013 season the Yankees essentially gave Ellsbury the money they weren’t giving Robinson Cano, who was their best player at the time. The only position players the Yankees have committed more dollars to in their history are A-Rod, Derek Jeter, and Teixeira. Given that there are five years left on Ellsbury’s deal, it is imperative for the Yankees of 2016 and beyond that he figures out how to stay on the field.
And that’s how thin the margin of error is for this Yankees team. Their fortunes rest on more than one man, for certain. The plethora of pitching questions are quite obvious. Their reliance on the power of A-Rod, Teixeira, and Brian McCann is also quite obvious. But Ellsbury holds a key that is a little more difficult to nail down. He has tools that can make him a two-way star, and there are those days when you see it. There just aren’t enough of them.
I’m not throwing my hands in the air over last weekend’s hit by pitch that costs Ellsbury a couple of games in March. I’ve covered too many spring training games to know that no one really cares about the outcomes, only about getting to Opening Day in one piece.
But if this is the path the Yankees are heading down in 2016 … and 2017 … and 2018 … let’s just say the days of albatross contracts are far from over.
Remember that for all the grief fans give CC Sabathia and Teixeira, they each delivered four years of upper-level production during the length of their contracts. So far, Ellsbury has barely scratched the surface of what the Yankees expected when they signed him.
Ellsbury can be the best player on this team if he is on the field. The Yankees need to see more of that.
Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN