By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
If the financial gluttony from the Yankees since 2002 isn’t enough proof that you can’t buy championships simply by poaching star players from other clubs, look at one of the last remnants of the pre-rebuilding days.
Three years ago, the Yanks gave megabucks to the 30-year-old to roam the most sacred spot in sports — center field in Yankee Stadium — and he now is representing that turf by batting .244, with four homers and 17 RBIs as we near August.
Consider not only that Ellsbury is decaying drastically and that he has been benched, he’s making $21,142,857 this season. He made that much last year, and will make it next year. In fact, he will make it for another four seasons after this one. (But relax, the final season of his contract will be whacked all the way down to a cool $21 million.)
In case you don’t recall, it’s all the monetary debris from the seven-year, $153 million explosion (or implosion) that was quintessential Yankees for so many years, signing a player out of pure corporate reflex. So in 2021 the Yankees will be paying $21 million to a 37-year-old who may be too much of a burden just to keep on the club.
Does that sound familiar?
Ellsbury has not started in center since July 20, his only action coming as a pinch-runner in two games, both in the ninth inning. Even with Aaron Hicks on the disabled list. Even with no one else smashing the rawhide off the ball, as Aaron Judge had for months. Manager Joe Girardi has offered the proper platitudes, asserting that Ellsbury will get a chance to play, but has said nothing to refute that Ellsbury, the highest-paid position player on the Yankees, is now a scrub, er, sub, a well-heeled bench player.
Is there a more glaring reminder of the feckless, reckless spending that defined the Yanks since they lost the 2001 World Series? Or more poignant proof that making it rain on the trendy free agent doesn’t nudge you near another World Series?
Thankfully, the Yankees have largely turned the page on such myopia, on signing the big name now with no regard for age or wage or long-term consequence. And while this might look like piling on, it’s actually a nod to the current state of the club, while wincing at its recent past.
Hopefully, the Yanks considered Ellsbury before or after they looked into the availability of Giancarlo Stanton. The Marlins’ slugger is certainly younger, stronger, and better, but the principle applies. So if it’s a mistake to deal for a 27-year-old with several prime years left, you cringe at the logic behind bringing Ellsbury to the Bronx.
Unless you consider Masahiro Tanaka part of the problem — he did pitch like an ace until this year — Ellsbury is the last glaring example of the Evil Empire mentality. No more gaggle of 30-somethings cashing checks while riding the pine. CC Sabathia’s $25 million salary comes off the books in 2018, as does Matt Holliday’s $13 million. Brett Gardner has one more year on his deal, but he will make a modest $11.5 million next year.
The Yankees’ payroll is finally under $200 million ($195.6 million), according to Spotrac. Their budget will be trimmed to $111.5 million next year, and the club has just one player under contract, Aroldis Chapman, until the time Ellsbury collects his final $21 million in 2021. And they still have that glut of young players and prospects, led by Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez and soon to be joined by Gleyber Torres, the No. 3 prospect in the sport, according to MLB.com.
So the future is certainly brighter and cheaper for the Yankees. Perhaps they need Ellsbury around the batting cage and batting around the Mendoza Line, as a mascot, or reminder of their former urge to splurge on fantasy.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel