NEW YORK (CBS Sports) — Opening Day is a week and a half out, prompting teams to put the finishing touches on their rosters. That means deciding who will make the team, as well as who won’t. Most of those decisions are based on performance and contractual status; a few, however, are about health.
To wit, the New York Yankees conceded on Monday that outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury will likely begin the year on the disabled list due to a strained oblique, per the New York Daily News. The development stinks for Ellsbury, who hit .264/.348/.402 (97 OPS+) in 2017, but it probably won’t make a difference for the Yankees — if anything, it could be a net positive.
How so? Let us list the reasons.
1. The other outfielders
Even before the injury, Ellsbury was looking at a limited role. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are going to start everyday while Gardner is a better version of Ellsbury, so far as left-handed-hitting outfielders with a platoon split go. That leaves Aaron Hicks as the wild card.
Theoretically, an Ellsbury-Hicks platoon would make sense — especially if Hicks fails to build upon his breakout 2017. But the Yankees figure to give Hicks ample opportunity to validate last season, and that means trotting him out there versus right-handed pitching.
As such, Ellsbury’s absence from the roster won’t change much in the short term. Besides, a healthy Ellsbury might’ve been the Yanks’ second choice when they needed another lefty bat.
2. Tyler Wade
The first option? Yup, Tyler Wade.
For various reasons — including those stated in the previous section — the Yankees won’t have many plate appearances to give to additional left-handed bats. It’s reasonable to believe that Wade merits those more than Ellsbury. That’s because Wade is the more versatile player — and the one who seems to have the higher ceiling, both now and heading forward.
Wade, 23, struggled during his big-league cameo last season, tapping out a .155/.222/.224 line across 63 plate appearances. His stock has nonetheless continued to rise based on his play in Triple-A (.310/.382/.460) and this spring. Had the Yankees abstained from signing Neil Walker, Wade may have entered the year as the most-days second baseman. As it is, he’s a quality bench piece with a good hit tool and the glove to play both on the dirt and on the grass.
Even if Ellsbury remains slightly better at the dish — and PECOTA, for whatever it’s worth, has them hitting about the same — there’s an argument to be made that Wade should be the Yanks’ preferred left-handed bat off the bench.
3. Aaron Boone’s job made easier
This one is the most trivial of the bunch, but not having Ellsbury (and the $68 million remaining on his contract) around could make Boone’s job easier — and he needs all the help he can get as the rookie skipper of the Yankees. At least for the next few weeks, Boone won’t have to worry about massaging Ellsbury into the lineup, or about dealing with the drama that arose if and when another outfielder slumped. Does any of this make a tangible difference? Probably not.
Still, the Yankees should be just fine without Ellsbury — and, depending on how Hicks and Wade play, could come out ahead when everything is said and done.