So. Busy day.
The New York Yankees, in a thorough repudiation of the “Plan 189” they’ve had everyone in the local media — as well as everyone even slightly covering them — sold on for about nine months now, have just signed former Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a 7-year, $153 million contract. There’s a reason you don’t believe anything that comes out of the front door of that organization when it comes to money, and it has a lot to do with how Bubba Crosby wasn’t ever really anyone’s center fielder.
First, the dirty biographicals: the Yankees now have Ellsbury, Alfonso Soriano, Vernon Wells, and Ichiro Suzuki under contract next season for a combined $35.75 million, plus whatever Brett Gardner makes in arbitration. If one of these pieces is moving for help somewhere besides the outfield, DH, or DL, it’s going to be Gardner, because Gardner’s the only guy in that quintet with any value left to anyone. But he’s also the best center fielder of the lot – yes, including Ellsbury – and quite frankly, he’s the best all-around player the Yankees have for those three spots in the field in 2014. It’s understandable that the Yankees don’t want to just hand the starting center field job to a guy who only had 37 PA in 2012, but Jacoby Ellsbury is hardly a vast upgrade in durability – he played 74 games in 2012, and 18 games in 2010. And only one of these two guys is in line to make over $21 million for the next seven years.
So Soriano and Wells have some sort of platoon or rotation through the left field and designated hitter spot, with Gardner picking up starts in left, in center, and probably even at DH like he did last year. This has to happen because Ichiro Suzuki is the only one of these five gentlemen capable of faking the arm for right field. Put Vernon Wells there and see what happens if you’ve got a hankering for it, but that’s what the Yankees are looking at: three guys for one outfield spot and a DH, unless they trade one of those old left fielders off and eat the rest of the money. That’s how Ellsbury affects the current roster, assuming he manages to play every day. Silly, but not the end of the world.
But there’s going to be a lot of financial breakdowns over the next few days about just how thoroughly this shatters one of three things:
- The Yankees’ plan to spend less than $189 million dollars in current year salary in 2014 so as to fit under the luxury tax;
- The Yankees’ ability to re-sign superstar second baseman Robinson Cano;
- The Yankees’ attempt to even pretend that they’re not spending Alex Rodriguez’s salary before it’s off the books.
The only way a reasonable organization would spend Rodriguez’s salary at this juncture – more than a month away from the independent arbitrator’s judgment on his appeal – is if they either don’t care if he is later reinstated and they’re taken over the luxury tax threshold, which gets us back to torpedoing Plan 189, or if they’re already stone-cold certain the arbitrator is going to uphold Rodriguez’s suspension.
One is forced to conclude that a reasonable organization would see that earmarking that money in the budget for another player before the end of the appeals process would be take the appearance of collusion between the Yankees and MLB on the matter straight past “clear” and into the realm of “grandstanding,” so we’ll assume that’s not what they’re doing.
Likewise, there’s no reasonable way to conclude that the Yankees are out on Cano. The fact that the Yankees say they aren’t out on Cano is irrelevant – nothing that comes out of the front office can be trusted, something that needs reinforcing every couple years. The reason New York is still chasing the best free agent on the market (besides the very fact that he’s the best free agent on the market) is that the Yankees aren’t about to break the bank for a center fielder and then let the best second baseman in the history of their franchise walk, because that’s even crazier than openly colluding with the league to keep Rodriguez suspended while a federal court case looms.
Since neither of these two alternatives makes any lick of sense, we can only conclude that the Yankees have torpedoed their self-imposed budget for the various petty reasons Yankees ownership has always – always – torpedoed these self-imposed budgets: they want to win and they can’t help themselves.
That’s fine. That’s good, even. The Yankees are saving a number of other teams, the Seattle Mariners foremost among them, from themselves with the Ellsbury contract. This is the role they’re supposed to serve. And yes, it’ll work out for a couple years – these contracts almost always do – and then there will be another protracted round of belt-tightening and posturing and muttering in the local rags bemoaning that slacker Ellsbury weighing the Yankees down and stopping them from making moves.
And then they’ll sign Delino DeShields, Jr., to a $200 million contract. Welcome back the Yankees. This is what they do.