In the midst of a hideous contract, New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner is aware of the state of his $153 million man, Jacoby Ellsbury.
“We’ll see. Look, Jacoby is a great player. He comes to play every day, and he has been great with the young kids,’’ Steinbrenner told the New York Post. “The stats are what the stats are, but I’ve enjoyed having him on the club.’’
Although the principal owner, managing general partner and co-chairman couldn’t quite word his opinion of closer Aroldis Chapman correctly until he later clarified, Steinbrenner is right on the money when asked about the man with one of the highest salaries in the game.
Because although unordinary is all he’s been in the Bronx, that wasn’t always the case.
In the season prior to his first in the Bronx, the former All-Star slashed .298/.355/.426 and stole a Major League-leading 52 bases — something to justify such an astronomical investment. His .297/.350/.439 slash line, .789 on-base plus slugging percentage, an average of 34 bases stolen a year, a gold glove award, silver slugger award and enduring all-star appearances throughout his years in Boston are what the Yankees signed up for.
What they have received since Dec. 7, 2013, however, is nothing more than mediocrity.
Ellsbury has seen a nine percent decrease in batting average, 10 percent decrease in OPS, six percent decrease in OBP, a 16 percent rise in strikeout percentage and worst of all: a decline from an 84 percent stolen base success rate in Boston to a 77 percent success rate in the Bronx. He has only attempted to steal 102 bases while sporting navy blue pinstripes, three less than the amount he swiped in his final three years in Beantown.
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In 2016, Ellsbury finished with the third-worst “runs created” and batting average among qualified center fielders, according to Baseball Reference’s play index.
Which brings us to the first part of Steinbrenner’s comment: “we’ll see.” Ellsbury, as a former World Champion, is valuable for the new core the Yankees are grooming.
But, as evident in the numbers and Steinbrenner’s comments, he frankly hasn’t lived up to the quantity of his paycheck, and there might not be a team in the near future that will be willing to accept that payroll hit without New York taking a huge bite out of it.
Unless a massive turnaround transpires and the path ZiPS projects is accurate, then the Ellsbury/Yankees marriage could be due for a cruel divorce.
By his age-37 season, which will be the year before New York is able to exercise its $5 million buyout option (2020), he is projected to play in 103 games, slash .259/.308/.365 and accumulate a 0.9 WAR.
For comparison, the last Yankee to accumulate a 0.9 WAR in more than 100 games played in a season was Nick Johnson in 2002 — a year in which he hit just .243. Yes, New York will have to write a man of that caliber a check for $21 million.
If the Yankees want the financial flexibility to go out and spend freely on superstars to supplement its stacked farm system, a decision will need to be made down the road on how they want to combat what seems to be one of the worst contracts in modern memory.
How do they plan on approaching it? “We’ll see.”