So much for the supposedly new “frugal” New York Yankees. Missing the playoffs will do that.
In 2008, the Bronx Bombers finished 89-73 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994. In response, the Steinbrenners opened their wallets and signed Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett to contracts totaling around $424 million. The Yankees had to show their fan base they would contend as they moved into the new Yankee Stadium.
It worked, as the Yanks won 103 games in 2009 and beat Philadelphia in the 2009 Fall Classic, the last time New York has been there. Now fast-forward to the 2013 season. With the injured Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez barely playing and having a lineup full of no-names or past-their-prime veterans, the Yankees finished 85-77 and missed the playoffs for the first time since ’08. The team couldn’t fill all its gaping holes with big-name free agents because it wanted to have a payroll under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold.
That was supposed to be the case this offseason as well, with New York expected to become another spending behemoth next offseason. However, the philosophy clearly has changed after New York’s signing of former Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year deal for $153 million, the fourth-highest contract ever for an outfielder in total value and well north of the deal the Sox gave to Carl Crawford. The Yankees already had signed the top free-agent catcher, former Brave Brian McCann, to a five-year, $85 million deal.
Bovada has listed Ellsbury props for the 2014 season, as painful as it may be for Sox fans to contemplate Ellsbury in pinstripes. The Sox wanted him back but weren’t about to get burned by a another long contract like Crawford’s. Ellsbury’s 2014 over/under totals are set at (all options -115): .299 average, 15 1/2 home runs, 62 1/2 RBIs, 39 1/2 stolen bases and 129 1/2 games played. It’s that last number that likely will determine the previous four.
Ellsbury is a terrific player when healthy and an elite defender and baserunner. Many think he should have been the AL MVP in 2011, when he played in a career-high 158 games and set career marks with a .321 average, 32 home runs, 105 RBIs and 119 runs while stealing 39 bags. He was named an All-Star, won his only Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, and finished second to Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander for MVP.
Ellsbury, fairly or not, also has been accused of being soft. He played only 18 games in 2010 and 74 in 2012 due to injuries. He did play 134 games in 2013, when he hit .298 with nine homers, 53 RBIs and 52 steals, but guys play through injuries in a contract season.
It’s clear those 32 homers were an aberration, as they represent almost half his career total. Ellsbury could get a power boost with the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium. In 33 games there, Ellsbury is hitting .285 with four homers, 17 RBIs and 13 steals. Ellsbury remains in his prime at age 30 but likely only has a few more seasons in that window.
The Yanks likely aren’t done spending and are 5-1 to re-sign Robinson Cano. Seattle is the even-money favorite.