First and foremost, the biggest winner when it comes to Jacoby Ellsbury‘s new contract is Jacoby Ellsbury. He will reportedly make more than $150 million to play baseball for the foreseeable future. Most of us would pay an ungodly amount of money to play one baseball game at that level, so to make an incomprehensible amount of moola to play a freaking game is not only absurd, but it makes Ellsbury the grand winner here.
Coming in a close second is his agent Scott Boras. Of course.
But where do we go from there? The reported Ellsbury signing has offered up an interesting dichotomy when it comes to two rival fan bases who have obviously responded to the news in much, much different ways. First of all, there are the irrational dolts on both sides. For Red Sox fans, this group is represented by those labeling the now ex-center fielder a traitor (or trader) for leaving Boston for — gasp — New York. They’re apparently forgetting the aforementioned fact the Yankees just handed this guy enough money to buy a lot of really nice, shiny things. If you say you wouldn’t do that, you’re either delusional or you hate money. Or both.
Also, fans often forget or decline to realize that professional athletes, especially guys like Ellsbury who didn’t grow up around a rivalry like this, don’t care about the rivalry. They don’t look at it the same way you do and they don’t care nearly as much. That makes it easy to leave for the “bitter rival.” Well that, and again, the $150 million.
There are Yankees fans who are dolts, too. They think that Ellsbury will come into New York and save what has been a fledgling bunch over the last couple of seasons, most evidenced by the fact that New York missed the playoffs last year. Then again, there’s probably an admittedly smaller group of dolts who root for the Yankees and say they couldn’t bring themselves to root for a former Red Sox player like Ellsbury. They have probably forgot about this guy who became this guy.
But there are probably much larger groups on both sides of the Tri-State/New England fences whose logic probably falls somewhere in between. That’s what’s so intriguing about this deal. Fans on both sides are already looking at this move and doing their best to rationalize and spin it in their favor. That’s not unique to this situation, of course, but given the parties involved, this is a little more intense.
Red Sox fans found the news Tuesday night and quickly started to spin things. The critiques were justified in most cases, at least to an extent. For instance, it’s fair to look at Ellsbury’s skill set and wonder if it warrants Ellsbury joining the rarefied air of being a $20 million player. Even for the Yankees’ deep pocketbook, that’s a lot of money for a guy like that. They wondered aloud if Ellsbury just made a few boatloads of money because of one incredible 2011 season. Then there are the injuries. What happens if Ellsbury remains injury-prone? What happens if he becomes fragile as he ages? What happens when he loses some of his speed and becomes less dynamic and loses some of his game-changing ability? Oh, and how are you going to sign Robinson Cano now that you’ve paid Ellsbury this absurd amount? Those are all answers for the Yankees now, Boston fans will say. It’s not something the Red Sox have to worry about. Plus, it’s not like Ellsbury can pitch.
The same sort of rationalizing went on in New York, too, and will continue to an extent as long as the outfielder is wearing pinstripes. Sure, the Yankees overpaid for Ellsbury, but “it’s not our money,” they said. “It’s the Yankees’ money.” Ellsbury’s 2011 season may have been an outlier, but how about that short porch in right field? That should help his power some, no? How about that big, spacious outfield in the alleys? On offense, Ellsbury will turn hits into extra bases and on defense, he’ll take those same bases away. Don’t forget, they’ll remind you, that you’re also taking away the Red Sox’ leadoff hitter and center fielder. And don’t worry about, Cano, they’ll say. The Yankees will find a way.
While both sides try to talk themselves into this being a good thing, the truth, as it almost always does, lies somewhere in the middle. Barring an injury, this transaction will help the Yankees before it hurts them, which is a luxury a big market team like them is quite literally afforded. It’s also how they get into the types of messes they have found themselves in when spending like drunken sailors. However, the fact remains that Ellsbury is a very good baseball player who is still only 30 years old. He’s still in his prime, and he should remain there for some time. If he stays healthy, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be the same player in New York, which is to say he’ll be a damn good piece for that team. He’ll play good defense in a big outfield, his speed will wreak havoc at times and he’ll be one of the 10 or 20 best players in the league. Sure, he’s overpaid, but in a day and age where so many players see their free agency bought out before they reach the market (Dustin Pedroia, Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey to name a talented few), you’re going to spend a little more for high-end talent.
We have no way of telling what Ellsbury will be at the end of this contract, though, and that is where the rationalization becomes prevalent. Red Sox fans hope it crashes and burns, while Yankees fans hope he’ll somehow become even better for even longer after trading in a “B” for the “NY.”
We’ll have to wait until Ellsbury’s time in New York is up, with the only certainty at this point being the outfielder will be filthy rich whenever that time comes.