jacobyyanks

Cue the jersey burnings in Revere and cries of “trader” — Jacoby Ellsbury is now a Yankee, pending a physical, as first reported by Jon Heyman’s arch-nemesis Mark Feinsand of the Daily News.

The deal is reportedly for 7 years / $153 million with an 8th-year option that could bring the deal to $169 million. Before we talk about the contract itself, it’s important to note that the Yankees have acquired the 2nd-best free agent on the market behind Robinson Cano. The 30-year old Ellsbury was our #1 non-Robbie free agent target. Here are excerpts of what we wrote on November 14th:

Ellsbury is the best free agent on the market not named Robinson Cano. He’s an extremely talented all-around player, and basically Brett Gardner on Arodian pharmaceuticals.

In 2013, he hit .298/.355/.426 (113 wRC+) with a major league leading 52 SBs in 56 attempts (a whopping 93% success rate). His WAR of 5.8 was 13th-best in MLB, only a touch behind Robinson Cano’s 6.0.

Over the last 3 seasons, he’s been the 10th-most valuable player in MLB, despite only playing 74 games in 2012 (freak shoulder injury).

Contributing to his value is not only solid hitting…He’s a career 83% base-stealer, which includes the 93% he put up in 2013. His defense has been rated highly by both UZR and Defensive Runs Saved in each of the last three seasons. TotalZone has been positive on his defense for 2 of the past 3 seasons. Having Ellsbury and Brett Gardner in the outfield would also be a large boon for the Yankees’ pitching staff.

If he’s signed to a 5- or 6-year deal, there are obviously concerns about a speed-based player losing value around age 34/35. But, what about ages 30-32? There is no real need to worry about his speed during these years, and being an annual 4-5 win player over that time frame is a distinct possibility

What this all means is the Yankees have acquired a top tier MLB talent, and someone who could have won MVP only two years ago. He’s an above-average hitter with elite baserunning and above-average defense.

The contract is a year longer than we wanted, but it’s not a horror show. Is it an overpay? Yup. However [*SABR/Nerd Alert*], if Ellsbury averages 4 WAR (was worth 5.8 in 2013) and each WAR is worth $5.5 mil in today’s dollars on the free agent market, that’s about $22 million in annual value. Over 7 years, that equates to $154 million, which is spot on to his contract. That doesn’t take into account inflation and how each marginal win is worth more to the Yankees.

But for those who aren’t down with sabermetrics, WAR, etc. — throw all that nerd stuff out the window for now. He’s just a very good player overall.

Agree or disagree with this move, here is what matters most:

The Yankees HAVE to sign Cano in order for this move (and McCann’s signing) to make any sense. Signing Ellsbury to replace Cano is a DOWNGRADE. If Cano walks, the Yankees basically spent all this money for nothing, because the loss of Robbie’s production would negate all of Ellsbury’s value — and then some.

As we wrote on November 27th:

….the Yankees need Cano to simply maintain their overall quality level from last season. You don’t need to be an advanced stats person to know that. It’s just common sense. It’s the upgrades around Cano that will push the team closer to contention. That’s why we’ve stated the Yankees will need to blow past the Hal-Cap™ if they want to be serious contenders. They need to keep Cano, replace the production from departing players (like Pettitte, etc.), AND make upgrades elsewhere!

This brings us right back to the $189 million Hal-Cap.™ Before Ellsbury, the Yankees had about ~62 million left before $189 million. The former Red Sox now leaves the Yankees with $40 million for 15 big leaguers and the rest of the 40-man roster. If they re-sign Cano at around $25 mil per, that $40 million drops to $15 million with much work still to do.

This means some combination of the following three things would have to occur (if not all of them):

1. Arod’s suspension would have to stick and free up $25 million of additional spending.
2. The $189 million plan would have to be scrapped.
3. Some creative signings and trades would need to go down.

We can’t though emphasize the Cano point enough. If Robbie walks, the team is essentially back to square one, and these new contracts will be a waste.