Seven years never means seven years. Any cursory reading of the Bible will tell you that. Seven is an allusion, a symbol, not a number on the same plane as, for instance, six or eight. Seven years means either perfection or forever. The New York Yankees have committed to seven years with Jacoby Ellsbury as their center fielder, so they’ll have to hope it feels more like the former than the latter.
Ellsbury was the best of the major free-agent options in the outfield. I don’t think that opinion should merit much controversy. He’s fully a year younger than Shin-Soo Choo, who’s as bad a center fielder as Ellsbury is a good one. He has speed, solid gap power (that should play up at Yankee Stadium, but so would have Choo’s) and a firm command of the strike zone—he doesn’t walk all that often, for a top-of-the-order guy, but he strikes out rarely enough to make it work. He was always going to be expensive, and although this may be a slight overpay, it’s the right type of deal: the top of the market.
It takes a bit more than the numbers to understand Ellsbury’s potential. Some will (derisively) call that eisegesis, and say that, for instance, assuming he’ll rediscover some of the power he flashed in 2011, but hadn’t shown before and hasn’t shown since is foolish. That’s fair. I still think it will happen. I also think his walk rate will tick up over time, as he trades a bit of contact for power. He’s a very patient hitter for a guy who walks at just an average rate, even a bit below. I think he’ll accept a few more swings and misses, in time, and therefore draw more walks, because his swings will not always result in balls in play, as they essentially do right now.
Adding Ellsbury is probably close to redundant for the Yankees right now. They already had Brett Gardner, who will now slide to left field. Ellsbury’s power might bloom right away, allowing him to be a truer middle-of-the-order guy, but this isn’t the addition that ensures the Yankees will return to contention in 2014. They haven’t made that addition yet. Brian McCann has a higher specific impact on this team. Re-upping with Robinson Cano would do so, too. The biggest move left to make might be adding Masahiro Tanaka, which surely, the Yankees intend to do.
Ellsbury is more of a long-term solution than a short-term one. Gardner isn’t quite as good at anything as Ellsbury is, and that small difference figures to yawn into a large one as each player ages. Even if Cano comes back, he will be a 31-year-old second baseman. McCann, a catcher, can’t be counted upon to age well. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, you know the stories there. They needed an anchor, someone they felt would be good, and also popular and marketable, in four years, and Ellsbury can be that guy.
The Yankees made another addition on Super Tuesday, too. Kelly Johnson signed a one-year deal, presumably to play a lot of third base if and when Rodriguez gets suspended for the season, and also as insurance at second base in the event of losing Cano. Like Ellsbury (and also like Gardner, McCann, Cano and Ichiro Suzuki), Johnson bats left-handed. The Yankees aren’t going to lack for left-handed thump. They’re likely to struggle from the right side, as they did virtually all of last season, as their best hitters from that side are, in some order, the ghosts of Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter and Vernon Wells. I love the Johnson signing, for the flexibility and the power he brings to the table, but Brian Cashman needs to find a right-handed bat in order to make the additions of both Johnson and Ellsbury pay off in 2014.Next post: Jarrod Saltalamacchia Actively Chooses Miami Marlins
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