The New York Yankees need to do something about Jacoby Ellsbury. Even if it means eating his remaining salary, the veteran outfielder's chronic injury issues have made it so he is completely worthless to a team looking to compete for a World Series championship this season.
According to MLB.com's Bryan Hoch, Ellsbury injured his hip while rehabbing a strained oblique suffered during Spring Training and has been shut down. Hoch also mentioned that center fielder Aaron Hicks, who suffered an intercostal strain in New York's first game of the season, was expected back sooner than Ellsbury.
Make no mistake, folks. Ellsbury has worn out his welcome in the Bronx and the sooner GM Brian Cashman decides to cut his losses, the better.
A career of injuries
Ellsbury signed a seven-year, $153m deal with the Bronx Bombers before the 2014 season and though the signing was lauded at the time, there were red flags aplenty. Sure, Ellsbury had just hit .298 with the Boston Red Sox while leading the majors with 52 stolen bases and had also finished second in American League MVP voting in 2011, but he also played in just 134 games his contract year and just 74 games the year before that. Still, between his speed on the basepaths and range in center field, not to mention Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field, it was expected he would fit right in as he donned the pinstripes.
How wrong we all were. While Ellsbury batted .271 with 16 homers, 70 RBI, and 39 steals in his first year as a Yankee, everything went downhill after that. In 2015, he missed almost two months with a sprained knee and hit just .224 for the rest of the season following his return. He was healthy in 2016, but saw his batting average dip to .263. Last season, a combination of poor play and a concussion saw him lose his job to Hicks and when Hicks suffered an injury of his own, Ellsbury wound up losing playing time to prospect Clint Frazier.
Throw in his injury issues combined with declining defensive prowess in center field as his -3 DRS and -3.7 UZR from last year show, not to mention budding outfield prospects down on the farm, and the Yankees are running out of reasons to keep Ellsbury around the clubhouse.
An ugly exit in the making
The worst thing about Ellsbury's hard decline in New York is that he can't simply be traded and releasing him is a tough pill to swallow. Not only is he due $63.4m through 2020, but Ellsbury also has a full no-trade clause he implied he would not waive in his quest to reclaim the starting center fielder's job. Moreover, even if he agreed to waive the clause, Cashman could not make a deal without agreeing to cover a significant portion of the remaining salary.
The Yankees also have a plethora of young players who could play center field in the future, especially if Hicks is not kept long-term. Besides Frazier, who is currently recovering from an injury of his own, top prospect Estevan Florial has also shown promise at the position.
With New York shifting towards a focus on youth and Ellsbury not getting any younger at 34 years old, Cashman only has a few options. He can either find a trade partner and beg Ellsbury to waive his no-trade clause and eat a significant amount of money, keep Ellsbury hamstringing the team's payroll from the bench, or he can just outright release him or start buyout talks.
And let's not forget, a lot of this falls on Ellsbury too. As was mentioned before, he entered camp determined to reclaim his starting job until an injury derailed him yet again. He surely knows deep down the Yankees would prefer to be rid of him, so the only real reason he has for showing up now is to collect a check and/or fill in when someone needs a rest day. If playing time is so important to him, he should approach Cashman about going somewhere he can receive it.
No matter what solution is chosen, one thing is clear. Jacoby Ellsbury's days of being a useful outfielder in New York are long gone, and the front office should act accordingly if it is serious about putting together a championship-caliber team.