Ellsbury Deal and Money Talk

There’s a lot going on in baseball right now, and to be specific, a lot of that noise has to do with the Yankees. First, I'd like to say that I was not too happy about the Jacoby Ellsbury deal. I actually hated it, because it feels like the Yankees just spent a ton of money on a player who is pretty much made of glass. But that might not be true, and now I'm coming around on the signing. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs wrote that Ellsbury’s injuries have been a matter of bad luck more than anything. His injuries have come about after colliding with a few guys, where he ended up hurting himself. Most baseball players would bust their ribs if they collided with Adrian Beltre.

Sullivan also explains that this doesn’t mean his injuries are unconcerning. There is a possibility that Ellsbury could be more fragile than the average big leaguer, but there’s really no exact way of proving this true. The Yankees took a risk and it may very well payoff if Ellsbury doesn't have the bad luck he had in Boston.

Hating the deal is one thing, but hating it because of his freak injuries is not the right way to go about it. The bigger concern is his long term future. Ellsbury is going to break down just like all the other players who are signed for too long. This is true, but this is what baseball has come to. Teams sacrifice the future for now all the time. Whether it be with prospects or adding a player who will most likely regress by the time the deal is over. This is a risk for all teams, but it’s less of a risk for the Yankees who can afford to take a hit once in a while.

Now, the team is not immune to bad signings. The team had to absorb the playoff-less 2013 season and wait for some money to clear before going all out this off-season. The team has improved two of their weakest spots in 2013, at catcher with McCann, and in the outfield with Ellsbury. Most, if not all Yankee fans, were okay with the McCann signing. However, the Ellsbury deal is a bit different, I suppose, one, It was a surprise, and two, it was for a lot more money than we expected them to spend. This can set off any fan, especially when there is believed to be a budget and your star second baseman is negotiating with other teams.

Yet, a lot of us, especially (but not all) people who are into sabermetrics and putting a dollar value on a player’s production, are critical of almost every signing that isn’t a bargain. And then there’s those who say, “Well it’s not your money don’t worry about it.” There’s definitely a common ground that has to be met here. The deal has to be analyzed in a few ways. To keep it simple let’s break it down and divide it into two categories: the short term and the long term. In the short term, the Yankees expect to have a solid player. Ellsbury was worth 5.8 fWAR in 134 games last season. He was going to definitely get into the 6 fWAR range had he not missed most of September with a fracture. Ellsbury did play in the playoffs and was effective for the Red Sox. Boston, who had a nice cushion in the AL East, was able to rest him and save him for the post-season. Long term, the Yankees are probably going to not like the end of this deal. Like most deals that are 7-8 years long, the player signed will be in his late 30’s. This is where regression sets in. Surprise, surprise, the Alex Rodriguez mega-deal, the Sabathia extension, and the Teixeira contract are beginning to rear their ugly heads and perhaps teach the Yankees a lesson.

Ellsbury is different than those players though. It’s common among the baseball community to believe that speed and defense doesn’t age very well. When actually that’s been proven false by many. The most recent data found by Dave Cameron shows that speed driven players actually age well. There are exceptions to any data though, but the examples from the past are definitely in the Yankees and Ellsbury’s favor. Speaking of the past, I’m in the midst of reading Dollar Sign on the Muscle, by Kevin Kerrane. It’s a book about the world of baseball scouting, and in the first chapter Branch Rickey suggests what type of players he wants to build his ball club around. Kerrane states, “For the Cardinals the most important tool, even in the new age of home runs, was running speed: Rickey called it the common denominator of offense and defense, and he believed it to be the best single indicator of major-league potential.” (Pg. 8 Kerrane) Rickey seems to be right about his assessment as players similar to Ellsbury have better track records than players like Albert Pujols in the late stages of their careers.

As it has been said many times over the past few days, the Yankees have the money to go out and sign these players. It just doesn’t make sense for the team to build the team around bargain deals and hope to make the playoffs. They don’t have to budget their payroll like the Rays, A’s, and other teams. Do they have the capability of doing that? Absolutely. The team was missing countless starters last year and was in the Wild Card race until the very end. However, the Steinbrenner’s are better off risking their money in almost-sure-things in order to make the playoffs, rather than signing taking on high-risk/high-reward players like Kevin Youkilis or Vernon Wells. They saw the results of what happened in 2013. They didn’t improve the team and the Yankees missed the playoffs. Injuries or no injuries, they missed the playoffs and lost revenue. The Yankees spend money to make money.

I am a spoiled Yankees fan, I've only witnessed them miss the post-season twice. When plan 189 was seemingly going on, I figured I was going witness some bad seasons in the Bronx. That nightmare never came to fruition and now appears to be over. So thank you Hal and co, the Boss would be proud.