A Week of Surprises for the Yankees…
The biggest news of the week was the release of Jacoby Ellsbury which was met with celebration by most Yankee fans. It’s probably the most united I’ve seen the Yankees fan base on Social Media for a very long time. I know that I’ve been anti-Ellsbury for quite some time, but I’ll admit that I do feel badly for Ellsbury the man even if I wasn’t fond of the player. I do wish him much success going forward even if I am excited about the Yankees’ decision to move on and allow the roster spot to go to a talented young prospect who might actually help the team one day.
When the Yankees signed Ellsbury to the seven-year deal for $153,000,000 in the 2013-14 off-season after losing free agent Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, it felt wrong. It seemed like every year, Jacoby Ellsbury, while a member of the Boston Red Sox, was missing time with injuries. Sure, he had the one great year in 2011 but he was never able to replicate it. When he became a free agent, the Red Sox made no public attempt to retain the player. I liked Ellsbury when he was on the field, but sadly, that was the challenge. He was a huge risk from the moment he signed that mega-deal.
It’s been two years since Ellsbury put on a Yankees uniform and I figured it was only a matter of time until the Yankees made the decision to cut their biggest mistake in recent memory. On Wednesday, before the 8 pm deadline to finalize the 40-man roster, I read Ellsbury’s contract was not covered by insurance for 2020. As soon as I read that, I knew the Yankees would be releasing Ellsbury so I wasn’t surprised when it happened. I had reached the point where I didn’t really care if Ellsbury was healthy for 2020 and capable of providing at least what he gave the Yankees in 2014, I knew I didn’t want him on my team. The Yankees need a center fielder with Aaron Hicks sidelined after Tommy John surgery, but there’s no way I wanted Ellsbury competing for playing time (not that I actually believe he’ll be ready).
Frankly, missing two years of Major League Baseball is a long time. Last Spring, we saw an unsuccessful attempt by Troy Tulowitzki to make a comeback after missing so much time. Tulo had heart and wanted to be a Yankee, yet he couldn’t make it. If Ellsbury does try to sign with a team, I think he’ll stay close to his Scottsdale, AZ home. The San Francisco Giants, seemingly forever in search of outfielders, train in Scottsdale and appear to be a logical destination. But I could see any one of the teams who train in Arizona as possibilities if they are willing to take a chance. From my perspective, Ellsbury should retire. But ultimately, he’s not a Yankee and I am happy regardless of Ellsbury’s next job in or out of baseball.
After releasing Ellsbury, the Yankees have taken severe public relations heat when word spread they do not intend to pay Ellsbury his salary for 2020 due to the use of non-approved doctors for his rehabilitation. Including the 2021 buyout, the Yankees owe Ellsbury a total of $26,142,857. There’s a fight with the MLB Players’ Union looming as Ellsbury is expected to file a grievance, but the Yankees must feel they have a legally defensible argument to make this decision. I am not sure how this will play out. I am certainly not making assumptions that the Yankees will not be paying any of the monies owed to Ellsbury or that his 2020 salary will not count for luxury tax purposes. Either he’ll win his grievance or the Yankees will fold to public pressure. I am not sure the cost of victory is worth it in the long run even if $26 million is a helluva lot of money for any team including the Yankees. The top available free agent, Gerrit Cole, shares the same agent (Scott Boras) as Ellsbury. I don’t think Boras would let the contentious situation with Ellsbury affect his negotiations to get Cole the most money even if the highest offer was from the Yankees. However, I’d prefer the Yankees not engage in a battle with the game’s best and most feared agent.
|Photo Credit: John Minchillo, AP|
In the flurry of moves to finalize the 40-man roster, the Yankees also announced they had designated Greg Bird and Nestor Cortes, Jr for assignment. Bird was a bit of a surprise given the long leash the Yankees have given him over the course of his Yankees career. I was frustrated with Bird’s inability to stay healthy but I thought the Yankees would give him another shot next Spring. There’s a chance he clears waivers and the Yankees re-sign him to a minor league deal so it’s not necessarily the end of his time in Pinstripes until it is. Cortes, Jr was a nice guy to have last season with his variety of arm angles and overall effectiveness as the long man for Chad Green’s opening assignments. But, unfortunately for him, he is disposable and not as valuable as the pitchers the Yankees needed to protect (Deivi Garcia, Nick Nelson, Miguel Yajure, Luis Medina, Brooks Kriske, and Luis Gil). I think there’s a greater chance, if they are not dealt away in trades, that Bird clears waivers than Cortes, Jr. Somebody will take a chance on him. A rebuilding team in need of a fifth starter could view him as a good option.
In retrospect, it appears the Yankees should have let former pitching coach Larry Rothschild go after the 2017 season when Joe Girardi was fired. While Rothschild has a solid reputation in baseball as a good pitching coach and baseball man, there are indications modern analytics may have passed him by. While he was seemingly receptive toward analytics, it appears that he didn’t fully understand how to apply them to certain pitchers. Word was leaked the Yankees had to go around Larry last season to work with James Paxton which led to the pitcher’s turnaround after a disappointing start. You can’t help but wonder what Sonny Gray could have done with a pitching coach like new coach Matt Blake. There’s part of me that believes Gray lacks the mental toughness necessary to succeed in New York, but on the other hand, he is a pitcher with talent as he showed last year in Cincinnati. I guess we’ll never know but I am optimistic about what Blake can do with current Yankee pitchers. The poster child for me is Michael King. We know King has the talent and by all accounts, he is one of the most prepared pitchers in the organization and he has history with Blake. He might not be the most talented pitcher but he might be the smartest (somewhat like David Cone in my mind). Not that I am expecting King to win a rotation spot next Spring, but I think he’ll be one the first names called when the Yankees need rotation help. He has a chance to be Blake’s first major success story with the Yankees.
Speaking of coaches, CONGRATULATIONS! to the Yankees for their hire of Rachel Balkovec as a minor-league hitting coach. Earlier in the day, the Chicago Cubs made news with the announcement of their hire of Rachel Folden as a hitting instructor for one of their minor league affiliates. Then came word about the Yankees and Balkovec. Balkovec, only 32, has two master degrees in human movement, and she served as the Minor League strength and conditioning coordinator for the St Louis Cardinals in 2014-15. She also served time in minor league strength and conditioning roles with the Houston Astros.
Regardless of whether Balkovec or Folden was the first female hired for minor league coaching positions (Balkovec apparently signed her contract on November 8th which allegedly would make her the first), I think it is great for Baseball. Dillon Lawson, the Yankees’ organizational hitting coordinator is quoted in The New York Times as saying, “It’s an easy answer to why we chose Rachel for this role. She’s a good hitting coach, and a good coach, period.” It seems like we are in the midst of a change in organizational philosophy with the release of so many organizational coaches and the hiring of new age instructors like Balkovec, Blake and catching coordinator Tanner Swanson. I am happy the Yankees are on the cutting edge of change. Welcome to the Yankees family, Rachel!
Back to players, many are surprised that Brett Gardner has not re-signed with the Yankees yet, particularly since he signed so quickly last off-season. I am not reading anything into it. I think it is only a matter of time until the two sides come to an agreement. I don’t really envision Gardy wearing any uniform other than the one he has always worn.
As for the other free agents, there seems to be increasing talk about Didi Gregorius going to Philadelphia Phillies to join up with Joe Girardi. It would allow the Phillies to move Jean Segura out of the shortstop position which would improve their team. I’d hate to see it, but I do view this as a very strong possibility for Sir Didi. I personally hope the the Yankees can at least sign Didi on a short-term deal to allow him to rebuild his value as I truly believe he’ll be closer to his pre-Tommy John surgery version next season than the post-surgery version who struggled after his return to the field. Like Gregorius, I am also hopeful the Yankees can retain Bronx native Dellin Betances. I am not ready for either player to leave yet, even if it means the Yankees cannot grab the biggest fish on the free agent market.
As for the big fish, there’s no doubt I’d love to have Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg on the Yankees. But redistributing the money to cover other roles, I’d be okay if the Yankees were to acquire someone like Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians. My primary goal this off-season is to improve J.A. Happ’s spot in the rotation. Of course that means dealing Happ (and including a good prospect or two to make it happen), but I feel it’s critical to get better. I’d love a pitcher that is capable of being the team’s ace to take pressure off James Paxton and Luis Severino, but they need another pitcher that is capable of standing in the same room with Paxton, Severino, and Masahiro Tanaka. We’re not getting Lucas Giolito (the Chicago White Sox have shown they are ready to take it to the next level with the serious cash they’ve thrown at Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal). Similarly, I don’t feel the Yankees will be able to pry Luis Castillo away from the Cincinnati Reds. Yet, I am sure there is a pitcher out there destined for Pinstriped success and I am sure Brian Cashman will find him, whoever he may be.
Even if the Yankees make a competitive offer for Cole, I can’t really see them waiting until late January or early February to see if they are successful in landing the prized pitcher. I think they’ll make the move for the best available option sooner rather than later. I’ll be a bit disappointed if Robbie Ray is the best we can do, but I am more than willing to see how this plays out. There’s always the chance that Cash shocks us all with a surprise acquisition.
I am not really expecting much baseball news for the next week or so with the Thanksgiving holiday upon us. While this off-season has seemingly been more active than last year (at least for the Atlanta Braves and Chicago White Sox), there probably won’t be much happening until the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego, CA next month (December 8-12). On a side note, as much as I love California, I prefer for the Winter Meetings to be in the Eastern time zone.
Although we probably won’t see it until next off-season but I’d like to see the Yankees extend Aaron Boone. When Boonie was named the Yankees manager, it was reported that his contract was for three years with an option for a fourth. Next season will be Year 3, and while there’s no doubt in my mind the Yankees will pick up the option for 2021, I’d rather see Boone given certainty and financial security for the years ahead. The first manager to win 100 games in his first two seasons and a guy who has shown continual improvement, there’s not really anybody I’d rather see at the helm than Aaron Boone. His playoff exit last year was at the hands of the cheating, lying, trashy organization known as the Houston Asterisks. With bench coach Josh Bard apparently out, we’ll see how Boone meshes with new bench coach Carlos Mendoza although I am excited about the pairing. I do believe we’ll see World Series success with Boone in charge.
I get that Derek Jeter should be unanimously selected to the MLB Hall of Fame Class of 2020, I am not going to get worked up if he is not. I have no doubt he’ll gain entry with greater than 98% of the vote and it’s a certainty we’ll be celebrating the induction of the former Yankees shortstop into Cooperstown next summer. So, despite whatever the final vote may be, I’ll be happy to see Jeter’s placement among the greatest ever to play the game. I am hopeful the Veterans Committee selects Thurman Munson to go into the Hall with Jeter.
As always, Go Yankees!