Peter Gammons: Yankees strike again; Ellsbury signs for 7 years

j. ellsbury

This happened once before, and before a recovering cancer patient named Jon Lester took the mound for the final game of the 2007 World Series, Scott Boras had dialed the Yankee Rage Hotline, got Alex Rodriguez an extension equal to the GNP of Uruguay and all the publicity that went with it.

That wasn’t the cure, of course, because in 2008 the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs, so after watching the Rays—who do not play in Legends Field—beat the Red Sox in the ALCS, they went out and invested in Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and restored the Yankees to the world championship.

Now, again, the Yankees stayed home and watched the Red Sox somehow beat the Tigers, then overcome the Cardinals and win their third World Series in a decade. They won 85 games, the fewest they’d won in a full season since 1992, or since George Herbert Walker Bush was president. All the while, they were in the news for every plot shift in NCIS ARod, and, $189M luxury tax threshold or no threshold, they realized this is not what the greatest franchise in sports is about, not when you are a Steinbrenner, not when your $2500 a seat fans and TV audience are used to something better than Jayson Nix, Luis Cruz and Chris Nelson.

So, as they tried to deal with Mariano Rivera’s retirement, Derek Jeter’s injury, Teixeira’s rehab, ARod’s courtroom drama and the text and tenor of Jay Z’s negotiations on Robinson Cano, all within the framework of remaining under the $189M luxury tax threshold, they tried to roll out the 2014 Yankees more efficiently than others rolled out the Affordable Care Act.

Brian Cashman is very smart. He worried about a team like Seattle swooping in and burning down the house on Cano. Cashman talked pessimism about the negotiations, he tossed out warning signs to make Cano think about turning his back on The Monuments, and meanwhile signed Brian McCann to a five year, $85M contract and laid offers out to Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran and Hiroki Kuroda, prepared for Masahiro Tanaka…As Cashman often says, when you are the general manager of the New York Yankees, you talk to every team and every free agent…

And Tuesday Jacoby Ellsbury and Boras took the seven year, $153M offer, which is the third largest contract ever given to an outfielder after Manny Ramirez and Matt Kemp’s eight year, $160M deals. “Sorry, Sox” read the front page of Wednesday’s Daily News. Joel Sherman in The Post warned that the signing was a distinct message to Cano that the seven year, $170M offer he has thus far rejected is close to the final stretching point, which, in turn, could send Cano to Seattle for something North of $200M. Let’s see—with Carlos Beltran reportedly at three years and $48M with the Royals and the Tigers peering out of the tall grass at Choo, the possibilities are fascinating.

Presuming they do not have to pay Rodriguez this season, they seemingly feel that they can balance the $189M budget and still sign McCann, Ellsbury, Kuroda, Cano and Tanaka; it may require signing Lawrence Summers to figure it all out, but it is possible.

Ellsbury is a very good player. He has hit 32 homers in a season, the only time he has homered in double figures, but the power is there and can play in Yankee Stadium. His power comes with a complex timing trigger, but when he gets that trigger set, he has enough power to hit 20-25 homers in that ballpark, he can steal 50 bases, he covers a ton of ground and was one of the leading centerfielders with 13 runs saved.

As for injuries, in 2010 he got run over by Adrian Beltre and suffered a serious ribs injury, an injury diagnosed by a Harvard osteopath who suffered a similar collision, but since she was not in on the case Ellsbury was killed in the talkosphere so badly that Theo Epstein sent him to Athletes Performance Institute in Arizona to get him away from the doctor and the bashing. In 2012, he suffered a serious shoulder injury sliding into second; the front shoulder is the driving force of hitting, and it still wasn’t completely right this past April. In September, he fractured a bone in his foot, and came back, and in the World Series hurt his hand, and played right on through to the Duckboat Parade.

Dave Cameron has written that bulky first basemen in their 30’s are more of a risk than elite speed athletes, and Ellsbury is an elite athlete (ask former Boston scouting director Jason McLeod, who saw him work out with the Oregon State basketball team before the 2005 draft).

The Red Sox wanted Ellsbury back, but at fewer years and the $100M range, and last weekend Boras told Ben Cherington that he was a lot closer to Carl Crawford’s range than that offered by the Red Sox. Fine. They think Jackie Bradley is a very good center fielder who can get on base in the 8-9 hole leading to the top of the order. They can sign a righthanded-hitting center fielder, although it creates a roster problem. They will at least explore Matt Kemp, who last night texted that his rehab is going very well.

When they signed A.J. Pierzynski, one Sox official said “it’s probably a good thing to change things, even after winning.” They have two very smart 37-year old catchers in David Ross and Pierzynski, while Christian Vazquez, Dan Butler and Blake Swihart are ready, and Ryan Lavarnway gets another chance. Some feel Butler can play right now, and they think Vazquez is the best thrower in the American League. “He hasn’t hit this winter, but that’s OK,” says one Puerto Rican League official. “He can really catch and throw, and he really makes his pitchers better. His team has the best pitching in the league, and he’s a big reason for that.”

They can trade a Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, even Ryan Dempster. Cherington is like a GPS, ever able to reset his route map.

This has happened once before, to the Yankees, and as they sang “I see the light,” they went right back to a 27th ring ceremony. The Red Sox today have no reply, but (moving over to Jackson Browne) when the morning light comes streaming in, I’ll get up and do it again.

  • Roland Deschain

    Sox also need a utility IF for the left side. I think I like the Kelly Johnson signing for the Yanks from a value perspective as much as I do Ellsbury.

    Willie Bloomquist would have been a great pickup.

  • Robert L Nolan

    The Sox are playing the Long Game with an eye on being competitive with home grown talent that is supplemented with smart plug ins, much like the Yankees did starting in the mid to 90s that saw them go to 5 WS in 6 years after that. Meanwhile the Yankees continue to try and buy their way back to respectability which has earned them ONE Word Series win in the last 13 years. They will field an old expensive team that will compete if healthy but how many times has that story been played out?