The Yankees are betting big that Jacoby Ellsbury will age well in his thirties.
They’re betting big that he’s not injury-prone and that his two season-ruining injuries were flukes.
They’re betting big that his power will come back with Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right serving as such a tempting target.
They’re betting big that Alex Rodriguez’s suspension will be upheld and his 2014 salary will be off the books.
I’m not sure about No. 4, but the first three, at least, look like pretty good bets to me. It’s true that Ellsbury went to just one All-Star Game in his twenties, but he nearly won the MVP that year and he was plenty good in three other seasons besides. He has a .350 career OBP, and he’s the game’s best basestealer. He should age well; the speed guys usually do. Maybe not seven years, $153 million well, but he’ll be worth the $22 million for the next few years anyway.
The back half of the contract is a concern, as it usually is. Ellsbury has never been a particularly instinctual outfielder, but in his twenties, he was always able to outrun his mistakes and he graded out as an above average center fielder as a result. Eventually, that’s going to change. Yankee fans should already know how that goes, having witnessed the declines of Bernie Williams and Johnny Damon in center field. Ellsbury will finish the contract as a left fielder and, much like Damon, he may turn out to be a liability even there as his speed goes.
But that’s not a concern for 2014. For now, he’s a second borderline All-Star added to the Yankees order, joining Brian McCann. He’ll bat leadoff, with Brett Gardner likely dropping to the ninth spot. A Gardner-Ellsbury-Ichiro outfield should be one of the game’s best defensively.
The Yankees are far from done, too. It’s still likely that they’ll re-sign Robinson Cano, though probably not for less than $200 million. They’ll add pitching. They may end up paying the luxury tax again even if A-Rod’s $27.5 million disappears. It may not be enough to overtake the Red Sox, but they won’t go down so quietly again.