From a dynamic free agent to damaged goods to a formality.
The Yankees announced Wednesday they released outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury ahead of the 8 p.m. ET deadline to finalize the club's 40-man roster. Greg Bird and Nestor Cortes Jr. are also packing their bags, as the two were designated for assignment.
By cutting the 36-year-old, New York will eat a total of $26 million -- $21 million from the final year of Ellsbury's contract and a $5 million buyout on a $21 million option for 2021.
Just like that, unceremoniously, the Ellsbury Era in the Bronx is over. All that's left is Yankees fans looking back on what goes down as one of the most disappointing free agent signings in the history of the franchise.
When the Yankees signed Ellsbury over the 2014 offseason, not only did they shock the baseball world -- snagging a former All-Star from their bitter rivals as Boston prepared to defend a World Series title -- but they thought they were getting better.
At the time, Ellsbury was one of the most talented outfielders in the game. Over his seven-year stint with the Red Sox, Ellsbury had a .297 average, 314 RBI, 241 steals and 479 runs scored. He almost won AL Most Valuable Player in 2011, falling short to Justin Verlander. The centerfielder has won both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award that same year.
To New York, adding a five-tool caliber centerfielder to do damage at the top of their lineup was worth the price of admission -- and boy did they pay handsomely, agreeing to a seven-year, $153 million contract.
The next six years, however, featured an ugly mix of satisfactory statistics and injuries that kept Ellsbury sidelined for the entirety of the last two seasons.
In 520 career games in pinstripes, the lefty hit .264 with 39 homers, 198 RBI and 102 stolen bases. Over four seasons, his overall WAR was 9.8 -- Cody Bellinger led baseball this season with a WAR of 9.0.
After a slew of injuries, including a right oblique strain in 2018 and left hip surgery in 2019, Ellsbury hasn't played since a pinch-running appearance in the 2017 ALCS. Speaking of which, he went 0-10 at the plate in the playoffs as a Yankee and played one postseason inning in the outfield.
Clearly, this isn't how the Yankees envisioned Ellsbury's tenure with the Bombers would go. Giving up on him and swallowing the remainder of his contract, however, was a big decision to make.
Meanwhile, New York is in need of outfielders with Aaron Hicks set to miss the majority of 2020 after undergoing Tommy John surgery this offseason, while Brett Gardner and Cameron Maybin are both currently free agents.
That leaves Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Mike Tauchman as the Yankees likely starting outfield if the season started today.
With that being said, if it wasn't already a given, Ellsbury's departure solidifies Gardner's return -- the longest tenured Yankee has reportedly been in contract talks with the club for weeks and re-signing Gardy is imminent.
But releasing Ellsbury doesn't necessarily mean New York has more space to sign a high-end free agent, like, let's say Gerrit Cole. Paying the $21 million still counts toward the luxury-tax threshold. Then again, Brian Cashman revealed at the General Manager Meetings last week that he has no directive from ownership to stay under the luxury tax.
Wednesday's roster shakeup won't have much of an effect on the lineup Yankees fans were predicting New York would use to open the season. Greg Bird has also been plagued with injuries despite not too long ago being regarded as the Yanks' first baseman of the future. Bird played just 10 games in 2019 due to plantar fasciitis and simply couldn't stay on the field -- the baton is now officially passed to Luke Voit and sophomore Mike Ford.
At times, it seemed like Ellsbury wasn't even on the team, just a dwindling memory from years past. Nonetheless, he wasn't in the plans for 2020. Could that open the door for Clint Frazier to finally have a breakout season, or lead to the debut of New York's third-rated prospect, per MLB Pipeline, 21-year-old Estevan Florial? Only time, and injuries, will tell.
A better question -- will Jacoby Ellsbury ever play in the big leagues again?
The biggest takeaway from the Ellsbury Era is this. When the Evil Empire is on the prowl, nobody is out of reach, no matter the cost. Sometimes, however, bold decisions in the winter don't pan out in the spring. Just something to think about as the Yankees shop around, ready to whip out their checkbook, this offseason.
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