Yankees Sign Jacoby Ellsbury

WOW. I am nearly speechless. Waiting in line for dining hall take out and I got the ESPN text saying the New York Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury. This is huge news with a lot of implications.

The contract is 7/$153mil meaning an AAV of nearly $22mil. Ellsbury will be 30 for most of the 2014 season and will be 37 when the contract is over. Ellsbury has had some fantastic seasons but has also had some maddeningly poor seasons. In 2011 he had a phenomenal 9.1 fWAR season. But that dipped to 1.4 in 2012 as he battled injuries and saw his wOBA drop from .400 to .300. He rebounded in 2013 to post a 5.8 fWAR with a .343 wOBA.

Year

Age

xWAR

$/WAR

Value

Salary

2014

30

3.9

5

19.5

~22

2015

31

3.4

5.25

17.85

~22

2016

32

2.9

5.51

15.98

~22

2017

33

2.4

5.79

13.90

~22

2018

34

1.9

6.08

11.55

~22

2019

35

1.4

6.38

8.93

~22

2020

36

0.9

6.70

6.03

~22

Total

16.8

93.74

153

Steamer projects a 3.9 fWAR for Ellsbury in 2014 and as he ages I decreased his WAR by 0.5 each season while adjusting 5% for inflation each season.

3.9 might be a low forecast for 2014 but I think it’s realistic so that’s what I went with. All things considered it seems like the Yankees have much higher expectations for Ellsbury. And I hope so because this deal looks TERRIBLE even if you factor in the Yankees win curve and other additional factors that go into analyzing the Yankees unique position in the market.

The Yankees will pay Ellsbury $153mil for an estimated $94mil in value- a difference of $59mil! This is why long term contracts are bad. It’s very hard to get full or even good value on a contract that goes over four or five years. It’s even worse when you aren’t even projected to get good value after four or five years.

With the additional news that the Seattle Mariners will pay Robinson Cano $200mil or more it looks like his days as a Yankee will come to an end. My forecasts have Cano being worth about $162mil over seven years. Robinson Cano is the player worth $150mil+ not Jacoby Ellsbury. It’s even more head scratching when New York has a center fielder for cheap already- that player being Brett Gardner who has arguably been just as good as Ellsbury over their past few full seasons.

Maybe New York is going to go past their self-imposed $189mil budget and can still sign Cano. But all indications seem to be that they will now focus on Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka while signing Omar Infante for cheap to play second and/or third. As stated I think the smarter move would be to pony up a little bit more to keep Cano than grossly overpay for Jacoby Ellsbury. Even if you think Ellsbury will be better than I project- which the Yankees seem to be doing- it won’t make up nearly the $60mil difference between value and actual salary.

I think this contract will play out similar to the one Carl Crawford signed after the 2010 season. He was going to enter his age 30 season. He got a 7/$142mil contract from the Red Sox (then under different leadership). He had similar K rates, BB rates, and ISO to Ellsbury. He was also a fantastic defender much like Ellsbury. Crawford has posted 3.0 fWAR in the three seasons since. Granted he has missed time to injuries, but the contract is turning into an albatross. I fear the same will happen to the Yankees.

Crawford is just one example of many. To use him as the sole example would be poor analysis, especially when other speed players have aged well. But it does show how risky a deal of this magnitude can be, especially for a player with similar skill sets (BB, K, ISO, speed, defense).

To conclude. Poorly done New York. I am curious to learn whether Brian Cashman approved of this or whether this idea is that of Randy Levine or Hal Steinbrenner, which would continue to show the lack of structure in New York’s front office. There is a reason why a well-run team, the Boston Red Sox, let go of their starting center fielder. He isn’t worth nine figures. As long as the Yankees continue to operate this way the gap between them and their rival to the north will continue to grow.

EDIT:

This Dave Cameron article looks at the decline of speedy outfielders. He notes that from age 30-36 this pool of comparable players to Jacoby Ellsbury averages 17 WAR, which isn’t bad. That’s right round the forecast I have for Ellsbury. He will age well, don’t get me wrong. But that’s not $153mil well. And THAT is my problem with the contract- not that Ellsbury will be a poor performer. Heck, he’s still worth almost $100mil over seven years!

Moreover, FanGraphs Crowdsourcing, which is pretty accurate, had a real life expectation of 6/$112mil and a fantasy expectation of 5/$83mil. Although older and not as productive, I think at 7/$153mil it would even make more sense to bring back Curtis Granderson at 3 years and a whole lot less money (although I am against that as well).

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