Red Sox

Yankees cut Jacoby Ellsbury, proving that sometimes stars don't come back to haunt you

Yankees cut Jacoby Ellsbury, proving that sometimes stars don't come back to haunt you

The duck boats were still idling on the infield dirt when a handful of reporters covering the 2013 championship parade asked Jacoby Ellsbury if he had a minute to talk.

"When I come back out," Ellsbury said while descending the dugout steps.

Those would be his last words in a Red Sox uniform, because he never returned.

Six years later, Ellsbury's a fascinating study in how sometimes the best decision a franchise can make is to walk away. A month after celebrating Boston's third title in 10 seasons, Ellsbury signed a seven-year, $153 million contract with the Yankees. Despite being a homegrown star who had only just turned 30, Ellsbury's departure didn't inspire much rage amongst Red Sox fans.

That will certainly not be the case if Mookie Betts is traded this winter, and while it would be disingenuous to compare Ellsbury to Betts, it's nonetheless worth noting how frequently massive free agent deals end up biting the new team more than the old one. (Ask the Nationals if they miss Bryce Harper.)

The Red Sox made no effort to retain Ellsbury and fans were fine with it because they had him pegged. Those who considered him an injury-prone soldier-for-hire disinclined to play through pain watched his forgettable Yankees tenure confirm their instincts.

His career likely came to an end with a whimper on Wednesday night when the Yankees announced they would eat the final year and $26 million remaining on his contract. He hasn't played since 2017, when he hit .264 in 112 games. The Yankees actually hold a $21 million option for 2021, but they shan't be paying it.

What did $153 million get them? A .264 average in parts of four seasons and only 520 out of a possible 1,296 games played. That's what's known as money hemorrhaged.

And yet the Yankees can partially thank him for their newfound financial discipline. When the 2013 offseason yielded overpaid bloat in the form of Ellsbury, Brian McCann, and Carlos Beltran, a profligate era (century?) effectively ended. Two years later, the Yankees sold off stars Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Beltran, released the disgraced Alex Rodriguez, and kickstarted the rebuild that has produced 100 wins in each of the last two seasons.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, suffered no consequences. In fact, they benefitted from Ellsbury's unreliability and the drag he put on New York's payroll.

Ellsbury was always a bit of an odd duck in Boston. Perfectly amiable and pleasant, he nonetheless projected a vibe of corporate detachment, that corporation being Jacoby Ellsbury Ltd. The phrase "Scott Boras client" is used pejoratively to describe players loyal only to their bank accounts, and even if it doesn't actually apply to the super-agent's entire stable, Ellsbury embodied that mercenary ethos like no other.

He tended to act in his own best interests at the expense of, say, playing more than 18 games in 2010 with the infamous "front . . . and back" rib injury that the team's medical staff considered nothing, much to Ellsbury's consternation. His clubhouse standing seemed directly tied to how well he played. Teammate Dustin Pedroia probably shouted, "Yo, Ells!" more in 2011 than the rest of Ellsbury's career combined. That's the year Ellsbury delivered one of greatest all-around seasons in Red Sox history, hitting .321 with 32 homers and 39 steals while winning a Gold Glove and finishing second in the MVP voting. He was Mookie before Mookie.

(It's also worth noting that he wasn't humorless. During Ellsbury's breakout 2011, hitting coach Dave Magadan held up a $100 bill and asked if the center fielder could make change. "That is change," Ellsbury deadpanned before breaking into a wide grin).

Ellsbury never approached that level of brilliance again, but he did steal a league-leading 52 bases in 2013 and hit .344 that postseason, making him a priority for a Yankees club that had just finished third in the division while missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

Then the injuries started and everyone who ever doubted Ellsbury's ability or desire to stay healthy just nodded knowingly.

It's hard to imagine Betts's next team experiencing similar regret, but he's not the biggest guy and injuries happen. At the same age, after all, 27-year-old Nomar Garciaparra had already won two batting titles and a Rookie of the Year and looked like a first-ballot Hall of Famer. A couple of years later, the Red Sox couldn't win a World Series until they got rid of him.

They won a pair of titles with Ellsbury, so no complaints there. Then he ghosted us and took his talents to New York, and it turns out Red Sox fans had no problem with that, either.

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What are Red Sox's offseason plans? We'll start to find out at MLB's Winter Meetings

What are Red Sox's offseason plans? We'll start to find out at MLB's Winter Meetings

SAN DIEGO — Baseball's Winter Meetings are underway at the Manchester Grand Hyatt overlooking scenic San Diego Bay, and don't be surprised if the Red Sox kick into gear this week.

Most of the front office and media flew out Sunday afternoon on JetBlue, where malfunctioning TVs kept the 150-odd passengers from watching the Patriots and Chiefs. That just meant CEO Sam Kennedy, GM Brian O'Halloran, and a host of others could work without distraction.

There is decidedly little buzz around the Red Sox at the moment, with most attention focused on the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes. The Yankees and Dodgers have emerged as frontrunners for the former Astros co-ace, with New York reportedly planning to offer him a record $245 million contract that would trump David Price's for the largest ever given to a pitcher.

Some early market developments are working against the suddenly cost-conscious Red Sox, particularly the four-year, $64 million contract infielder Mike Moustakas signed with the Reds that is more than triple what he had been projected to receive by MLB Trade Rumors. While the Reds signed Moustakas to play second, it still makes you wonder why there was no market for J.D. Martinez, who almost certainly would've opted out of his contract had he felt motivated suitors existed.

As a means of comparison, the Moustakas contract is expected to drive up the price on free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, a solid hitter entering his prime at age 27 who's coming off a 58-double season between the Tigers and Cubs. Castellanos is a nice offensive player, but he's nowhere near as impactful as Martinez, and while he's technically a corner outfielder, he's not a particularly good one.

It just reinforces the notion that between David Ortiz and Martinez, the Red Sox have consistently owned the biggest edge in the league at DH, where many clubs still refuse to spend real money.

The other Red Sox question, which we'll put to chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom later on Monday, is if the Red Sox can expect to act aggressively or reactively this week. Will they need to let some higher-end pieces fall into place before picking through what's left? Or can they start knocking over some dominoes a little farther down the line?

An offseason thus far marked by uncertainty should start to form some clarity this week, even if it's around the margins. The big stuff — pondering trades for Mookie Betts and/or David Price — won't happen in the next few days unless there's a marked change in baseball's approach to the offseason, which has unfolded at a glacial pace in recent years.

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MLB Rumors: Yankees offer Gerrit Cole a record contract

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USA Today Sports Images

MLB Rumors: Yankees offer Gerrit Cole a record contract

The Boston Red Sox may be looking to cut their payroll this offseason. But that doesn't mean that their rivals will be too.

In fact, some may spend big. And that includes the New York Yankees.

The Yankees have been reportedly interested in free-agent pitcher Gerrit Cole. The former Houston Astro is expected to get a lot of money on the open market, and according to Bob Klapisch of the New York Times, the Yankees have made a record-setting offer for his services.

This would be a big signing for the Yankees, as they could use another top-tier pitcher for their starting rotation. And Cole would certainly fill that need.

Cole, 29, had one of the best seasons of his career for the Astros, logging a 20-5 record and posting a 2.50 ERA. He also struck out a league-best 326 batters and helped the Astros win the American League pennant.

While the Yankees offer is on the table, they are still competing with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels to earn his services, as Klapisch noted. We'll see if this offer is enough or if any of the teams involved in the sweepstakes up the ante.

And while the Yankees chase after Cole, the Red Sox are weighing some moves of their own. According to the latest rumors, they are expressing interest in a reunion with Rick Porcello.

Where Cole ranks among the MLB's top 10 free agent starting pitchers>>>

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