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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MLB Rumors: Yasiel Puig to sign with 2020 Red Sox opponent Braves

MLB Rumors: Yasiel Puig to sign with 2020 Red Sox opponent Braves

The Boston Red Sox aren't acquiring Yasiel Puig, but they'll still see him in 2020.

The free-agent outfielder is signing with the Atlanta Braves, MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reported Tuesday. Puig's deal with the Braves is still tentative pending a physical, per The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal.

The Red Sox reportedly were among a few teams interested in signing Puig, who split the 2019 season between the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians.

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The Baltimore Orioles reportedly made Puig a contract offer, but it appears the 29-year-old is headed to Atlanta, where he'll play two three-game series -- from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 and from Sept. 25 to 27 -- against the Red Sox during the shortened 2020 MLB season.

While Puig's career with the Los Angeles Dodgers got off to a promising start, the Cuba native has struggled to sustain that success, hitting no better than .267 over the last five seasons. Puig hit .297 with 23 RBIs in 49 games with Cleveland, though, and perhaps he'll benefit from another change in scenery.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, are rolling with an outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Alex Verdugo and platoon man Kevin Pillar after trading star right fielder Mookie Betts this offseason.

2020 MLB Season: Five newcomers who could make an impact for Red Sox

2020 MLB Season: Five newcomers who could make an impact for Red Sox

The Red Sox weren't good enough in 2019 to make the playoffs, so it stands to reason that if they're going to find a way over the hump in this dine-and-dash 2020 campaign, some new faces will have to deliver.

Because chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was only able to spend what he could scrounge from Dave Dombrowski's old couch this winter, the Red Sox did most of their tinkering on the fringes of the roster.

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They added one potential impact piece in outfielder Alex Verdugo, albeit at the steep cost of former MVP Mookie Betts. Otherwise, they're seeking contributions from a host of under-the-radar sources.

Perhaps we'll be pleasantly surprised. Here are five newcomers to watch.

1. Alex Verdugo

We wrote about the new right fielder on Monday, and he's the closest thing to an All-Star the Red Sox added. Verdugo does a little bit of everything from the left side, hitting for average, developing power, and not fearing the moment. He owns one of the strongest arms in the game and could be a plus defender as well.

Andrew Benintendi has already been penciled into the leadoff spot, which leaves Verdugo batting fifth in all likelihood. But if Benintendi falters, as he did last year, Verdugo could easily end up hitting in front of No. 2 man Rafael Devers and trying to make the offense go.

2. Jose Peraza

There's a reason Peraza was one of Bloom's first moves, signed back on Dec. 13. The 26-year-old Venezuelan is a former top prospect who was non-tendered by the Reds after hitting .239 in 141 games last year.

He once ranked as high as 54th in Baseball America's list of the game's top 100 prospects, however, and he's only two years removed from hitting .288 with a career-high 14 homers. Peraza is in a battle with Michael Chavis for the starting second base job, and if Peraza has an edge, it's his glove. While Chavis was drafted as a third baseman and profiles as more of a corner infielder, Peraza has spent his entire career at second and short.

He's considered an above-average defender at second, and his speed plays as well, with three straight 20-steal seasons before sliding back to seven thefts last year.

3. Martin Perez

This one could go either way. Perez's ceiling is as a league-average left-hander, which certainly has value. The problem is, he hasn't reached that ceiling in three years. He's the best candidate to replace what Rick Porcello gave the Red Sox last year, which is 175 innings (prorated, of course) of a 5.00 ERA.

That may not sound like much, but on a team desperate for pitching, there's a value in taking the ball every five days and lasting six innings.

The Red Sox hope they can tinker with Perez by rediscovering the cutter that made him so effective last spring before abandoning him for most of the summer. In a perfect world, he wouldn't be the team's third starter, but these are far from perfect times.

4. Jonathan Lucroy

Red Sox history is littered with veteran reclamation projects who never really went anywhere after some early promise, from Ramon Martinez to John Smoltz to Grady Sizemore. Lucroy represents the latest attempt at reclaiming some past magic.

A two-time All-Star who finished fourth in the 2014 MVP voting after blasting a league-leading 53 doubles with the Brewers, Lucroy has been savaged by neck issues over the last three years. He underwent surgery to repair a ruptured disc this winter, however, and claims to have restored his former bat speed.

If that's true, then the 34-year-old could still have something to give, whether it's at catcher, first base, or DH. It also doesn't hurt that he's a favorite of manager Ron Roenicke from their days together in Milwaukee, where they led the Brewers to the playoffs in 2011 for just the second time in 30 years.

5. Collin McHugh

Speaking of reclamation projects, McHugh might have the highest upside of any newcomer, provided he can actually make it back to action. A former 19-game winner and Cy Young contender with the Astros, McHugh is only two years removed from posting a 1.99 ERA in 58 relief appearances.

He returned to the Houston rotation last season and won three of his first four starts with a 1.96 ERA before elbow soreness took its toll. He was bounced from the rotation in May and shut it down for good at the end of August with a flexor strain.

It seems unlikely that McHugh will be ready for Opening Day as he continues throwing bullpens and side sessions, but the hope is that he's available before the end of the season.