Jacoby Ellsbury

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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Yankees release former Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury

Yankees release former Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury

The New York Yankees finally made the decision to move on from former Red Sox outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. The 36-year-old hadn't played for the team since 2017 while dealing with a plethora of injuries including oblique, back, hip, and foot maladies.

Ellsbury originally signed a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees before the 2014 season. Over the course of six years, he played in 520 games for the team and hit .264 with 39 homers before being released on Wednesday.

Red Sox fans will remember Ellsbury for the excellent years he put together in Boston including his second-place finish in the 2011 MVP race and his starting role on the improbable 2013 World Series Champion teams.

Ellsbury also had one of the greatest straight steals of home plate in 2009 against the Yankees. During that season, Ellsbury led the MLB with an absurd 70 steals.

The Yankees' decision to part with Ellsbury came as a part of changes to their 40-man roster. MLB teams had until Wednesday night to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft by placing them on the 40-man roster.

The Yankees certainly aren't happy with the return on investment they got with the Ellsbury deal, and the Red Sox actually may have benefitted more from his departure.

As Barstool Sports' Jared Carrabis pointed out on Twitter, they received a compensatory first-round pick for losing Ellsbury that they used on Michael Kopech. Kopech became one of the centerpieces of the Chris Sale trade, a move that helped the Red Sox win the 2018 World Series.

So too did the postseason performance of Jackie Bradley Jr., the 2018 ALCS MVP who was the replacement for Ellsbury in centerfield in 2014.

Given that Ellsbury hasn't played an MLB game in two years, it's hard to imagine him ending up somewhere else. Nonetheless, we'll keep an eye on the former Red Sox outfield as the MLB hot stove starts to warm up a bit.

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