Last night, Jacoby Ellsbury went 2 for 4 with a bunt single, raising his average to .280. He's having a typical Jacoby Ellsbury season in his regular Jacoby Ellsbury continuum: In 136 at-bats, 4 HRs - (last year, he hit 9) - and 8 SB, ranking 12th in all of MLB. In September, he'll turn 34. He's ours, at $21 million per year, through 2021 - age 37 - when Owner Hal can buy him out for $5 million. He is "The Yankee Fixture."
Of course, you already knew that Ellsbury is the signature on the contract from Hell. But he remains a fine player and person. He hustles, hits .280, chases down flies, and nobody claims he steals the soap. All his negatives relate to a ridiculous contract bestowed upon him in early 2014, when Owner Hal sought to blunt the impending departure of Robbie Cano. (One can argue that the worst part of losing Cano was that it resulted in the Ellsbury deal.) I happen to believe we must never blame players for the contracts they sign. They are merely feeding their families. When a bad deal happens, it's the front office that deserves to hear booing.
But here we are, staring at Ellsbury for three more long, uninspiring years. In recent seasons, there was no controversy: Zolio Almonte was not the heir apparent for CF. Besides, who cares if the Yankees overpay the help? Owner Hal counts his gold bars in the billions.
But this season, Ellsbury has become a tanker truck stalled on a blind curve. All traffic is grinding to a halt.
The fact is, Aaron Hicks is a better CF, and it's not even close. In 90 at-bats - about 2/3rd of Ellsbury's - Hicks has 7 HRs, 6 SBs and is hitting .311. Every game that Hicks is not in CF, we are conceding power, speed and defense. Every game.
But wait, it gets worse (depending on how you look at it.) In Scranton, CF Dustin Fowler and LF Clint Frazier have heated up. Both are 22, both solid prospects, both knocking on the door. Fowler is hitting .298 with 5 HRs. But it's Frazier - the consensus top prospect - who is on the verge of creating the logjam. Last night, he hit two doubles and a HR - his sixth - raising his average to .261. That doesn't scream at you, unless you consider that Frazier spent the month of April mired around .200. Two weeks ago, a light seemed to come on. If he continues hitting - let's put it this way: This is not a kid you can bury at Scranton, like Rob Refsnyder.
Certainly, Owner Hal can trade Frazier and/or Fowler, but the fan base would grab pitchforks. The franchise has been promoting the "Baby Bombers." and everybody would see such a move as choosing Ellsbury's contract over the team's future. For better or worse, Frazier has become part of the Yankee brand, while Ellsbury represents the recent and unmemorable past. If Frazier keeps hitting, something must give.
Okay, I know what you're thinking: What about Brett Gardner? Isn't he the LF that Frazier will replace? Yeah, but we are only lashed to Gardy through next year. (The following winter brings a $2 million buyout.) Gardner's contract is not a 500-pound anvil.
Listen: At some point, the Yankees will have to eat Ellsbury's deal. Already, he's not worth $21 million per season. Already, he's not even our best CF. Already, he is compromised in what we could get in a trade. But imagine what we would get in three years? Frazier is coming - maybe Fowler, too - and then there is Mason Williams, a perfectly capable fourth left-handed hitting OF. (Last year, we traded LH CF Ben Gamel, just to get rid of him. This year, LH CF Jake Cave is tearing up Trenton, because there is no room at Triple A.) We can't just continually bury players because we're on the dime of a bad deal. Why delay the inevitable?
Obviously, Frazier and Fowler need to keep hitting and playing everyday. They are still gaining experience. And Ellsbury isn't hurting us in CF. This is not the worst problem to have. But we need to be talking about Jacoby. We need an exit strategy.