Tuesday's mad rush of baseball transactions was sizable to begin with, but the storm grew even larger when the New York Yankees gave free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury a seven-year, $153 million contract (with a $16 million option for an 8th year) to lure him away from the division rival Boston Red Sox
While the deal undoubtedly helps the Yankees in the short term, opinions are mixed on how well the contract will bode up a few years down the road. Nonetheless, the general consensus among experts is that the signing is favorable towards both sides as Ellsbury received a lifetime of financial security, and the Yankees added a much-needed star-caliber position player who should fit in well atop their lineup.
This obviously means that Soriano will be displaced from his spot in left field. While his bat was helpful in 2013, his defense has been a mixed bag, so moving Gardner to left field will improve the team's defensive strength. It's possible that they could then move Soriano to right field in order to keep their three best outfield bats in the starting lineup. While Ellsbury might not be a power hitter, Soriano is, so keeping him in the lineup could be essential to the Yankees' offensive power in 2014.
The Yankees' projected starting outfield as of now appears to feature Brett Gardner in left, Ellsbury in center, and one of the Alfonso Soriano/Ichiro Suzuki/Vernon Wells class in right. As Cohen points out, it will likely be necessary to keep Soriano in the lineup due to his offensive prowess, which would spell one of Suzuki and Wells to the designated hitter position, while the other is used as a fourth outfielder of sorts.
Cohen also notes that the Yankees could be best served by trading Gardner to aid some of their other roster holes since both Ellsbury and Gardner possess largely similar skillsets, and it may be a waste of Gardner's defensive prowess to use him in left. Of course, clubs like the Angels (Mike Trout and Peter Bourjos) have enjoyed some success employing multiple elite defensive centerfielders in order to get the best defensive alignment possible, making it entirely possible that the Yankees decide to retain the duo.
The Yankees could still add another bat such as Carlos Beltran or Shin-Soo Choo, which would almost certainly allow the club to use Soriano and Choo/Beltran in a platoon role, splitting time between right field and DH.
At SB Nation's Red Sox blog, Over The Monster, Marc Normandin holds no grudge towards Ellsbury's departure, citing the abundance of value Ellsbury brought to the city of Boston over the past seven years:
It's hard to fault Ellsbury for switching allegiances, given the size of the deal we're talking about. And hey, unlike another center fielder that jumped ship back in the day, at least Ellsbury didn't vow to never don pinstripes. Plus, he gave the Red Sox and their fans more than any player "owes" an organization: The 2005 first-round pick was a significant piece for two World Series-winning teams, nearly won a Most Valuable Player award in 2011, amassed 21 wins above replacement over six seasons and change despite a few serious injuries, and also won everyone in America a free taco. You don't get to say much of that about many players, and especially not all of it.
The Star-Ledger's Andy McCullough brings up a potential dilemma that could arise down the road for the Yankees as the speedy outfielder begins to suffer the symptoms of aging.
Talking to evaluators, consensus on Ellsbury is simple: Seven years is a long time, but Ellsbury is hell of a player when healthy. #analysis— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughSL) December 4, 2013
However, Fangraphs' Dave Cameron debunks those worries by once again explaining how speed-based outfielders have actually tended to age well, assuring that Ellsbury is not destined to follow the same path that bestowed Carl Crawford.
Cameron also addresses how Ellsbury's sizable new contract is actually reasonable for the Yankees, though it would seem ludicrous for nearly every other major league team. Whereas Ellsbury's expected AAV of $22 million would take up well over 20% of the average team's payroll, his salary will only use roughly 12% of the Yankees' bloated payroll.
With Ellsbury off the table, teams looking for outfield help will likely turn to Shin-Soo Choo, Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz, the three top free agent outfielders left on the market. At this point, the Royals seem most likely to add Beltran while the Tigers are prioritizing Choo. It is unclear if the Red Sox will jump into the Choo market now that Ellsbury is gone, but they have had at least some interest in Beltran and could pursue Cruz as well.
Prior to today, the Yankees had been heavily linked to Carlos Beltran, but with New York most likely out of the picture, a team like the Royals or Rangers could scoop in and grab the veteran slugger. The Tigers also emerge as the clear frontrunner for Choo, and Cruz's market will definitely pick up as teams fall back to their post-Ellsbury plans.
Lastly, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports believes the Yankees aren't done just yet:
Either way, the idea that they can sign Cano/Choo and a pitcher and still stay under the $189M threshold is very reasonable.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 4, 2013
Passan writes that New York could wind up spending over a half-billion dollars this winter as they look to restock a squad that failed to reach the postseason for just the 2nd time in 19 seasons last year. The Yankees currently have holes at third base, in the bullpen, in the rotation, and, with Robinson Cano still unsigned, at second base.
The pitching staff is especially in despair, as CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are the only reliable starters currently under contract, and David Robertson is the only true reliever with impact potential. Unless he returns to Japan, Hiroki Kuroda is expected to return next season, and the team could sign someone such as Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, or Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka to fill their fourth spot, using their final rotation spot on an in-house option such as Michael Pineda.
The Yankees' stated desire to get beneath the $189 luxury tax threshold in time for the season appears to be up in flames with their recent exploits. With Ellsbury and Brian McCann, the Yankees have already spent $238 million this winter, and were they to resign both Cano and Kuroda, and sign one of the upper-tier starting pitchers, that number should easily eclipse the $500 million mark. Alex Rodriguez's impending suspension (assuming it is upheld) should lighten that sum considerably, but the Yankees' 2014 payroll is probably in line to be pushing into the $200 million range.