At some point in the next month or two, the Yankees will have to make a decision on the future of Jacoby Ellsbury. His extended absence came to an end when he reported to Tampa last weekend. Although he won’t be ready for opening day, it seems like his saga is nearing an inflection point. A setback wouldn’t surprise anyone, but it’s now a real possibility that he’s healthy and ready to play relatively soon.
Of course, Ellsbury has plenty of work to do to complete his comeback. He’s just getting back to baseball activities after a long layoff, so there’s rust to shake off. He’ll also need to have his own version of spring training, meaning that he’ll probably stick around in extended camp into April. From there, he’ll likely do a full minor league rehab stint before being ready to return to the majors. That gives the team until some time in May assuming all goes well.
As long as Ellsbury stays on track, he will have all of the leverage once ready to join the big league team. He’s still owed approximately $47 million through next season, he can’t be sent to the minors, and has a no trade clause. The Yankees can’t just let him toil on the injured list, either. Sorry, a phantom injury isn’t an option. The center fielder hasn’t worked this hard to return from major surgery merely to twiddle his thumbs at home.
Oddly enough, the Yankees could actually use someone like Ellsbury if Aaron Hicks’s back woes linger. But when the team’s outfield is at full strength, Ellsbury as the fifth outfielder is a wasted roster spot. That puts the Yankees in a very tricky situation. In such a role, he’d ride the bench most of the season. I’m sure Ellsbury has too much pride to want to do something like that, and I’m sure the Yankees would much rather have a more traditional bench player. With a roster at full strength, keeping Ellsbury around would likely force Tyler Wade back to the minors.
Ellsbury almost certainly has little to no value to any of the other 29 teams in baseball. If Adam Jones got only $3 million from Arizona, what team would be take on even a portion of Ellsbury’s deal? The only way a trade could be accomplished is in a swap of bad contracts. Even then, though, there would be a significant hurdle with Ellsbury’s no trade clause. Maybe he’d accept a deal to a team out west, where he’s from and currently resides. But he doesn’t have to. If another club really wants him, they can just wait until the Yankees have no choice but to cut Ellsbury.
This all leads down one path: releasing him. It’s the best option for all parties involved. There’s no need to be stubborn by keeping him on the bench. He deserves a chance to play somewhere else if the Yankees don’t want him. I don’t think it makes much sense to obtain another hefty contract in exchange for Ellsbury, especially if it’s going to be a stretch to roster said acquisition.
The Yankees have undoubtedly been happy to claw back some of Ellsbury’s contract via insurance, but that gravy train appears to be ending. Sure, Ellsbury could have some sort of setback, but the team can’t count on it. If and when he’s ready to go, whether that be some time in late April or later this season, it’ll be time to cut him loose. There’s no need to try to make this marriage work.