Although the New York Yankee payroll may be one of the highest in baseball, when looking around the diamond this season, not too many of their regulars are ‘overpaid’. It’s a testament to what Brian Cashman has assembled for this 2017 season and a little luck with the ‘Baby Bombers’. Of course there are the few exceptions. For some it’s Chase Headley, for others at times during the season it was Aroldis Chapman. The one who is constantly brought up is Jacoby Ellsbury. The 34-year-old, injury-riddled center fielder has had a consistent season, when he is on the field. Although he will have trouble living up to his monster contract, Ellsbury is earning his keep right now.
Jacoby Ellsbury is Earning His Keep
Ellsbury began the season as an everyday outfielder. How could he not have, making close to $22 million a year. He played every game in April for the Yanks and stole six bases while hitting over .300 for most of the first month. He ended the month on a little slide, finishing at .277. April saw Ellsbury and Brett Gardner bat first and second at the top of the order consistently. The Yankees started hot, but that had less to do with those two and more to do with the third outfielder having a historic start of his season.
Between Gardner and Ellsbury, Gardy had the less impressive first month. Ellsbury became the guy Joe Girardi felt he could move around. Having back-to-back lefties at the top of the order ended up not being what Girardi wanted. He went for flexibility with the switch-hitting Aaron Hicks. Hicks, in his own right, had a fantastic first half of the season, before he fell victim to the injury bug. With Ellsbury moved down in the order, most nights in the six or seven hole, the vet embraced the role and put together a slash line of .288/.373/.442 in the first few weeks of May.
Then on May 24, the first pitch of the game was smoked to dead center field by Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar. Ellsbury showed off his speed, ran the ball down and crashed head first into the wall. That was the last the baseball community saw of Ellsbury for a month.
As we have learned more and more about concussions over the last half decade, the rehab time is circumstantial. In Ellsbury’s absence, Hicks became more than a replacement. He became the Yankees third, sometimes second, best outfielder.
Ellsbury came off the DL on fire, picking up at least one hit in nine of the first 11 games he played in. It would be hard to swallow a $22 million bench player and when fully healthy Ellsbury may be considered the fourth outfielder for the Yankees. This season the Yankees, like all teams, have had their injury struggles. It has opened the door for guys to take over for longer stretches of time, rather than being in and out of the lineup consistently to split time.
Then came the inconsistency. Four outfielders were healthy and Girardi had the luxury of picking and choosing who he played each day. The major problem was more than one Yankee outfielder struggled. From July 17 through the end of August, Ellsbury tallied just 16 hits. He did not play in 11 games during that stretch and only came in as a defensive replacement in five more. Ellsbury became the most expensive pinch runner in baseball.
Injuries to both Hicks and Clint Frazier opened the door for Ellsbury to become a full time player again in the middle of August. Since August 22, Ellsbury has missed just one game. He began September red hot, picking up at least one hit in the Yankees first nine games of the month and has yet to slow down. The 10-year vet is putting together one of the best months of his career, hitting .361 as of the 25th.
Ellsbury continues to do the little things well. He has not been caught stealing a bag since May. He’s been caught twice this year, once by Salvador Perez and the other by one of the best defensive catchers to ever play the game in Yadier Molina.
The Ellsbury-led Yankees are 16-7 through their first 23 games of September. He is arguably the Yankees hottest player in the most important month of the season. Is that worth $22 million? Probably not, but you can expect to see number 22 out in center field for the rest of the season.
Girardi has sparked debate throughout the season with the amount of rest he gives to players. Barring injury, Ellsbury will be a guy that sees the field until the Yankees officially lock up the first Wild Card spot.
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