Of all the major moves the New York Yankees made this past winter, the one that really shocked everyone the most was when they lured long-time Boston Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury in early December and signed him to a seven-year, $153 million deal to patrol center field in Yankee Stadium after seven years of doing the same at Fenway Park.
Ellsbury's deal with the Yankees has come under a lot of question because of the injuries he endured while playing for Boston; he missed 28 games in 2013 while playing through a bone bruise in his hand and stress fracture in his foot; he played in just 74 games in 2012 due to a shoulder injury and in 2010, played in just 18 games due to a rib injury he initially suffered from a collision with Adrian Beltre, so his health was a major concern for everyone, but it wasn't enough of a concern to keep the Yankees from signing him to a mega contract and leaving the team he had won his second World Series with this past October in pursuit of one in New York.
When Ellsbury finally arrived down to Tampa at the Yankees spring training complex at Steinbrenner Field, Ellsbury confidently told everyone that he was ready to be an impact player for the team in 2014 and felt extremely healthy this year.
“I talked to Joe [Girardi] about playing center field and leading off,” said Ellsbury, who added he won’t be affected by pressure from his seven-year, $153 million contract. “I’m the same player from Day One until the day that I signed,” Ellsbury said. “That’s the mentality I’m going to take and the mentality I’ve always had: Play the game hard and play the game the right way.”
Ellsbury knew the writing on the wall with the Red Sox deciding to pass on bringing him back long-term and knew he would be playing baseball elsewhere and the reason why he chose the Yankees was the same reason Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann all came to New York this winter; the pursuit of a World Series ring.
“We’ve added great pieces and the sky’s the limit,” Ellsbury said. “One of the reasons I signed here was the opportunity to win a World Series. Once you get a taste of that one time — fortunately I’ve had the chance to do it twice — that’s what you go into each year striving for. It’s early, but I think that’s the goal you have to have coming into the season. I like that pressure, having the expectation to win and I think the fans like that.”
In his seven-year career, Ellsbury's best season was back in 2011 where he hit .321 with 32 home runs and 105 RBI and stole 39 bases for Boston and finished second in the American League MVP voting. Now playing in Yankee Stadium, if he stays healthy and plays the whole season, he could have seasons that are identical to that one he had three years ago in a ballpark that favors left-handed hitters.
“Balls that maybe were caught at the track [other places] are going to be homers,” Ellsbury said. “So there’s no reason to change your swing, but you may get rewarded for something that might not have been a home run before.”
The Yankees likely new lead-off hitter hit .298 with nine home runs, 53 RBI and a league-leading 52 stolen bases in 2013 for the World Series Champion Red Sox; a season he used to his advantage in cashing in on a very rich contract.
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