The Giants have at least “talked about” swinging a deal with the Yankees involving outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.com (Twitter links). Details of any negotiations remain unknown, as is the seriousness of the Giants’ interest.
Given Ellsbury’s cost, and the fact that he missed all of the 2018 season, the concept would only conceivably make sense if it involved a big, bad contract going back east. The Giants certainly do have some underperforming deals on the books, including Johnny Cueto ($68MM over three years, including buyout on 2022 option), Jeff Samardzija ($36MM over two years), Brandon Belt ($48MM over three years), Mark Melancon ($28MM over two years), and Evan Longoria ($61.5MM over four years, including buyout on 2023 option and excluding portion owed by the Rays).
Olney speculates that Cueto might make sense as a return piece, so long as the sides could even up the anticipated money somehow. Ellsbury is still owed just over $47MM over the next two seasons, including a buyout in a 2021 option. In theory, Ellsbury would step into the Giants’ barren outfield mix, assuming he’s able to get healthy, while the Yanks would collect insurance proceeds on Cueto until he’s ready to return from Tommy John surgery. (Ellsbury’s contract is also insured to some extent; the Yanks reportedly collected on it last year.)
It’s worth adding that the competitive balance tax hits for both players are quite similar, as both check in just under $22MM. That’s a key consideration for both of these teams, each of which is seemingly attempting to stay beneath the luxury line.
While there’s arguably some outward appeal to the concept — which, to reiterate, was presented only as a hypothetical — it seems like a questionable idea from the Giants’ perspective. Ellsbury was fading hard even before he missed all of 2018. While he was still a useful player, he likely profiles at best as a heavily utilized platoon man at this stage. At 35 years of age, Ellsbury comes with limited upside. Cueto had certainly not been at his best even before going under the knife, but he threw 219 2/3 innings of 2.79 ERA ball in 2016 and is still a few days away from his 33rd birthday. While the Giants might well like to take a shot on Ellsbury as a veteran piece, it seems much likelier that Cueto will end up returning something close to the value of his remaining earnings. With three pending free agents in the current rotation, the Giants will surely have a use for him, too. Perhaps it’s fair to think, then, that the Yanks would have to sweeten such a deal with young talent.
It’s interesting to wonder whether other permutations could instead be pursued. Samardzija might give the Yankees some desired rotation depth and could be an interesting candidate to work in a long relief role. He comes with a lesser tax hit of $18MM, but perhaps the deal could include a veteran reliever and deliver more young talent back to the Giants. There are certainly plenty of ways to sketch out tax-neutral scenarios, though at the end of the day it all depends just how interested the Giants really are in having Ellsbury on their roster — and how motivated the Yankees are to send him out. And the veteran outfielder will also have a say himself, as he enjoys full no-trade protection.