3:56pm: If there was any doubt, the MLBPA erased it in a statement making clear that it’s ready to fight on this issue. (Via Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, on Twitter.) The statement provides: “The Players Association will vigorously defend any action taken against Jacoby or his contract and is investigating potential contract violations by his employer.”
As Rosenthal notes, the CBA does speak to this subject, providing: “Any treatment a Player receives for a Work Related Injury by a health care provider who is not affiliated with the Club must be authorized by the Club in advance of the treatment in accordance with Regulation 2 of the [Uniform Player’s Contract].” But that general rule does not necessarily leave us with a clear guide to the outcome of the dispute.
For one thing, there are loads of potential factual and interpretive questions to be addressed. Just what constitutes medical treatment, for instance? For another, the current CBA includes letters of understanding exchanged between the league and union. One in particular acknowledges that there are open disagreements regarding what occurs in cases of conflict in medical opinion. There are perhaps also other legal concepts that might limit the extent to which an employer, even if theoretically empowered by a collective bargaining agreement, may dictate the health and medical choices of an employee. Beyond all that, even if it is determined that Ellsbury has breached his contract, it must still be established that the breach justifies the full or partial abrogation of the Yankees’ future salary obligations.
In other news, Ellsbury is said to be planning to attempt a return in 2020, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). His anticipated timeline for readiness is not evident. Obviously he’d be looking to catch on with another organization if he’s able to show he’s physically capable of giving it another shot.
1:26pm: The Yankees finally cut bait on Jacoby Ellsbury this week, begrudgingly waving the white flag on the center fielder’s ill-fated seven-year, $153MM contract. Ellsbury is still owed $26,142,857 of that deal — his 2020 salary plus a $5MM buyout on his option for the 2021 season. But he may not receive all of that cash without a fight.
It seems the Yankees intend not to pay Ellsbury his salary for the coming season, based upon the premise that Ellsbury underwent outside medical treatment without approval to rehab the injuries that have plagued him since 2017. George A. King III and Ken Davidoff of the New York Post reported the brewing battle, with Jon Heyman of MLB Network adding further details (via Twitter).
We don’t know much about the precise factual underpinnings of this issue, but the reporting suggests the team believes that Ellsbury acted inappropriately for multiple years. Presumably, the organization believes it can establish that the alleged actions not only violated the terms of his contract, but also contributed to his inability to return to the field of play over the past two seasons.
Ellsbury’s outlook for 2020 isn’t really known, though there has been no indication that he’s likely to play. The once-excellent outfielder had a few solid but generally uninspiring years in New York before falling apart physically more recently. We’ve seen a steady stream of generally ambiguous ailments cited over the past few campaigns. The 36-year-old hasn’t even made it into a single rehab game.
What we do now know is the anticipated procedural progression of the dispute. The Yankees will simply refuse to cut Ellsbury his checks, per Heyman, leaving it to him and agent Scott Boras to pursue a grievance action. It is somewhat difficult to imagine that there won’t be a full-throated battle on both the factual and contractual merits of the Yanks’ anticipated course of action, though certainly a settlement will also be possible. No doubt the league, union, and Yankees’ insurer will have major roles to play in this as well.
It’s all but impossible to guess how this’ll turn out based upon what little we know at present. There’s nothing in terms of recent precedent for such a grievance — at least not one that was public knowledge — so it’s difficult to gauge just how much of the contract the Yankees might ultimately be able to avoid paying or whether they even have a legitimate hope of winning their case. But any finances saved will be notable, as the Yankees currently have about $203MM on the books for 2020 (including projected arbitration salaries) and about $210MM worth of luxury tax considerations.