The MLB Players Association has filed a grievance against the Yankees in regards to the team’s plans to withhold Jacoby Ellsbury’s salary for the 2020 season, Ronald Blum of the Associated Press reports. The matter will be heard by an arbitrator, with no timeline given as to when the hearing will take place or when a decision could be rendered.
Some type of official challenge on the union’s behalf was a given, once the Yankees’ intentions were made public last month. At the time, the MLBPA released a statement saying the union “will vigorously defend any action taken against Jacoby or his contract and is investigating potential contract violations by his employer.”
Ellsbury signed a seven-year, $153MM deal with the Yankees prior to the 2014 season that has turned out to be one of the most notable free agent busts in recent memory. Injuries have kept Ellsbury off the field entirely for the last two seasons, and he only hit .264/.330/.386 in 2171 PA over his first four seasons in New York (with injuries also limiting the outfielder in two of those four years). The Yankees finally released Ellsbury last month, with $26,142,857.15 still remaining in the last year of his deal — his guaranteed salary, and the $5MM buyout of his club option for the 2021 season.
However, the Yankees took the very unusual step of arguing that Ellsbury’s remaining earnings should be voided, alleging that Ellsbury underwent medical treatment without the team’s permission. As Blum notes, “Ellsbury contends any treatment he received without authorization was for a non-baseball-related injury or condition, which does not require the club’s consent.” The Yankees, Ellsbury, and Ellsbury’s agent Scott Boras all declined to comment on the matter.
The arbitrator’s ruling will obviously have a significant financial impact on Ellsbury, and also on the Yankees’ ability to avoid paying a maximum luxury tax penalty in 2020. The club has a projected tax bill of just under $261.6MM for the 2020 season, as per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource, well beyond the $248MM that represents the highest level of taxation threshold. The Yankees therefore face a ten-slot drop in their top position in the 2021 draft, as well as a bill of 42.5% of every dollar spent over the threshold.