In December 2013, the Yankees granted a seven-year, $153 million contract to Jacoby Ellsbury. What went wrong? MLBTR’s Jeff Todd unravels the saga, which remains unresolved six years in. Click here for today’s video.
The Cubs have done surprisingly little this offseason to date. Despite being amidst a four-team race in the NL Central, their only external additions to the 40-man roster have been Casey Sadler, Jharel Cotton and CD Pelham.
If anything, much of the conversation the past few months has revolved around whether the Cubs could subtract from their roster. Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras have emerged as possible trade candidates, although it’s far from certain whether either will ultimately end up on the move. Extension talks with Anthony Rizzo went nowhere and were shelved, at least for the time being. Rizzo reiterated today (via Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic) that no talks between the sides are pending, although he again expressed a willingness to broach a long-term deal in the future.
Payroll constraints no doubt play a role in the lack of movement, as ownership reiterated yesterday. Particularly, the $208MM competitive balance tax threshold seems to be a key factor. The Cubs were one of three teams to exceed the CBT last season. With a projected $213.8MM luxury tax bill for 2020, per Roster Resource, they are certainly in danger of doing so again.
“The longer you go over [the luxury tax], the more you’re paying,” board member Laura Ricketts told reporters (via Madeline Kenney of the Chicago Sun-Times). Chariman Tom Ricketts expanded on the luxury tax issue (via Patrick Mooney of The Athletic), calling the CBT “a real factor. It’s not the defining factor of this offseason. What we’re going to do with CBT is not something we discuss publicly. But fans should know there is a cost if you keep your payroll high enough long enough. You’re paying money into the league, which ultimately goes to other teams, and you can lose draft position. It’s a factor. It’s not the defining factor of the offseason.”
While penalties do escalate for those who repeatedly exceed the luxury tax, it’s highly questionable whether the tax should deter the Cubs from upgrading this offseason. Chicago paid $7.6MM in taxes last season. If they were to exceed the threshold for the second straight year, they’d be line to pay a 30% tax for every dollar spent between $208MM and $228MM.
Using Roster Resource’s $213.8MM estimate of Chicago’s current CBT ledger, the club would be in line to pay around $1.74MM in fees as things currently stand. That’s an insubstantial sum for MLB organizations. The draft pick penalty to which Ricketts alluded hardly seems an issue, as at least by public estimates, the Cubs are nowhere near the $248MM CBT level at which a team’s draft standing would be affected.
To be sure, it could benefit a team to get underneath the luxury tax line, if for no other reason than to reset their tax bracket. (Penalties escalate only when teams exceed the tax in consecutive seasons, so dipping below the threshold for one season resets future fees to the lowest level). Given the crowded NL Central, though, ownership’s focus on the CBT- even taking Ricketts at his word that it’s not “the defining factor of the offseason“- seems a bit odd.
Nevertheless, the Cubs’ front office is left to work within those constraints. They’ve made a couple minor league free agent signings in recent days, bolstering their bullpen depth with Jason Adam and Tyler Olson. They’ve also explored adding outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury on what would surely be a minor-league pact, reports Jon Heyman of MLB Network (via Twitter). Ellsbury, of course, is a former teammate of Cubs’ manager David Ross, and he shined for the Red Sox while Theo Epstein was in Boston’s front office. As Heyman notes, though, Ellsbury hasn’t played in two years due to injury. His addition would be no more than a flyer, and Heyman characterizes a deal as “a long shot” in a follow-up tweet.
Where the Cubs go from here remains an open question. As has been apparent for a while now, they don’t figure to make any big acquisitions. In possession of a handful of valuable potential trade assets, though, the Cubs’ roster could still look plenty different by the time spring training breaks.
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.
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.
Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury plans to continue his career in 2020, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com hears. Ellsbury just went through a pair of seasons wiped out by injuries, which led the Yankees to release him Wednesday and eat the remaining $26MM on his contract. But the 36-year-old’s now “finishing up his rehab [in Arizona] with a focus on Spring Training,” a source told Feinsand. Ellsbury, an MVP candidate with the Red Sox at his peak, remained a respectable major leaguer last time he was healthy enough to play. He posted a .264/.348/.402 line with seven home runs, 22 stolen bases on 25 tries, and 1.6 fWAR over 409 plate appearances in 2017. With that in mind, someone’s likely to take a chance on Ellsbury on a minor league contract before next season.
More from around baseball…
- The Orioles have hired Eve Rosenbaum to fill a new role with the organization – director of baseball development – Dan Connolly of The Athletic reports (subscription link). Rosenbaum, a Harvard graduate and Maryland native who spent the past five seasons with the Astros and was at the helm of their international signing period this year, is familiar with Orioles general manager Mike Elias from their time working together in Houston’s front office. Now reunited with Elias, Rosenbaum will largely focus on analytics and scouting in Baltimore, Connolly relays.
- The Rockies “will look at” free-agent catchers Travis d’Arnaud, Yan Gomes, Martin Maldonado, Robinson Chirinos, Jason Castro and Alex Avila, Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post writes. While the Rockies won’t spend much this offseason, nobody in that group of catchers figures to break the bank on the open market, and the club’s need behind the plate is obvious. Colorado’s backstops struggled to the majors’ 28th-ranked fWAR (minus-1.7) in 2019, when Tony Wolters, Chris Iannetta, Dom Nunez and Drew Butera all managed miserable offensive numbers.
- Vogt may not be on Colorado’s list of catcher targets, but he is among the backstops “generating early interest,” Jeff Passan of ESPN tweets. The market for catchers is moving quicker than it is at other positions, per Passan. The Athletics and Giants, two of Vogt’s previous teams, are known to have interest in the 35-year-old former All-Star. The fact that he may be in position to sign early (and land a big league contract) is a significant change from last offseason, when Vogt went without a deal until the Giants handed him a minors pact in February. It proved to be a terrific buy-low move for San Francisco, as Vogt revived his career with a .263/.314/.490 line and 10 homers across 280 trips to the plate.
The Yankees have released outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and designated first baseman Greg Bird for assignment as part of a series of roster moves. The club has also designated left-hander Nestor Cortes Jr. and added seven players – outfielder Estevan Florial and right-handers Deivi Garcia, Luis Gil, Brooks Kriske, Luis Medina, Nick Nelson and Miguel Yajure – to its 40-man roster. Ken Davidoff and George A. King III of the New York Post first reported the Yankees were considering releasing Ellsbury.
This brings to an end a hugely disappointing New York tenure for Ellsbury, a former star with archrival Boston who parlayed his success with the Red Sox into a seven-year, $153MM deal with the Yankees after 2013. Ellsbury was merely a decent to good contributor for the Yankees from 2014-17, and a series of injuries prevented him from taking the field at all over the previous two seasons.
The Yankees currently have a need in center field with Aaron Hicks on the mend from Tommy John surgery and Brett Gardner a free agent, so the fact that they’ve moved on from Ellsbury and eaten the remaining $26MM-plus on his contract speaks to how far his stock has fallen. Now, if the 36-year-old is going to continue his career, he’ll likely have to settle for a minor league pact with another organization.
Injuries have also been ruinous for the 27-year-old Bird, whom the Yankees once regarded as their first baseman of the future. Bird was tremendous during a 178-plate appearance debut in 2015, when the left-hander’s swing looked tailor-made for Yankee Stadium, but that’s the only regular-season excellence he has shown to this point. Bird missed all of 2016 after undergoing shoulder surgery and then hit a meager .194/.287/.388 in 522 trips to the plate from 2017-19. Thanks in part to foot problems, he totaled just 41 PA at the MLB level this season. At this point, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see another team trade for or claim Bird, who still has three minor league options left.
Cortes, 24, is also in the DFA pile with Bird. The southpaw, a two-time member of the Yankees organization and also a former Oriole, saw extensive MLB action with New York in 2019. While Cortes limped to a 5.67 ERA/5.57 FIP in that 66 2/3-inning span, he did amass 9.32 strikeouts per nine against 3.78 walks. Cortes also had a solid year at the Triple-A level, where he posted a 3.86 ERA/3.40 FIP with 9.53 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 over 39 2/3 frames. He has a pair of minor league options remaining.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman provided some updates on several of his injured players during an appearance today on The Front Office on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM. (You can listen to some of the audio here, while ESPN.com’s Coley Harvey has the rundown.) Perhaps the most pressing item is the status of Luis Severino, as Cashman said that the right-hander isn’t expected to return until after the All-Star break. Severino has yet to pitch this season, first going on the IL with rotator cuff inflammation, and then suffering a lat strain while already sidelined. That second injury led to a six-week shutdown from throwing, putting Severino on the shelf until roughly May 20. Since Severino missed much of Spring Training dealing with his initial shoulder problem, it appears as though the Yankees are essentially restarting the righty’s preseason prep in order to get him fully ready for the second half.
Here’s more on the Yankees and some other injury situations from around the American League…
- Cashman said that Clint Frazier (sprained ankle) will return to the 25-man roster on Monday. The club is “hopeful” Aaron Hicks (back) is tentatively slated for minor league rehab games this week and could be activated from the IL to make his season debut next weekend, plus Giancarlo Stanton (bicep, shoulder injuries) could start his own minor league rehab stint next weekend. In longer-term injuries, Cashman ruled Dellin Betances out until “sometime in June,” as Betances is still recovering from a bone spur in his throwing shoulder. Betances recently received a cortisone shot and will start throwing again on Monday, the GM said. The news is better for Didi Gregorius (Tommy John surgery), who is set to complete his throwing program this week and may begin extended Spring Training games within the next two weeks. For even more injured Yankees, Cashman didn’t have anything new to report on Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, or Jacoby Ellsbury.
- Eloy Jimenez’s high ankle sprain was seemingly going to put the young slugger out of action until mid-May, though MLB.com’s Scott Merkin reports (Twitter link) that Jimenez will now travel with the White Sox for their four-game series in Cleveland beginning on Monday. As Merkin describes things, it is a “much much better scenario….[than] it first looked upon injury.” It seems as though Jimenez will be able to avoid a minor league rehab stint and could end up spending only the 10-day minimum on the IL, though the Sox will obviously be as cautious as possible with their top prospect.
- In other White Sox injury news, Kelvin Herrera left today’s game due to back stiffness and is day-to-day, manager Rick Renteria told Merkin and other reporters. Herrera may not miss any substantial amount of time, as Renteria believes “it’s going to be something very light in terms of injury.” It’s likely the back issue contributed to Herrera’s rough outing today, as he allowed five runs in just two-third of an inning against the Red Sox. Prior to today’s ugliness, Herrera had been off to a nice start with Chicago, with a 2.76 ERA, 8.8 K/9, and 4.00 K/BB rate in his first 16 1/3 frames of the season.
- Danny Salazar has hit another setback, as Indians manager Terry Francona told media (including the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Paul Hoynes) that Salazar had been shut down “a couple of days” after experiencing some soreness during a bullpen session last week. Salazar missed all of 2018 dealing with shoulder problems that eventually required surgery, and he has yet to pitch this season as he makes his way back to full health. Even before the shutdown, there was no timetable in place for when Salazar might yet return to the Tribe’s 25-man roster.
Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez, whose injured shoulder has kept him out of action this year, is “expected” to return at some point next month, Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. “I feel so much better. Right now I’m 85 percent, 90 percent,” Martinez declared. “In two weeks … I think I’m going to be great. When I come back to the major leagues, I’m going to be 100 percent.” The electrifying 27-year-old has flashed front-line starter potential during his career, but thanks in part to his own wishes, he’ll work out of the Cardinals’ bullpen when he comes back. However, Martinez’s goal is to rejoin the Redbirds’ rotation after the All-Star break, Hummel relays. Meanwhile, though there’s no official timetable for fellow banged-up Cardinals righty Mike Mayers’ return, he’s aiming for July. The reliever went to the injured list April 16 with a strained lat.
More from St. Louis and a couple other big league cities…
- Martinez and Mayers certainly aren’t dealing with embarrassing injuries, but the same isn’t true for teammate Alex Reyes. The prized 24-year-old suffered a fractured left pinky after punching a wall following his most recent Triple-A start, general manager Michael Girsch told Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch and other reporters Sunday. Reyes will now head to the Cardinals’ facility in Jupiter, Fla., to continue building his arm up, though this injury likely leaves the righty at least a month from returning to St. Louis, per Goold.
- Outfielder Brian Goodwin was on release waivers a month ago, when the Royals cut him in favor of Lucas Duda. All Goodwin has done since then is slash .333/.430/.556 in 87 plate appearances as a member of the Angels, making him one of the game’s elite hitters in the early going. The Royals could end up ruing their decision to part with Goodwin, but manager Ned Yost and GM Dayton Moore explained to Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star that they don’t regret the choice. Yost noted that Goodwin has struggled as a pinch hitter, which played a part in the Royals’ decision to release him, and observed that “it just made more sense” to have the lefty-swinging Duda and the righty-batting Frank Schwindel (who’s now in the minors) as pinch-hitting options and Terrance Gore as another bench choice. The Royals also had plenty of other outfield possibilities, notes Worthy, who points out Goodwin didn’t exactly make a case for a roster spot during an unproductive spring with KC. “There probably wouldn’t have been a lot of at-bats for him,” said Moore, who suggested he’s happy Goodwin found a better opportunity elsewhere.
- Injuries continue to haunt forgotten but well-compensated Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who last appeared in a game Oct. 17, 2017. Manager Aaron Boone said Saturday (via George A. King III of the New York Post) that Ellsbury is “dealing with different things,” “a number of little things that continue to pop up,” and “certainly” won’t return in the near term. The 35-year-old Ellsbury has battled a litany of health problems over the past couple seasons, including plantar fasciitis in 2019. The Yankees owe Ellsbury $21MM salaries through 2020 and can then cut the cord on him with a $5MM buyout.
4:15pm: Bird will miss “at least” a month of action, manager Aaron Boone told reporters (Twitter link via Newsday’s Erik Boland).
9:47am: The Yankees have selected the contract of first baseman Mike Ford, per a club announcement. Fellow first baseman Greg Bird is heading to the injured list with a left plantar fascia tear, with a 40-man roster spot created by shifting outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury to the 60-day IL. Jimmy O’Brien of Talkin’ Yanks had the news on Ford’s promotion this morning (Twitter link).
It’s more tough news for Bird, who was already scuffling in the batter’s box. The 26-year-old has dealt with a litany of injuries already in his career. Now, he has a potentially tricky new malady to overcome. Details on his anticipated timeline aren’t yet clear, but Bird will surely require a lengthy stretch on the IL. Plantar fascia tears can require up to a month in a walking boot even before the real rehab work starts.
Ford is also a 26-year-old, left-handed-hitting first bagger. When Bird debuted with the Yanks in 2015, though, Ford was working out the kinks at the High-A level.
There have been some ups and downs since, with both power and patience on display when he’s going good. Across 532 upper-minors plate appearances in 2017, Ford posted a .270/.404/.471 slash with twenty home runs and a snazzy mix of 94 walks and 72 strikeouts. Last year, the Princeton product sagged to a .760 OPS at the highest level of the minors.
Ford has been firmly on the risk so far in 2019. An afterthought in spring camp, he has burst out of the gates back at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Through 45 trips to the dish, Ford carries a .410/.467/.897 batting line with five long balls and four walks to go with seven strikeouts.
Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor suffered a right calf strain in February, thus placing his season-opening status in doubt. However, the Indians haven’t yet made a decision on that front. Manager Terry Francona said Sunday (via Mandy Bell of MLB.com) the Indians will determine in the coming days whether Lindor will break camp with the team next week. Needless to say, having Lindor ready on Opening Day will be a sizable boon for the Tribe. The transcendent 25-year-old further established himself as one of the game’s premier players in 2018.
More injury news from around the majors…
- Rangers slugger Joey Gallo is dealing with a groin strain, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News relays. The Rangers believe it’s a minor issue, and Grant adds they’re not planning “aggressive treatment,” but Gallo’s not certain to be ready for Opening Day. Should the injury force Gallo to begin the season on the injured list, it could open the door for unproven outfielder Willie Calhoun to make the team, Grant notes. On paper, that’s a significant downgrade for Texas, for which Gallo combined for 81 home runs and 5.6 fWAR from 2017-18. [Update: Gallo says he’ll be in the Rangers’ Opening Day lineup, Grant tweets.]
- Although Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager hasn’t appeared in a spring training game, he’ll be ready for Opening Day, manager Dave Roberts told Bob Nightengale of USA Today and other reporters Sunday. It’ll be a triumphant return for Seager, who starred in full seasons from 2016-17 before missing nearly all of the ’18 campaign on account of Tommy John surgery.
- Forgotten Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury reported to camp this weekend, though he’s “not close” to being game ready, Bryan Hoch of MLB.com tweets. Ellsbury, who has dealt with a laundry list of injuries in recent years (including plantar fasciitis), is only hitting off a tee and playing catch from short distances at this point. It’s not clear whether the 35-year-old will even suit again with the Yankees, with whom he’s in the sixth season of a seven-year, $153MM contract. The former Red Sox star hasn’t appeared in a major league game since Oct. 17, 2017.
- Along with the previously reported Antonio Senzatela, the Rockies are likely to begin the season without reliever Chris Rusin, per Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post. Upper back pain has shelved Rusin all month, but when he does return, he’ll try to bounce back from an ugly 2018 in he posted a 6.09 ERA/4.64 FIP with 7.74 K/9 and 4.28 BB/9 in 54 2/3 innings.