12/3/2013 11:50 P.M. ET
Yanks are back at Hot Stove's forefront
Ellsbury's $153 million deal signals return of baseball's big spenders
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
Not to be outdone by the Astros' heist of Dexter Fowler or the Tigers' deal with Joe Nathan or the Marlins luring Jarrod Saltalamacchia or the Rockies getting close to acquiring Justin Morneau or the rumor, however believable, that the Mariners are in hot pursuit of Robinson Cano, the Yankees completed the most jaw-dropping of the many moves made on MLB's Transaction Tuesday.
Jacoby Ellsbury. Seven years, $153 million.
If the Brian McCann contract was an inkling, then this was an outright announcement that the Yankees we know and love or loathe -- the ones prone to backing up the Brink's truck into the driveways of MLB's best and brightest -- are officially back in business.
That $189 million budget designed to avoid the luxury tax? Still in reach, but it suffices to say it's gasping for air.
And that, ultimately, is the most significant of the many signals sent by this signing. Because the Yanks are still at least a starting pitcher short of being labeled an American League East favorite, and patching that hole, boosting the bullpen and possibly landing yet another bat is going to blow that budget apart.
But what about the signal this sends to Cano? All around baseball, execs are wondering what market, if any, really exists for Cano's services at his current price tag.
"You have to ask yourself," one exec said, "'Who would do it? Who could afford it, and who would actually do it?"
Maybe the Mariners will do it, because they know they have to overpay to lure free-agent hitters to their pitcher-friendly ballpark and the travel challenges that accompany being situated in Seattle. Eager to make a splash, the Mariners could make a big one with Cano.
The Yankees, though, have always made the most sense, as they have a history with the player, the money to make him one of the game's most highly compensated talents and the high-profile prestige one would expect from a guy who broke the mold by attaching himself to Jay-Z, the sports agent.
This Ellsbury signing, however, could be an indication that the Yankees, exasperated by Cano's outlandish demands early in this free-agent process, aren't afraid to start building a life without him. After all, if a Yahoo! report that the Yanks aren't budging from a $160 million offer to Cano is to be believed, what does it say that an outsider -- a former member of the Red Sox, no less -- just netted $153 million?
The expectation remains that the Yankees and Cano will eventually come to terms, but there are still plenty of options out there should the Yanks opt to invest in offense elsewhere. Shin-Soo Choo is viewed by some evaluators to be a better target than Ellsbury, given Choo's superior durability and on-base ability. Maybe the Yankees will decide they want both. The market for Choo is bound to get intense now that Ellsbury is off the board, and the Rangers, in trading Craig Gentry, and the Tigers, in dealing Prince Fielder and Doug Fister, have freed up either the space or the money to chase Choo. But the Yanks could still be players.
Whether they sign Cano, Choo or neither, the fact of the matter is that the Yankees still have to address a rotation in which an ample innings load seems to have caught up to staff ace CC Sabathia. I firmly expect Sabathia, particularly given the benefit of a full offseason, to bounce back from a 2013 in which his ERA was the sixth-highest among Major League qualifying starters. But all the way back? Hard to say, given the decline in velocity that was bound to bite the big man eventually.
If Hiroki Kuroda opts to spend another summer stateside, the Yankees will scoop him up, but it's another potential Japanese import -- Masahiro Tanaka -- who provides the most intrigue. The bidding will be intense once MLB and Nippon Professional Baseball reach an agreement on posting fees, but fortunately for the Yanks, at least the posting fee won't count against the taxable payroll tally.
That tax, however, is obviously not the issue of utmost importance that it once was. The Yankees are already looking at a payroll somewhere in the vicinity of $160 million if they don't make another move this offseason, and it says here that there will be other moves made. Substantial ones. There are simply too many needs on the pitching staff, and the Yanks still have to shore up their infield.
As far as the payroll is concerned, the Yankees still don't know how much, if anything, they'll owe Alex Rodriguez in 2014, and they won't find out until early January. But if we thought they'd wait around to see how Rodriguez's arbitration case plays out before deciding how to allocate those funds, well, I'd say the McCann and Ellsbury signings prove they're not waiting around at all.
And no, they're not exactly waiting out Cano, either. Perhaps Tuesday's transaction was a sign to the second baseman that there are other fish in the free-agent seas. Fish who don't scoff at seven-year offers worth gargantuan sums.
Ellsbury is an awfully interesting addition to the Yankees, and not just because they poached him from their fiercest rival. So much of his game is based on speed, and speed doesn't age well, so the Yanks might have just aligned themselves with another contractual conundrum years down the road.
In the here and now, though, Ellsbury injects athleticism and speed and power into what had been a lumbering lineup in 2013. And he sends the strongest signal yet that the Yankees of old are back in business.