Trading Ellsbury

It’s easy to forget that the Yankees still have Jacoby Ellsbury on their roster. He’s become their $47-million missing man. But, Buster Olney is reporting that the Giants have asked about him and would consider trading for him in exchange for another bad contract. Olney mentions Brandon Belt, Johnny Cueto, Mark Melancon, Evan Longoria, and Jeff Samardzjia as possible pieces in a swap.

I actually had the Samardzjia idea 18 months ago, but his 2018 was a disaster and his durability, the one thing he had going for him disappeared, so I don’t think it is a good idea today. Longoria has a terrible 2018 and the Yankees would be stupid to take him on even for Ellsbury at this point. Belt is a perfectly adequate first baseman, but the Yankees don’t need another guy who only plays first jamming up the roster. If the Giants would trade Melancon for Ellsbury straight up, the Yankees would do it in a second, but there is a disparity of almost $20-million in salary between the two and you have to guess the Giants would want the money evened out and a prospect at minimum to say yes to that deal. So that brings us to Johnny Cueto.

Cueto is getting almost the exact same salary as Ellsbury, but he has an extra year, so the total commitment left on his deal is $68-million. But, this is the key, he is coming back from TJ surgery and will almost certainly miss the 2019 season. His contract is insured, so the Yankees would probably get back about 75% of the $21-million he is owed, so their commitment would be about $53-million to Cueto between now and the end of the 2021 season. And they could obviously push the Giants to include more salary relief so the money would even out.

Here’s why I make that swap if the money is evened out. Ellsbury in 2019 is almost useless to the Yankees. Assuming he is healthy, more on that in a second, he clogs the roster with an outfielder they don’t want to use. Cueto on the other hand would sit on the 60-day DL, allowing the Yankees to use his place in the active and 40-man rosters this season. And, if he comes back from TJ surgery, you have a rotation candidate for 2020 when Sabathia is gone. And if he can’t helpful, you are in the same position you are in today, owing $47-million to a player who can’t help you. But, you’ve gotten yourself a year of flexibility and by deferring the payment of the $47-million by a year, you’ve saved some money.

Now a few big caveats on this idea. First, Ellsbury has a no-trade clause, so this could be moot from the get go. Second, if Ellsbury is currently hurt, the Yankees would probably be smarter to just put him on their DL and collect the insurance they have on his deal. But if they think he is coming to camp ready to go, they should look to make a trade like this, or choose to write a really big check and make the problem disappear.