The list of potential trade partners willing to absorb the uninviting contract owed to Yankees’ veteran Jacoby Ellsbury has gradually dwindled this offseason. This has left most pundits to presume the 34-year-old outfielder will occupy some trivial role with New York until his contract expires in 2021.
For a fleeting moment last Wednesday, it seemed as though the San Francisco Giants were the right match for Ellsbury. At that time, the New York Mets had signed free agent outfielder Jay Bruce — a player the Giants were reportedly enamored with — which meant San Francisco had to search elsewhere to fill its void in the outfield. While there was only speculation of the Giants’ interest in Ellsbury, it was still a move that looked viable, but instead, the Giants sought outfielder Andrew McCutchen and struck a deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday.
And so the Yankees’ front office remains trapped with Ellsbury, who by now is considered a hindrance for a club aiming to get under the luxury tax threshold and contend for an American League pennant in 2018.
But is New York fresh out of options? Not necessarily.
According to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, the Yankees could seek business with the Giants’ division rival, the Colorado Rockies, in a trade that not only makes their roster more versatile, but also sheds more payroll. So, who would New York acquire? Sherman suggests veteran infielder/outfielder Ian Desmond.
Why would the Rockies do it? Desmond was a miscast disaster at first base after signing a five-year, $70 million deal last year. Outside executives believe Colorado will ultimately sign someone else to play first or perhaps go with prospect Ryan McMahon. Young outfielders David Dahl had a back injury last season and Raimel Tapia played poorly on defense, as did Desmond when asked to play the outfield.
Ellsbury could provide athleticism in left in the big Coors Field outfield while serving as some security if center fielder Charlie Blackmon leaves as a free agent following the 2018 season. Colorado also gets out of the money after the 2020 season rather than 2021 with Desmond, which could be a factor as they think about long-term dollars for franchise face Nolan Arenado, who is a free agent after the 2019 campaign.
Desmond, a two-time All-Star who hit .285 with 22 home runs, 29 doubles, 70 RBI, and a .782 OPS in 156 games with the Texas Rangers in 2016, struggled to produce and stay healthy with Colorado this past season. In 2017, the 32-year-old slashed .274/.326/.375 with just seven homers and 40 RBI in just 95 games, due to two lingering injuries (fractured left hand in March, right calf strain in July).
Although Desmond has lacked consistency on both offense and defense, he does offer versatility in the field. In nine Major League seasons, he’s played all three outfield positions, as well as shortstop, second and first base. The Yankees aren’t in need of a shortstop after Didi Gregorius‘ emergence in 2017, but with starting jobs at second and third currently vacant (assuming rookies Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar aren’t the solution come Opening Day), Desmond, who’s a natural shortstop, could provide depth and security at a manageable price. According to Sherman, Desmond would also save New York more than $6 million toward the luxury tax in 2018, as he would cost $15 million (Ellsbury would cost $21 million).
If the Rockies aren’t inclined to move one bad contract for another, Sherman also notes that the Yankees could offer an additional piece to the trade, such as a lower-tier prospect like Tyler Austin, Jonathan Holder, or Jake Cave. However, the biggest issue in all of this is that Ellsbury’s contract includes a full no-trade clause, which means he controls the entire situation.
Ellsbury, who has one less year of control than Desmond, is owed roughly $63 million over the next three seasons with a $5 million buyout in 2021. In 2017, he slashed .264/.348/.402 with 20 doubles, 40 RBI, and 22 stolen bases in 112 games. This winter, multiple reports have stated that the Yankees are open to eating half of the money remaining on Ellsbury’s contract, although New York would likely have to eat more if Ellsbury waives his clause.