Before spring training began, there were rumblings that the Yankees were considering breaking up Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury at the top of the lineup. The duo failed to ignite a mostly stagnant offense last season, which lead the Yankees to consider shuffling things around for 2017.
With spring training underway, there still hasn’t been any word on what Joe Girardi or his coaching staff plan to do with their two outfielders. According to Andrew Marchand of ESPN, Ellsbury said he’s planning on speaking with Girardi about a potential lineup change:
$153M man Jacoby Ellsbury says he plans on talking to Joe Girardi about the manager’s thoughts on possibly batting either Brett Gardner or Ellsbury toward the bottom of the order.
Last season, Girardi flip-flopped the two in the order and put Gardner as the leadoff man because of his propensity to take more pitches and get on base. Gardner finished 2016 with an OBP of .351 compared to Ellsbury’s .330 clip. Gardner would likely be the obvious candidate to stay atop the lineup based on last year, but Ellsbury’s contract and past history with the skipper could make any move difficult.
While Gardner has been one of Girardi’s favorites, it’s hard to get a read on where Ellsbury stands now; Girardi infamously benched the now 33-year-old against lefty Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros in the 2015 AL Wild Card game. Ellsbury said the right things before the game in that he wanted whatever was best for the team, but he left the clubhouse early and didn’t speak to reporters following the Yankees’ 3-0 loss. Girardi said before the 2016 season that he believed the two were on solid ground and that he didn’t feel the need to patch things up.
Going into 2017, the Yankees hope Ellsbury can finally realize the level of play they saw when he was on the Red Sox. Since signing in the Bronx as a big-money free agent prior to the 2014 season, Ellsbury has slashed just .264/.326/.382. Hitting coach Alan Cockrell spoke last month about trying to get Ellsbury’s contact point with the baseball further out in front of him in an effort to spark his bat. Ellsbury said on Wednesday that although he’s entering his 11th year in the majors, he still feels good physically.
“You just try to be the best player you can possibly be,” he added. “Can’t try to do too much. It all comes back to work ethic, putting the time in and doing everything you need to do to prepare for the season. That’s all you can do. You live with the results, but the work’s there to play at a high level.”
It’s no secret that the Yankees need both of their speedy outfielders to produce wherever they are in the lineup. Girardi hasn’t tipped his hand on what the Yankees plan to experiment with during spring training, but we should find out soon enough when games get underway. Earlier in the week, we gave our opinion on what the Yankees’ lineup could look like come Opening Day.
Regardless, when Gardner and Ellsbury are clicking at the same time, the Yankees’ offense follows. The only problem is that those times have been few and far between. Perhaps a change of scenery in the lineup can get both guys headed in the right direction.