If the Yankees are inclined to make a deal for a starting pitcher before the trade deadline strikes on July 31, there are a few avenues for the franchise to explore. One option could be to move a coveted prospect for an arm in demand — someone like Sonny Gray of the Athletics, Yu Darvish with the Rangers, or Gerrit Cole on the Pirates. Another possibility could be an internal move — perhaps a promotion for touted prospect Chance Adams, or spot starts continually handed to youngsters Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and Caleb Smith.
At a glance, both recourses don’t appear to be advantageous for the Yankees. However, there is a suggested third course of action that could benefit the club, and it was introduced by one of the YES Network’s top pundits.
On Monday’s edition of ESPN Radio’s The Michael Kay Show, the aforementioned host proposed a trade between New York and the Detroit Tigers in exchange for veteran starter Justin Verlander. And the player yielded by the Yankees: Veteran outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
Here’s what Kay said on the program:
Jacoby Ellsbury is a decent baseball player. Is he the 30 home run guy he was that one year with the Red Sox? Absolutely not. He’s grossly overpaid by the Yankees. That is a contract that they obviously regret. He’s now a bench player. He’s become a glorified $24 million pinch runner.
There’s a pitcher that’s out there that’s very available. Grossly overpaid. He’s seen his better days. But if you look at his splits over the last couple of years, he’s pitched much better in the second half. Justin Verlander makes way more money than he should. But their salaries are about equal. Alright, you give me Verlander and I’ll give you Ellsbury. Now would the Tigers do it? Maybe the Yankees would have to throw in a young player who’s not one of the untouchable [prospects] but somebody below that. This way, even though Ellsbury makes a lot of money and Verlander makes an awful lot of money, you’re not affecting yourself tax-wise because you’ve got to pay Ellsbury’s salary anyway. So take Verlander, who could find it, maybe in New York, and all of the sudden he becomes a difference maker. And all you’ve done is trade one albatross contract for another. And they both, I believe, have three years left. That’s a deal that works for me.
Why the deal makes sense
This deal mentioned by Kay kills two birds with one stone, in a sense. One, acquiring a quality pitcher like Verlander fulfills the Yankees’ requirement of adding a starter, which would certainly increase their odds of making a deep run in October. Although Verlander’s better days are in the rearview mirror, the 34-year-old righty has still performed at a respectable level. He owns a 4.54 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 20 starts with Detroit this season. The numbers aren’t Cy Young-caliber by any means, but Verlander has strung together some quality outings, plus he offers veteran leadership and experience.
Second, there’s no disputing that Ellsbury — healthy or not — has become dead weight to the Yankees. With Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, Brett Gardner, and Clint Frazier all producing in their assigned outfield roles, Ellsbury’s lackluster numbers are in boldface. To keep things short and sweet, the soon-to-be 34-year-old is arguably expendable. However, the Yankees are handcuffed with Ellsbury, due to a massive seven-year, $153 million contract he agreed to back in the winter of 2013, which happens to include a full no-trade clause.
After this season, Ellsbury will still be owed over $63 million until 2020, and if New York declines to pick up his option in 2021, a buyout would cost an additional $5 million. The Yankees aren’t required to play Ellsbury, but he’ll be making money regardless, so it would be in the team’s best interest to see if Ellsbury’s willing to part ways with New York and play somewhere else.
To bring the issue full circle, perhaps Detroit would be a potential suitor, and the Yankees could swap Ellsbury’s contract with Verlander’s. For the next three seasons, Verlander will be making $84 million, and if he finishes in the Top-5 for Cy Young voting in 2019, a 2020 options vests. Yes, Verlander is more expensive, but he would be used by the Yankees, unlike Ellsbury who’s become a hindrance. Now, it’s possible that a one-for-one deal wouldn’t entice the Tigers, so Kay’s suggestion of the Yankees including an average prospect — such as Jorge Mateo, Dillon Tate, Domingo Acevedo, for example — makes sense. Although a trade for Verlander isn’t as friendly as a move for a Gray or Cole who are both cheap and controllable, it solves one of the Yankees’ current dilemmas and also frees a roster spot owned by Ellsbury, who’s worth dealing.