Numbers Game: Yankees add Ellsbury

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Scott Cullen
12/4/2013 10:04:06 AM
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It's not the first time that the New York Yankees have raided the Boston Red Sox for a free agent outfielder -- Johnny Damon comes to mind -- and the Bronx Bombers weren't shy about offering big money for an outfielder that is a premier base stealer, when healthy.

Numbers Game looks at the Yankees' addition of Jacoby Ellsbury.

The Yankees Get: CF Jacoby Ellsbury.

Ellsbury, 30, has been a productive player when healthy, a career .297 hitter who has led the American League in steals three times. However, he's missed a lot of time -- 264 games to be precise -- over the last four seasons, which makes a long-term investment risky, particularly for a player on the north side of 30 years of age.

While Ellsbury had a 32-home-run season in 2011, that's the only season of his career in which he's finished with more than 10 home runs so, even in new Yankee Stadium, which plays well to lefthanded hitters, it's not likely that Ellsbury will be a significant power threat. He could hit double figures in home runs, but it's a long way from 10 or 12 to 30-plus.

But, a little power to go with tremendous base-stealing ability makes Ellsbury an asset offensively. Over the course of his career, he has stolen 241 bases in 287 attempts (83.9%), including a ridiculous 52 in 56 attempts (92.9%) last season. The question, on top of whether Ellsbury can stay healthy, is for how much longer can he be that top-of-the-order base-stealing threat? Is it three years? Five?

Given Ellsbury's speed on the bases, it should come as little surprise that he covers a lot of ground in centre field. Over the last four seasons, he ranks among the Top 10 centre fielders with 25 Defensive Runs Saved, while ranking sixth in Ultimate Zone Rating. Putting Ellsbury in centre field, moving Brett Gardner back to left field and Ichiro Suzuki in right will give the Yankees exceptional range in the outfield and ought to help their pitching staff to some degree.

Despite his injuries, Ellsbury has accumulated a fWAR of 22.4 since 2008, which ranks fourth among centre fielders.

The odds are that, over the course of the deal, there will be years that the Yankees regret because injury and/or age prevent Ellsbury from contributing like he has to this point in his career, but if there are five really good years in there, then that might be enough for the Yankees. A healthy Ellsbury improves their chances of returning to the postseason.

The Red Sox are likely to move Shane Victorino to centre field to make up for the loss of Ellsbury and they could still be active in the free agent market looking for a corner outfielder. Additionally, prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. could be ready for another chance to stick as an every day player in the majors.

Signed for seven years and $153-million, with an option for an eighth year that would run the contract to $169-million, Ellsbury is the latest in a long line of lucrative Yankees free agent signings, many of which have not panned out, but it's only money and the Yankees generate enough of it that they can afford to swing and miss every so often, particularly with the chance to hit a proverbial home run.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Safe at home (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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