Jeff Jacobs: Yanks Spend Crazy Money On Legs, But Need Arms

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Don't even try to defend the money. The money for Jacoby Ellsbury is stupid. The money is insane.

And believe this much. There will be a Christmas Eve in, oh, 2020 when Hank and Hal Steinbrenner will be visited by the apparition of dear old dad. Boss ghost will be floating there in the dark, screaming, "Great Jacob-y Marley's ghost! What the hell were you boys thinking?"

So don't even start with Ellsbury's wins above replacement (WAR) or total fielding runs above average (Rtot) as a long-term argument. A seven-year, $153 million contract for an injury-prone center fielder in his 30s who depends on his legs for productivity? Sorry. I don't care how much baseball thinks it has evolved. Although it's hard to imagine the Yankees would pick up the option on an eighth year to bring it to $169 million for the ninth-biggest deal in MLB history, it is plenty insane at seven years.

So here's the good news, Yankee fans. Insanity is back in the Bronx.

If you can't beat 'em, outspend 'em. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Either way, loving the Yankees means never apologizing for opening the wallet. After making some noise about slashing the payroll to the $189 million tax threshold for 2014, they promptly went out and spent $238 million on a leadoff man and catcher Brian McCann. Watching the Red Sox win it all for the third time this century and missing the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years obviously was too much for the Steinbrenner boys.

By the time they are finished negotiating with Robinson Cano, deciding on Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Beltran, filling assorted holes, and if they win the negotiating rights to pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees could spend a half-billion dollars this winter.

Here's the thing. The Yankees always pay too much. A-Rod, Mark Teixeira and on and on … heck, you can make a list of the 25 long-term, $20-million-a-year deals in MLB history and see that virtually none of them were worth it. The crucial question for the Yankees is how strong of a team can they put together to make Ellsbury's unique skill set worth it in, say, years one through five of his contract? And will the best seasons by the rest of the club coincide with healthy Ellsbury years? If they do, the incredible largesse could be worth a 28th world championship. If not? Well, they are the Yankees. They'll keep spending.

One of the best things about living in Connecticut is arguing both sides of the Yankees and Red Sox equation. There are enough ifs and buts in Ellsbury's free agent signing brokered by Scott Boras, the flesh peddler of biblical proportions, to make Yankees fans gloat. And even though everyone thought Ellsbury would be gone as soon as he turned free agent, there's enough surprise in the quickness of the signing and the destination for Red Sox fans to cross out their old Johnny Damon T-shirt. "Looks like Jesus, acts like Judas, throws like Mary," can be replaced with, "Tried to look like Jesus, acts like Judas, needs to be raised from the DL more times than Lazarus."

Still, one argument in all this is nonnegotiable. You can't criticize the Red Sox for failing to match the Yankees offer. He's just not worth it. After the Adrian Gonzalez deal, the $142 million disaster known as Carl Crawford, the great reprieve from the L.A. Dodgers and the brilliant piece-by-piece rebuilding job by Ben Cherington that led to the most delightful and bearded of 2013 world titles, Red Sox fans know this.

There were reports the Sox offered Ellsbury a five-year, $100-million deal that even could be stretched to six years. The Red Sox didn't short-change him. They just hoped he would pack his leadoff ability, his OBP, his sterling stolen base efficiency, his Gold Glove and his ability to produce in October and take the last train to the coast. The Mariners, right? Or maybe the Giants. Somewhere he could take his quiet nature and commune with baseball unplugged.

Boston always sounded too electric to Jacoby. That's why it is hilarious he signed in New York. It doesn't get any louder. I'm not going to pretend I cover the Red Sox every day. But everything I saw and heard in the clubhouse since 2007, everything I read and heard outside it told me he wasn't interested in being a team leader or the life of the party. He's measured, quiet, if not aloof. Maybe Ellsbury was stung once too many times by the insults that he took too long to return from injuries and had a low pain threshold. Ellsbury did battle through injuries in 2013 and won the respect of his teammates. It also was his contract year.

I've always argued it was stupid to call Ellsbury soft. Soft is a couched term some radio caller to WFAN or WEEI uses in place of something obscene to describe not being man enough. Not even Bill James has devised a stat for who's a man and who's, ah, soft. His numbers do tell us plenty. He was a .297 hitter in Boston, with a .350 OBP and .789 OPS. He stole 241 bases for a rousing 83 percent success rate. In six full years with the Red Sox, Ellsbury also averaged only 113 games. The rib, shoulder, hand and foot injuries were real.

Bovada listed the over-under odds for Ellsbury in 2014 at .299 average, 15.5 homers, 62.5 RBI, 39.5 stolen bases yet only 129.5 games. That's at age 30. What? You think he'll average 162 games at age 31 to 37?

You go through the list of all-time biggest contracts and the top dozen are reserved for aces, catchers, power-hitting infielders and Derek Jeter. You've got to go down to 13th to find outfielders Manny Ramirez and Matt Kemp at $160 million. I would submit Ellsbury isn't in that run-producing class of Manny. I still believe the 32 homers Jacoby hit in 2011 were an aberration. He has never hit more than nine in any other season.

That short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium should pad his power numbers. And let's be honest. He can always shine those two World Series rings from 2007 and 2013 to scream, "I've proven it!" That's why the Sox wish it was Seattle or Frisco. The 19 games a year against the Yankees will not allow Jacoby to disappear. The New York tabloids will be a Jacoby horn of plenty every series, a recurring referendum on the deal. And here's one bet, early on, that deal will sometimes tilt in the Yankees favor.

Still, it's stupid to make the entire debate whether the Yankees are better today and the Red Sox worse because of the signing. We don't even know what the full rosters will look like on Opening Day.

The Red Sox can move Shane Victorino to center and that leaves a hole in right to be filled. Maybe Beltran. Maybe not. The Red Sox can put Jackie Bradley Jr. in center and hope potential becomes reality. Still, only a pink hat fan would think the team is better off in 2014 without Ellsbury.

Yet let's face it. Pitching is the root of all success and the Red Sox staff is superior to the Yankees. Beyond CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, the Yankees have nothing but questions. Phelps. Pineda. Warren. Yikes! Not to mention, there is no more Sandman entering the ninth.

Dave Cameron did a study for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs+ where he demonstrated speed-and-defense players actually age better than other player types after age 30. Names like Henderson, Ichiro, Lofton, Raines were on the list. It made sense. Yet here's the thing. Players are only as good as their ability to stay on the field. If Ellsbury averages 113 games over the next seven years as he did the previous six, nobody will say he's worth $153 million. It's not a matter of mental fragility. It's anatomical fragility. It's not a matter of how good Ellsbury is. It's a matter of how good you aren't when you are not in the lineup and if your team's pitching stinks.

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