The New York Yankees had an interesting venture into free agency ahead of the 2014 season and there is one signing that still impacts their decision-making.
Following a disappointing 2013 season in which the New York Yankees missed the postseason for only the second time in the previous nineteen seasons, the front office decided to make some significant changes. These changes included allowing Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano to leave through free agency while signing free agents such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and Masahiro Tanaka to multi-year contracts.
Beltran compiled 56 home runs,180 runs batted in, and a slash-line of .270/.327/.470 during two and a half seasons in the Bronx before being moved to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Nick Green, Erik Swanson, and Dillon Tate at the 2016 trade deadline. McCann compiled 69 home runs, 227 runs batted in, and a slash-line of .235/.313/.418 before being moved to the Houston Astros with cash in exchange for Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman.
Although the acquisition of Tate helped the organization in later acquiring Zach Britton and the acquisition of Guzman helped in later acquiring Giancarlo Stanton, Tanaka was the only one of these signings that spent time on the Yankees 25-man roster last season. During his first five seasons in New York, he has compiled a 64-34 win-loss record alongside an impressive 3.59 ERA, 3.80 FIP, and a 1.103 WHIP.
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This brings us to the interesting decision of the Yankees to sign Ellsbury instead of re-signing Granderson. After putting together an incredible .321/.376/.552 slash-line during his lone All-Star season in 2011, Ellsbury decreased to a .289/.341/.407 slash-line during his final two seasons (208 games) with the Boston Red Sox.
Even though Ellsbury had only played in at least 140 games three times between 2008-2013, the Yankees provided the then 30-year-old outfielder with a seven-year, $148.00 million guarantee. During this same offseason, the then 33-year-old Granderson was given a four-year, $60.00 million guarantee by the New York Mets. Despite playing in at least 140 games four times between 2008-2013 with three All-Star appearances, the Yankees likely let him depart to their cross-town rivals due to a declining batting average alongside only appearing in 61 games during the previous season.
Although Ellsbury missed the entire 2018 season due to injuries, he has compiled 86 doubles, 16 triples, 39 home runs, and 273 runs scored with a slash-line of .264/.330/.386 through 520 games since being signed by the Yankees. During this same time-frame, Granderson has compiled 130 doubles, 14 triples, 115 home runs, and 393 runs scored with a slash-line of .236/.340/.439 through 732 games.
Despite the large discrepancy in games played, extra-base hits, and runs scored, the biggest “what if” in this scenario is the contract each player received. The Yankees paid Ellsbury $21.14 million last season and they still owe Ellsbury $21.14 million in each of the next two seasons whereas Granderson would have seen his contract expire following the 2017 season. As the organization was determined to stay beneath the luxury tax last season, there could have potentially been an additional $21.14 in payroll space available if Granderson had been signed over Ellsbury.
This could have allowed the Yankees to be in on free agents that offered much-needed rotation depth such as Jake Arrieta and Rich Hill. It could have also potentially changed how the Yankees approached the availability of Justin Verlander prior to the 2017 waiver deadline. On the flip side, having cash available could have also prevented Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres from having incredible rookie seasons as players such as Todd Frazier or Zack Cozart may have blocked them if they were brought into the mix last off-season. The team could have also ended up with expensive, under-performing players (to this point) such as Eric Hosmer or Yu Darvish.
Nonetheless, if the Yankees made all of the same moves over the last few years (aside from choosing Ellsbury over Granderson), they could have definitely benefited from having an extra $21.14 million available during the current off-season. Although the team is already projected to exceed the luxury tax threshold next season after signing DJ LeMahieu and Adam Ottavino, it would be surprising to see the organization add additional multi-year contracts to the payroll.