The Yankees are grieving Jacoby Ellsbury for breach of contract, and they want their money back. What took them so long?
The Yankees, in the days when their rivalry with the Red Sox ran hot, signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year guaranteed deal worth a minimum of $153 million in December of 2013.
In the middle of his prime years at 30, most considered Ellsbury, who had led the league in steals with 52 as the lead-off hitter for the Red Sox the year before, to be a “steal” for the Yankees.
Ellsbury’s last appearance in a game wearing a Yankees uniform was in 2017, with the next two seasons showing as a blank on his career stats sheet.
Of the 1,134 regular-season games the Yankees have or will play in 2020 over the course of the contract, Ellsbury has appeared in 520 (about 45 percent) during his time the team.
This means the Yankees have paid Ellsbury $29, 423 every time he has been able to play in a game – plus $24, 918 for each of the games he has not played. A pretty good gig – if you can get it.
For the Yankees, the money is secondary
Ah – it’s only money. The Yankees have plenty of it – so why is it now after all these years, have the Yankees decided to pick a fight with Ellsbury.
Facing a counter-grievance sure to be filed by Ellsbury and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the Yankees want all of the money due for this year ($21 million), plus the $5 million they owe Ellsbury for not picking up the option in the contract.
On the surface and if they can prove their case, it appears the team has the edge in the argument that Ellsbury engaged medical treatment services without getting prior authorization from the team to do so.
At issue is the following portion of the agreement between owners and players which states:
According to multiple sources, Ellsbury was treated by Dr. Viktor Bouquette of Progressive Medical Center in Atlanta without the team’s permission. The nature of that treatment will determine if Ellsbury is liable.
If, for instance, Ellsbury and his agent Scott Boras can show he was being treated for a stomach disorder, that would not be a “Work-Related Injury” and, therefore, is not subject to disciplinary measures.
But to take this step this late in the game, the Yankees must have proof of some kind that Ellsbury is “guilty as charged.”
A precedent-setting case
Fans will recall a similar incident that occurred between the Mets and Carlos Beltran in 2010 when Beltran had knee surgery after the team asked him to wait while management discussed options with its medical staff.
In that instance, the two sides reached an agreement.
In this dispute, however, Ellsbury and in particular, the MLBPA, and the Yankees are locked in and ready for the long haul. The process can take up to a year if a grievance is filed.
Of note, the Yankees, for some reason, do not have insurance on the monies due to Ellsbury for this year. Previously, the team collected up to 75 percent of his salary for time lost.
Again, it’s hard to believe this is about the money from where the Yankees sit. After all, it’s likely the team’s attorneys are already racking up billable hours that will only multiply.
The MLBPA will fight this strenuously. They have no choice because, by definition, guaranteed agreements – are non-negotiable once they are signed.
In a statement released by the union, the players fired their first salvo over the bow, saying: “The players’ association will vigorously defend any action taken against Jacoby or his contract and is investigating potential contract violations by his employer.”
Yankees fans and just desserts
For Yankees fans, including this one, this is just desserts for a player who, for one reason or another unrelated to the issue at hand, never hit it off in New York.
We’ll never know if somewhere along the line, the Yankees approached Ellsbury with an offer to buy out his contract at a reduced rate, or using deferred payments as a means to alleviate the pain – with a plea for Ellsbury to “do the right thing.”
But if they did and Ellsbury refused, who among us can say we wouldn’t do the same?
The Yankees, with the money owed to Ellsbury included, are already perilously close to the $208 million thresholds before the luxury tax kicks in for 2020.
It can also be that the Yankees have reached the end of their patience with all the time lost by injured players, and Ellsbury is simply a scapegoat expressing that frustration.
If so, look out below for Giancarlo Stanton, who is currently Exhibit A in mirroring Ellsbury’s time with the Yankees…