The Future Of Center Field For The New York Yankees

When Jacoby Ellsbury signed a 7 year 153 million deal with the New York Yankees, a lot of people were quick to ridicule the 7 years for a then 30 year old speedster. It also signified that the New York Yankees were not banking on Mason Williams and Slade Heathcott, two of their top prospects in the past, to pan out.

Year 1 of the Jacoby Ellsbury era was respectable enough, as he hit 16 home runs, stole 39 bases in 44 attempts and had 70 RBIs. The high RBI total was mainly due to the fact that he spent two-thirds of his plate appearances batting third in the lineup, rather than his usual leadoff spot. His slash line was .271/ .328/ .419, which was respectable. His defense while still good, showed signs of decline, as evidenced by advanced metrics courtesy of Fangraphs

2013 (Last Year with the Red Sox): 13 Defensive Runs Saved, 12.9 UZR/150

2014 (First Year with the Yankees): - 5 Defensive Runs Saved, 0.6 UZR/150

The matter of the fact is, the Yankees did not pay Jacoby Ellsbury 21 million a year to be only respectable. Fast forward to 2015, and his numbers are still what they are, respectable. Due to a knee injury which put him on the disabled list, he's only managed to play 59 out of 105 total games. He's hitting .282/ .353/ .370 with 4 home runs and 14 stolen bases. The raw numbers look solid, but as we delve deeper, there is reason for alarm. He was caught 5 times out of 44 stolen base attempts in 2014, this year he has exceeded that number in 20 attempts (14 for 20 SB). His .088 Isolated Power is on track to be the lowest mark in his career (save for the 18 game season in 2010). He's also struck out 15.1% of the time, the first time in his career he has crossed the 15% line (career mark 13.3%). Defensively, he has indeed lost another step. Both the eye test and advanced metrics confirm that. He has been worth -2 Defensive Runs Saved and a -9.3 UZR/150. He ranks 20th out of 27 players with 500 innings in center field in terms of UZR/150, and 17th in terms of DRS. Not a good look for a player whose defense was part of his strengths.

While Jacoby was on the disabled list, the Yankees first called upon Slade Heathcott, and then Mason Williams to fill the void. While we can chalk their raw numbers up to SSS (small sample size), but it isn't out of line to think that one of the two could be the Yankees future center fielder. While Williams has more speed and better contact ability, Heathcott is said to have more power and a better arm. What would the Yankees do then? There are only two options. Trade Ellsbury? Trade the two young guys to shore up an area of concern, i.e the starting rotation?

In order to trade Ellsbury, one would think that the Yankees would probably have to take on a third of the money owed to him (around 35 million over 5 years, plus his 5 million buyout in 2021). Finding a taker would be difficult though, as well as getting him to waive his no trade clause. (He has a full NTC) With the Yankees focusing more on youth now, handing the center field reins to either one of Williams or Heathcott could be a step towards that goal as well.

If ever Mason Williams and/or Slade Heathcott proves to be a worthy major league center fielder, it will be interesting what the Yankees and Brian Cashman do.

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