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Yankees Mailbag: Fringe roster moves, Ellsbury updates, and the next captain

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The mailbag arrives to answer your questions and concerns.

MLB: MAR 01 Spring Training - Tigers at Yankees Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Good morning everyone, let’s open the mailbag up for more of your Yankees questions. Remember to send in your questions for our weekly call by e-mail to pinstripealleyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

EldestGruff asks: Given how a large number of Yankee starters will be on innings limits/skipping starts is it possible that Nick Nelson could be the good candidate for an opener? This also frees up Green for high leverage innings.

I don’t hate the idea, but he’ll have to impress to get a shot. The roster crunch is extremely tight this spring, with a lot of spots already claimed and more experienced pitchers ahead of Nelson in line for a bullpen job. Nelson hasn’t had a ton of experience in the upper levels of the minors or the majors — he made his MLB debut last year and pitched just 20.1 innings there, and only has 21 innings from Triple-A back in 2019.

He showed some promising signs in his stint last year, and his less-than-stellar stat lines are mostly thanks to one egregious outing against the Phillies. I’d prefer to see what he can improve on up in the majors over giving innings to someone like Luis Cessa, whether that be as an opener or just in an outright relief position.

Larry S. asks: Why would the Yankees keep Thairo Estrada on the 40-man roster and expose Garrett Whitlock? Estrada seemed like a redundant piece with Wade available or easier to replace in season.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned while covering the Yankees over the past few seasons, it’s that depth is never redundant. Considering the Yankees’ budget restraints — more on that in a minute — it makes sense to me that the Yankees preferred having some infield depth already on hand over another pitcher, especially one they may have just felt comfortable gambling on making it through the Rule 5 draft. Estrada is nothing special, but he and Wade are some of the only in-house candidates to cover multiple infield positions that are MLB ready, so holding onto both was ultimately Brian Cashman’s priority.

The idiot that said, “Harper is coming” asks: Is Ellsbury’s buyout going against the 2021 luxury tax? Spotrac appears to include the $5M in their figures, while Cots doesn’t. But, somehow they come to virtually the same figure available though – Cots shows $6.22M and Spotrac shows $5.85M available.

A lot of people have inquired on Jacoby Ellsbury, the grievance he filed against the Yankees over a year ago, and how not paying him has affected the Yankees’ payroll. Honestly, this story still fascinates me for several reasons: the fact that the Yankees simply chose to not pay him, that they’ve seemingly gotten away with doing so, and that there just isn’t any new information on the matter.

Ellsbury’s grievance faded into the background as so many other issues jumped to the forefront in 2020, and it seems like it’s remained buried since then. I can’t tell where things stand between him and the team, and whether or not they had to invoke the buyout. If they were forced to pay him, the team would naturally prefer the buyout instead of paying a premium for another year of Ellsbury being away from the game — but if they don’t have to pay him then why acknowledge the buyout? Regardless of the benefit to the Yankees, I think it is bad for the game if the team could simply void Ellsbury’s contract and expected a ruling to come down by now, but I guess we’ll be in the dark for a while on this issue.

Joe D. asks: Now that the management leadership has finally signed Brett Gardner, long overdue, it’s time for them to wake up and give him the ‘C’ that he deserves. Doesn’t this man’s dedication, conduct, behavior, loyalty and clubhouse leadership deserve recognition?

Well, if they did give out an official captain’s title to a current Yankee, I would be very surprised if they named Gardner. That’s not taking away anything from his place on the roster — it’s clear the players look to him as a de facto captain for the team already — so much as acknowledging that it would do relatively little. Naming Gardner a captain when this is either his last season or nearing the end of his career as a Yankee probably wouldn’t be worth the pomp and circumstance of making the move official.

I’m not certain how long it will be until the Yankees name a successor to Derek Jeter’s title, or if they ever will again. They seem to go through phases like this — when they have a franchise icon that happened to be a captain of the team retire it will take a long time before they name another. They’ve even claimed before that they’ll never name another captain, though they went back on that idea eventually. Aaron Judge stands out as a strong candidate, but naming a captain also carries a sort of expectation that the team will commit long-term to the player — and right now it’s unclear whether the Yankees want to walk down that road just yet.