Prior to the 2014 season, the Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year contract worth $153 million that includes a team option in 2021. This came on the heels of a great 2013 season with the Red Sox, where he hit .298/.355/.426 with 52 stolen bases. When news of the deal broke, Yankee fans had some strong reactions, many disliking the length of the contract, and others questioning whether Ellsbury could remain healthy. It's no secret that the Yankees' offense has struggled recently, and the majority of the lineup is to blame for that. However, some people have singled Ellsbury out as a cause for concern, going so far as to debate whether his lengthy contract has already been proven to be a bust. So, has Ellsbury live up to his contract so far?
At the end of the 2013 season, the Yankees needed outfielders. Curtis Granderson left as a free agent, leaving them with Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano to man the outfield. It was an offseason of spending, as the Yankees spent a ton of money to land Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Masahiro Tanaka, along with Ellsbury. In the first year of his contract, Ellsbury hit a respectable .271/.328/.419 with 39 stolen bases and 16 home runs. His production dropped slightly from the year before, but he finished the season worth 3.3 rWAR and was one of the best hitters on the team. In terms of position players, only Brett Gardner was worth more (4.0 rWAR). Ellsbury also managed to stay healthy the entire season, making his first year in pinstripes an overall success. 2015 has been a different story.
Ellsbury got off to a red hot-start this season, slashing .321/.406/.381 in April before a slew of injuries caught up with him. He missed a few games with a tight hip in late April then injured his knee towards the end of May. After being diagnosed with a right knee sprain, Ellsbury spent about seven weeks rehabbing the injury. He finally returned just before the All-Star break, but he has been in a slump, batting just .233/.267/.373 in the second half of the season. Now he has a hip injury, suffered while diving for a ball, and could miss a few games, just when he's been hitting better (.304/.333/.348 over the last seven games).
If the Yankees hadn't signed Ellsbury, then who could they have signed instead? They could have brought back Granderson, who inked a four-year, $60 million deal with the Mets. He's hit .240/.336/.419 in his time there, which is comparable to Ellsbury's two years as a Yankee (.274/.332/.403), though Ellsbury has the advantage defensively. Whether Granderson could have replicated that with the Yankees is questionable though, and it didn't look like they ever intended to bring him back. Another top free agent on the market at the time was Shin-Soo Choo, who signed with the Rangers for seven years and $130 million. Choo has hit .243/.341/.397 in Texas, but again, Ellsbury has the better glove, and the speed. Hindsight is 20/20, but Nelson Cruz has performed the best out of the free agents outfielders who were available then. He's hit 78 home runs over the past two seasons, and is currently slugging .607. Granted, he was coming off of his Biogenesis suspension at the time and he's only spent about half of his playing time in the outfield since 2013. Not to mention the fact that the Yankees' DH spot is already occupied, so Cruz wouldn't have fit on the team.
It's still early in the contract, but so far, it looks like the Yankees could have gotten roughly the same value from Granderson as they have from Ellsbury, and at a cheaper price. Ellsbury had a solid first season as a Yankee, but has not experienced as much success this season due to injuries. When healthy, there's no reason to think that he can't hit for his career average. Ellsbury may be having a rough 2015, but there's still over a month left for him to try to right the ship, and it's certainly too soon to call the contract a bust.