On May 24, Jacoby Ellsbury collided with the outfield wall in Kansas City and suffered a concussion. The Yankees’ starting center fielder has been out since then, but now it appears he’s ready to make a comeback. He took batting practice and ran the bases on Wednesday, and they are hoping to send him on a rehab assignment soon. Now it’s time to wonder what the Yankees should do with him when he makes it back.
First of all, it could still be some time before he shakes this concussion for good. Ellsbury previously suffered a setback and was shut down two weeks ago after complaining of headaches. This kind of injury is tricking and could continue to affect him for months or even years following the initial injury. We can only wait and see how he responds to treatment and the passage of time.
So what to the Yankees do with him if he’s healthy enough to play? It’s important to note that this team, despite their recent struggles, has not missed him at all while he’s been on the disabled list. Aaron Judge is having an MVP-type season by hitting .331/.438/.694 with 24 home runs, Aaron Hicks could be an All-Star now that he can actually hit both lefties and righties, and Brett Gardner is putting together a solid season with 13 home runs. It’s hard to say that Ellsbury’s .281/.349/.422 batting line deserves a place in the lineup every day after missing a month of action.
If the Yankees keep Hicks in the start lineup, they are going to need a proper fourth outfielder who can play all three positions out there. Mason Williams is the kind of player who can do that, but he’s really just holding a spot on the roster for the time being and doesn’t have much staying power in the immediate future.
The Yankees can’t afford to move Hicks back to the bench, so it would make sense to bring Ellsbury back as the team’s fourth outfielder. With him on the bench, it would allow the team’s best outfielders to remain in the lineup regularly and give him time to ease back into playing. Of course, the problem there is that the Yankees have shown an unwillingness to move their starting center fielder to a new position during the season, after how they handled Curtis Granderson’s position change.
The idea of keeping Ellsbury on the bench becomes unlikely when you consider that Gardner has actually been horrible against left-handed pitching this year. Right now, he’s only hitting .192/.263/.365 against southpaws, but the Yankees don’t have a right-handed bat off the bench. Ellsbury could certainly bat for Gardner in these scenarios, but he’s a left-handed hitter and not doing much better.
Unfortunately, the real killing blow to the dream of Ellsbury playing off the bench is the matter of the $63 million he is owed over the next three seasons, which isn’t going away. The Yankees being the Yankees are going to want their most expensive players playing every day, so don’t expect Ellsbury to become a bench player any time soon.
In the end, we will likely see some kind of outfield rotation between Ellsbury, Gardner, and Hicks. This will allow Ellsbury to ease into playing time, keep Hicks in the lineup, and make sure Gardner doesn’t see many left-handed pitchers. It will also ensure that Aaron Judge is in the lineup every day.
Whatever happens, Ellsbury won’t play unless he’s 100% because concussions can be tricky and you want to be sure he doesn’t have another setback. The Yankees certainly haven’t missed him, but they’re stuck with him. Expect him to play...somewhere.