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Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and the New York Yankees agreed to a massive seven-year, $153 million contract Tuesday night, a move that re-asserted the Yankees as baseball's spending leviathan and could end up with their forking over a half-billion dollars in free agent deals this winter.
To cap a wild day that saw a handful of signings, a three-way trade and three more deals, the Yankees poached the 30-year-old from the Boston Red Sox in a money-laden coup that resembles their 2005 signing of another Red Sox outfielder coming off a championship, Johnny Damon – albeit at nearly three times the cost.
Ellsbury's deal calls for $153 million guaranteed, including a buyout for an eighth-year option. If exercised, the club option would take the deal's total value to $169 million, which would make it the ninth-largest contract in American sports history. Ellsbury is expected to count for more than $20 million against the Yankees' luxury-tax figure, a number determined by the average annual value of the deal's guaranteed money.
In seven seasons with the Red Sox, Ellsbury hit .297/.350/.439, stole 241 bases (at an 84 percent success rate) and established himself as one of the better defensive center fielders in the game. Still, the deal speaks not just to the Yankees' largesse but baseball's evolution to the point where a speed-first player can become one of the richest in the sport.
As Ellsbury completes a physical this week that will make the deal official, the Yankees are continuing to work at overhauling a roster that went 85-77 last year. Sources told Yahoo Sports the Yankees will continue to pursue the other pricey outfield client of agent Scott Boras, Shin-Soo Choo, along with the top free agent on the market and their best player last year, second baseman Robinson Cano. The Yankees believe they can sign one or the other, sources said, still have room to pursue at least one free agent starting pitcher and stay within the $189 million luxury-tax threshold.
All told, if the Yankees land Cano (whom they've offered seven years and $160 million, an offer that's almost certain to go up considering what they paid Ellsbury) and win the posting bid for Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka, they could exceed $500 million in spending this offseason.
Already they've spent $238 million on Ellsbury and free agent catcher Brian McCann, who signed a five-year, $85 million deal with a sixth-year option. That accounts for nearly 50 percent of the more than half a billion dollars in free agent spending from all 30 teams this winter, a number that surely will exceed $1 billion considering Cano, Tanaka, Choo, Carlos Beltran, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ervin Santana, Matt Garza and other players expected to reap big paydays have yet to sign.
The Yankees' lavishing Ellsbury with a huge deal despite a pair of injury-pocked seasons and only one year with double-digit home runs speaks to their confidence that he will age well and their willingness to spend despite their self-imposed $189 million threshold. The team believes it can stay underneath it, a belief, sources said, stems from the likelihood that third baseman Alex Rodriguez will be suspended and open up a significant amount of payroll for next season.
Still, it would create another hole on the left side of the infield, though the Yankees' lineup concerns aren't nearly as acute as they were a week ago. Ellsbury is expected to lead off, with Derek Jeter in the No. 2 hole, perhaps Cano third, the returning Mark Teixeira fourth, McCann fifth, Alfonso Soriano sixth, Ichiro Suzuki seventh, Brett Gardner eighth and a third baseman ninth.
New York's rotation and bullpen, on the other hand, remain weaknesses. Only CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are rotation locks, with David Phelps and Michael Pineda potential back-end pieces.