ORLANDO, Fla. — General Manager Brian Cashman on Tuesday confirmed what seemed obvious when the Yankees’ season ended: Jacoby Ellsbury will be a $21 million spare part next season.
Ellsbury, who lost a starting job three times last season — in the outfield to Clint Frazier and Aaron Hicks and as designated hitter in the playoffs to Chase Headley — will most likely be the Yankees’ fourth outfielder when the team reports to spring training.
Barring a trade or injury, Cashman said the Yankees planned to open next season with Brett Gardner in left field, Hicks in center and Aaron Judge in right.
“They were the best that we had,” said Cashman, who added that Ellsbury could get additional at-bats as the designated hitter. “So I think we would anticipate going in that way. That doesn’t mean people can’t flip scripts, either.”
Ellsbury, 34, has three years remaining on a seven-year, $153 million contract, which also contains a full no-trade clause. Cashman said he had not yet spoken with Ellsbury’s agent, Scott Boras, but that he expected to do so later Tuesday night or Wednesday morning before departing the general managers’ meetings here.
The situation is similar to what the team went through last year with catcher Brian McCann — who after being supplanted by Gary Sanchez waived his no-trade clause in order to be dealt to the Houston Astros. The Yankees picked up $11 million of the salary that was owed to McCann over the final two years of his contract.
The difference is that McCann had incentives in his contract that he was unlikely to meet if he had remained with the Yankees, so he encouraged a trade. It is unclear whether Ellsbury would welcome a similar move.
“If there is going to be something to consider for Jacoby,” Cashman said, “I would make sure I would stay ahead of it and try to include anybody in the process on their side of it to make sure it’s handled in the proper way.”
Ellsbury missed four weeks with a concussion after running into the wall at Yankee Stadium to make a catch in late May. When he returned in late June, Ellsbury hit .186 with a .289 on-base percentage and .297 slugging percentage over the next two months, a dip Cashman said the team had somewhat expected because doctors told the Yankees that it was not unusual for a player’s performance to suffer for six weeks after returning from a concussion.
September was one of Ellsbury’s best months as a Yankee — he hit .337/.436/.477. But he was hitless in nine at-bats in the playoffs.
Cashman said the Yankees had only one spot to fill in their rotation or lineup — a vacancy in the rotation left by the expiring contract of C. C. Sabathia, which could go to the Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. Another candidate for that spot is Chad Green, who developed into a superb middle reliever and will be given an opportunity to start.
Cashman gave a lukewarm endorsement of Headley as an opening-day candidate at third base. The top prospect Gleyber Torres, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery on his nonthrowing left elbow, will be given a chance to win the job in spring training.
“The easy thing to say is Gleyber comes into major-league camp and competes but starts at Triple A because that’s the safest route,” Cashman said. “But I’m not denying anybody a chance to make the club.”