Mailbag: Jacoby Ellsbury and the CBT, Rule 5 Draft, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo

Happy Friday, everyone. The Yankees released Jacoby Ellsbury and Greg Bird this week, and while both of those moves obviously make sense, I still can’t believe it. We’ll always have this, Greg:

I can watch that home run five million times and it will never get old. Never. Even though the Yanks didn’t win the Series that year, that homer is one of my favorite Yankee moments in the last 20 years. What a moment.

Anyway, there are three three good questions today. I would have chosen more, as there were other good ones, but these three ran a little long. Figured I’d keep it short.

As always, send any questions to viewsfrom314 [at] gmail [dot] com. We answer our favorites every week. Let’s get right to it.

Harrison Asks: Will Ellsbury’s $21 million salary for 2020 and the $5 million buyout for 2021 count against the cap for the Yanks, even though they cut him?

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Yes, Ellsbury’s salary will count against the 2020 Competitive Balance Tax. Those are still real dollars that the Yankees are paying him as part of the contract, which means that, even though he’s not going to suit up, his contract is assessed against the CBT. The $5 million buyout has always counted in the tax, as well. That’s because it’s guaranteed money in the contract–even if the Yankees didn’t pick up the option, Ellsbury was getting that money–so that’s already folded in to the annual assessment.

With that said, though, the straight release of Ellsbury made financial sense for the team. Last week, I wrote about the fact that Ellsbury’s contract was insured by an outside party. The terms of that insurance meant that, if he was placed on the 60-Day IL, the insurance company would pay 75% of his contract. Obviously, that was the case in both 2018 and 2019. That saved the Yankees $32 million in real dollars cumulatively, even though it offered no CBT relief. That matters.

That changed this year. Just before Wednesday’s deadline, the New York Post reported that the final year of Ellsbury’s contract was not insured. That means that the Yankees were on the hook for his entire 2020 salary, whether he played a game or not. (It’s worth noting that the Post also reported this morning that the Yanks are filing a grievance against Ellsbury for working out off-site in an attempt to withhold some of his salary. Stay tuned for more on this one. It’s not clear how that will impact CBT, but my guess is that it won’t.)

Let’s be real: there was no way Ellsbury was a factor between the lines in 2020. He hasn’t played since Game 4 of of the 2017 ALCS and is 36-years-old. Remember Brian Cashman’s tone during his end-of-the-year press conference last month? Yeah.

Add this all up, and you get this: 1) Ellsbury’s salary will count against the CBT regardless and 2) the Yankees are on the hook for his entire salary, whether he plays or not. By releasing him, they freed up a 40-man roster spot (and a 26-man roster spot, as well) at no financial difference. We all know he wasn’t going to contribute in baseball terms, so it made all the sense in the world to just cut ties.

Finally, this makes it clear that the Ellsbury contract was the worst deal in the history of the Yankees franchise. What a mistake. That was clear at the time and even more so with the benefit of hindsight.

Alex Asks: I have a very broad question about the Rule 5 Draft: Is it a bad idea? It doesn’t seem like it does any favors for the A or AA guys who should be playing every day in the minors to be stashed on the end of a major league roster and only play 25 games. Getting major league coaching and salary is great, but I think they’d be better off actually playing in the minors. Luis Torrens basically wasted a year of development in San Diego. 

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This is an interesting question. Let’s start with the basics: it very well can mean a year of lost development time. Torrens is a great example, if an extreme one. Once a Yankee farmhand, the Padres claimed him in the 2016 Rule 5 Draft after the Yankees left him unprotected. The way it works is that the team that claims a player must roster that player on their 25-man (now 26-man) MLB roster after Spring Training or else that player returns to their original organization. They player can’t be optioned down, either.

Torrens was 22-years-old with a lot of upside going into the year, and San Diego wanted to keep him, so he spent the entire year with the big league club. He did play, but not much, coming to the plate just 139 times and hitting .163/.243/.203 (17 wRC+). He was not ready; before 2017, the highest level at which he’d played professionally was A-ball. After he accrued his year of service time, Torrens returned to A-ball in 2018, though he did get some MLB time in 2019.

That is almost certainly a case of wasted development, since you definitely prefer that a prospect like Torrens play every day. In a vacuum, I’m sure that Torrens would have preferred to play every day, too. That said, there are some obvious perks to getting big league service time.

First, even though Torrens signed a $1.3 million signing bonus in 2012 with the Yankees, his salary clearly skyrocketed. He earned $583,000 while with the Padres in 2017 compared to $1,300 a month of the season A-ball. He also becomes entitled to the requisite benefits associated with the MLBPA. Finally, he has a year of service time, so assuming he makes it back to the bigs and sticks with there, he’ll only have five seasons–not six–before he reaches free agency. Those are all real-life benefits that we can’t discount, but it is true that he lost a year of development time.

But it’s also worth noting that this is a unique case. The vast majority of these players are returned to their original organization after Spring Training.

Dan Asks: First time, long time. Any interest in Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who just got posted?  He’s 27, first baseman/corner outfielder, lefty with power and patience.  I think he’d help bring balance to the lineup.  The only downside I see is he’s another high strikeout guy (25% K-rate last year).  I’ll hang up and listen to your answer.   

I have minimal interest, to be honest. Not for any fault of Tsutsugo’s, who seems like a fine player. The 28-year-old corner outfielder and first baseman hit .272/.388/.511 with 29 homers and a 25% strikeout rate. League average was .252/.319/.392 with a 19.9% K rate, so he brings on-base skills and power.

That is all well and good, but the strikeouts are really alarming, especially since the consensus is that MLB pitchers are better than NPB pitchers. As Friend of the Blog Sung-Min Kim wrote at FanGraphs, there is a real concern that Tsutsugo would be a boom-or-bust type player in the big leagues. A real three true outcome type player. That’s not a bad thing, really, but given that he’s a corner outfielder slash first baseman, I don’t see it.

He just doesn’t seem like the best fit for the Yankees and their roster right now. The Yankees will have Voit and possibly Andújar at first and their corner outfield slots are mostly taken, too.

I could see it if the price tag is low enough. Even then, though, the team should have other priorities right now, namely its rotation. Reel in a big fish for the top of the staff, then see if Tsutsugo makes sense. That’s what I’d do, especially given CBT considerations.


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  1. Ellsbury….that’s one Cashman would like to have back. It’s hard to wonder “What if…The Yankees signed Cano instead Ellsbury, Beltran and McCann”. The steroid thing would have been a pain in the neck, but having Cano in YS3 all this time with that short porch….

    • RetroRob

      The Yankees were better off with Ellsbury, Beltran and McCann. That’s pretty obvious. They got production from three players, and were able to turn the last two into additional prospects, while avoiding Cano’s steriod issue, and now his down years. The Ellsbury deal was bad. Beltran and McCann were fine. Glad Cano is gone.

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