The New York Yankees on Tuesday signed free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury away from the Red Sox for baseball's equivalent of a comically oversized sack of money with a dollar sign on it.
The deal will pay the center fielder $153 million over seven years, making it the third-richest contract ever handed out to an outfielder.
But though Ellsbury is undoubtedly a gifted player who was destined to strike it rich in free agency, the contract was likely inflated thanks to the presence of the offseason's other biggest prize: Robinson Cano.
Cano and the Yankees have been circling each other for months, though they have yet to find a middle ground to keep the slugging second baseman in pinstripes. Cano initially demanded a unicorn $300 million, which the Yankees politely declined to cough up. The Yankees are reportedly offering seven years at around $175 million, but Cano has held firm at $200 million.
Given the impasse, the Yankees moved swiftly to lock up everything else on their wish list. In signing Ellsbury, they've sent Cano two clear signals: We're ready to win now, and we're ready to win without you.
The Yankees, being the Yankees, had to stay aggressive this offseason.
Attendance plummeted by more than 3,000 fans per game in 2013 — the sixth-biggest decline for any team — as the Yankees featured a duct-taped lineup of decaying veterans and no-name replacements. New York missed the playoffs for only the second time in the Wild Card era, and finished behind even the Royals.
While merely posting a winning season is something of an achievement in Kansas City, it's not in New York.
"The singular and unwavering desire of this organization is to construct a team each and every season designed to play meaningful baseball deep into October," Yankees co-Chairman Hal Steinbrenner said Tuesday in a press release.
To that end, the Yankees signed catcher Brian McCann for five years and $85 million, and then went and overpaid for Ellsbury, too.
Mega-deals for players on the wrong side of 30 rarely work out. And while speedy outfielders tend to age relatively well, Ellsbury will almost assuredly be one of the most overpaid players in baseball by the end of the deal.
To remain competitive now, though, the Yankees have no other choice but to spend, spend, spend. Their farm system is chronically depleted from years of trading for or buying outright the best players on the market. And given the team's deep pockets, they could afford to pay 40 percent over market value for Ellsbury.
So the Ellsbury signing is basically the Yankees again mortgaging the future to improve in the short term. And by dramatically improving now, the Yankees at least gave themselves a much better sales pitch to bring to Cano.
On another level, the deal is a way to convince short-tempered Yankees fans that the team is serious about winning, too. If Cano leaves, Ellsbury will be a nice insurance policy. New York is already eyeing a couple of other second baseman to replace Cano should he leave.
Plus, with Derek Jeter on his way out soon, the aging team needs a new face of the franchise. Cano was and is supposed to be that player, but the photogenic Ellsbury could fit the bill nicely, too.
So Jacoby: Break out the stationary.
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