If you thought that just because the Giants have a new, more analytically savvy front office that they wouldn’t be pursuing center fielders in their 30s, guess again. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the Giants are considering a trade for the Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury.
As SF has canvassed the market for OF help, they've talked about Jacoby Ellsbury, probably would be open to a bad contract swap. For example, speculation: Cueto owed $68m, coming back from TJ surgery; NYY could recoup insurance in '19. Ellsbury owed $48m. $ would have to even out— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) February 4, 2019
Cueto for Ellsbury? One will be absent in 2019, and the other will be ineffectual.
Ellsbury, like Johnny Cueto, is owed an average of $21 million a year over the remainder of his contract. The difference is that Ellsbury is under contract for two more years, and Johnny Cueto is signed for three. Each have a club option for a third and fourth year, respectively, that comes with a $5 million buyout.
The Yankees would want to do this because they have no use for Ellsbury. Their starting outfield is Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge. They’ll also have Clint Frazier and Brett Gardner for the fourth and fifth outfield spots. Ellsbury isn’t going to get playing time in New York, so they’d rather take the chance Johnny Cueto can return and be effective in 2020 and 2021. Meanwhile, they could collect insurance money on Cueto as they did with Jacoby Ellsbury last season.
The Giants would want to do this because they have a decent amount of starting pitching options and there will always be Derek Hollands and Drew Pomeranzes to sign to one-year deals in the future. What the Giants don’t have is outfielders. The projected Opening Day outfield has a combined 688 major league plate appearances. Steamer/600 thinks they’ll be worth a collective 1.2 fWAR. Even someone like Ellsbury would be an improvement even if it’s very, very slight.
Ellsbury and Cueto each carry their risks. Ellsbury missed all of 2018 with a hip injury, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready for Opening Day. In the three years prior to that, he performed like, well, a Giants outfielder: .261/.331/.372 for a 91 wRC+. He also averaged 1.5 fWAR in each of those years. His defense has always been hit or miss, and I wouldn’t expect him to regain some of that 2011 magic in his age 35, 36, or 37 seasons.
Cueto, of course, isn’t going to pitch in 2019 while he recovers from Tommy John surgery. His last few years have been up and down. His first year with the Giants was arguably the best year of his career, but his command went haywire the following year. His 2018 began brilliantly, but the elbow issues derailed him. There’s no guarantee that Cueto will be the same when he returns in 2020. At that point, his last good season will have been four years behind him.
The largest benefit for the Giants in this situation is that it would free up some payroll in 2021. What could they do with that extra money? Well, I’m sure they’ll to put some money aside to build Mt. Davis II. They certainly won’t be using it to sign free agents.
Another option for the Giants would be to see if Mark Melancon would be interested in waiving his no-trade clause. Melancon, who is owed $28 million over the next two years, (and $36 over the next ten) would save the Yankees some money while allowing the Giants to hold out for a Cueto comeback.
Would Melancon waive his no-trade clause to be a back of the pen guy behind Adam Ottavino, Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, and Chad Green? Probably not, but maybe he’d rather be in the margins of a winning team than on the marquee of a losing one.
Regardless of whether it’s Cueto or Melancon going for Ellsbury, this would only be a marginal improvement to the roster if it is one at all. I’d still think that Cueto has something left after he comes back in 2020. Ellsbury is projected to be worth somewhere between Breyvic Valera and Drew Ferguson next year, and it’s just going to be downhill from there.
An Ellsbury for Cueto trade might have rocked the foundation of the baseball world five or six years ago. Now, it would have about the same amount of roster impact of getting a guy the Orioles didn’t want.