Pondering a Bad Contract Swap, feat. Jacoby Ellsbury

Jacoby Ellsbury isn't terribly good at baseball at this point in his career. That is not to say that he is a bad player; rather, he simply falls somewhere on the continuum between fringe-average regular and regular. And for that he will earn a minimum of $89,571,428 over the next four seasons (including a merciful $5 MM buyout for the 2021 season).

If you are unconvinced that Ellsbury is as bad as I've outlined, then I'm not quite sure what to say. He has hit just .260/.324/.361 with an 88 wRC+ over the last two seasons (1127 PA), producing 4.7 bWAR (which would make him just above-average) and/or 2.9 fWAR (which would make him more than a bit below-average). He's somewhere between average and a skosh above-average in center nowadays, and remains an asset on the basepaths. How long that will last, given his injury history and age, is an open-ended question.

Is he untradeable, though? I don't think so. Plenty of bad contracts have been moved over the last few years, and competent center-fielders aren't easy to find. The Yankees would have to take a bad contract back in return, though, which leads to yet another question - would it be worth it?

Let's find out. 

I went through the largest active contracts in baseball, and pulled players that have ostensibly fallen out of favor with their team. I'm not going to suggest Buster Posey, for example. And I'm going to avoid players that only have a year or two left (so that means no Joe Mauer or Jayson Werth). That narrows the list down to:

Shin-Soo Choo, OF

The 34-year-old Choo played in just 48 games this year, due to an injury to his back and then a fractured forearm. He was useful when he did play, batting .242/.357/.399 with 7 HR and 6 SB in 210 PA (105 wRC+), though he is now teetering on the brink of unplayable in RF. Choo did hit .276/375/.463 with 22 HR in 2015 when he was fully healthy, and could offer the left-handed pop that the Yankees are counting on from Greg Bird, and Greg Bird alone. The Rangers re-signing of Carlos Gomez may put the kibosh on this as a possibility.

Choo is owed $82 MM over the next four years.

Jordan Zimmermann, SP

Zimmermann is coming off of the worst season of his career, posting a 4.87 ERA and just 5.6 K/9 in 105.1 IP (0.2 bWAR/1.3 fWAR). He struggled with a neck injury all season, and saw his velocity drop by over 1 MPH. Prior to 2016, however, he rattled off five straight healthy seasons (he was shut down in 2011 after reaching his innings limit), pitching to a 123 ERA+ over 971.2 IP and producing just below 4 WAR per season. The Tigers are said to be listening to offers on everyone, and Zimmermann seems to be a reasonable bounceback candidate.

He'll earn $92 MM over the next four seasons.

Albert Pujols, 1B

This is a complete non-starter for the Yankees, as Pujols is now the proud owner of the worst contract in Major League Baseball. He's not necessarily a bad hitter, owing to his still prodigious power and high-contact approach, but he's below-average once you factor in his position and contract. His name always comes up in these discussion, so here's hoping this nips it in the bud.

Pujols is owed a staggering $134 MM over the next five years.

Zack Greinke, SP

There are rumblings that Greinke could be moved, but the Diamondbacks are hesitant to eat salary. He is coming off of his worst season since 2005, though he looked mostly like his old self prior to suffering an oblique injury in late June, pitching to the following first half line: 109.1 IP, 106 H, 21 BB, 91 K, 3.62 ERA, 3.48 FIP, 47.6 GB%. If you're confident that that's who he is going forward, you may well be willing to swap contracts. 

However, I don't know that the Yankees would be. Greinke is owed $172.5 MM over the remainder of his deal, nearly double Ellsbury's remaining commitment. Even if you view it as only the cost in excess of Ellsbury's deal, the 33-year-old former ace would be represent and additional AAV of around $16 MM per season through 2021.

The rest of the large contracts out there don't necessarily fit the ground rules that I established. Justin Verlander is coming off of a Cy Young Award caliber season, and undoubtedly has more value than this sort of deal entails. Ryan Braun is in a similar boat, as he has rebounded nicely from his subpar (for him) 2014 campaign (he's also owed less than Ellsbury). The Mariners are contenders, and Robinson Cano is much, much better. And, while Miguel Cabrera might make sense in a vacuum, I can't see the Tigers dumping his salary.

And with that written out, I do wonder if the Yankees could dump Ellsbury without taking on a deal that is substantially worse (which boils down to Pujols and Greinke). I would, however, trade Ellsbury straight-up for Choo or Zimmermann.

What're your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.