NEW YORK -- We all know the 2014 Yankees will need a closer, a second baseman, a couple of starting pitchers and perhaps a third baseman. So what do they do?
They go out and buy a center fielder. And not just any center fielder, but one who is a virtual carbon copy of the one they already have and a former member of their most-hated rivals to boot.
Welcome to New York, Jacoby Ellsbury!
What it means: That the Yankees now have two speedy, slap-hitting outfielders in Ellsbury and Brett Gardner who are virtual mirror images. Both are left-handed hitters; both are excellent defensive players (Ellsbury won the Gold Glove in CF in 2011); both run like the wind, although Ellsbury is the more prolific base stealer (a league-leading 52 in 2013, and 70 in 2009). Ellsbury is 18 days younger than Gardner, a couple of inches taller and slightly better in just about every offensive category. Also, a lot more expensive. He reportedly is on the verge of signing a seven-year deal worth in excess of $150 million, or an average of nearly $22 million per year.
Who will play where? The guess is Ellsbury gets center field and Gardner moves to right, with Alfonso Soriano staying in left. It's a simple matter of numbers, the ones on the field -- Ellsbury has played nearly 90 percent of his 705 big league games in center and just 36 in right; Gardner has never played right but has played more than 300 games in left and is a good enough athlete to make the switch -- and the ones on the paycheck. You don't pay a guy $20-plus million and switch his position, unless he's Alex Rodriguez.
What about the old men? The Yankees are still contractually committed to 40-year-old Ichiro Suzuki, at $6.5 million, and Vernon Wells, a comparative youngster and bargain at 35 and $2.5 million, respectively. Barring a trade, which seems unlikely, both now become highly-paid backup players.
Any money left over? The Yankees say this doesn't take them out of the hunt for Robinson Cano, or in the event he goes elsewhere, perhaps Omar Infante. But it almost certainly ends their flirtation with Carlos Beltran. Too many outfielders already.
Possible Opening Day lineup: Ellsbury CF, Jeter SS, (maybe) Cano 2B, Soriano LF, Teixeira 1B, McCann C, (maybe) Rodriguez 3B, Wells or Ichiro DH, Gardner RF. A bit better than last year's, don'tcha think?