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Yankees' fragile Ellsbury already proving his critics right

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  March 18, 2014 09:39 AM

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AP Photo

You get what you pay for.

Perhaps it’s not fair to make judgments based on a mid-March spring training game, but we’ve seen this all before when it pertains to one Jacoby Ellsbury. Shockingly, the former Red Sox dreamboat center fielder won’t be in the lineup Monday when Boston gets its first look at the Yankees, sidelined with tightness in his right calf. According to reports, he was slated to start and bat leadoff during the matinee in Tampa. Fla.

You can imagine that Red Sox brass were hoping for what Ellsbury’s first appearance versus his former team would mean for the buzz factor, but I’m pretty sure they’re just fine snickering over brunch about the fact that the fragile mercenary is the Yankees’ problem now.

In a twist that surprises nobody who watched him for the better part of seven years and two World Series titles during his time in Boston, Ellsbury, who signed a seven-year, $153 million deal with the Yankees during the offseason, without even so much as a peep from Yawkey Way, has become the first Yankees key player to break down this spring. Who could have guessed?

Ellsbury is batting .174 for the Yankees this spring with one homer, five runs batted in, six strikeouts, and no stolen bases in 23 at-bats. According to the Journal News, the “team has downplayed [the injury’s] significance, and Ellsbury has said he would play through it if this were the regular season.”

That’s rich.

There’s no denying Ellsbury can be a dynamic player when he’s healthy, or at the very least, when he and agent Scott Boras deem he’s fit to play. Since Day One on the Red Sox’ roster, questions swirled when Ellsbury would jump ship for the biggest deal, a matter which came to fruition over the winter when the Yankees were swindled into thinking that either Ellsbury’s (ahem) breakout season in 2011 was the norm, or that he might not miss more than 30-35 games in a season with the various tweaks, pulls, and bruises that plagued his time in Boston. He played in 134 games last season, the most since his (ahem) MVP-worthy season of 2011. He played 74 games under Bobby Valentine, 18 in 2010, after an early-season collision with Adrian Beltre forced him to miss the bulk of the rest of the year, and sparked criticism of his absence, most notably from former first baseman Kevin Youkilis.

"There're a lot of guys here that are hurt and supporting the team,” Youkilis said at the time. “We wish Jacoby was here supporting us, too.''

Reportedly, Ellsbury reacted to those comments by jiggling his back pocket and mentally determining its quarter-to-dime ratio.

To his credit, Ellsbury never really hid the fact that he was after the money when his time in Boston was finished, so part of his crumbling “alternative” colored shirt legacy among the fan base is partly their fault for not attempting to deal him after his eyebrow-raising season of three years ago. But that’s what is so frustrating about Ellsbury’s place in baseball history. Injuries may be part of the game, but hell, Ellsbury might miss a week for cutting himself shaving.

Everything is meticulously planned by Boras and Ellsbury, who has surrendered to his agent’s programming. The player was a pawn here, a useful one at that, but little more than a player working for a means rather than the mission his teammates were on, particularly in 2013, when a much-debated fractured foot put him on the shelf in September before hitting .344 in the postseason run.

And so, Ellsbury’s departure last December was met with all the surprise of the sun rising. Enter Grady Sizemore, and the Red Sox feel they may have replaced the hunk factor, never mind the on-field production, which is really sort of a bonus when it comes to satisfying a general segment of the fawning fan base,

In New York, they’re only now getting first-hand knowledge about Ellsbury, who might as well trot out to center field with “This side up” stitched to the back of his pinstripes.

“Just a tight calf,” Ellsbury told New York reporters. “That's really what it is, yeah."

Yeah……. Yeah, That’s the ticket.

"If it was a recurring muscle over and over, then it would be a red flag,'' Yankees acting manager Rob Thomson, who is managing in place of Joe Girardi, who is in Panama for the “Legend Series,” said. "But I don't think he's had any calf injuries before.''

They all sort of blend in at some point anyway, don’t they?

Felix Doubront will look to continue his impressive spring with the start Monday, when the Sox will send Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., Mike Carp, Jonny Gomes, and Ryan Lavarnway to Tampa. ESPN (which will have the game at 1 p.m.), can’t be ecstatic about a representation devoid of David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, or Dustin Pedroia, nor can they be pleased with the absence of Ellsbury with the potential of the outfielder playing against his former teammates for the first time. And if you think he’s making the trip later this week, the leprechaun juice went to your head.

The Red Sox will have to wait until the regular season to see Ellsbury. Maybe in April, maybe in June, maybe in September. Even those possibilities are making a grand assumption.

The Red Sox and Yankees play Tuesday, and Jacoby Ellsbury is hurt. If you had March 18 in your pool, sorry, you have to share the winnings with everybody else.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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