The Yankees want to get out from under Jacoby Ellsbury's remaining contract, so of course it makes sense to trade him if the opportunity arose. However, if the swap brings Robinson Cano, the result might be a longer and potentially more damaging agreement on the books.
Ellsbury is owed just over $42 million over the next two seasons with a $21 million option for the 2021 season ($5 million buyout), while Cano has the Mariners on the hook for five more seasons at $120 million. So, in terms of straight money alone, the Yankees would be adding a hefty contract that spans three years beyond Ellsbury's commitment. This doesn't seem to align with the Yankees' current methodology.
Playing devil's advocate, one might ask, what if the Yankees -- who have not ruled out trading for Cano -- are able to configure a deal that sees the salary drop into a more reasonable zone? Would Cano represent an upgrade anywhere on the Yankees' roster that might justify the swap?
A lefty bat would be nice, but is a decline coming?
The Yankees are in need of a strong left-handed hitting batter in a lineup that heavily leans toward right-handed hitters. Cano might represent that in the near term, having hit .303 with a .374 on-base percentage and a .471 slugging percentage in 348 plate appearances last season.
Nevertheless, the Yankees have to consider at age-36, Cano's hitting skills could begin to deteriorate as quickly as his ability to play second base. Remember, Cano was busted for performance-enhancing drug use last season, meaning there is a chance that any positives cleaned from his recent production might be attributed to the cheating.
What would be Cano's role?
The notion that the Yankees would make this move in order to shift Gleyber Torres to shortstop because of the injury to Didi Gregorius is a non-starter. Cano is a marginal fielder at the keystone with defensive metrics showing him fluctuating between a below average fielder one season and to a slightly above defender the next. This will not improve with time. Plus, what happens to Cano when Gregorius comes back?
The option of sticking Cano at first base is as bad a thought. It is baffling that as players begin to get squeezed out of their traditional positions, the immediate thought is to place the player at first base. It's not that simple. Cano played 88 1/3 innings at first (yes, a small sample size) with the Mariners in 2018 and defensive metrics revealed a below average fielder. Can he improve with time? Maybe, but is it worth the risk?
Some might suggest the Yankees use Cano as the designated hitter. This could seem like the perfect spot for Cano, who was considered one of the better pure hitters in the game for years. However, cementing one player as a permanent DH is not suitable for the Yankees roster configuration, one which relies on scattering at-bats for the role across a few players - think Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Giancarlo Stanton -- in an effort to alleviate the stress of the season.
When all is said and done, this is not a fantasy baseball league. Swapping contracts and then dropping a player if it doesn't work out is not so simple. If it were, Ellsbury would be gone already. There are harsh realities that come with expensive contracts for older players (more so for those with a PED suspension on the resume).
The Yankees have come to the realization that Ellsbury is hurting the organization's ability to make other moves, so creating a larger problem by swapping for Cano -- at a reduced salary or not -- makes no sense whatsoever.