HOUSTON — The season was on the line for the Yankees on Saturday in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. It was win-or-go-home time.
Not for outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who went home long ago.
Saturday marked two years and two days since Ellsbury last played for the Yankees. The former Red Sox All-Star pinch ran in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS against Houston and wasn’t used again in that seven-game series.
Ellsbury, now 36, has been a ghost since because of a series of injuries.
He missed the 2018 season with a left hip injury that required surgery, and this year was out with an assortment of injures that included plantar fasciitis in his right foot and a sore left shoulder.
Ellsbury did not report to spring training until the middle of March, the Yankees deciding he would be better off doing rehabilitation work on his hip closer to his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. Once he did show up, so did the other injuries.
The Yankees returned Ellsbury to the injured list on March 28 and he spent the season doing rehabilitation work at the team’s minor league complex in Tampa. He never progressed to the point of getting into a game.
Ellsbury is to the Yankees what Pablo Sandoval was to the Red Sox, only much worse financially because of the size of his contract.
Sandoval was a $95 million mistake for the Red Sox. Ellsbury will cost the Yankees $153 million by the time his deal is up. He has $21 million due next season then a $21 million option for 2021 that the Yankees can buy out for $5 million. You can be sure they will do that.
But at least Ellsbury provided some value when he was healthy, giving the Yankees 9.8 WAR over 520 games from 2014-17. He was a somewhat productive player in 2014, hitting .271 with 16 home runs, 39 stolen bases, and 70 RBIs over 149 games.
Ellsbury has missed 439 games since.
The Yankees have essentially moved on from him. They traded for center fielder Aaron Hicks in 2015 and signed him before this season to a cost-effective seven-year, $70 million deal.
The Yankees now have Hicks and Aaron Judge locking down two of their outfield spots. Optimally, Giancarlo Stanton would be able to play left field.
But even if Stanton becomes a designated hitter, the Yankees have Mike Tauchman and Clint Frazier as candidates for left field. Where Ellsbury fits isn’t certain.
Ellsbury has no trade value. The Yankees could release him and simply move on. Ellsbury did not join the team for the postseason and the team long ago gave away his locker at Yankee Stadium.
In their 192-page postseason media guide, the Yankees included biographies of every player who played even one game for the team this season. They did not bother with Ellsbury outside of noting he was not one of the players present for the official team photograph.
That his career has come to this is not what anybody expected. Ellsbury was a dynamic player for the Red Sox after making his debut in 2007 and starting all four games of the World Series that season.
Ellsbury was a combination of power, speed, and good defense, and was a centerpiece player for the 2008 and ’09 teams.
Injuries limited him to 18 games in 2010, but he bounced back in 2011 to finish second in the Most Valuable Player voting to Justin Verlander.
Ellsbury determinedly refused to engage the Red Sox in extension talks, saying he wanted to test the market as a free agent. He had a strong season in 2013 when the Sox won the World Series, then swiftly joined the Yankees.
The Sox put up only token resistance at the time, believing Jackie Bradley Jr. was their center fielder of the future.
Bradley has since had a .731 OPS and 15.3 WAR for the Sox at a cost of $19.7 million. They made the right choice and the Yankees did not.
On Saturday, as the Yankees took batting practice, one of their players observed that Ellsbury would receive a full postseason share because he was on the injured list.
Whether he ever gets a chance to thank them in person remains to be seen.