As the clock ticked toward the 8 p.m. deadline to set their 40-man roster Wednesday, the Yankees were strongly considering releasing Jacoby Ellsbury.
Cutting the 36-year-old Ellsbury would mean the Yankees were swallowing the $26 million remaining on the seven-year, $153 million free-agent contract the center fielder signed prior to the 2014 season.
Ellsbury’s final season at $21 million wasn’t going to be insured and there is a $5 million buyout on a $21 million option for 2021.
Ellsbury hasn’t played since the 2017 ALCS because of multiple injuries and had hip surgery late in the 2018 season.
Even released, Ellsbury and his annual average value of nearly $22 million would count toward the Yankees’ 2020 luxury-tax figure.
The move comes at a time when the Yankees could use outfield help, as Aaron Hicks will likely miss the first two months of the season because of Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
In a late October press conference, general manager Brian Cashman didn’t sound like outfield help would come from Ellsbury.
“It’s hard to say based on how things have played out,” Cashman said. “Right now he’s not someone in a position health-wise where I can answer anything in the affirmative.”
The Yankees and free agent Brett Gardner are likely to extend a long relationship, and Gardner started 94 games in center field when Hicks began the season on the injured list with a lower back problem and later was shelved with a right flexor tendon injury.