Friday, November 10, 2006

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good-Bye...

The reign of the Iron Sheff is over, as Gary Sheffield is dealt to the Detroit Tigers for three pitching prospects. Everyone comes away happy--the Tigers needed more sluggerlyness, the Yankees add some more depth to their minor league pitching, and Sheffield even gets the two-year extension that he was looking for. All around, a win-win.

The guys acquired, are all righthanded pitchers, and two of them made last years Baseball America list of Detroit's top prospects. Humberto Sanchez, the #6 guy on that list, will be 24 next season. He was awesome at AA last season 5-3, 1.76 ERA, 86 K in 71 2/3 innings; then held his own at AAA, 5-3, 3.86 ERA, 43 K in 51 1/3 IP. Part of his performance drop as a Mud Hen has to do with the forearm/elbow strain that ended Sanchez's season in August. He's a big guy, for whom conditioning is a concern--but he has big-time stuff.

Kevin Wheelan, the #10 guy on BA's list, is a late convert to pitching, moving over from catcher when he was in college at Texas A & M. He'll be 23 in January, and he spent 2006 in high-A ball. Wheelan's been used as a minor league closer, and his repetoire consists of a mid-90s fastball and a wicked split finger. This season, he attempted to integrate a slider into the mix. Wheelan had a 2.67 ERA and 27 saves in the FSL, striking out 69 and walking 29 in 54 innings. The walks are deceptive--in the first half of the season, he had a wild streak in which he walked 20 in 22 1/3 innings, which skewed his season totals.

Anthony Claggett's another minor league reliever, sporting a 0.91 ERA in the Midwest League. Claggett's stuff is supposed to be average, but accentuated by a "deceptive" delivery. Not sure what that means, but his numbers show a substantial platoon split.

Suddenly, it seems, the Yankees are swimming in young pitching. Baseball America's list of top Yankees prospects was released this week, and eight of the top ten were righthanded pitchers (in order: Philip Hughes, Dellin Betances, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Chris Garcia, Tyler Clippard, J. Brent Cox, and Mark Melancon). Add some of the fringier Yanks prospects, like Jeff Karstens, Darrell Rasner, Jeff Marquez, Matt DeSalvo, Jose Veras and Steven White, and that's a lot of arms that the Yanks are holding in reserve. The rule of pitching prospects is "quality in quantity." Some of these guys are sure to fall by the wayside--among Wheedon, Melancon, Cox, Veras, and Brian Bruney, not all of them can possibly be "the heir to Mariano Rivera." But having depth increases the chance that one of them will pan out to step into those (HUGE!) shoes.

Right now, Hughes, Sanchez, and Clippard should make for a great AAA rotation, with Cox as their closer, in Scranton's first year of affiliation with the Yanks. At Trenton, we might see Wheelan and Claggett battling it out for relief innings in the bullpen, while the Yankees' second bumper crop, 2006 draftee starters Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy and closer Mark Melancon team up with 2004 high school draftee Chris Garcia at Tampa, and local product Dellin Betances follows at Charleston or perhaps even in the short-season league at Staten Island.

Sanchez, Wheelan and Claggett are a fine haul to bring back in return for Sheffield, a guy who'd lost his role on this team, had campaigned to be made a free agent, and whose contractual issues figured to be a distraction going forward. Despite some strong rhetoric earlier, I'll be a little sad to watch Sheff go. For all the side issues he brought to the table, he was a great hitter, never an easy out, and--despite his whininess--a consumate professional. Looking back at the 2004 and 2005 Yankees, if you had one at bat--say, man on second, one run down with two outs in the bottom of the ninth--was there any Yankee you'd rather have at the plate than Sheffield?

So I'm not so happy that Sheffield stays in the AL, and particularly not that he goes to a dangerous contender, the team that knocked the Yanks out of the playoffs this season. Still, given that the alternative was letting Sheffield go to the highest bidder for no return at all, I'm glad this deal is done. I'd really be wishing Sheff the best with his new team, if it weren't for the fact that the Yanks will be facing him, frequently and possibly in the playoffs again.

[Yeah, I know, I better hope La Chiquita doesn't read this entry...]

What I can say is vaya con Dios, Gary. It was a pleasure having you on my favorite team.


cinthree said...

Agreed with the post. He was one of few guys on the free agents market when he signed that was probably worth his contract (except for that final year). I'll miss him, but Abreu is a better player right now, and the trading for Abreu and of Sheffield netted the Yankees more than they started out with, which is always good.

DJ said...

Yeah. I don't see any money going to the Tigers in this deal, which makes it clear just what a good deal Sheff was.

Abreu adds some much-needed speed to the lineup, and can still field his position, which is a positive over Sheff.