Over the weekend, the Yankees unceremoniously released Humberto Sanchez to clear some 40-man space on their roster. For Sanchez, just 25, it was quite the fall from grace. Just a few years ago, he was one of the Tigers’ top three prospects, and now he is unemployed and oft-injured, full of talent but unable to realize it.
For many Yankee writers and analysts, this move was a white flag from the Yankees. That the Yankees would just flat-out release Sanchez, acquired after the 2006 season from the Tigers in a package for Gary Sheffield, showed a bad return in that trade.
As Bryan Hoch wrote, “As a whole, the Gary Sheffield deal hasn’t worked out very well for the Yankees. Anthony Claggett got torched in his big league debut and Kevin Whelan hasn’t made it up to the big leagues yet.” I find myself disagreeing with Hoch.
The prospects the Yankees got back from the Tigers haven’t been as good as anyone hoped. Sanchez had Tommy John surgery and hasn’t really recovered. He could sign a Minor League deal with the Yanks and earn his way back into consideration. But when the Yanks brought him up for a cup of coffee last September, they expected him to be in contention for a bullpen spot this spring. Whispers of future closer potential swirled around him.
Meanwhile, Anthony Claggett and Kevin Whelan are what they are. They will both turn 25 this summer, and Claggett did indeed get shelled in his lone big league appearance. Whelan is still toiling down at AA. If the two of them ever reach the big leagues and stick around, it will be as replaceable middle reliever types. It would seem then that the Yanks didn’t get much in return for Sheffield.
At the same time though, they didn’t give up much either. Since leaving New York, Sheffield has been largely forgettable. After missing most of 2006 with a wrist injury, he had a good bounce-back year in 2007 but fell off the table in 2008. In 247 games for the Tigers — an average of 123 a season — he hit .247/.354/.433 with an OPS+ of 106. As New Yorkers now, Sheffield was released by the Tigers in Spring Training and hitched his wagon to the Mets’ ship. In 28 PAs prior to last night, he was hitting .136/.321/.318 with a 66 OPS+.
Now, with those numbers, it seems as though the Yankees gave up not much to get back nothing, but there’s a missing piece to this puzzle. The Tigers took on all of the $13 million owed to Sheffield in 2007. For the Yanks, it became a win as soon as the deal was completed. The team exercised Sheffield’s option with the idea of trading him and actually got back three pieces in return. They could have let him walk, paying him the buyout on the option but tried to turn him into something useful.
In the end, the trade didn’t really work out well, but Hoch has it wrong. It didn’t work out well for either side. Gary Sheffield didn’t really become the bat the Tigers needed, and the pitchers the Yankees received didn’t really become, well, anything. But the Yanks took a player who could have become a free agent and turned him into three Minor League pitchers. That is a successful trade.