For the sixth installment of our look back at the Yankees By the Decade, we hit the outfield and start in right. Paul O’Neill was the player of the decade for the Yanks in right during the 1990s, but as the 2000s dawned, his days were clearly numbered. Following the 2001 World Series, he retired, and the Yanks were left with a gaping hole.
So just how did the team fill the void left by Number 21’s retirement? The chart below shows all of the decade’s right fielders who played 10 or more games in the field. The bottom line represents the overall total line including the 18 players who did not make the cut. Those guys made only a combined 148 ABs among the lot of them anyway.
Some of those names bring back some bad memories. Remember when the Yanks tried to plug in a right field hole left wide open by Gary Sheffield’s injury with Aaron Guiel and Kevin Thompson? Remember when Karim Garcia started picking fights with fans in Fenway? Remember when Raul Mondesi was thought to be the next great Yankee warrior who would don the mantle left by Paulie? Those certainly weren’t the days.
After the 2002-2003 dark ages in right field, two players dominated the decade. Gary Sheffield landed in New York in December 2003 as a solution to their right field woes. He carried with him a prickly attitude but seemed ready to make a go of it in the Bronx. For two years and a half years, before an injury cut short his 2006 campaign, he delivered. As the right fielder, he hit .287/.380/.506 with 61 home runs and an overall OPS+ of 135. He came in second in the MVP voting in 2004 and made the All Star team twice.
In 2006, though, Sheffield hurt his wrist and never recovered his stroke. The Yankees made a move to acquire Bobby Abreu in mid-season, and Sheffield found himself a man without a position. He made his displeasure known and was dispatched the Tigers for three promising young arms. In return, the Yankees received Kevin Wheelan, Anthony Claggett and Humerto Sanchez. Sanchez is a Minor League free agent; Claggett was traded to the Pirates; and only Wheelan remains with the Yanks. The returns have not yet amounted to much, the Yanks were rid of Sheffield’s contract and demeanor.
To replace Gary Sheffield, the Yanks acquired Bobby Abreu from the Phillies in a salary dump deal. Philadelphia sent Abreu and Cory Lidle to the Yanks for C.J. Henry, Carlos Monasterios, Jesus Sanchez and Matt Smith. Abreu went on to hit .294/.376/.459 with the Yanks, and no one played more right field this decade that Bobby. Yet, last winter, with the Yanks ready to get younger and more athletic, Brian Cashman was more than willing to let Abreu walk. As Sheffield was dumped on the Tigers rather unceremoniously, the Yanks bid Abreu a quick farewell.
So then, who is the right fielder of the decade? Both Abreu and Sheffield were paid far more than their actual value, and both were atrocious in the field. Sheffield put up a combined WAR of 5.8 while in pinstripes, and Abreu put up a 5.7 mark in the same category. Because of his monster 2004, I have to give the edge to Gary, but he doesn’t have a slum dunk case for it.
As the Yankees look ahead to 2010 and a new decade, the fun-loving Nick Swisher is holding down the right field spot. He won’t put up the offensive numbers of a Sheffield or even Abreu, but he is a worthy successor to the spot. Who will we be toasting in ten years in right though remains a mystery.