Salvaging The Sheffield Trade

The RAB Radio Show: April 26, 2011
For Nova, a start most crucial
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

It’s been a long time since the Yankees traded Gary Sheffield to the Tigers for three pitching prospects, so long in fact that Sheff added 299 hits and 54 homers to his resume after the trade despite (essentially) retiring two seasons ago. New York simply had too many high-priced outfielders and not enough spots, with both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui just completing year one of identical four-year, $52M contracts while Bobby Abreu (plus the two years and $31M left on his contract, counting the option) came on board in a midseason trade. Sheff was the odd man out.

In return, the Yankees acquired three promising young arms. The best of the bunch was Humberto Sanchez, who was rated as the 57th best prospect in the game by Baseball America just weeks after the trade. A few weeks after that, he blew out his elbow and had Tommy John surgery. He came back the next year and managed to earn a September call-up, leading to his only two big league appearances. The Yankees released Hungry Hungry Humberto after the 2009 season, and he’s since bounced to the Taiwanese and Mexican Leagues. The least interesting piece in the trade was Anthony Claggett, who sat in the minors until making two disastrous appearances for the Yankees in 2009. He was lost on waivers that September and hasn’t been back to the majors since.

The third player in the trade wasn’t a headliner like Sanchez or a throw-in like Claggett, just a solid secondary piece in the form of a decent relief pitching prospect. That man is Kevin Whelan, the only player in the trade yet to reach the big leagues and the only player in the trade still with the Yankees. A catcher that the Tigers Texas A&M turned into a pitcher, Whelan was a classic hard-thrower with command issues. He struck out 110 batters in 78.1 IP in Detroit’s farm system before the trade, allowing just 39 hits. The problem was the 37 walks and seven wild pitches. Whelan lived up to the billing in his first year in the Yankees’ organization, striking out 96 batters and walking 54 in 82.1 IP (45 hits). He’s battled various injuries and the same control issues in the four full years since the trade, essentially removing him from the prospect map and relegating him to the organization arm bin.

Scheduled to become a minor league free agent after the season, Whelan is doing his best to raise his stock. The table on the right shows his game log from this season, and you can see that he’s done a swell job of throwing strikes and avoiding the free pass so far. The lone run he’s surrendered came on a solo homer in his first game of the season. It’s not just those eight appearances either, Whelan’s last two months in 2010 were excellent as well (19 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 26 K). It’s not much, but it’s the 27-year-old’s best stretch of health and effectiveness since the trade. I don’t have a recent scouting report for Whelan, so for all I know he could be doing it with smoke and mirrors, but he worked off a low-to-mid-90’s fastball with a devastating splitter (the pitch responsible for all those whiffs and the lack of hits) in the past. Until I hear otherwise, I’m just going to assume the same (or something reasonably close to it) holds true today.

The Yankees, as you’ve probably already noticed, have a spare bullpen spot to play with. It’s currently occupied by Buddy Carlyle, but it’s also been filled by Hector Noesi and Luis Ayala in the past few weeks. I’m not saying the Yankees should cut ties with Carlyle now and call up Whelan, but I would have to think he’s at least in the conversation for a call-up if/when another one is needed. Like I said, he’s going to become a free agent after the season, so the club should at least take a look at him at the big league level and see what he has to offer, even if he just ends up as the third piece in a trade. It’s better than losing him for nothing.

The Yankees have set a precedent when it comes to Triple-A relief arms having excellent seasons, often leaving them in the minors instead of promoting them to the show and giving them a chance. And you know what? They’ve been right about these guys. Chris Britton has spent the last two years pitching in an independent league. Jon Albaladejo reinvented himself last year and still garnered so little interest from MLB teams last year that he bolted for Japan this winter. Colter Bean, Sam Marsonek, the list goes on and on. For all we know Whelan could be the next in that dubious line, but if he has anything to give at the big league level, the Yankees should see what it is at some point this summer. They just might end up with something to show for the Sheff trade after all.

The RAB Radio Show: April 26, 2011
For Nova, a start most crucial
  • Monteroisdinero

    Be nice to have an inhouse/inexpensive option like Whelan with control and an outpitch that he has command of.

    How is he on infield pops behind the mound?

    • NjYankeefan72

      I don’t think Whelan can play Shortstop.

    • Jdog33

      Lol Better than Soriano

  • Pat D

    The best thing, to me, about the Sheffield trade is that they didn’t really lose any value by trading away Sheffield.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Gained some financial flexibility, though. Getting Raekwon the Sheff off the books probably freed up some “Let’s get Andy Pettitte back from Houston” money.

      • Steve H

        They also likely kept him from the Red Sox.

      • Ed

        Not really. All that was left on Sheffield’s contract was a team option with no buyout. Cashman could have let him walk for nothing, but chose to pick up the option because he was confident that he could trade Sheffield.

  • Andy

    Andy Sisco anyone? Hello??? 6′ 10″ hard throwing LEFTY with MLB experience, similar age, similar stats without the home run (0.00 ERA). When are we going to hear about this guy as a potential callup? Former 2nd round guy, came up at 22 and had a fantastic year in 2005, couple bad years and some injuries, and now he is finally healthy. Somebody give the guy some love, please…

    • Monteroisdinero

      Super nice guy. Talked to him Saturday in the bullpen at Scranton. 6″10′-very imposing on the mound. I mentioned this on another thread but he is from Washington State and is a good friend of Lincecum. Seems healthy now. I didn’t get to see him pitch in a game but a Loogy! Bring him up for a look-I agree.

    • Mike Axisa

      Sisco used to be hard-throwing, but not after his numerous arm injuries. Cashman said they haven’t called him up yet because his velocity just isn’t there.

      • Andy

        Thanks for the explanation.

  • Steve H

    Might as well take a shot with him. If not he’s gone at the end of the year anyway, and you’re not taking a risk in rushing him and hurting his development. Maybe he just now figured it out. As a converted catcher it would take more time to refine his pitching, can’t hurt to give him a look the end of the pen.

  • Mike HC

    One year you are a top MLB prospect, the next year you blow out your elbow, leading you on your way to Mexico and Taiwan.

  • Bob Stone

    I’d like to see what the guy can do in the majors. Give him a shot.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      He needs to work on his intimidation face. That picture is terrible.

      Jonathan “LOOK AT MAH INTENSITY HUFF PUFF” Papelbon

    • RL

      Right. They can bring him up and Girardi can let him sit there and not be used, like Noesi.

      In all seriousness, given the right opportunity at the big league level, some of these guys should get a shot.

      • pat

        They were keeping Noesi on the pine in case they needed a spot starter.

  • Marc

    A catcher that the Tigers turned into a pitcher.

    He was pitching before when he was drafted his by the Tigers. He started pitching his second year at Texas A&M.

  • Goboh

    Speaking of trades, how about Axisa to ESPN for Andrew Marchand? Better stuff and much better command.

    • icebird753

      Or Goboh for the crumpled wrapper that I just threw out? The wrapper has superior thinking skills.

    • jsbrendog


      • Tampa Yankee

        Ahhh memories! This never gets old to me.

        • jsbrendog

          i felt it really applied here.

          • Tampa Yankee

            I rarely visit the game threads, especially if the Yanks are losing because I just want to oaktag the hell out of half the comments in the thread.

            • Mike HC

              Game threads are definitely not what makes RAB so good.

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder
    • Klemy

      You look differently than I had pictured you. /zing

  • Kosmo

    I think the Yanks are waiting to see if Whelan´s low walk totals are an aberration or not before calling him up.His triple A experience is limited.

  • Drew

    We’ve found the sucessor to MO!!


  • AC

    I read at the time if the trade with Detroit that Sanchez was there top prospect. Years later hey traded that lefty Miller u believe who was there new no1 guy to Marlins for the D – train. But at time of trade I thought Cashman finally did something right. Got a top guy n friends for an aging star who had maybe 2-3 more years left. Turned out to be a bust though. Cashman has no luck trading with Dombrowski and it all started with Mike Lowell trade for 3 guys who never materialized.

  • Nick

    Thanks for the post. I was thinking the same thing after Whelan’s first game where 90+% strikes.

  • Dicka24

    I think Mike has read my comments about Whelan being someone to keep an eye on. He’s not on the 40 man if I got it right, so someone would have to go for him to come up. I’d do it though. The guy has swing and miss stuff.