Montero headlines non-roster invites

At long last, the Yankees have released the list of non-40-man roster players they’ve invited to Spring Training. Drum roll please…

Catchers
Kyle Higashioka
Jesus Montero
P.J. Pilittere
Mike Rivera
Austin Romine

Infielders
David Winfree

Outfielders
Colin Curtis
Marcus Thames
Reid Gorecki
Jon Weber

Pitchers
Wilkins Arias
Jeremy Bleich
Grant Duff
Jason Hirsh
Kei Igawa
Zach McAllister
Royce Ring
Amaury Sanit
Zack Segovia
Kevin Whelan

Sixty players in all will report to camp, some with more of a chance to make the team than others. They need all the catchers because there’s a lot of mounds in the Tampa complex, and someone has to catch all those guys throwing bullpens. Sanit’s a nice sleeper. He’s an older Cuban guy without blow-you-away stuff, but I bet he sees the big leagues at some point in 2010.

Obviously, I can’t wait to see Montero permanently damage some psyches with his bat.

Yankees sign Marcus Thames

Update (3:44pm): Joel Sherman confirms that it is in fact a minor league deal, adding that Thames will make $900,000 if he makes the team. He pulled down $2.275M last season.

3:27pm: Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees have signed Marcus Thames to what I assume is a minor league deal. The soon to be 33-year-old has historically crushed lefties, though those splits weren’t as pronounced last year. With negative defensive value and zero baserunning prowess, anything Thames contributes will come from his ability to run into the occasional mistake pitch from the right side. He’s just some competition for Jamie Hoffmann in Spring Training.

Thames, of course, grew up in the Yanks’ system, and homered on the very first pitch he saw as a big leaguer, taking The Big Unit deep.

The former Yankee farmhand All-Star team

Watching 150 to 160 baseball games per year means I get to see games with dozens of different people. Each one brings something to the table, and the experience is never the same with any two. I enjoy games differently when watching with Ben than I do watching with Mike. The experience really changes as I watch with more casual fans, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. They might not have the hardcore, intricate knowledge of the game, but if they’re watching they’re watching for a reason.

One of my best friends pays particular attention to the commentators. He hates phrases like “late break” and pokes fun when announcers make over-generalized, and usually false, statements. It’s not just the negative he picks out, though. One phrase he always notes is, “former Yankee farmhand.” It seems like one of the commentators says it every time we watch a game. Have the Yankees really sent that much talent through their system?

On LoHud today, Jesse Ghiorzi assembled the all former Yankee team. I want to take that in a different direction, assembling a team of players around the league who played, at one point or another, in the Yankees’ system. It won’t be as good as Jesse’s team, but it’ll be interesting to see who came up with the Yankees.

Catcher: Brad Ausmus

Drafted in the 48th round of the 1987 draft, Ausmus never donned pinstripes in the majors. Before the 1993 season the Rockies selected him with the 54th pick of the expansion draft, and then they flipped him to the Padres mid-season. Ausmus was never much of a hitter, reaching a 100 OPS+ just once as a full-time catcher, during his career year in 1999 for Detroit. He’ll turn 41 this year on the same days I turn 28, and is still kicking around, having just signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers.

Career line: .252/.325/.344

First base: Marcus Thames

In a way it makes sense that the best former Yankee farmhand first baseman is a guy who has logged just 239.1 innings there in his career. For years the Yankees sought a first baseman better in the field than Jason Giambi, and for years they settled for mediocre free agents. I suppose Andy Phillips could fit here, but I’m not even sure he’s still in the game. Thames is teamless currently, after six seasons in Detroit. Might the Yankees look to bring him back on a minor league contract? (Ed. Note: Phillips spent 2009 with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. He’ll start 2010 with the Japanese Pacific League’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.)

Career line: .243/.306/.491

Second base: Alberto Gonzalez

He’s technically a shortstop, but the pickings were slim for second basemen. Plus, he has 391 major league innings at second and 475 at short, so it’s close enough. Gonzalez came to the Yankees when they traded Randy Johnson back to Arizona. He wasn’t supposed to amount to much more than a utility infielder, and that’s basically what he’s become. He spent just a year and change in the Yankees system before they traded him for Jhonny Nunez in 2008. (The Yankees included Nunez in the Swisher trade.)

Update: There were two trades with the Nats in 2008, and I mixed them up. Sorry.

Career line: .256/.298/.345

Third base: Mike Lowell

Drafted in the 20th round of the 1995 draft, Lowell wore the pinstripes for just eight games, covering 15 plate appearances. That was the year they acquired Scott Brosius, and he put up the best year of his career. High on Marlins pitching prospect Ed Yarnall, the Yankees traded him south in the off-season of 1998-99 and saw little return on it. Lowell went on to post big numbers for the Marlins, and followed that up with a quality four years in Boston.

Career line: .280/.343/.468

Shortstop: Christian Guzman

Two years after they drafted Derek Jeter, the Yankees signed Christian Guzman as an amateur free agent. He made his stateside debut with the GCL Yankees two years later, posting a respectable .294/.341/.382 line. After an uninspiring 1997 season, spent mostly in Greensboro of the Class-A Sally league, the Yankees traded Guzman to the Twins in the Chuck Knoblauch trade.

Career line: .271/.307/.386

Corner OF: Alfonso Soriano

I’m sure there are people who assume that the Yankees signed Soriano as an amateur free agent, but they actually purchased his contract from a Japanese team in 1998. He spent most of the next two seasons in the Yankees’ system, posting good power numbers, especially for a second baseman. He hit .290/.327/.464 in AAA in 2000 before finally getting the call-up for good in 2001. The Yankees, as we know, then traded him for Alex Rodriguez in 2004.

Career line: .278/.326/.510

Corner OF: Juan Rivera

After the 2003 season, it appeared the Yankees might have something in Rivera. The 24-year-old showed flashes of power, slugging .468 with seven home runs and 14 doubles in 185 plate appearances. He figured to start in right field for the 2004 season, but the Yankees needed pitching after Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, and David Wells all left. They traded him to Montreal in the Javy Vazquez trade, and a year later Montreal flipped him to the Angels, where he continues to play. Last season was the first time he eclipsed 500 plate appearances in his career.

Career line: .285/.331/.470

Center field: Melky Cabrera

He hasn’t played another game for his new franchise yet, but he’s a former Yankee farmhand playing elsewhere. Considering the other former Yankee center fielders out there (read: none), this is an easy choice. Signed as an amateur free agent in 2001, Melky came stateside in 2003 and spent most of the next three seasons in the minors before getting the full-time call in 2006, when both Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield got hurt early in the year.

Career line: .269/.331/.385

SP: Ted Lilly

Lilly is kind of a stretch here, because he spent just one season in the Yankees system. They acquired him from the Expos in the Hideki Irabu deal, and then flipped him two years later to acquire Jeff Weaver from the Tigers. Regardless of time spent in the minors, he’s easily the best pitcher on this list.

Career ERA: 4.25

SP: Ross Ohlendorf

Like Lilly, Ohlendorf spent limited time in the Yankees system after they acquired him from another team. Like Alberto Gonzalez, Ohlendorf came over in the Randy Johnson trade and spent much of the 2007 season in the minors. The Yankees liked him in his limited relief role that year and kept him in the bullpen in 2008, where he was hot and cold before being demoted and eventually traded. He had a pretty good season starting for the Pirates.

Career ERA: 4.54

SP: Jeff Karstens

Also involved in the Nady/Marte trade, Karstens actually spent his younger years in the Yankees’ system, having been drafted in the 19th round of the 2003 draft. He came up in 2006 when the team desperately needed starters and pitched well enough. A line drive off his leg cut short his 2007 season, and he didn’t pitch in the bigs in 2008 until the trade to Pittsburgh.

Career ERA: 5.15

SP: Eric Milton

Another component of the Knoblauch trade, Milton seemed like the one the Yankees would regret. While he did p[itch well in the late 90s and early 2000s, Milton’s production peaked in 2001 and never really returned. Since he signed his first free agent contract in 2004 he’s been basically useless. He did return to the Yankees’ system in 2008 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, but he signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers before the 2009 season.

Career ERA: 4.99

RP: Jose Veras

RP: Manny Acosta

RP: Russ Springer

RP: Ramon Ramirez

RP: Tyler Clippard

Looking back at the list, it seems like the Yankees did a good job of hanging onto the right guys. Lowell is easily the best name the Yankees let go, and while that hurts, it did leave open the door to the Alex Rodriguez acquisition. Especially on the pitching side, it seems like the Yankees did well to trade guys who didn’t come back to bite them.

Am I missing anyone from this list?

Update: From the commenters, players I left off this list: Jake Westbrook, Ian Kennedy. I left off Carlos Pena because he signed a MiL contract when he was out of options, and was just depth, rather than a developing player.

For your consideration: Gary Sheffield

If the 2010 season were to start today, the Yankees’ bench would be thin on both power threats and right-handed hitters. Eric Hinske, a lefty, has departed for Atlanta, and the bench will feature some combination of Randy Winn, Francisco Cervelli, Ramiro Peña, Jamie Hoffmann and Brett Gardner. If Winn is the most feared bat off the bench, opposing pitchers will yearn to face those pinch hitters.

One player is still out there, though, who could give the Yanks some pop off the bench. As I was browsing MLB Trade Rumors’ unsigned All Star team post this morning, my eye wandered to the honorable mentions where Gary Sheffield’s name stuck out. Other than Johnny Damon, Sheffield is the biggest power threat among those still looking for a job, and I wonder if the Yanks would consider a reunion. It would behoove the team to do so.

For many, just a mention of Gary Sheffield’s name is enough to raise some eyebrows. The notoriously outspoken player left the Yankees in a huff when he was traded for not much of anything following the 2006 season. Although his teammates liked him, he and Joe Torre had a rocky relationship, and Sheffield seemed to think he always deserved more than he got. Yet, he could mash along with the rest of them. During his three seasons on the Yanks, he hit .291/.383/.515 with 76 home runs and 269 RBIs.

Yet, Sheffield put up those numbers nearly half a decade when he was obviously much younger than he is today. The upcoming 2010 season will be his age 41 year, and that lethal bat with that intimidating waggle has slowed down a bit. It hasn’t, however, slowed down as much as one might think. Last year, in part-time duty with the Mets, Sheffield hit .276/.372/.451. His wOBA was a very respectable .359, and he can still get on base and hit for power. Offering Sheffield a $1-$2 million take-it-or-leave-it deal wouldn’t be a waste of money, and landing him for a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite would be even better.

There are, of course, some red flags, and Steve at TYU addressed them a few weeks ago when he advocated for a Gardner/Sheffield outfield platoon. First, the idea that Sheffield should do anything other than pinch hit or DH should be off the table. His defense — never great in the first place — has been abysmal of late. In 46 games in left for the Mets, he had a -11.6 UZR. Second, as Steve noted, Sheffield wanted to be an every-day player last year. Would he embrace a bench role? At age 41, if he wants to stay healthy and keep playing, he has to.

For the 2010 Yankees as they are currently constructed, a dearth of right-handed bench threats remains one of the team’s last spots of weakness. Brian Cashman could do far worse than Sheffield if he’s looking to fill it. Whether both sides could overcome their past differences and work out a deal remains to be seen, but it’s worth a shot.

Above: Gary Sheffield waits to bat during his 2006 rehab assignment in Trenton. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Fan Confidence Poll: February 8th, 2010

2009 Season Record: 103-59 (915 RS, 753 RA), won AL East by 8 games, finished with the best record in MLB by 6 games, won 27th World Series

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Fill your free time with FanGraphs splits

With the Super Bowl behind us, our focus now turns to the 10 days remaining until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training. Unfortunately, nothing much will happen that day, or in the days to follow. We’ll need something to fill our days, and college basketball only plays so many days per week. If you’re looking for some baseball related activities to fill your free time, why not check out FanGraphs splits? Over the past few years FanGraphs has provided us with heaps of data, and it all comes in handy in our analyses. They’ve now added another useful feature, allowing us to view the data through various lenses.

Want to see Curtis Granderson’s breakdown in 2009? Check his splits and you’ll see where he came up short. You can check it out for every player in the league, so hopefully that will keep you busy until we get to the good part of Spring Training 2010.

Open Thread: Super Sunday

Colts vs. Saints. Peyton vs. Brees. Freeney vs. his ankle.  Over/under on the number of Hurricane Katrina references is set at 4.5.

Use this thread to talk before, during, and after the big game. Enjoy.