Jesus Montero ranked the fifth best prospect in baseball

We know that Jesus Montero is the top-ranked prospect in the Yankees system, but where does he ranked compared to his peers? recently published Baseball America’s Top 20 prospects, and Jesus ranks fifth overall. Furthermore, John Manuel calls him “The minors’ best hitter.” Those are some pretty hefty accolades for de Jesus, especially considering two of the hitters ranked above him: Jason Heyward of the Braves and Mike Stanton of the Marlins. Slated to start 2010 in AAA, we just might see Montero don the pinstripes before the season closes.

By the Decade: After O’Neill

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.

Bobby Abreu 1388 408 91 9 40 236 185 2 5 266 29 .294 .376 .459
Gary Sheffield 1087 312 53 1 61 221 152 15 18 149 28 .287 .380 .506
Paul O'Neill 1046 287 57 1 36 162 92 5 2 146 36 .274 .330 .434
Raul Mondesi 581 146 36 3 25 81 61 8 4 103 9 .251 .325 .453
Nick Swisher 434 107 30 0 24 71 85 2 3 113 12 .247 .369 .482
Shane Spencer 257 68 13 2 6 32 21 1 5 59 3 .265 .329 .401
Bernie Williams 194 55 15 0 8 29 11 0 0 17 8 .284 .317 .485
J. Vander Wal 142 40 12 1 3 13 12 0 0 33 4 .282 .335 .444
Ruben Sierra 128 31 9 0 6 20 13 2 0 20 2 .242 .310 .453
Melky Cabrera 111 34 3 0 2 14 14 2 0 10 5 .306 .384 .387
Karim Garcia 100 26 4 0 3 14 6 1 0 21 2 .260 .299 .39
Juan Rivera 92 28 6 0 6 16 7 0 0 15 2 .304 .354 .565
David Justice 89 21 5 0 3 14 13 1 0 18 3 .236 .33 .393
Bubba Crosby 86 18 1 1 1 6 3 0 1 16 0 .209 .244 .279
Eric Hinske 53 12 1 0 7 10 5 1 2 16 0 .226 .317 .642
Xavier Nady 48 13 5 0 1 6 2 0 0 7 2 .271 .300 .438
David Dellucci 44 8 1 0 1 4 3 0 2 9 2 .182 .265 .273
Aaron Guiel 39 11 1 0 4 7 2 0 1 6 0 .282 .333 .615
Shelley Duncan 34 10 0 0 2 6 1 0 0 8 1 .294 .306 .471
Matt Lawton 32 4 0 0 2 4 4 0 2 6 0 .125 .263 .312
Kevin Thompson 29 6 1 0 1 5 7 0 0 9 0 .207 .361 .345
Kenny Lofton 17 6 0 0 0 2 2 0 1 1 0 .353 .450 .353
Gerald Williams 12 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 4 0 .000 .077 .000
Totals 6191 1680 347 19 246 989 711 40 46 1079 151 .271 .348 .453

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.

Damon knows his role

Johnny Damon might not understand the negative value of his defense, but he does understand his standing with the Yankees. From Mike Puma of The Post:

“I know I don’t fit their payroll,” Damon said. “We’ve had a little bit of communication with them, but my price is too high right now. I don’t think I’m their solution.”

Damon’s price might not remain too high for much longer, depending on how the market works out after the holidays. Maybe he’ll find a team to give him two years at a salary over $10 million, but looking around the league it appears unlikely. If Damon ends up signing a 2009 Abreu deal, I wonder how much he’ll regret overstating his demands early in the proceedings.

As for potential Damon replacements in left field, don’t count on Mark DeRosa. Jon Heyman heard that the Giants offered him a two-year, $12 million contract. I doubt the Yankees match that.

Johnson deal finalized; Igawa actually wanted?

By now, it was just a formality, but the Yankees have officially signed Nick Johnson for the 2010 season. The left-handed on-base machine will earn $5.5 million next year as the team’s DH, and the deal includes a mutual option for 2011 at the same base salary. Johnson said earlier that he was willing to give up his desire to play the field in order to join the defending World Series champions. That’s what I like to hear.

In other Yankee rumors, Mark Feinsand dropped an interesting Tweet this morning. Prior to landing Vazquez, the Yanks were talking about Carlos Zambrano, and the Cubs were willing to take on Kei Igawa’s contract. The Kei-meister has two years and $8 million left on his deal, and the Yanks have never seemed too concerned with trading Scranton’s all-time winningest pitcher. I can’t quite figure out why.

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Brian’s big gamble

After losing the 2003 World Series, the Yankees knew they had to make some changes to their team. Although they out-hit and generally out-pitched the Florida Marlins, Jack McKeon out-managed Joe Torre, and nowhere was that more evident than in the fact that Jose Contreras pitched in two more games that series than Mariano Rivera did.

Yet, despite their 101 wins, the Yanks radically overhauled their team. Andy Pettitte left for Houston. Roger Clemens retired, unretired and joined the Astros. David Wells, a World Series goat who left his Game 5 start after just one inning, broke up with George Steinbrenner and signed with the Padres.

As the Yanks went searching for pitching, they encountered a few obstacles. Arizona demanded a king’s ransom for Curt Schilling which, considering what they eventually accepted from the Red Sox, is more galling today than it was in 2003. The Yanks eyed Bartolo Colon for a minute or two and eventually reeled in Vazquez. Tyler Kepner called it a pivotal move for a team in flux.

The Yankees were so confident in Vazquez’s ability to succeed in New York and play a big role with the team that they quickly signed him to a contract extension. The Yanks gave him an ace’s salary — four years and $45 million — before the youngster had even thrown a pitch in the Bronx.

We know how this first part of the story ends. Vazquez had an All Star-worthy first half and then struggled during the second half before serving up the the home run that would break the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. Yesterday, speaking with reporters after the Yanks reacquired, Vazquez said he had some arm issues during that second half. “In the second half,” he said, “my arm didn’t feel as good as it did in the first half, and it was really the first time in my career, and really the only time in my career, that I felt my arm wasn’t where it’s supposed to be. I started getting treatment a little later than I should have. I never said anything. I went out there every five days. I hated not being out there. That might have been my mistake, I never said anything.”

After the season ended, George Steinbrenner dispatched Vazquez to the desert. The Boss stepped in and landed himself Randy Johnson in exchange for Vazquez. The Yanks had wanted Randy since the Mariners traded him in 1998 but just kept missing out. Now, they had their man but at the expense of Cashman’s favorite youngster.

Yesterday, the Yankee GM revealed that he tried to reacquire Vazquez twice after trading him. He called Arizona after 2005 before the right-hander was shipped to Chicago, and he called Chicago in 2008 before Javy went to Atlanta. Both times, he said, the Yankees “just didn’t match up.”

So now, the Yankees have their man at the expense of Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino, a live young arm who has yet to see action above short-season single A. Although Vazquez this time will be the team’s third or fourth starter, expected to give innings with an ERA in the low-4.00 range, this move is Cashman’s big gamble. It pushes Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes out of the rotation for at least part of the next season and puts the emphasis back on a pitcher who probably shouldn’t have been traded in the first place.

The Yankees don’t need Javier Vazquez to be great. They need him simply to be good, and you can bet that no one is rooting harder for him than Brian Cashman. Long accused of poor pitcher evaluation skills, Cashman opted to shore up the rotation with a pitcher who has been through the New York mill and emerged shaken but not damaged. Now we’ll have to see if he can do it again.

Cashman sports a successful track record

The winter of 2005-2006 proved to be a definitive one for the Yankees organization. After reaching the World Series in 2003, the team lost in the ALCS in 2004 and then, after getting off to an 11-19 start in 2005 lost in the ALDS, despite adding two expensive pitchers over the off-season. General Manager Brian Cashman‘s contract expired after the loss to the Angels, and it was unclear whether he’d return. As he told an audience earlier this month, the team had been doing things George Steinbrenner‘s way since the World Series loss in 2001.

Cashman got his autonomy after the 2005 season, and in the fourth year, after yet another new contract, he finally built a championship ballclub. While he had the advantage of baseball’s fattest checkbook, he also had to deal with aging players on long-term deals, a barren farm system, and a fan base that wants to win now at all costs. That’s not an easy balancing act, even when you can throw money at some problems.

So what has Cashman done with his authority? Here are the 12 pitchers and 13 position players who had the most playing time in 2005:

C: Jorge Posada
1B: Tino Martinez
2B: Robinson Cano
SS: Derek Jeter
3B: Alex Rodriguez
LF: Hideki Matsui
CF: Bernie Williams
RF: Gary Sheffield
DH: Jason Giambi
BENCH: Tony Womack
BENCH: Ruben Sierra
BENCH: John Flaherty
BENCH: Bubba Crosby
BENCH: Matt Lawton

SP: Randy Johnson
SP: Mike Mussina
SP: Chien-Ming Wang
SP: Carl Pavano
SP: Kevin Brown
SP: Jaret Wright
SP: Aaron Small
SP: Shawn Chacon
SP/RP: Al Leiter
RP: Mariano Rivera
RP: Tom Gordon
RP: Tanyon Sturtze

How did this group turn into the 2009 champions?

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