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.


How the Abreu contract affects the Yanks

Yesterday afternoon, word got out that Bobby Abreu had agreed to a contract extension with the Angels, signing on for two more years in Anaheim. After having to wait until damn near Spring Training to find a job last year, Abreu jumped all over the $19M the Halos offered him. The deal even includes a vesting option for 2012 worth $9M, when Abreu will be 38. I mentioned this yesterday, but in two years I’m sure we’ll be hearing about ways the Angels can prevent that option from vesting.

Anyway, the entire reason I brought this up is because it indirectly affects the Yankees. Now we have a blueprint for what a new contract for Johnny Damon might look like, something we didn’t have before. The similarities between the two players are obvious: both will be 36 on Opening Day 2010 yet have proven to be extremely durable, both are former All Stars with a strong pedigree within the game, and both are defensively challenged corner outfielders. Their offensive styles are different – Abreu is more of an on-base guy with gap power, Damon offers more over-the-fence power – but in the end they’re both ~.850 OPS and ~2.8 WAR players.

Bobby’s deal will pay him $9M annually, which is about as good of a deal as he could have expected. Despite all the talk about how he “transformed the Angels lineup,” Abreu simply was not going to pull in eight figures annually on the free agent market, and the same holds true for Johnny. It’s almost inconceivable that the Yankees would offer Damon arbitration even though he qualifies as a Type-A free agent, because the risk of him accepting a getting a raise over his current $13M salary is just too great, even if it’s just one year.

It’s no secret that the New Yankee Stadium somewhat helped resurrect Damon’s career in 2009. He set a new career high with a .207 IsoP, tied his career high with 24 homers, and posted the second best slugging percentage (.489) of his career. On the road he was Jorge Cantu (.284-.349-.446), but at home he was Jason Bay (.279-.382-.533). All that makes him more valuable to the Yankees than anyone else.

Timing certainly plays a huge part of it. A few weeks ago, the thought of even re-signing Damon seemed like madness because he was slumping so badly. Now, after some late inning World Series heroics, we wonder how the team could survive without him. But two guaranteed years? I can’t see how you can lock yourself into that kind of commitment. One year plus an option? Absolutely. But you’re asking for trouble, and reducing your flexibility for next year, by bringing him back for two.

As for the money, obviously $9M a year is nothing for the Yankees. It’s overpaying, but not by an absurd amount. If you could talk him down to $7M with some incentives, you’d obviously prefer that. The bottom line is that it would behoove the Yankees not to lock themselves a commitment with Damon as long as the Angels did with Abreu. Just don’t underestimate the power of Scott Boras.

A look at trade deadlines past: 2006

We continue our look at the New York Yankees trade deadline moves with 2006. You can check out the 2005 version here.

Lay of the land

After a tumultuous beginning to the 2005 season, the Yankees were in a much better position in 06. At 52-36 they were just a game and a half back of the Red Sox on July 15, and owned the AL’s fourth best record (remember, the Tigers were on pace for 110 wins at that point). Their pitching was much better, even though Carl Pavano, in the second year of his four-year commitment, hadn’t thrown a pitch.

Chien-Ming Wang was emerging as the team’s best pitcher. Mike Mussina had a torrid first half, going 10-3 with a 3.24 ERA in his contract year. Randy Johnson, despite an ERA in tatters, was still getting enough run support to win games. Even Jaret Wright was pitching well enough to be a fifth starer.

The problem was that one hole in the rotation. Shawn Chacon went downhill after taking a line drive off the shin. At the time, Darrell Rasner, freshly plucked off waivers from the Nats earlier in the year, was having some issues and couldn’t come up. In an apparent desperation move to fill a rotation spot, the Yanks signed Sidney Ponson on July 14. That should show their pitching troubles.

In the bullpen, things were a bit better. Mike Myers wasn’t all that bad. Scott Proctor had emerged as Torre’s seventh inning guy. Kyle Farnsworth, in the first season of his three-year deal, was disappointing. Tanyon Sturtze had bombed. Ron Villone was pitching well after sitting dormant for much of the first half. The Yanks were trying various options, including Sean Henn, though not much was sticking. Hell, even Scott Erickson got into nine games.

The look of the offense, though, was a bit more bleak. Hideki Matsui went down in May with a broken wrist and wouldn’t be back until at least September. Gary Sheffield had surgery on his forearm, and it was uncertain if he’d ever be back. The Yanks were running an outfield of Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera, and Bernie Williams. It wasn’t the worst, but neither Melky nor Bernie had a lot of power. Things had gotten bad enough that the Yanks signed Terrence Long.

Cashman’s moves

July started slowly for Brian Cashman. The Phillies were demanding Phil Hughes in exchange for Bobby Abreu, which was simply out of the question. Still, Cash made a few under the radar moves, picking up Brian Bruney as a free agent after the Diamondbacks released him, and selecting Aaron Guiel off waivers. Nothing groundbreaking, but again part of Cashman’s strategy to pick up some low risk guys.

In the last week of July, Cash made his move. It started small, trading a nothing prospect to Philly for Sal Fasano. Ed Wade and Cashman would hook up four days later, as Philly sent Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle to New York for C.J. Henry, Matt Smith (who hadn’t yet allowed a run out of the bullpen), and a couple others. It was a clear case of the Yankees taking on salary so they wouldn’t have to send real prospects in a trade. In one swoop Cashman had added his fourth starter and his starting right fielder.

The next day he capped the deadline activity by trading the floundering Shawn Chacon to the Pirates for Craig Wilson, who was to shore up the bench. That didn’t exactly work out, but there was no downside to the trade. A half month later, however, the Yanks made perhaps their worst move by releasing Carlos Pena. Clearly they didn’t foresee his looming breakout season, or else they would have called him up to replace Andy Phillips at first. Plus, who knows if he would have done anything in 06. He was, after all, in the minors for a reason. The Red Sox made a similar judgment.

How it all turned out

There were mixed results with the pitchers, but Cashman scored a bit win with Abreu, who tore it up with a .926 OPS. That helped shore up the outfield, though it would create a logjam later when Gary Sheffield insisted on coming back in late September. Best of all, Abreu gave them an instant replacement for Sheffield, who was going to depart after the season anyway. Aaron Guiel was also a modest success, though nothing to brag about.

Lidle didn’t hold down that fourth rotation spot like they’d hoped, but both Rasner and Jeff Karstens contributed down the stretch. Bruney was a hit in his 19 appearances, allowing just two runs. He did walk 15 in 20.2 innings, which was a sign of things to come for 2007. Still, he helped out a shaky bullpen, which was pretty much without Ron Villone come September.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Abreu acquisition. It powered the Yankees through August, including the glorious five-game sweep of the Red Sox which effectively buried them. The Yanks ran away with the division, winning 97 games and finishing 11 games ahead of second-place Toronto. They actually finished ahead of the Tigers, who blew the division to the Twins at the end. That led to a Yanks-Tigers matchup, and we all know what happened there.

Next up is 2007, another season in which the Yankees started off slowly and had a few needs at the deadline.

Revisiting Bobby Abreu

We praised the Yankees earlier this off-season for reading the bad free agent market in advance. While the team was willing to dole out top bucks to the players it wanted, the Yanks’ decision not to offer Bobby Abreu looked great in hindsight.

Of course, therein lies the rub. That’s a decision that could look great only in hindsight, and it’s disingenuous of anyone to praise it as being anything more than a gamble. When the Yanks didn’t offer Bobby Abreu arbitration, they didn’t know he would end up signing a one-year, $5-million deal. When they didn’t offer Abreu arbitration, they had no idea he would have accepted had they done so.

Five months later, it’s still impossible to judge that situation as anything other than a good decision in hindsight. Over the weekend, Ken Davidoff caught up with Abreu and spoke to the former Yankee about his self-proclaimed bad off-season:

Abreu said he was “surprised” that the Yankees never so much as made him an offer, as he enjoyed his two years and two months in the Bronx. He shouldn’t have been that surprised. They sent signals for months that, at best, they would offer Abreu salary arbitration.

As it turned out, the Yankees opted against offering Abreu arbitration – a great call, as they would have committed themselves to a one-year deal for about $18 million had Abreu accepted. The Yankees correctly predicted how the economy would impact him.

When Newsday asked Abreu if he would have indeed said yes to the Yankees’ arbitration offer, the 35-year-old said, “It depends. Like I say, if you never make an offer, you don’t want to know the answer.”

“It depends.” How telling.

At the time the Yanks could have offered Abreu arbitration, the market hadn’t yet formed, and Abreu would have had to make a quick, uninformed decision. Maybe he would have accepted, and the Yanks would have been stuck paying him a lot more than any time would or should have. Maybe he would have declined, and the Yanks would have earned themselves some draft picks.

As it turned out, had Abreu declined arbitration, he probably wouldn’t have signed for even $5 million, and the Yanks’ opting to eschew arbitration looked to be a solid move. Whether it was actually a prescient decision by Cashman and Co. or a fortuitous bit of luck, the baseball world will never know.

Bobby might be donning a new uniform soon

It’s hard not to feel bad for Bobby Abreu. The dude has put up solid numbers his whole career, and when he finally hits free agency he’s faced not only with a declining market, but also with a glut of free agents who play his position. His stock has plummeted over the course of the winter; that three-year, $48 million contract is nothing but a dream. The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo even said that the “feeling is that he may have to sign for about $3 million.” This for a guy who has put up an OPS+ of 120 or better every season since 1998 (except for 2007, when his horrid May brought his OPS+ down to 114).

Word came late Tuesday that Abreu is in serious talks with the Angels, a team that is quite an obvious fit. The Angels have an OBP problem: They have just three returning players who posted an OBP better than .340 in 2008, and two of them are 33 years old. Despite the money owed to outfielders, the Angels could sure use another one. Sure, they have Vlad Guerrero, Torii Hunter, Gary Matthews, and Reggie Willits, but they don’t combine for a very good outfield. Adding Abreu not only gives them another bat, but it affords them an OF/DH rotation which could put up some decent numbers.

In fact, by the time you read this, Abreu could unofficially be an Angel. Ken Rosenthal reports that the Angels have asked for outright waivers on Nick Green — no, not the former Yank — which would give them a roster spot for a free agent signing. They’re said to prefer Abreu to Dunn, and given the rumors of the past few hours it seems that it’s only a matter of time before Bobby ditches his pinstripes for a halo.

As Rosenthal notes: “Two general managers with interest in Abreu said Tuesday that they were told he was headed to an American League team.” That could, of course, mean the Mariners, who are also reportedly interested in Abreu, and with good reason. They lost Raul Ibanez this winter, and Wladimir Balentin hasn’t been exactly what they’d hoped…yet. Abreu on a one-year deal would make sense for them, but as Ryan Divish notes, the team “has yet to put together a trade of Jarrod Washburn or Miguel Batista (Carlos Silva is untradeable) to free up some money to sign Abreu to a one-year deal.” So all signs point to the Halos.

What does this mean for our Baseball Between the Numbers contest? Here are the people who had the Angels:

Jake H: 2 years, $14 mil
Nath Yanks: 2 years, $15.5 mil
Nikhil R.: 1 year, $9 mil
Spaceman Spiff: 2 years, 16.5 million
Zach Sanders: 1 year, $6.5 million

Looks like it will be a runoff between Nath and Zach.

No team for old outfielder

The off-season woes of Bobby Abreu have been well-documented around here. Showing signs of a steep decline but still managing to turn in a 120 OPS+ last season, Abreu has been a free agent fielding few phone calls this season. With a week left until Spring Training, Nick Cafardo’s sources tell the Boston Globe columnist that Abreu may have to settle for a one-year, $3-million deal. For that money, the White Sox, Mariners, Angels, Dodgers, Braves and Mets could all get in on the bidding. I can’t imagine Abreu is too thrilled about the prospects of an 80 percent paycut.

The Abreu market

According to Daily News writer Roger Rubin, the White Sox have, at some point this winter, extended a one-year, $8-million offer to Bobby Abreu. The Yanks’ former right fielder made $16 million last year and had originally wanted a three-year deal at a similar average annual value. He may find it tough to swallow a 50-percent pay cut, but in this economy, Abreu might have to. How he makes the White Sox a better team though is something I can’t quite fathom.

Update 3:15 p.m.: A suburban Chicago newspaper has debunked this Abreu rumor in a rather roundabout way. A White Sox has “dismissed” the rumor, according to the Daily Herald news service. Take that for what you will.