Assessing the Sheffield deal three years later

Over the weekend, the Yankees unceremoniously released Humberto Sanchez to clear some 40-man space on their roster. For Sanchez, just 25, it was quite the fall from grace. Just a few years ago, he was one of the Tigers’ top three prospects, and now he is unemployed and oft-injured, full of talent but unable to realize it.

For many Yankee writers and analysts, this move was a white flag from the Yankees. That the Yankees would just flat-out release Sanchez, acquired after the 2006 season from the Tigers in a package for Gary Sheffield, showed a bad return in that trade.

As Bryan Hoch wrote, “As a whole, the Gary Sheffield deal hasn’t worked out very well for the Yankees. Anthony Claggett got torched in his big league debut and Kevin Whelan hasn’t made it up to the big leagues yet.” I find myself disagreeing with Hoch.

The prospects the Yankees got back from the Tigers haven’t been as good as anyone hoped. Sanchez had Tommy John surgery and hasn’t really recovered. He could sign a Minor League deal with the Yanks and earn his way back into consideration. But when the Yanks brought him up for a cup of coffee last September, they expected him to be in contention for a bullpen spot this spring. Whispers of future closer potential swirled around him.

Meanwhile, Anthony Claggett and Kevin Whelan are what they are. They will both turn 25 this summer, and Claggett did indeed get shelled in his lone big league appearance. Whelan is still toiling down at AA. If the two of them ever reach the big leagues and stick around, it will be as replaceable middle reliever types. It would seem then that the Yanks didn’t get much in return for Sheffield.

At the same time though, they didn’t give up much either. Since leaving New York, Sheffield has been largely forgettable. After missing most of 2006 with a wrist injury, he had a good bounce-back year in 2007 but fell off the table in 2008. In 247 games for the Tigers — an average of 123 a season — he hit .247/.354/.433 with an OPS+ of 106. As New Yorkers now, Sheffield was released by the Tigers in Spring Training and hitched his wagon to the Mets’ ship. In 28 PAs prior to last night, he was hitting .136/.321/.318 with a 66 OPS+.

Now, with those numbers, it seems as though the Yankees gave up not much to get back nothing, but there’s a missing piece to this puzzle. The Tigers took on all of the $13 million owed to Sheffield in 2007. For the Yanks, it became a win as soon as the deal was completed. The team exercised Sheffield’s option with the idea of trading him and actually got back three pieces in return. They could have let him walk, paying him the buyout on the option but tried to turn him into something useful.

In the end, the trade didn’t really work out well, but Hoch has it wrong. It didn’t work out well for either side. Gary Sheffield didn’t really become the bat the Tigers needed, and the pitchers the Yankees received didn’t really become, well, anything. But the Yanks took a player who could have become a free agent and turned him into three Minor League pitchers. That is a successful trade.

Checking in on Brackman, Cox, Sanchez, Melancon

If you keep up with the Yanks minor league system, you’re probably up to date on the group of pitchers coming off elbow surgery. In case you’re not, Lisa Winston has an update at the official site on Andrew Brackman, Humberto Sanchez, Mark Melancon, and J.B. Cox.

First up, Mark Newman talks up Brackman and Cox.

On Brackman:

“His velocity was between 94-97 [mph], so he had no problems and he’s ready to go for Major League camp,” said Mark Newman, the Yankees’ senior vice president of baseball operations. “His stuff is outstanding, and he’s getting a feel for his delivery and throwing strikes. But first and foremost, he was healthy and, at times, dominant.”

“The benefits are the power and deception because the ball is released closer to the plate,” Newman explained. “But the downside is you have long levers to manage, and it takes time. There aren’t many of those guys in the environment to use as test cases, but most people believe that taller guys take a little longer to get their command.”

I’m stoked to watch Brackman work through the season. He hasn’t pitched a season nearly as long as that of High-A Tampa, which is where Mike thinks he’ll start out. I’m guessing he’ll throw something around 100 innings before shutting it down.

Bonus: The Yanks beat some long odds in drafting Brackman.

On Cox:

“He’s fine,” Newman said. “He’s just been out for a year and got to the point in terms of his innings where we didn’t want to overload him. We consider those guys ‘rehabs’ for a full year.”

What I find strangest about Cox is that no team took him in the Rule 5 draft. The Padres took freaking Ian Nova. He’s two years out of elbow surgery, so there aren’t any excuses this year. Here’s to a healthy 2008 for J. Brent.

Humberto Sanchez on himself:

“I feel pretty good, but honestly, I forgot what 100 percent feels like,” he joked from Arizona, where he was enjoying a few hours off watching his beloved New York Giants. “I feel as good as I can going into Spring Training, and being out here has helped a lot. Along with the conditioning and fitness work, we’ve also been doing what we call ‘prehab’ to try to prevent injuries.”

Humberto was pretty damn terrible in the AzFL. He issued 11 walks, gave up 21 hits, and allowed 16 earned runs in just 12 innings. Oh yeah, and just four strikeouts. He has plenty to prove this year. It looks like the Yanks have already moved him to the bullpen, but I think you have to give him this one last chance to head into the season as a starter.

On Melancon:

Winston provided no quotes on Mark Melancon, but she paid him a higher compliment. After rattling off his ridiculously awesome 2008 stats, she says this of the righty reliever:

But whether he starts the spring in New York or in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Melancon is probably the Yankees’ most promising heir to the throne of Mariano Rivera, both thanks to his stuff and his mound makeup.

Damn. Most promising heir to Mo. Talk about setting expectations high. Not that she’s wrong. Of all the relievers on the farm, Melancon is the most poised to make an impact. But the heir to Mo? Damn. Is that even possible to live up to?

Hughes, Sanchez heading to the AzFL

Via Chad Jennings, organizational pitching guru Nardi Contreras confirmed that both Phil Hughes & Humberto Sanchez will be heading to the Arizona Fall League this year. This is all about innings for these two, especially Phil. The AzFL season doesn’t start until October 9th, so I supposed there’s a chance that Hughes could make an appearance or two with the Yanks in September. We already know he’s starting tomorrow for Triple-A Scranton.

Austin Jackson & Kevin Russo are the only other players confirmed to be going to AzFL this year, so the Yanks still have three spots to fill (two pitchers and an infielder).

Some minors updates

This is usually Mike’s department, but I don’t see him online at the moment, so I’m going to wrap up this piece by the indispensable Chad Jennings. While his job is to cover the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees, he does a stupendous job of talking to guys like Nardi Contreras and Mark Newman, providing updates from the entire Yankees farm system. While you can find the full list of updates at his site, here’s the abridged version.

Humberto Sanchez is on the road back, but he’s not at 45 pitches yet. Jennings explains that this is the number of pitches they want a starter to toss from a mound before getting him into a game. This suggests that at least for the time being, the Yankees will use him as a starter. We’ll see, though.

For those Chris Garcia nuts out there (I’m looking right at you, Jamal), he’s pitching today. I’m not sure where he’s pitching today, but it will be four innings or 55 pitches, whichever comes first. We’ll see if we can get the results if this start happens to be in extended spring training.

Nardi seems to be very happy about Zach McAllister, J.B. Cox, and Mark Melancon. And really, how couldn’t he be? These guys are pitching very, very well.

Finally, no one knows what’s up with Sean Henn. Could it be possible that no team claims him off waivers? It seems to me a team like the Giants could afford the roster spot. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

Rehab Guys: What Can We Expect?

Over the last 18 months or so, some of the Yanks very best pitching prospects went down with major arm injuries. It was frustrating and almost laughable at how many quality arms went down with Tommy John surgery, but at the same time it’s a testament to the kind of pitching depth the organization has when they can lose that many guys still have arms like Hughes, Joba, IPK, Tyler Clippard and Ross Ohlendorf make contributions at the Major League level.

A popular comment amongst…uh, commentors is that “Player X [who went down with a major injury in 2007] will be ready to help the bullpen by midseason,” and you know what? That statement is completely wrong. Pitchers have to relearn their mechanics and find their control after such a long layoff, and that process can be painstaking at times. Guys who rely on command and control need even more time to get things back to once they were.

Just like Brian Cashman, I can’t predict the future, so the info presented here is basically just my best educated guess, if that makes sense. We’re all hoping these guys get healthy and dominate in 2008, but in reality we should hope that they just finish the year strong. Fun starts after the jump.

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Ah, nuts. Yes, again

The official site has Humberto Sanchez out two to four days with an inflammed elbow. Pete Abraham reports that he’s out “10 days or so.

Any pipe dream of Sanchez making the Opening Day roster seem to be out the window, not because he’ll be injured, but because he might not get enough work in. Not that it was going to happen, anyway.

Taking 10 days off sounds like the best idea at this point. Better to resign him to Scranton and let him heal fully, rather than rush him back and risk further injury. He does have a history of elbow troubles…