Archive for Paul O’Neill
The Yankees re-signed Joe Girardi to a new four-year contract worth $16M yesterday, but there are still some other coaching staff and front office situations to address. Here’s the latest from George King, Andy Martino, and Andrew Marchand.
- Pitching coach Larry Rothschild is close to signing a new contract extension. Brian Cashman recently said the team hoped to bring him back, but they needed to get the manager’s spot settled first. All of the coaches’ contracts expire on October 31st.
- The Mariners have internally discussed the possibility of pursuing Yankees third base coach Rob Thomson for their managerial opening. They have not yet asked New York for permission to interview Thomson or any of their coaches, however.
- The Phillies named Pete Mackanin their new third base coach earlier this week. He spent this past year as a Major League scout with the Yankees. Mackanin is very highly regarded within the game and was reportedly on the team’s short list of managerial candidates if Girardi left.
- The Yankees will not bring back Charlie Wonsowicz, who has been an advance scout/video coordinator for the last five years. The position has being eliminated for whatever reason. Wonsowicz had been in the organization for 21 years.
- Lastly, former Yankee and current YES broadcaster Paul O’Neill has some interest in replacing the since-fired Dusty Baker in Cincinnati. However, Reds GM Walt Jocketty confirmed the team has “not reached out to Paul regarding our managerial vacancy.”
While I’m sure Nick Swisher doesn’t need defending among RAB’s audience, his name has continued to arise this offseason due to a variety of factors: (a) As the Yankees’ only position-player free agent among the starting nine next offseason, he would seem to be the most tradeable; (b) Some folks are still irrationally mad at Swish for underperforming in three separate and completely unrelated small sample sizes; and (c) the Yankees need pitching, which is basically an extension of (a).
Here’s the problem with any trade speculation involving Swish: Nick Swisher is (as I mentioned in the above-linked piece) the living and breathing embodiment of the ideal New York Yankee on offense, a sabermetrician’s dream of patience and power who led the team in OBP in 2011 with a .374 mark despite starting the season in a horrid slump, notched the best BB% on the team, at 15% — a massive jump from 2010′s 9.1% not to mention the third-best mark in the American League — and finished 11th in the AL in pitches per plate appearance (20th in 2010 and 2nd in the league in 2009).
He’s really quite good at what he does, random postseason struggles aside. This becomes even clearer when taking a quick scan of the 2013 outfield free agent class:
Josh Hamilton (32)
Eric Hinske (35)
Mark Kotsay (37)
Carlos Lee (37)
Juan Rivera (34) – $4MM club option for 2013 with a $500K buyout
Luke Scott (35)
Delmon Young (27)
Matt Diaz (35)
Andre Ethier (31)
Torii Hunter (37)
Mark Kotsay (37)
Carlos Quentin (30)
Juan Rivera (34) – $4MM club option for 2013 with a $500K buyout
Ryan Spilborghs (33)
Ichiro Suzuki (39)
Nick Swisher (32)
Before the Dodgers extended Matt Kemp, fine, I’d have been alright with letting Swish walk in favor of Kemp patrolling whichever section of Yankee Stadium’s outfield he wanted. However, as it currently stands, none of next year’s pending free agent outfielders are better than Swish. The only names on that list that I would maybe think twice about are Carlos Quentin and Shane Victorino, and Swish has been a better offensive player (.370 wOBA) than both outfielders over the last three seasons (both Victorino and Quentin have matching .354 wOBAs during that same timeframe). Yes, we all know Josh Hamilton’s been a beast (.388 wOBA over the last three seasons), but he also can’t stay healthy and will presumably be looking for a huge deal. With all of these players essentially the same age, I’d go with the devil you know who has also played in 150 games in each of his three seasons in pinstripes.
But wait, there’s more. Here’s a rundown of Yankee right-fielders over the last 20 individual seasons, sorted by OPS+:
Swish’s three seasons didn’t end up ranking quite as high as I’d have expected, although that’s really more a tribute to how beastly Paul O’Neill was in pinstripes than any shortcomings on Nick’s part.
However, the case for Nick Swisher as one of the best Yankee right-fielders of the past two decades really comes into focus when we look at the cumulative numbers (minimum 300 PAs, sorted by fWAR), courtesy of FanGraphs:
Who knew Danny Tartabull was a regular OBP machine? The Yankees have gotten some pretty robust offensive production out of their right-fielders for a large chunk of the past 20 years. As you can see, Swish is tied for third-best wOBA with Bobby Abreu and Tartabull, but more importantly, has been considerably more valuable than both men in a similar amount of PAs due to his superior glovework.
While the Yankees may not see another Paul O’Neill for a good while — believe it or not, O’Neill actually has a decent case for one of the top Yankee rightfielders of the last 50 years (2nd-highest fWAR, 3rd-highest OBP, 6th-highest wOBA) — they’ve arguably got the second-best thing in Nick Swisher.
For those of you who didn’t get a chance to watch this afternoon’s game on YES, Paul O’Neill told a rather interesting story in the top of the fourth inning. The Yankees, remember, went with a Shane Spencer-John Vander Wal platoon in right field to start the 2002 season after O’Neill retired, but in early-June they called up a then 23-year-old Juan Rivera (.324/.359/.500 in Triple-A) to take over the position full-time. Unfortunately Rivera crashed into a golf cart and tore up his knee a few days later, sidelining him for the next three months.
O’Neill said during today’s broadcast that after Rivera’s injury, he got a call from Joe Torre asking him about possibly coming back. So O’Neill, who was on vacation with his family at the time, starting working out and throwing and what not with his goal to join the team at midseason. Before he was ready and committed to the return though, the Yankees went out and traded for Raul Mondesi, putting an end to the comeback. Could you imagine that? That sure would have been neat.
Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. The Mets are playing the Cubs (Gee vs. Coleman) and the Reds and Phillies (Wood vs. Halladay) will be on ESPN2, plus you’ve also got the NHL playoffs on Versus and the NBA playoffs on regular old ESPN. Talk about whatever you want here, so go nuts.
One thing to remember when looking at the graph, O’Neill didn’t really hit his stride until he joined the Yankees (at age 30) and got a bit of a boost from the short rightfield porch. Paulie had just one season better than 3.0 WAR through age 29 while Swish has exceeded that level four times in his six full seasons. There’s no denying that Swisher was a better player than O’Neill through that age, but I suspect the second half of his career won’t be nearly as good. O’Neill was simply a much better pure hitter in terms of making hard contact. That’s not to say Swish will fall off a cliff, I just don’t expect him to be as productive into his mid-to-late 30′s as O’Neill was. Not many are.
It might be hard for the younger generation of fans to believe, but two decades ago the Yankees were a non-factor in the AL East, finishing no better than fourth in the then-seven team division from 1987 through 1992. They hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1981. Don Mattingly was a bonafide homegrown superstar, but Dave Righetti’s talent was being wasted in the bullpen, Ron Guidry was fading, and a numerous free agent signings and trades just didn’t work out. For every Dave Winfield there was an Andy Hawkins, for every Rickey Henderson a Tim Leary.
George Steinbrenner, who always dipped his toe deep into the baseball operations pool, was banned from day-to-day management of the team in late-July 1990 after paying Howie Spira $40,000 to dig up dirt on Winfield. Gene Michael took over as general manager the very next month, and he and his front office staff went to work rebuilding the Yankees without The Boss interfering. They were patient with prospects, valued high-end pitching, and above all wanted batters that worked the count and wore pitchers down.
One of the team’s few established above-average players was centerfielder Roberto Kelly, who broke in during the 1987 season but didn’t grab hold of an every day job until two years later. He hit .284/.339/.426 from 1989 through 1991, increasing his homer output from nine to 15 to 20 during that time. Kelly rode a hot start (topped out at .361/.396/.514 in late-May) in 1992 to his first appearance in the All Star Game, though ironically enough that ended up being the worst full season of his career (98 OPS+, 0.8 bWAR) up to that point.
The then-28 year old Kelly was obviously a solid contributor for the Yanks, but his on-base percentage (just .325 from 1990-1992) wasn’t good enough for a guy that spent the majority of his time hitting in one of the top three spots of the batting order. Eighteen years ago today, Stick dealt Kelly to the Reds for a fellow 1992 All Star outfielder named Paul O’Neill and Single-A first base prospect Joe Deberry.
O’Neill was more than a year older than Kelly and relegated to an outfielder corner defensively, but it didn’t matter. He fit the grind-it-out philosophy, not only getting on base 34.4% of the time from 1989-1992, but he was also trending upwards. His IsoD (isolated discipline, or OBP-AVG, which measures a batter’s ability to get on base by a means other than a hit) went from .069 in 1990 to .090 in 1991 to .100 in 1992. O’Neill also brought World Series experience, though he wasn’t without his warts. The lefty swinger had plenty of trouble against southpaws, hitting .225/.279/.295 off them in 1992, and just .227/.278/.332 over the last three seasons.
O’Neill’s first season in New York was the best of his career up to that point, a .311/.367/.504 effort, career highs across the board. He was still hopeless against lefties though, hitting just .230/.279/.319 off them that year. The Yankees improved by a dozen wins from the previous season and finished second to the Blue Jays in the division. O’Neill managed to top his strong debut season with a career year in 1994, winning the batting title and hitting .359/.460/.603 with more walks (72) than strikeouts (56) for the first time in his career. As if someone flipped a switch, he hit .305/.439/.571 off lefties and went to his second All Star Game, finishing fifth in the MVP voting. The Yanks were robbed of their first playoff berth in more than a decade because of the strike though; at 70-43, they had the best record in the AL.
As the Yankees incorporated more and more young players onto their roster, O’Neill remained one of manager Buck Showalter’s stalwarts. His newfound level of production proved to be his true talent level, as O’Neill hit a whopping .317/.397/.517 during his first six years in pinstripes. He was the three-hole hitter the majority of the time during the team’s titles runs in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000, usually protected by cleanup hitter Bernie Williams, the guy that replaced Kelly in centerfield after the trade.
All told, O’Neill hit .303/.377/.492 with 185 homers in his nine years with the Yanks, going to four All Star Games and finishing in the top 15 of the MVP voting four times as well. Steinbrenner, reinstated by the commissioner two years after being banned, dubbed him The Warrior, and fans fell head over heels in love with him for his style of play. O’Neill was famously hard on himself, throwing helmets and smashing water coolers whenever something went wrong, and if you took a gander at him in the outfielder between pitches or at-bats, you’d often catch him practicing his stance and swing with an invisible bat.
O’Neill’s Yankee career is full of far more memorable moments than I care to count, but two stick out to me. The first is pretty obvious, the “Paul O-Nei-ll clap clap clapclapclap” chant in the ninth inning of Game Five of the 2001 World Series, a grand send-off in his final game at Yankee Stadium. The second came back in 1996 (left), when he ran down a Luis Polonia line drive to record the final out of Game Five of that World Series, saving an extra-base hit in a game that ended 1-0. I’ll also never forget yelling at him through the TV to catch the final out of David Wells’ perfect game with two damn hands. Sheesh.
As for Kelly, he went on to be very productive for Cincinnati, hitting .313/.353/.447 for them before being traded to Atlanta for Deion Sanders during the 1994 season. He bounced around a bit the rest of his career, making stops with the Expos, Dodgers, Twins, Mariners, and Rangers before rejoining the Yankees in 2000, a 27 plate appearance finale to his career. He was certainly a quality player, just not at the same level of O’Neill. Deberry never played in the big leagues, topping out at Triple-A. He was out of baseball by 1998.
O’Neill’s 24.8 bWAR with New York is more than Kelly’s entire career (16.9, just 5.0 post-Yanks), but we don’t need any kind of advance stats or detailed analysis to call this trade a clear win for the Yankees. It’s arguably one the ten best trades in franchise history, maybe even top five. The Warrior is still a fan favorite and a semi-regular at Yankee Stadium to this day, showing up to Old Timer’s Day and calling games for the YES Network whenever he feels like getting out of Ohio.
Happy Paul O’Neill Trade Anniversary Day, I’m not sure any of us knew how important and beloved he’d become.
It’s hard to believe that 2009 marked the first time since Paul O’Neill patrolled right field that the Yanks won a World Series. Since the era of O’Neill, the Yanks tried a variety of players in right. Raul Mondesi got his crack, and Gary Sheffield and Bobby Abreu held down the three-hole in the lineup for a few years. Now, the spot is Nick Swisher‘s for the foreseeable future, and we fondly remember O’Neill.
It wasn’t always like that though. When Paul O’Neill first arrived in the Bronx, fans and commentators responded skeptically. He was some overhyped 29-year-old from Cincinnati who was more known for his temper than for his bat. He could never hit as well as he was supposed to, and the Yanks gave up a one-time untouchable player to get him.
The trade come down on November 3, 1992. The Yankees, a few weeks removed from a fourth place, 76-86 finish, were looking for a big lefty bat, and the team needed some pitching too. So they traded Roberto Kelly for Paul O’Neill. At the time, media coverage focused around what the Yanks gave up rather than what they got back. “The Yankees,” Jack Curry wrote, “scrapped their glorious plans involving Roberto Kelly yesterday and traded their once-untouchable outfielder to the Cincinnati Reds for power-hitting right fielder Paul O’Neill.” Kelly was “someone they would not trade because of his potential to be their next superstar.”
In O’Neill, the Yanks had potential, but Murray Chass wondered if they had anything else. Chass saw the troubles and the way Steinbrenner would grate on O’Neill. He didn’t know if the temperamental lefty could survive the wrath of the Boss after suffering through Lou Piniella while with the Reds.
Meanwhile, with Paul in the fold, speculation about the Yanks’ impending moves grew louder and louder. Curry wondered if the team would pursue Barry Bonds, and David Cone, Jim Abbott and Greg Swindell were rumored to be on the team’s wishlist as well. My, how times have changed.
In the end, the Yanks were the clear winners of that trade. O’Neill played 1254 games in the Bronx over the next nine years, and his arrival signaled the start of a smarter approach to team-building. Playing next to Bernie Williams and hitting in front of him, O’Neill went on to put up a .303/.377/.492 with 185 home runs in the Bronx, and outside of an ill-fated two-week stint by LaTroy Hawkins, no one has worn 21 since he did. As for Roberto Kelly, he wasn’t as lucky. The one-time future superstar played just 699 over the last few years of his career and hit .299/.342/.446. He retired after a short return to the Bronx in 2000 and now serves as the first base coach for the Giants.
In 1992, the Yankees took a chance on a 29-year-old, and only the water coolers lived to regret it.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jeff Zelevansky
At the beginning of May, Foley’s, the excellent baseball-themed Irish pub, announced fan voting for its Irish American Baseball Hall of Fame, and I asked RAB readers to vote for Yankee Warrior™ Paul O’Neill. Earlier this week, Foley’s announced the winner, and O’Neill it is. The longtime Yankee right fielder and current announcer will be inducted into the Hall on Tuesday, July 7. Good stuff. Hopefully, we’ll do a RAB meet-up at Foley’s some time this summer.
Last year, Foley’s, the excellent sports bar with a huge autographed baseball collection on 33rd St. between 5th and 6th Aves., unveiled its Irish Baseball Hall of Fame. While Yankee
great announcer John Flaherty earned an induction into the first class, the bar fielded numerous complaints from fans who wanted to get involved. Today, Foley’s introduced fan voting for the 2009 inductee. Adam Dunn, Al Leiter, Paul O’Neill, Joe McEwing and Nolan Ryan make up the field. I voted for Paul O’Neill. All of those fans who got so defensive over LaTroy Hawkins’ number flap last year should do the same.
For days and days and days, we’ve debated the LaTroy Hawkins Number Fiasco. It seems clear to me that Yankee fan opinion is firmly divided on the fate of Paul O’Neill’s 21. So submitted for your approval — and since we haven’t done one of these in a while — a poll. Play nicely with each other in the comments if you wish to continue the debate.
In a rather amusing piece on The Times’ Bats blog, Jack Curry details how he broke the uniform news to Paul O’Neill. When told that someone new would be wearing 21, Paul handled himself quite diplomatically. He ran into the dugout and chucked his bat, batting gloves, helmet and the Gatorade cooler onto the field. Wait. Just kidding. In reality, he cautioned against expecting one’s number to be retired. “You don’t ever take anything like that for granted,” he said.