Despite winning 97 games in 2006, the Yankees were a flawed baseball team. Andy Phillips played 110 games and Miguel Cairo played 81 times. First base was a wasteland of Phillips and Craig Wilson as the Yankees were reluctant to give Jason Giambi many starts there. Randy Johnson won 17 games but finished with a 5.00 ERA. Two of the five rotation starters were guys like Jaret Wright and Shawn Chacon. It was the season that Bernie Williams lost his starting job as a center fielder and it proved to be his last season in pinstripes.
Much of that season became a drama around Gary Sheffield. Sheffield was no stranger to drama as he always found ways to irritate people with the things he said and how his personality was perceived. But 2006 was doubly so because Sheffield missed most of it. After a 5 WAR season in 2005 which was terrific offensively (if not defensively), Sheffield’s absence was a problem. By the time Sheffield was ready to return to action late in the season, much drama was created as the stories hit the streets that the Yankees wanted to play Sheffield at first base when he returned. Naturally, Sheffield wasn’t too keen on that idea.
But the Yankees stuck to their guns and when Sheffield finally returned to action on September 22, 2006, he was at first base where he stayed for nine straight games. Sheffield then started three of the four post season games against the Tigers at first base and only contributed one hit in twelve at bats with no walks and a strikeout. That was enough for the Yankees and after the season he was headed to the same team that just took the Yankees out. Rather famously, Sheffield blasted Joe Torre in an HBO interview for supposedly treating black players differently than white ones. In the same interview, he said that Derek Jeter was only half black and didn’t merit the same treatment.
It’s not surprising that none of the three pitchers the Yankees obtained for Sheffield panned out. Sheffield would turn 38 after the 2006 season and just finished an injury-plagued season for a total of 39 games. At the time, though, it had seemed the Yankees had received some interesting arms. Humberto Sanchez had a very good minor league season in 2006 split between the Tigers’ Double and Triple A affiliates and finished that season 10-6 with an ERA of 2.63 with 9.4 strikeouts per nine innings. It was a season that landed him 57th on Baseball America’s top prospect list of 2007. But Sanchez didn’t pan out over the long haul and logged just two nondescript innings with the Yankees on the big club in 2008. The Yankees released him in April of 2009, signed him to another contract in May of that same year. After the close of the 2009 season, spent entirely in the minors, Sanchez became a free agent but couldn’t catch on with anyone. He played a year for independent teams and has spent the last two seasons in the Mexican leagues.
Anthony Claggett was drafted in the eleventh round by the Tigers in 2005 and had two promising years in the Tigers’ system. When the Yankees obtained him, he started about half his games in 2007 but was used mostly as a relief pitcher after that season. He made a brief cameo for the Yankees in 2009 and was treated rudely. He made two appearances that last 2.2 innings. In those brief outings, Claggett gave up eleven hits, ten earned runs, four walks and two home runs. His Yankee career ended on September 24 of that season as the Pittsburgh Pirates picked Claggett up on waivers. He then pitched once (unsuccessfully) for the Pirates before 2009 was over. After two seasons in the Pirates’ minor league system, Claggett is now a free agent.
That made Whelan the sole survivor of the deal. Whelan made a few starts in 2007, but the Yankees have used him exclusively as a reliever since then in Double and Triple A. And he was intriguing as he always compiled huge strikeout numbers. Unfortunately, he also piled up the walks. But in 2011, he seemed to finally settle his walk rate down and finished the 2011 season with an acceptable rate of 2.4 walks per nine innings. That success prompted the Yankees to call him to the big leagues. His first outing was on June 10, 2011 against the Indians. It did not go well. In an arduous two-thirds of an inning, the pitcher threw 26 pitches to six batters. Four of them walked and one of them scored. His second and last appearance went better. He finished a laugher against the same Indians and survived the inning with one walk and one strikeout.
Again, you can’t expect much of a return when you trade a 38 year old player. At best, you can say the Yankees received some minor league filler, which has a value in and of itself. But on a major league level, the three pitchers obtained for Gary Sheffield have this combined ungainly pitching line: 6.1 innings pitched, 12 hits, 12 earned runs, 2 homers and 11 walks. The next few days will inform us on if Whelan’s Yankee career is over. If so, the Gary Sheffield story with the New York Yankees will officially end.