Maybe it was Melky Cabrera’s spot on the National League all-star team that inspired this list, I’m honestly not sure. For whatever reason, I started thinking about the former Yankees who are worth the most attention this season. Not necessarily the best former Yankees, but the ones that are generating some buzz for one reason or another. Maybe it’s because they’re playing really well, or because they’re playing especially bad. Maybe it’s because the Yankees would like to bring them back, or because the Yankees are glad they’re gone.
For whatever reason, here are 10 former Yankees who are still getting some New York attention this season.
1. Jesus Montero C, Mariners
It didn’t matter whether he hit or fell flat on his face, Montero couldn’t help but generate attention this season. While I still believe he is going to be a very good all-around hitter eventually, this season he’s been effective only against lefties. Against right-handers he’s slugged barely over .300 without getting on base at a remotely reasonable clip. Against lefties, he’s slugged well over .500 while also hitting for average with a good on-base percentage (helped by a massive batting average on balls in play). Slightly less than half of his starts have been behind the plate, and he hits cleanup in Seattle only because, what’s the alternative? If he were hitting like this in New York, I honestly wonder whether he’d still be in the big leagues. If the team’s top hitting prospect were only effective as a platoon player, wouldn’t they have him in Triple-A to work out the kinks?
2. Melky Cabrera LF, Giants
The Yankees starting left fielder has been on the disabled list nearly all season, so it’s been worth thinking about alternatives. Bobby Abreu has played well since taking over left field for the Dodgers, Alfonso Soriano is doing his usual strikeouts-and-homers routine in Chicago, and Jose Tabata has been dumped to Triple-A by the Pirates. All are interesting Yankees-related left field situations, but Cabrera is fascinating. After a good season last year, Cabrera is having an outstanding season this year. He’s leading the league in hits while also showing some speed and power, and he suddenly looks like one of the top outfielders heading into this offseason’s free agent market. He never showed anything quite like this with the Yankees — even his best years were nowhere near this level of production — but he’s still just 27 years old. Maybe it just took him some time and mulitple changes of scenery to figure it out.
3. A.J. Burnett SP, Pirates
Here’s what’s amazing about Burnett: The Yankees are paying most of his salary, and he’s pitched at nearly an all-star level for someone else, yet there’s absolutely no public outcry about the Yankees making a mistake in trading him to Pittsburgh. He seemed like a lost cause with the Yankees, and there was such an excess of rotation options in spring training, that even now, he’s a guy who’s watched with more fascination than longing. Kind of like Ian Kennedy — who was the traded-away starter to watch last year — Burnett’s time in New York had come and gone, and he’s found success again in the National League. Good for him.
4. Austin Jackson CF, Tigers
Since the trade that brought him to New York, Curtis Granderson has pretty much become the best version of himself: A slugging center fielder who’s learned to hit left-handers and produce like a middle-of-the-order bat. This season, Jackson has also begun to reach his ceiling. Despite missing nearly a month on the disabled list, Jackson leads the American League in triples, and even though he’s still striking out a lot — he’s always done that — Jackson is getting on base more than 40 percent of the time. He’s a terrific defensive player, and this year he’s been an elite leadoff hitter.
5. Jose Quintana SP, White Sox
Would rank higher on this list if more people knew he came out of the Yankees system. To be fair, Quintana was released by the Mets long before the Yankees allowed him to become a free agent. He had a terrific season with High-A Tampa last year — 10-2 record, 2.91 ERA, 1.12 WHIP — but the Yankees weren’t sold on giving him a spot on the 40-man. The White Sox gave him a big league contract and optioned him to Double-A before adding him to the big league rotation before he’d thrown a single Triple-A inning. The result is a 2.04 ERA through eight starts, three of which have lasted at least eight innings.
6. Johnny Damon LF, Indians
There was a large and vocal group of Yankees fans who badly wanted Damon back in the Bronx this season. Some were so enthralled with the idea, that they hated the Raul Ibanez signing before the deal was officially done. As it’s turned out, Damon has been a .215/.285/.344 hitter in Cleveland (and those numbers don’t get much better if you look only at his at-bats against right-handers). Ibanez has been a bit inconsistent, but he’s at least slugged .484 against righties and given the Yankees a passable left fielder while Brett Gardner’s been on the disabled list.
7. Alfredo Aceves RP, Red Sox
After the 2010 season — when injuries limited him to 12 big league innings — the Yankees weren’t willing to give Aceves a big league deal. He wound up signing with Boston and pitching well in multiple roles. Already labeled as one who got away, Aceves has now taken the Red Sox closer job while Andrew Bailey’s been on the disabled list. He has 19 saves and a 1.19 WHIP. He’s not much different than he was with the Yankees: Not necessarily overwhelming, but effective and versatile.
8. Tyler Clippard RP, Nationals
If this were a ranking of the best former Yankees in baseball, Clippard would be higher on the list, and certainly above Aceves. As far as attention, though, Clippard stays a little but off the radar because he seemed like such a non-factor during his time in New York. He was a good but not elite prospect, and he made six big league starts before the Yankees shipped him to Washington for Jonathan Albaladejo in 2007. It was Washington that decided to try him in the bullpen, and Clippard’s career took off. Now closing games for a first-place team, Clippard has a 1.93 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings. The Yankees bullpen is awfully good, but every team in baseball would have a spot for Clippard.
9. Hector Noesi SP, Mariners
An edge-of-the-radar prospect for most of his Yankees career, Noesi made a strong impression in his big league debut, but the Yankees system seemed to be loaded with guys just like him, and so he was shipped to Seattle in the Montero trade. Seattle gave him 17 big league starts before shipping him to Triple-A. He leads the American League with 11 losses and has a 5.77 ERA. The guy who essentially took his place in New York is David Phelps, who looks like a clear upgrade. It’s too early to judge Noesi’s career, but the Yankees certainly don’t miss him this year.
10. Justin Maxwell RF, Astros
Granted, Maxwell’s not exactly a headline name. Depending on what you’re looking for, guys like Ian Kennedy and Alfonso Soriano are certainly more buzz-worthy former Yankees, but those guys are old news at this point. Maxwell is an interesting case because he played well in spring training, seemed to have some fans on the Yankees coaching staff, but fell victim to the numbers game. He was out of options, there was no room for him on the roster, and upon landing in Houston, he hit .231/.324/.471 with eight home runs as a backup outfielder before going on the disabled list. Given the way this season played out with Brett Gardner’s elbow injury, the Yankees might have had a spot for Maxwell afterall.
Five more noteworthy for one reason or another
Jose Molina C, Rays
Tampa Bay decided to try a career backup as an everyday catcher. The result has been the worst offensive year of his career.
Cody Ransom INF Brewers
If he’d been with the Yankees in spring training, there’s a solid chance Ransom would be in New York right now instead of Jayson Nix. As it is, Ransom has played a utility role with both the Diamondbacks and Brewers this season.
Jose Tabata RF/LF, Pirates
Looked like a really nice player after his rookie season with Pittsburgh, but his numbers are trending the wrong way and now he’s been optioned back to Triple-A.
Bartolo Colon SP, Athletics
Strikeouts are down, but so are the walks. His ERA and WHIP are basically the same as last season.
Mark Melancon RP, Red Sox
Luis Ayala is basically repeating last season’s results in Baltimore this year, but Melancon is a far more interesting former Yankees reliever. After that brutal month of April, he’s actually been very good since returning to Boston from Triple-A.
Associated Press photos