In case my recent spate of posts hasn’t made it evident, I have quite the obsession with the trade deadline. It really covers all team building maneuvers, but the trade deadline is of especial fascination. Here are teams, two thirds of the way through a grueling 162-game season, deciding which of their players, veterans and prospects alike, are expendable. They have to make judgments about myriad details: what helps them now, what helps them in the future, what kind of value they should give up, and what kind of value they should get in return, just to name the obvious.
If you can cut through the wall of noise which surrounds us during times of high trade activity, it can reveal a lot about an organization’s philosophy. The problem is that we never get the full signal. Even the reporters who cover this team and deliver our daily helping of rumors don’t know everything a team considers. They don’t know some deals that almost went down. We get some of that information, but like all information of this sort there are many smokescreens which disguise a team’s true intent.
Over the next couple of days I’d like to take a look at the Yankees from 2005 through 2007 (with a possible addendum of 2008 just before the deadline on Friday) to see where they stood, where their weaknesses lied, and what moves they made. It’s tough to go back and find all of the rumors, but we can look at what they needed and what they got. We start with 2005.
Lay of the land
The Yankees, you’ll remember, started off 2005 in poor fashion, posting an 11-19 record on May 6. Many comparisons were drawn to the 1965 Yankees, who fell off a cliff. They did recover, and by July 15 were 47-41, just two and a half back of the first-place Red Sox. As every year, they were clearly buyers, and the prime target was pitching.
Like 2009, the Yankees had basically every spot filled. They could have upgraded in the outfield over Bernie Williams and Tony Womack, but it’s tough to just sit a veteran like Bernie. Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui manned the corners, while Robinson Cano played a capable second base. They could have upgraded there, but were seemingly satisfied to let Cano grow into the role.
On the pitching end, the Yanks were in a bit of a bind. Randy Johnson was pitching well, but Mike Mussina was having an off-year. Jaret Wright and Kevin Brown were hurt — surprise surprise — as was Carl Pavano at that point, though the Yanks thought they’d be getting him back. Chien-Ming Wang surprised with some solid performances, but he hit the DL with a rotator cuff issue after his July 8 start. That left the Yankees with just Johnson and Wang, and though the bullpen was in need, they needed a starter far more.
The prospect-depleted Yanks weren’t really in a position to make a big move in 2005. They had tried to acquire Randy Johnson at the trade deadline in 2004, but their system, headed by Cano, Wang, and Dioner Navarro, wasn’t impressing the Diamondbacks at the time. With Wang and Cano on the active roster, and with Navarro gone in the Johnson deal over the winter, the cupboard was pretty bare. Cashman then took the only viable strategy: throw shit at the wall and hope something sticks.
On July 1, Cashman signed Brian Boehringer. The next day he dished the underperforming Paul Quantrill for Darrell May and Tim Redding. Two weeks after that he received Al Leiter from the Florida Marlins. On July 29 he signed Hideo Nomo. His biggest move, if you could even consider it big at the time, was trading two minor league relievers, Eduardo Sierra and Ramon Ramirez, to the Rockies for Shawn Chacon. With no good, proven veterans available to the Yanks, this is all they could really do.
To shore up the bullpen, he signed Alan Embree, freshly released by the Red Sox. Again, not a big move, but it was something, anything to shore up the mess of a bullpen, which featured the likes of Tanyon Sturtze, who was terrible after May, Scott Proctor, Felix Rodriguez, Buddy Groom, Mike Stanton, and Wayne Franklin.
How it all turned out
Strangely, one of Cashman’s biggest moves came on January 21, when he signed Aaron Small to a minor league contract. That and the trade for Chacon saved the Yankees’ season. Not that Cashman could have relied on them. They were just some shit that happen to stick to the wall at the exact right time.
Small appeared in 15 games, started nine, and famously went 10-0. His 3.20 ERA was a testament to his ability to keep the ball in the park and keep men off base — his 8.4 hits per nine is far, far below what should be expected of a player with Small’s lowly K rate. Chacon started 12 games, pitching 79 innings and allowing just 25 runs. His walk rate and his strikeout rate sucked, but like Small he allowed a small number of hits for his peripherals.
The real deadline acquisition was on the offensive side, and that was Jason Giambi. On May 14 he was hitting .200/.382/.318, and most fans thought he was done. He had, after all, missed most of the 2004 season with a pituitary tumor which most assumed was steroids-related. Without the juice, Giambi was a goner. But from this low point, when his OPS dropped below .700, Giambi exploded, hitting .289/.455/.590 the rest of the way, combining with eventual-MVP Alex Rodriguez for one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in the league.
It was the summer of luck for the Yankees. They got a few decent starts out of Leiter and Wright once he returned (before Wright fell off a cliff in his last three starts). Chacon and Small were the very definition of blind luck. They also got a run of good starts from Mussina, though he too fell off a cliff at season’s end. It’s hard to imagine any team being that lucky, considering the injuries the team suffered and the replacements they hired.
Tomorrow we’ll come back with 2006, a bit more stable of a season. Still, it’s easy to remember what the Yanks’ major needs were that July, too.