Over the next few days, the name Kyle Drabek will surface in many a trade rumor. He is a 21-year-old pitcher, a 2006 first-round selection by the Phillies and the son of former Major Leaguer Doug Drabek. He is a much sought-after prospect and may or may not head to the Blue Jays as part of a package for Roy Halladay. No matter the outcome, though, his name in the press reminds of when another team — the Yankees — traded a 23-year-old Doug Drabek and got back not much in return.
The year was 1986. While the Yankees would put up the best cumulative won-loss record of the decade, any sort of success, post-season or otherwise, would elude them. George Steinbrenner was at his peak. He had no patience for young players and would order his GMs to trade at will. Young players, and pitchers in particular, had no chance of sticking around.
In 1986, the Yanks called up one of their top pitching prospects. A young Doug Drabek would make his Yankee debut on May 30 in relief. He threw 4.1 innings, giving up one run on one hit and three walks, and he recorded four strikes. Over the course of the season, he would appear in 27 games for the Yanks, making 21 starts. He went 7-8 with a 4.10 ERA — and a 100 ERA+ — with 50 walks and 76 strike outs in 131.2 innings. For a young kid with a lively arm, it wasn’t a bad debut.
In November, the Yanks would ship Drabek along with Logan Easley and Brian Fisher to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Pat Clements, Cecilio Guante and Rick Rhoden. Drabek and Rhoden were the centerpieces of the deal. The Yanks felt they were a starting pitcher short of a playoff berth, and Rhoden was supposed to be the key to that berth.
In a way, Rhoden reminds me of Halladay. There are some definite similarities. Before arriving in New York, Rhoden was 121-97 with a 3.48 ERA. Halladay is 142-69 in 12 seasons with a 3.45 ERA. The won-loss records aren’t identical; the ERAs are similar.
After arriving in New York, Rhoden, 33 and one year older than Halladay at the time, would pitch three more season, two in New York. As a Yankee, Rhoden went 28-22 with a 4.09 ERA. The Yanks would not make the playoffs with him around, and Drabek would go on to be a very good pitcher for the next eight years.
Although it’s tempting to draw parallels between Rhoden and Halladay, as I did just a few paragraphs ago, Roy is a much better pitcher than Rick. At the time of the trade, Rhoden’s ERA+ was a 103 while Hallday’s sits at 133. Rhoden struck out 4.8 per 9 IP and had a 1.72 strike out-per-wak ratio. Hallday’s numbers are 6.5 and 3.20 respectively. The comparison is barely valid.
In trading Doug Drabek, the Yankees made a clear mistake, and everyone knew it at the time. Dave Anderson, writing in The Times during Thanksgiving, called out the Yanks for “acquiring an older pitcher more susceptible to arm trouble rather than having the patience to let a younger, sturdier pitcher develop.” That criticism would become more apt after Drabek won his 1990 Cy Young Award. The Yanks sure could have used that.
As 2009 ticks away, the Phillies should probably trade Kyle for Roy Halladay. Doc would hand them the NL while Rick Rhoden wouldn’t have amounted to anything. Still, as the trade deadline approaches, young pitchers will always remain a hot commodity. The Drabeks know this just as well as anyone.