When the Yanks traded Roberto Kelly

Open Thread: Uniform numbers and nothing else
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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

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Open Thread: Uniform numbers and nothing else
Yanks bring aboard Segovia as a non-roster invitee
  • YankeeJosh

    “O’Neill went on to put up a .303/.377/.492 with 185 home runs in the Bronx, and no one has worn 21 since he did.”

    Blocking out LaTroy Hawkins? Man, Yankees fans unfairly let him have it for trying to wear #21 to honor Roberto Clemente.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      He wore it for about two weeks and was brow-beaten by everyone. Number retired by somewhat unreasonable fans and not actually the Yankees.

      I’ll updated that tough.

      • YankeeJosh

        I just remember how huge a topic that became for no reason at all.

        It’s an interesting take. The Granderson deal definitely has some similarities, but O’Neill was basically a platoon player with the Reds from what I recall. Granderson has played every day, so I’m not sure I see it. Still, it’d be great if lightening struck twice!

        • JGS

          he wasn’t a platoon player–he became a full time player in 1988 and played 145 games, then 117 (not sure what happened that year) then 145, 152, 148, then he got traded to New York

          • Pete C.

            Didn’t he win a batting title one year in Cincy? I remember when the trade happened, all I thought about was this is the guy who kicked the ball into the 2nd baseman off a right field single. I wasn’t happy, until a feind of mine who is a Mets fan told me the Yanks made a great trade. I guess he saw Paulie play a bunch and saw something.

            • JGS

              he never hit higher than .276 in Cincy

            • pete c.

              my bad.

            • pete c.

              It was with NY in ’94, I thought he won 2. That’s what I get for going by memory.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      Man, Yankees fans unfairly let him have it for trying to wear #21 to honor Roberto Clemente.

      Don’t forget the Morgan Ensberg spring training incident.

      • Steve H

        And Morgan Ensberg has never been heard from again.

        • jsbrendog

          he was killed

  • Hughesus Cristo

    Shades of Granderson?

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Maybe. That was the unsaid aspect to this post. Ajax is more of a prospect, obviously, than Roberto Kelly was, but the parallels, to a point, are there.

    • JGS

      He’ll never hit .359, but at the same time O’Neill never hit more than 28 home runs

    • mustang

      Not even close Roberto Kelly was a All-Star in 1992.

      • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

        Undeservedly so. He was the Yanks’ only representative that year and made it despite a sub-.700 OPS through the first half of the season.

        • mustang

          Regardless Ajax has even seen MLB.

        • JGS

          .733, but the point stands

          • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

            Yeah. You’re right. I was looking at the wrong line. His post-ASB OPS was under .700. The AL probably should have taken Tartabull that year to San Diego instead, though Kelly went 1 for 2 with 2 ribbies in that game.

      • mustang

        No way can you compare him Kelly to Ajax. Kelly was much more proven at the time of the trade.

        • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

          Exactly. That’s why I said “to a point.” It’s probably better to say that the Yanks received similar returns in that Granderson has the potential to be a great impact player as O’Neill did. The two trades featured the Yanks’ surrendering two completely different packages. No one’s denying that.

          It’s why I didn’t bring it up in the post. Fun to discuss, but the parallels are rather tenuous.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

            Not to mention the fact that O’Neill was acquired for Kelly, straight up.

            Granderson was acquired for AJax AND Kennedy and Coke as part of a three-way deal in conjunction with a starting pitcher of debatable talent who was entering his prime arbitration years and was due to rapidly outstrip his P/E ratio and thus had to be moved before his value evaporated by a team desperate to move salary due to their bloated payroll.

      • JGS

        only because every team has to have one

      • Steve H

        Scott Cooper was a 2 time All-Star. All-Star appearences is worse than using batting average and RBI to judge a player.

  • mustang

    The funny part is that if RAB was around then I would almost guarantee that most would be against that trade.
    It was a Yankees 80’s move of trading a young talent player for an older player with question markers. I remember hating the trade and saying to myself same old same old yanks.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      trading a young talent player for an older player with question markers

      Roberto Kelly is only 19 months younger than O’Neill. It was more along the lines of trading one still-young player who never fulfilled his potential for another. Plus, O’Neill had two years left on his contract while Kelly didn’t. It would been an eyebrow-raising move simply for the why of it. At the time, it was tough to see what either team got out of it.

      • mustang

        You guys would have hated it. Kelly was home grown an All-Star on an otherwise boring ass team. While O’Neil was a hot head who was always in the dog house with the Reds because he couldn’t live up to what they and then manager Lou wanted.

        • Jason

          No offense, Mustang, but I think you’re missing one of the points of Ben’s post. At the time, everyone hated it, some for good reason and others for bad ones. Their age difference doesn’t matter, but their potential did. I remember that trade well, and few people in New York thought kindly of it until Paul O’Neill showed us what he could do in 1993.

          • mustang

            I see Ben’s point, but my point is that I don’t think many people here would have loved or made that trade regardless potential.

            • whozat

              Depends. It’s also possible that if one went back and looked at Kelly and Oneill like we look at young players now, we might see that Kelly was more hype than substance and that there was reason to expect ONeill to break out in NY.

              • mustang

                Fair enough.

              • mustang

                “that there was reason to expect ONeill to break out in NY.”

                Not by the statistics. It was good scouting and great insight by Gene Michael and crew. With a little bit of luck I’m sure.

                • mustang

                  And by the age-o-meter here at RAB when O’Neil was trade here at the old age of 30 he was one year away from the:
                  ” wrong side of an offensive player’s peak performance curve.”:

    • Bo

      RAB and the posters here would have raged and raged at that trade. “homegrown talent gone!” “prospects are gold” etc etc

      They raged at a short season player being traded for a 200+ inn workhorse who finished 4th in the CY vote!

      • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

        Don’t conflate me, Joe and Mike with the commenters. The three of us weren’t heartbroken to see Arodys Vizcaino traded. Yeah, he has potential, but you can’t get something back in return without giving up anything. Shockingly, Bo, your comment is both revisionist history and wrong.

        • Steve H

          I think about 1% of all posters didn’t like the trade. But again, it’s Bo.

  • BigBlueAL

    That off-season also included the signings of Jimmy Key and Wade Boggs also correct?? Along with Spike Owen too I believe but he sucked.

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      Yep. Boggs signed six weeks later, and Jimmy Key came over five days after that. Good off-season for the Yanks that year.

      • mustang

        Great off-season Jimmy Key was huge move.

      • RollingWave

        still, woulda been even better if they gotten Bonds instead of Boggs no?

  • Salty Buggah

    Hah, that picture’s caption says “RED SOX YANKEES.”

    • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

      It was taken in April 2001 at a Yankees/Red Sox game. That’s how the AP tagged it.

      • Salty Buggah

        Oh, gotcha.

  • AndrewYF

    Look at the top-5 MVP vote-getters in 1994.

    Can I say holy shitballs?

    • AndrewYF

      Nevermind, look at the top NINE for 1996. Disregarding Palmeiro.

      • AndrewYF

        And screw that, look at the top, fuck it THIRTEEN for 2000.

        They don’t inject ‘em like they used to.

  • http://www.i-yankees.com iYankees

    Great piece, Ben. I look at O’Neill’s numbers today and am amazed yet pleased that his bat came around with the Yankees. Prior to that, it really wasn’t pretty. Not sure if that was a product of where he hit in the lineup, his team, etc.

    • Salty Buggah

      Steroids!

      /kidding…mostly.

      • http://www.i-yankees.com iYankees

        I won’t lie, I’ve thought about it… But, I’m biased, so no, lol.

        • CountryClub

          Nah, it was because Sweet Lou wanted Paul to pull everything. He saw that stroke and dreamed of 30 HR’s per year. Plus, Paul said the pressure of playing in his home town got to him. When he came to NY, Mattingly schooled him in the ways of hitting to all fields. Paul talks very highly of Don because of it.

          Once he stopped becoming HR/pull happy, he became a well rounded line drive machine.

          • Steve H

            Well if any player turns their career around like O’neil did, they are going to come up with a litany of reasons that aren’t steroids related, even if it was steroids related. Just sayin.

            • CountryClub

              True. Except with him you could actually see the different approach at the plate. Plus, it’s not like he started hitting 40 dingers a year…and he was in a HR friendly park for lefties.

  • Mo

    Great piece Ben. Thanks for putting it together.
    Retire #21

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      Hmmm… no.

    • http://channel0.tumblr.com Brendan

      Why not? There’s an easy argument to make that he was the MVP of the 1996-2001 teams, and I always considered him the de facto captain. If Elston Howard’s number is retired, I don’t understand why O’Neill’s wouldn’t be.

      In ten years I fully expect #2, #6, #21, #42 and #51 to be hanging in Monument Park.

      • binky the klown

        How can ya forgot Andy’s #46?!? For shame, ya’all!

  • Tony

    Loved O’neil. However I wish the Yankees would “honor” #’s & not retire them. I like the idea of a young kid trying to make his # proud. Say a hot shot short stop in 10 yrs wants to wear 2 – why not. At this pace in a 100 yrs they’ll have to wear triple digits.

    • scoopemup

      Why no Paul (2 L’s ) O’Neill Day yet?

  • Richard Deegan

    Loved Paul even before the deal for him, but back then we was in a very small minority.
    Another very similar situation was trading the untouchable future HOFer Austin Montero Vizcayo (a.k.a. Charlie Spikes) for Graig Nettles. Oh, the weeping and gnashing of teeth in the press at losing the immortal Spikes for a useless has-been/never-was.
    Can anyone picture the Yanks w/o Nettles?

  • Bo

    It’s a mortal lock that 21 will be retired one day.

    Hes way too popular with the fans.

    • Steve H

      If they retire #21, they’ll have to retire about 50 more and run out.

      • binky the klown

        Really? Give me 50 Yankees players who put up Paulie’s numbers. Ya might find 10 or so who reflect Paulie’ success, but these very good pinstripe heroes deserve some honor and respect, too. Plus, I’m eagerly anticipating the day I see a line-up filled with players wearing three digits. I call #125!

  • CapitalT

    Buster Olney’s piece on O’neil in the Last Night of the Dynasty was well worth the read.

    Spoiler alert. The book ends horribly

    • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

      I stapled a bunch of pages having to do with 2009 into the back of the book.

      Problem solved.

  • OUTFIELD OPTIONS

    At the time of the Roberto/Paulie trade Yankee fans were outraged. Paul O’Neil

  • OUTFIELD OPTIONS

    At the time of the Roberto/Paulie trade Yankee fans were outraged. Paul O’Neil then became a Yankee Legend…….

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Archimedes Torquemada

      … I’m waiting for the third post in this series, where you add a little bit more and your grand point is finally revealed.

      • mustang

        LMAO… I was thinking the same thing …….LMAO

  • http://www.workwithpete.com Pete

    1992 Counts as ‘yore’? That was my freshman year of college!

    /old

  • V

    At the time of the Roberto/Paulie trade Yankee fans were outraged. Paul O’Neil then became a Yankee Legend and then in 2010 cured cancer, global warming, and built a livable biodome on the moon.

    • binky the klown

      Global warming? Oh, you mean ManBearPig… be carful he keeps changing his appearance from cooling to warming that we need to manipulate the data and…{looks around}… and lie.

      Excelsior!!

      -Al Gore

  • RKelly39

    I’m still outraged!

  • RKelly39

    Long live Roberto Kelly!!

  • Jeff

    Brilliant trade. Kelly was unneeded with the superior Bernie Williams ready to go so essentially they traded a spare part for a franchise cornerstone.

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