Past Trade Review: Cashman’s Top 3 Heists

Report: A-Rod to meet with feds on Friday
Report: Yankees place Gaudin on waivers

When two or more general managers consummate a trade, they believe that their team will benefit. Why else would they agree to it? As we’ve learned throughout baseball history, though, trades don’t always work out for both sides. GMs who end up on the losing end of a few deals find themselves looking for new jobs soon enough. Those who come out on the winning end extend their tenures. It seems, however, that few, if any, GMs can consistently come out ahead. There are just too many variables involved. Every so often, a trade is going to smack you in the face.

We’ll soon enough get to Brian Cashman‘s biggest blunders. Today, though, we’ll focus on his heists. That is, his best deals during the 12-plus-year reign as Yankees’ GM. This will not only include the players received, but the players sent. I’ll look at this using the WAR of the players acquired, for the length of his contract when traded, and the value of the players sent, either by the same measure, or, in the case of prospects, for the six years of team control.

3. Nick Swisher

After the 2008 season the Yankees had plenty of remodeling to do. A number of starters, including Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu, were slated to hit free agency and the team showed no desire to retain either one. Considering the numbers both produced in 2008, it wasn’t an easy task to replace them. Xavier Nady was in the fold, though, presumably ready to man right. In a buy-low move to fill first base, Brian Cashman traded Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez for Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira. He later acquired Mark Teixeira to play first base, rendering Swisher’s role unknown. After Nady tore his UCL, though, Swisher slid right into Abreu’s spot.

Swisher relished his new job, posting a .375 wOBA, the highest mark of his career. Always a patient hitter, he actually increased his walk rate in 2009 to 16 percent, also the highest of his career. Power came in abundance, too, as his .249 ISO was, again, the best mark of his career. This, combined with league average defense, produced 3.6 WAR, which is 4.2 higher than the sum of Betemit, Marquez, and Nunez (Betemit produced -0.6 WAR before his release). Marquez notably fumbled the season. It’s hard to imagine him pitching worse than the 9.85 ERA he produced in 2009.

There’s still time for the White Sox to see more from this trade, but it’s doubtful that they ever make up the 4.2 WAR difference from the first season, let alone keep up with Swisher’s pace. Marquez was never projected as a top of the rotation starter. If he’s lucky he’ll spend a few years in a major league team’s bullpen. Nunez could get another shot with the Sox, but again, it would take an enormous breakout for him to get within a few wins of Swisher’s eventual WAR total with the Yanks.

2. Bobby Abreu

The 2006 season was not an easy one for Yankees’ outfielders. On April 29 Gary Sheffield collided with Shea Hillenbrand at first base. He picked up two RBI on the play, but also had to leave the game. The issue was with his forearm, but after he tried to return in early May it was clear he’d need at least a long rehab period, and possibly surgery, to correct the problem. Then, just two weeks later, Hideki Matsui broke his wrist while sliding to make a catch in the outfield. There was a chance both would miss the rest of the season.

The injuries forced the Yankees to call up Melky Cabrera, who looked lost during his cup of coffee in July 2005. He started off the season hot as can be in Columbus, hitting .385/.430/.566 through his first 135 PA. With the injuries and few bodies to fill the outfield — the Johnny Damon signing loomed large here — Melky was the obvious choice. He and Bernie Williams would have to bear the load. They did it pretty well, but the Yanks still could have used some help. Thankfully, Brian Cashman was on the case.

For some reason, the folks in Philadelphia just did not like Bobby Abreu. Even though he’d played in at least 152 games in each of his first seven seasons with the club, and even though he’d posted a .415 OBP and .522 SLG in that span, they still did not warm to him. He had an expensive contract and the Phillies just weren’t contending that year. Heading into July they were 36-43, 11 games back of the first-place Mets. Rumors swirled all month that they desired to trade Abreu, and the Yankees, with two outfielders on the DL, were often connected. Those rumors, though, involved the Phillies demanding Phil Hughes in return.

The team’s tune changed later in the month, and eventually they traded Abreu to the Yankees for three prospects – including their 2005 No. 1 draft pick – and a lefty reliever. The trade, obviously, was all Yankees. The No. 1 pick and the lefty reliever, C.J. Henry and Matt Smith, are no longer playing for any system. One prospect, Carlos Monasterios, continues to dawdle in the low minors. The only promise the Phillies have from that trade is Jesus Sanchez, who converted to the mound last season. He performed well, and with some improvement he might be a salvageable prospect.

Still, the Yanks clearly won here, with Abreu producing 5.8 WAR over his 2.5 seasons in pinstripes. Corey Lidle takes that number down a bit, as he was worth -0.2 WAR during his half season. Matt Smith, the only player to appear in the majors for the Phillies, produced 0.3 WAR in 2006, followed by -0.3 in 2007. If Sanchez can come up and produce that might change the outlook on this trade. As it stands, though, Cashman pulled nearly six wins out of thin air.

1. Alex Rodriguez

When I first came up with the idea for this post, I thought Abreu would be the one. After looking through Cashman’s trade history, it appears that many of his best trades were for the short-term — David Justice stands out. The Abreu trade, to my mind, seemed the most one-sided. But then I saw the A-Rod trade and thought that it was worth examining. As it turns out, it was the most lopsided deal he ever made.

We all know the story. In the winter of 2004, after he had sent the Yankees to the World Series with an 11th inning walk-off home run off Tim Wakefiled, Aaron Boone tore his ACL playing basketball. Since his contract expressly prohibited that type of activity, the Yankees voided the deal. That left an opening at third base. The Yankees traded a minor leaguer to Texas for Mike Lamb, who had spent most of his time in 2003 demolishing AAA after hitting at about league average over the previous two seasons. The Yankees, though, probably wanted a bit more certainty from the position.

Then, about 10 days after acquiring Lamb, the Yankees worked a deal with Texas to acquire Alex Rodriguez. Most of us have stories of where we were and who we were with when we heard the news. It was a pretty big event in recent Yankees history, not only for who the Yankees acquired, but whom they traded. In exchange for the best player in baseball, the Yankees sent Alfonso Soriano to Texas. This might have made the deal seem a bit less palatable. It was not, though.

At the time of the trade Soriano had three years left of team control. He had produced tremendously for the Yankees in 2003, a 4.8 WAR. Yet the Yankees added nearly two wins over 2003 with A-Rod’s acquisition, as he produced 6.7 WAR in 2004. Soriano dropped precipitously, though, producing just 1.8 WAR that season. Over the next two he added another 7.5 WAR before hitting free agency, bringing his total to 9.3. A-Rod’s contract technically ran through 2010, but had the opt-out clause after 2007. For the period the Yankees controlled him, he produced 30.1 WAR. The difference, 20.8 WAR, represents an enormously lopsided deal.

On all three of these deals the Yankees came out tremendously ahead. In the first two the other teams had little or nothing to speak of. In the last, the player received vastly outproduced the player sent. It’s kind of crazy that A-Rod’s deal was the most lopsided, considering the Yankees sent a productive player in exchange for him. But, as his 30.1 WAR indicates, he’s just that good.

Photo credits: Swisher — Steve Nesius/AP, Abreu and Rodriguez — Gene J. Puskar/AP

Report: A-Rod to meet with feds on Friday
Report: Yankees place Gaudin on waivers
  • Drew

    In Cash we trust.

  • bexarama

    Alex Rodriguez is good at baseball.

    My Philly fan friend may still be crying about the Bobby Abreu trade.

    • Bo

      Why? Not like they havent won a WS and were in another one since he was traded.

      • JobaWockeeZ

        So you’re okay with giving up a top tier hitter for basically a bag of baseballs?

        Color me unsurprised.

      • bexarama

        Sometimes people actually *like* players and don’t like to see them leave.

  • BigBlueAL

    Where is the Glenallen Hill trade!!!!

  • Richard Iurilli

    Based purely on the trades and not on player performance, the Swisher deal is definitely my favorite.

    Wilson. Freaking. Betemit. Seriously.

  • Dan Novick

    It’s kind of difficult to ignore the salaries involved with the Abreu and A-Rod deals. The trades appear so lopsided because the Yankees were willing to take on large salaries.

    Yea, A-Rod was way better than Soriano. But he was also paid fairly well for that production.

    • whozat


      But, don’t forget that the Rangers were paying ARod about 7mm a year til he opted out. The Yanks were paying him less than Jeter through 2007.

      • Drew

        Plus it’s not like Bobby’s deal was an albatross.

        The minimum payout was $4.4 for 06 and $15 + $2(08 buyout) for 07.

    • Rob in CT

      This is true. I’m not sure it changes the ranking, though.

      I think referring to the Abreu trade as a heist is an overstatement, b/c it was a bit of a salary dump.

      But ARod… sure, the Rangers were looking for salary relief, but damn. They took Sori & his salary AND agreed to pay a good chunk of ARod’s going forward. That was good work by Cash. Unfortunately, the opt-out saved the Rangers a bunch of money…

      • AndrewYF

        Most trades and heists are salary dumps.

    • Snakes on the mother effin plane

      Maybe the WARs should be reflected against monies actually paid to control for this?

  • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

    Monasterios was a Rule V pick.

  • J.R.

    I love how the swish pic, is from him o the mound.

  • Phil McCracken

    While the A-Rod trade was a great one, would anything have changed if the Rangers had selected Cano instead of Arias as the player to be named later?

    The Rangers will pick from a pool of five prospects, four of whom have been determined, according to a Baseball America report that references “baseball sources.” The magazine says the four known candidates are: pitcher Ramon Ramirez, outfielder Rudy Guillen, shortstop Joaquin Arias and second baseman Robinson Cano.

    • Will

      Luckily, they did not.

      An added benefit to the Arod trade is the Yankees were in no way tempted to give Soriano the mega deal he eventually received.

    • AndrewYF

      Damn, they could have had Ram-Ram as well. Soriano, Cano and Ramirez would have been quite a haul.

  • bobbybaseball

    its a great question, but i would love for the topic to be expanded to include all aquisitions and signings bad or good since the 2007 off season. I dont think that we can count anything before that, because we’re not sure wo else was pushing the buttons…ceratinly cash had interference. If im wrong on that, then he’s gotten a heck of a lot smarter over the past 3 years!

  • bobbybaseball

    just for the record, as i previously strayed off topic, the javier vasquez trade(#2)wss’nt mentioned and could possibly turn out great this time around, especially with javie lining up against opponants #4 starters, BUT, I just hope we dont get burned by this kid aroldys vizcaino, who seemed to have major upside…

    • Rick in Boston

      Javy might be the Yankees #4 starter, but once the season gets started he won’t line up against other #4’s as often as you think. Because of differences in schedules, including different off-days, rain outs, make-up doubleheaders, I think we’ll see Javy facing Lester as much as he faces Dice-K.

      • bobbybaseball

        i hate the over reliance on the metrics -its getting out of hand but id like to see the numbers on this one…your just guessing right?

    • Bo

      who was the last yankee prospect traded with major upside that turned into a star?

      • AndrewYF

        Yhency Brazoban was kinda good in his first year.

  • Jammy Jammers

    The Angels will win the World Series soon after Abreu leaves the team. It worked for the Phillies and Yankees.

  • Will

    If it’s about anyone acquired by Cashman, than El Duque has to fall squarely in his plus column. At the time, his agent, Joe Cubas, found the Yankees so difficult to deal with that he was close to steering him to another team before Cash stepped into the picture.

    In a New York Times article on March 7, 1998, Cubas stated, “I was about to cut a deal with Cleveland. We were at opposite ends of the spectrum yesterday. The thing that helped was that Cashman got directly involved, which he hadn’t been from the very beginning.”

    The Yankees without El Duque would have been a very different team.

    • Kiersten

      It pains me to think where we would be without the Do the El Duque commercial.

  • KayGee

    Where would the Clemens trade rank on this sort of list? Was it not included because WAR data is not available prior to 2002?

    Side Note: “Heading into July they were 36-43, 11 games back of the FIRST-PLACE METS.”

    That’s just hard to imagine…

    • Joseph Pawlikowski

      There is historical WAR available for every player in the history of baseball.

      The thing with the Clemens trade is that they gave up Wells, and they only got what was remaining on Clemens’s contract. That’s the criteria I laid out above.

      • KayGee

        Where can I find historical WAR? Thanks

        • Mike Axisa

          It’s calculated differently than FanGraphs, so they don’t match up.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size
          • KayGee

            Thanks guys. So basically, according to the guidelines, this trade would be evaluated in terms of WAR from 1999-2002? Clemens (15.3 WAR) v. Wells (11.9 WAR), or less than a win per year.

  • Bo

    How in the world can these be considered heists?

    They were all pure salary dumps by the other teams. That doesnt translate into a heist.

    You’d be hard pressed to find one without the other team purely dumping a salary for Cashman.

    • Rob in CT

      Swisher was dumped because the White Sox thought he sucked. Had they realized that 2008 was a flukey bad year for Swish, I seriously doubt they trade him.

      Abreu was a salary dump, yes.

      ARod, sorta. Yes, the Rangers wanted payroll relief and that was their motivation for the trade. But consider the circumstances (near-trade to Boston, then the Yanks get him instead) and the fact that the Rangers took on a vasty inferior player (Sori), paid his salary, AND paid a portion of ARod’s salary. In the end, the Yankees got a lot more bang for their buck than the Rangers did. That was a damned good trade.

    • CountryClub

      Texas paying a good portion of Arod’s salary is what makes that deal a steal.

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size
    • TomG

      Yeah, I don’t think you can really judge how big these heists are until you compare the price the Yankees paid per win each player added to the market rate of a win for each year of the contract. I’m just too lazy to do that today for some reason. But the Abreu trade obviously gave the Phillies the flexibility to lock up their young talent, which is keeping them competitive. I have a feeling the Swisher deal will still end up looking like a mugging though.

  • yanksfan4life

    Don’t forget the David Justice trade in 2000.