Spring Training Trade Review: Wily Mo Pena

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It seems that spring training trades tend to involve small-time players. After evaluating players over the first month of exhibition, some of these role players become expendable. This is what we saw in the Rondell White trade. Hideki Matsui‘s addition rendered White a reserve outfielder. Rather than spend $5 million on a bench player, the Yankees traded him for a high-upside arm. Yet this isn’t at all the type of trade Cashman pulled in the Spring of 2001. It involved two minor leaguers, Wily Mo Pena and Drew Henson. The players involved have quite a history with the Yankees.

The backstories

Photo credit: Tony Tribble/AP

During the international signing period in 1998, the Mets signed 16-year-old Wily Mo Pena. That winter, however, Major League Baseball voided the deal. Why this happened I could not find, but whatever the reason the Yankees stepped in a month later and signed Pena with a $2.44 million bonus, the largest non-Cuban bonus ever at that point.

The Yankees drafted Drew Henson in the third round of the 1998 draft. A star quarterback at the University of Michigan, Henson chose baseball and the Yankees thought he had star potential. But, needing a pitcher in 2000, they traded him to the Reds for Denny Neagle. Also included in that trade: Ed Yarnall, whom the Yankees acquired just a year prior in exchange for Mike Lowell.

The trade

Photo credit: Chris O’Meara/AP

In the spring of 2001 Henson had recently completed his junior year at the University of Michigan, where he excelled at quarterback. He was still playing baseball, but it was clear that he could still choose to enter the 2002 NFL draft and try his hand there. His preference, however, was to play baseball, and specifically for the Yankees. As Buster Olney put it, the Yankees were convinced of his future stardom and wanted him back from the Reds before he had to decide on the NFL.

Pena had not impressed during his first two seasons in the Yankees’ minor league system. He played his age-17 season in the GCL, hitting .247/.323/.446 through just 186 plate appearances. He followed that up with underwhelming performances in low-A and A levels in 2000, hitting for a combined .651 OPS. He played mostly in class-A, Greensboro at hte time, where he hit .205/.268/.361 in 276 PA. The performance itself was disappointing, but Pena was all projection at the time. His raw power certainly enticed other teams, and the Yankees took advantage.

The two teams worked out a swap in late March, with the Yankees receiving outfielder Michael Coleman in the deal. This was not much of a consolation, as Coleman had no remaining options — hence Cincinnati’s willingness to deal him. His last at-bat of the season, and of his major league career, came on May 16.

The results

What started as a swap of two talented players turned into a swap of two busts. Pena appeared to be on his way in 2001, when he hit .264/.327/.485 in 565 PA at Class-A. He struggled at AA the next year, though, especially with his bread and butter, power. Still, he made his Major League debut that season. He hit well enough in 2003 to warrant a call-up, and in 2004 it appeared he was well on his way to mashing major league pitchers. He posted a .268 ISO in 2004 and .238 in 2005. Yet his plate discipline remained a big problem.

Pena was involved in another spring training trade five years after the Yanks traded him when Cincinnati sent him to Boston for Bronson Arroyo in 2006. His power numbers dropped that year, but his .301 average powered his OBP to a respectable .349. THat’s what a .400 BABIP will do. Of course, that’s unsustainable. After 172 poor plate appearances for the Red Sox in 2007 they traded him to the Nationals, where he picked it up. Unfortunately he stumbled again the next season. He spent 2009 at the Mets’ AAA organization, where he hit .276/.296/.414.

Though Henson played at three minor league levels in 2001, he spent most of his time at AAA, 281 PA, though he struggled worse than Pena. His .145 ISO was the only remotely bright spot that season. In 2002 he returned to AAA and showed improvement, hitting .240/.301/.435, again displaying power, a .195 ISO this time, but once again showing not much in the way of discipline. He did get one major league PA at the end of the season. He was even worse in 2003, hitting .234/.291/.412. He went 1 for 8 that september with the big league club and never played baseball again.

Overall, Pena produced 0.8 WAR in his career while Henson was -0.1, so the Yankees didn’t lose even one win by making the swap. I don’t remember much of the trade, though I understand what they were doing. They wanted the athlete over the power product. As it turned out, neither reached their potential.

Spring Training Game Thread: Under the lights
A peek at some Spring Training numbers
  • Baseballnation

    Drew Henson or C.J. Henry, bigger bust?

    • http://www.retire21.org Mike R. – Retire 21

      Drew Henson. Cashman’s an idiot! He should have drafted Brady! Imagine how many more titles we would have won!

      • mustang

        If Cashman was an idiot so were a lot of other people including Sport Illustrated that wrote story on how Henson was a can’t miss prospect.

      • mustang

        Right over my head.

    • http://www.retire21.org Mike R. – Retire 21

      Seriously though. CJ Henry helped net Abreu, Henson didn’t do much of anything.

      • Tom Zig


  • JackISBACK

    Henson. Why? Because he was a bust in BOTH baseball and football. Henry was more of a risky type play that didn’t work out, like that kid the Phillies drafted a couple years ago, Anthony Hewitt.

    Henson was supposed to be a can’t miss type guy. Someone who if they concentrated on baseball would be an All Star caliber player, and he fell on his face. And then he went and did the same thing in football.

    • JackISBACK

      D’Oh, I suck at hitting the reply button for these posts correctly.

  • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops

    Drew Henson crushed my hopes as both a Cowboys and a Yankees fan.

    • Slu

      Wow. Are you also a Canadiens and Lakers fan?

  • Davor

    I remember some reports that Henson insisted to play only in New York, or he would go to NFL, so Yankees made the second trade with Cleveland.
    Problem with Henson was that he was pushed too quick, like Duncan was. Both of them needed time at high A, or even low A, to learn pitch recognition, maybe remake their swings. Yankees pushed them too early to AA and AAA.

    • Thomas

      IIRC Henson’s push up to AAA was force by Henson father. His father made the Yankees put it into his contract or he would play in the NFL. Thus, Henson did not get the time he needed in the lower levels. Additionally, since the Yankees’ AAA affiliate was Columbus, Henson, the Michigan QB, would get booed by the home fans, which probably didn’t help much.

  • Tampa Yankee

    I remember watching a Yanks ST game years ago when Henson played. I remember hearing a lot about him and when I saw him, he looked impressive physically and athletic so I thought he’d at least be decent but then the game started and WOW, he was not good at all! Very disappointing!

    • http://warriorsmovie.co.uk/content/gangs/images/baseballfuries02.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      I like to imagine the Yankees’ front office saying this as they watched him play.

      “He was impressive physically and athletic so we thought he’d at least be decent but then the game started and WOW, he was not good at all! Very disappointing!

    • mustang

      Henson is the perfect example of why people shouldn’t get caught up in the hype of prospects.
      Reading the Sport Illustrated story on him the guy had everything good GPA, monster numbers in high school, and a good family background. After reading that I though wow this kid is the real deal.

  • Reggie C.

    Henson is exactly the high ceiling type of player i’d want the Yankees to draft in the 3rd round. Not sure how Henson’s “hit” tool would grade out today, but setting the national record for hrs is an impressive display of power.

    • Tampa Yankee

      Fun fact: The guy who broke Henson’s record, Jeff Clement, I worked with his brother. Jeff also played at USC with one Ian Patrick Kennedy. Don’t know why I brought this up, I’m bored….

  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    Heh, Michael Coleman. I remember when he and Donnie Sadler were going to be 10x All-Stars for the Sox. Another couple of swings and misses for Gammons.

  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    I think Wily Mo Pena would be a better football player than Henson. He would be a beast of a middle linebacker.

  • Beamish

    I was there at the old new Stadium when Henson got his lone MLB hit at the last game of the season after the Yankees had clinched. The “Manager” that day was Boomer.

    My buddy and I got our entire Loge section to stand up and applause. When the woman behind us asked why we just did that my buddy told her: “Because Drew Henson just got his first MLB hit and he will never get another. Now you can say ‘I was there’.”

  • scoopemup

    There was another baseball/football player in the Yankee system,went on to play in the NFL for Denver I believe.Wonder what ever happened to him?

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

      Funny thing is, he could actually play baseball too.