Past Trade Review: Denny Neagle

Mailbag: Koji Uehara, Bad Contracts
The RAB Radio Show: November 26, 2010

On the heels of two consecutive World Championships and three in four years, the 2000 Yankees limped into July with a pedestrian 39-36 record that had them three games back of the Blue Jays. The team was in clear need of another bat and another starting pitcher, and Brian Cashman addressed the first issue when he acquired David Justice from the Indians in late-June. Just about three weeks before the trade deadline, Cashman addressed the need for a starting pitcher, shipping four prospects to the Reds for left-hander Denny Neagle and minor league outfielder Mike Frank.

New York Yankees pitcher Denny Neagle speaks during a press conference Friday, July 14, 2000, at Yankee Stadium in New York. The Yankees acquired the left-handed pitcher in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday, July 12. (AP Photo/Ed Betz)

“We like these [prospects], but we’ve made the decision to go for it,” said Brian Cashman shortly after the trade. “Denny Neagle is the guy we wanted. We feel he was the best pitcher available on the market. He has postseason experience. He’s healthy. He’s been successful. And a left-hander at Yankee Stadium—all those attributes played a part in it.”

The Yankees had first hand knowledge of Neagle; he threw six innings against them for the Braves in the 1996 World Series. Those were just two of his ten career postseason appearances (up to that point), which featured a 3.09 ERA with a .249 wOBA against in 35 innings. Before the trade he’d pitched to a 3.52 ERA (4.65 FIP) in 18 starts with the Reds, and from 1995 through 1999 he owned a 3.46 ERA (3.97 FIP) in just about 1,000 innings. There were obvious reasons to expect Neagle to be successful for the Yankees, and at the outset he was.

In his first start for New York, Neagle tossed eight innings of one run ball against the Phillies and then followed that up with complete game, one run effort against the then-Devil Rays. His next two outings were good but not great (7 IP, 4 R against both the Twins and Royals), but it all started to go downhill from there. The Mariners hung seven runs on Neagle in 5.2 innings next time out, capped off by a Carlos Guillen grand slam in the sixth. Five days later he gave up six runs to the Angels, recording just five outs. Neagle received a brief reprieve after shutting out the Angels for 6.2 innings in his next start, but he went on to allow 36 runs and ten homers in his final eight starts of the season, covering 45.2 innings. His season ERA had risen from 3.52 with the Reds to 4.52 overall.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Neagle was on the team’s ALDS roster but did not pitch in the series. Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte both pitched on three days rest as the Yanks topped the A’s in five games. Those two starts, plus the need for third starter Orlando Hernandez to pitch in relief during Game Five, forced Joe Torre to start Neagle in Game One of the ALCS. He performed pretty well, holding the Mariners to two runs in 5.2 innings, but the Yankees didn’t bother to score and lost by the score of (yep) 2-0. Neagle then started Game Five with the Yanks leading the series three games to one, surrendering one run in 4.1 innings before Jeff Nelson relieved him and allowed a pair of inherited runners to score (and then some).

The Yankees eventually won the ALCS in six, advancing to the Subway Series. Pettitte, Clemens, and El Duque got the ball in Games One, Two, and Three, handing a two games to one series lead off the Neagle for Game Four. On another short leash, he held the Mets to two runs in 4.2 innings, but the Yankee bullpen made an early 3-2 lead stand up. The Yanks eventually won the series as you know, and Neagle was allowed to leave as a free agent after the season, signing that five-year, $51M contract with the Rockies. With the draft picks they received as compensation, the Yanks selected Bronson Sardinha and Jason Arnold.

All told, the Yanks received 91.1 innings out of Neagle, who pitched to a 5.81 ERA (5.23 FIP). His first playoff start was good but the other two were no better than acceptable, and all together Neagle was worth just 0.2 bWAR in pinstripes. The Yankees also assumed the $2.55MM left on his contract, a pittance by today’s salary standards. Mike Frank, the other player they received in the trade, never reached the big leagues with the Yankees, hitting .249/.329/.393 in 572 plate appearances with Triple-A Columbus in 2000 and 2001. He signed with the Cardinals as a minor league free agent after that, and has been out of baseball since 2002.

As for Cincinnati, they received a hodgepodge of four highly regarded prospects in the transaction. The headliner was 1998 third round pick Drew Henson, who had been rated the 24th best prospect in the game by Baseball America before the season. He played just 16 games in the Reds’ farm system that season, going 11-for-64 with eight doubles, a homer, four walks and 25 strikeouts. Cincy then traded him back to the Yankees (with outfielder Michael Coleman) after the season for another top prospect, outfielder Wily Mo Pena.

Left-hander Ed Yarnall was the second key piece for the Reds. Baseball America ranked him the 55th best prospect in the game before the 2000 season, and of course the Yankees originally acquired him in the ill-fated Mike Lowell trade. Yarnall had appeared in seven total games with the Yanks in 1999 and 2000, though he predictably struggled (14 K, 13 BB in 20 IP). Cincinnati never received even that much production out of him at the big league level; Yarnell made 11 starts for the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate after the trade (3.86 ERA) before bolting for Japan after the season. He returned to the U.S. in 2003, but not with the Reds and never to reach the majors again.

The third top prospect that headed to Cincinnati was outfielder Jackson Melian, who Baseball America ranked the 72nd best prospect in the game before the season. The then 20-year-old hit .236/.309/.398 in a year-and-a-half with Cincy’s various minor league affiliates, eventually getting plucked off waivers by the Brewers before the 2002 season. Melian never reached the big leagues, though he bounced around in the minors (including a second stint with the Yankees) through 2008.

Brian Reith. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

The fourth player was not a top 100 prospect, just a Single-A right-hander named Brian Reith. He was the only player Cincinnati received in the trade that actually managed to play for them at the big league level, throwing 127.2 innings (5.92 ERA) spread out from 2001 through 2004 before being claimed off waivers from the Phillies. His Reds career was worth -1.4 bWAR.

Neagle has long been considered a bust in pinstripes, but the Yankees got far more out of him than the Reds got out of the players they received. Other than the payroll savings and the secondary deal for Pena, Cincinnati received almost no return for two-plus months of their best starting pitcher. Neagle pitched poorly in New York, but he helped the team win a World Championship, which is exactly why they brought him in. It’s certainly not a clear win, but I’d rather have been on the Yankees end of the deal.

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Mailbag: Koji Uehara, Bad Contracts
The RAB Radio Show: November 26, 2010
  • Johnny O

    So the Yanks gave up 3 BA top 100 prospects for Neagle? Goes to show the reliability of prospect rankings and how few turn out to be useful major leaguers. Imagine if we gave up ManBan, Gary Sanchez, and Brackman for Hidoki Kuroda this year? I’m sure there’s a better comp, but that seems almost like what this trade was.

    Something tells me a young Mike Axisa would’ve had a seizure if he knew what a blog was in 2000.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Something tells me a young Mike Axisa would’ve had a seizure if he knew what a blog was in 2000.

      My jaw dropped once I realized that all three were top 100 guys while writing the post. Deals like this just don’t happen anymore, not for a player due to become a free agent after the season.

  • James

    I distinctly remember a very pissed off Denny Neagle handing Joe Torre the game ball during the Fifth Inning of Game Four as David Cone came trotting in. Come to think of it I also feel like I remember a very pissed off David Cone handing Joe Torre the game ball during the next inning, which also happened to be Cone’s last appearance in Pinstripes.

    • steve (different one)

      Yup. Cone popped up Piazza and used 3 pitchers by the 6th inning. Nowadays, Girardi would be raked over the coals for “overmanaging”, using a washed up Cone in a key spot, pulling his starter too early, etc. But go back 10 years, and instead you have a Yankeeography moment. Of couse Torre had his matchup numbers in a notebook instead of a binder!

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

        If only Girardi were nice to the media, we’d read all about how the binder is brilliant.

        • mac1

          Girardi needs to tell a Bob Gibson story once in a while and refer to his players as “special” – the media eats that shit up.

      • steve (different one)

        Just refreshed my memory. Yanks were up 3-2, there were 2 outs and no one on. Torre proceeds to pull his starter and bring in a guy with a 6.91 ERA to face the Mets best hitter. I’m a big Cone fan and not a huge Torre-hater, but this strikes me as basically an insane pitching move (I didn’t think so at the time, I’m sure). Yet it is remembered fondly as a genius managerial move and a testament to Cone’s inventiveness as a pitcher. Pretty funny. This would be like Girardi bringing in Javy to face Vlad with 2 out and no one on base in the ALCS.

      • http://youcantpredictbaseball.wordpress.com bexarama

        Fun fact: I was watching Game 4 of the 2001 World Series on ESPN Classic a few weeks ago. They very, very clearly had a shot of this big ol’ binder next to Torre on the bench at one point. I laughed really hard.

  • mac1

    I remember those first two lights out starts and thinking the Yanks really had something in Neagle. I also remember Michael Kay making a rare witty comment. He noted that Denny’s train whistle imitation was much more amusing when he actually won a game(paraphrasing).

    • Rob

      The fact that a decade later you can remember the witty comment by Michael Kay tell us one of two things: 1) You have an amazing, photographic memory; or, 2) Michael Kay rarely makes a witty comment.

      I remember that whistle, which was fun the first time I heard it. Not so much after. Neagle always seemed a bit goofy, and that photo seems to capture that, err, spirit. Also, by that photo, if a movie was to be made of Denny Neagle’s life (you know, after all subject matter in the history of mankind has been exahusted), then Jim Carrey should play Neagle.

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

        Or Hugh Grant, though not based on looks, based on similar life experiences.

      • mac1

        Rob, not to confirm the obvious, but its #2. In true “Kayian” fashion, he said the train whistle comment about 500 times, which also makes it tough to forget.

  • steve (different one)

    didn’t the Rockies try to use some sort of moral terpitude clause to void his contract after he got caught with a prostitute trying to get his train whistle blown??

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

      moral terpitude

      Reminds me of Porky’s.

  • vinny-b

    CHOO CHOOOOOO!

  • steve (different one)

    Cashman said “I choo choo choose you” with a picture of a train!

  • http://deleted Richard Deegan

    Gee, a nice late-blooming lefty has three decent years and the Yanks thought he was a world saver as he fell off a cliff. Sounds like the guy they’re now ready to pay 70MM a year for maybe two more decent years.

    • Jonathan

      Coke/Heroin or Ice or a combo of both? Can I get a vote for dumbest comment of the day?

  • Pasqua

    Tell me Neagle isn’t a dead-ringer for The Joker without the face paint. That dude was freaky looking.

  • cchismo

    The Reds did get Bronson Arroyo for Willy M who has turned out to be one of the more consistent pitchers in baseball.