Snakebitten

The Jorge Posada Game
Barry Larkin elected to Hall of Fame
(Schilling photo by The AP; Johnson photo by Harry How/Allsport; IPK photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty; Haren photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty)

In the aftermath of the Arizona Diamondbacks non-tendering Joe Saunders — the mediocre left-handed pitcher who was the only Major Leaguer in the package sent by the Angels to the Snakes for Dan Haren in July 2010 — last month, it occurred to me that despite the fact that the franchise has only been in existence for 14 seasons, there’s a strong possibility that the Diamondbacks have been the greatest off-the-field thorn in the Yankees’ side of any team in Major League Baseball in recent history*.

* Though it’s not as if they’ve been pleasant to deal with between the lines either, given that they were responsible for perhaps the most heartbreaking loss an entire generation of Yankee fans have ever experienced in the form of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

Anecdotally, we’ve heard stories detailing a mutual dislike on the part of former Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo and George Steinbrenner, both known for their hard-nosed ownership styles, and as best I can tell the problem initially stemmed from a now-famous meal shared by Steinbrenner and David Wells in January 2002, in which the Boss re-signed Wells four days after the burly lefty reached a handshake agreement with the D-Backs.

This incident no doubt left Colangelo steaming, and it would come back to bite the Yankees in the 2003-2004 offseason, as the team desperately needed to upgrade a rotation that was losing three-fifths of its members. The Yankees were very interested in Curt Schilling, but the talks didn’t go anywhere as Arizona’s asking price — which appeared to include both Nick Johnson (coming off a 2.1 fWAR season) and Alfonso Soriano (5.0 fWAR), at the very least — was rightly deemed excessive. It’s unclear who Cash may have been willing to part with, and whether talks ever progressed between the two teams, but before they even had a chance to Theo Epstein and Boston swooped in, joined the Schillings at their Thanksgiving table, and somehow convinced the Diamondbacks to trade Schilling, coming off thee seasons in which he racked up 7.6, 9.7 and 5.9 fWAR, respectively, for a package headlined by Casey Fossum and rounded out by Brandon Lyon and minor leaguers Jorge De La Rosa and Michael Goss.

In a vacuum I suppose that’s a fair amount of talent for Boston to have surrendered, but in hindsight it turned out to be an absolute steal for the Red Sox, as Fossum was basically never an effective pitcher again following the deal; Lyon’s carved out a career as a pretty good middle reliever, the most fungible asset in all of baseball; De La Rosa’s been a #3-ish starter at best in the National League and Goss never made it to the Majors; while Schilling accumulated 17.8 fWAR in four seasons with the Sox while helping lead the franchise to its first World Championship in 86 years and another three seasons later.

While you could drive yourself crazy playing the what-if game, it’s probably fairly safe to say things would’ve unfolded quite a bit differently had the Yankees acquired Schilling that offseason instead of the Red Sox.

Of course, the Yankees finally did get a Diamondback ace of their own the following offseason, in Steinbrenner’s long-coveted Randy Johnson. The Big Unit had a strong debut season in pinstripes in 2005, but was pretty mediocre in 2006, and famously flubbed both of his postseason appearances. Fortunately the Yankees likely didn’t regret the cost to acquire Johnson — Javier Vazquez, coming off an execrable first season in pinstripes, along with Brad Halsey and Dioner Navarro — especially considering that prior to the deal being executed Robinson Cano had been a long-rumored chip in a potential Johnson trade, but in hindsight I think this can still be considered another low point in the Yankees’ and Diamondbacks’ mutual history.

Following his disappointing 2006, the Yanks decided they’d had enough of Johnson — who, as it so happens, expressed a desire to return to Phoenix — and shipped him back to the Diamondbacks for nothing special in Alberto Gonzalez, Steven Jackson, Ross Ohlendorf and Luis Vizcaino. I suppose receiving four warm bodies for a pitcher who appeared to be well past his glory days is somewhat commendable, though Johnson still went on to put up two more decent (if injury-plagued) years out in the desert, while the 2007 and 2008 Yankee pitching staffs weren’t exactly anything to write home about.

The Yankees and Diamondbacks hooked up again in December of 2009, in the three-way trade that brought Curtis Granderson to New York and shipped Ian Kennedy to Arizona, a deal that also saw Detroit send Edwin Jackson to the D-Backs but also gain Austin Jackson and Phil Coke from the Yankees and heist Max Scherzer from the Snakes. Two years later this would appear to be the rare three-way trade in which all involved parties appeared to benefit. I’d do this deal all day every day, although it somehow figures that Arizona would wind up turning Ian Kennedy — who I maintain would never have become a 5.0 fWAR player in the Bronx — into a frontline starter.

This brings us back to the Saunders-Haren trade of July 2010. Granted, the Angels also sent Tyler Skaggs — currently ranked by Baseball Americas as Arizona’s 3rd-best prospect — Patrick Corbin (10th in the system) and Rafael Rodriguez to the desert in the deal, so it’s not quite as cut-and-dry as just “Saunders-for-Haren,” but given that Saunders wasn’t even retained by the D-Backs a mere year-and-a-half after being acquired, while Dan Haren has been a top 10 pitcher in baseball the last two seasons, it’s difficult not to wonder how things might have played out had the Yankees and Diamondbacks managed to consummate a deal.

It’s difficult to say given that all we really know is that Joba Chamberlain‘s name was the primary one bandied about during the trade talks of July 2010. If we were to try to build a comparable package to the one Arizona received, the Yankees’ #3 prospect at the time (per our own Mike Axisa) was Manny Banuelos, while #10 was Jose Ramirez. At the time, would you have been willing to trade a package of Joba Chamberlain, Manny Banuelos, Jose Ramirez and some low-level filler for a 29-year-old Dan Haren? Pretty sure I’d have been willing to pull the trigger on that one.

Again, we have no idea whether something like that was ever offered and/or whether it would have been an acceptable haul for Arizona, but on paper it seems like a pretty fair swap, especially when you consider that Saunders has been worth 2.7 fWAR in two full seasons of starting while Joba has been worth 1.8 fWAR in a season-and-a-half of relieving during that same time period. You have to figure Arizona almost certainly would’ve given Joba the chance to start that the Yankees never will, and the Yankees would’ve had a right-handed ace to complement CC Sabathia.

Of course, at the end of the day the majority of this is hearsay and conjecture, and there’s no way of really knowing whether Arizona has had it in for the Yankees over the years. However, as I’ve illustrated above, the two teams’ transaction history — and it certain cases, lack thereof — would make me considerably wary of doing business with Arizona in the future.

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The Jorge Posada Game
Barry Larkin elected to Hall of Fame
  • Matt DiBari

    I thought the bad blood started between the owners earlier. This may now be urban legend, because I truly don’t recall it at all, but after game 6 of the World Series, didn’t the Diamondbacks play the “Theme from New York, New York” before a dramatic record scratch and “Celebration” or something along those lines? That would suggest some sort of bad blood bad then. If nothing else it would have been in poor taste.

    Like I said, I can’t even be certain it happened because I can’t seem to find any record of it, but I remember there being a bit of a minor story about it after the fact.

    Its entirely possible I’m losing my mind.

    • eric

      They did, I remember listening and going “WTF?”

    • RetroRob

      I remember it too, and in any other year I really wouldn’t have cared. Under the shadow of 9/11 it was in poor taste.

  • Steve (different one)

    Ah, but you forget the much storied Raul Mondesi for Bret Prinz/David Delucci trade….eat that Arizona!

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Even as Randy Johnson was decadent when he came to us, he did defeat the hated Red Sox, I believe no less than 5 times in his initial season. The next year he appeared to be injured plus his age had crept in. Nonetheless, the only thing the Yankees wanted was to get rid of Javier Vazquez.

    • Matt DiBari

      I really don’t consider the Johnson or Brown trades bad at the time or in hindsight.

      • Mister Delaware

        Me neither. Bad trades and trades that didn’t work out are two very different things.

        • Matt DiBari

          And for all the handwringing at the time over people like Yhency Brazobahn and Dioner Navarro, we really gave up nothing of value

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

        I liked the Brown trade because they didn’t give up all that much, but back then I was still blinded by ERA.

        • CP

          Regardless of his ERA, Kevin Brown was a beast (with a bad back). The year before joining the Yankees, he put up a 2.39 ERA, 2.82 FIP, 2.86 xFIP, 6.0 fWAR, and a 169 ERA+. In the 8 years before coming to the Yankees, he put up at least 6 fWAR in 6 of them – the only two below that were 2001 and 2002 where he missed a bunch of time due to injuries.

  • Paul Zuvella

    Kevin Towers is there now though. He and Cash are buddies and hooked up on Miranda already.

  • PBFog

    …reading a book on sentence construction…

  • Nathan

    I remember reading up on Haren being available and thinking that he would be such a solid #2 pitcher after CC. Reading that the Yankees (again!) refused to part ways with Joba for a star starer made me sick. Unless Joba reverts back to his shut-down set-up guy self (doubtful), everytime I see him I’ll think of “what could have been”.

    Johnson wasn’t THAT bad in hindsight. At the time, when he was getting hammered by the Angels, I thought he was scum. Now, a few years later, I realize that my expectations were too high: I expected him to be the ace he was in Seattle & Arizona and not realistic that he was a 40-year old pitcher on the downside of his career.

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

      Unless Joba reverts back to his shut-down set-up guy self (doubtful)…

      Why do you think it’s doubtful?

      • Shamus

        I agree with Mike. Why so much doubt for Joba’s future? Yes, he had TJ surgery, but who is to say he doesn’y come back and resemble his old self?

        Heck, I’d be happy if he could be even 80% of his 2007 self.

      • Nathan

        Joba seemed to have lost his mental edge. I don’t know if it was due to all the reliever-starter-reliever-starer business or high expectations.

        I hope I’m wrong though.

  • CJ

    Its been so hard to find a pitcher who can succeed in NY. Brown Johnson Vazquez weaver trades all made sense based on past performance. AJ wright pavano as signings and joba Kennedy and Hughes coming up. Jose contreras irabu as international FA. I don’t know what ERA FIP WAR stats can do to solve this problem. It shows how important CC has been.

  • bill

    The what if game is fun to play but another what if scenario could be what would have happened to Nova? He wouldn’t have come up that year and he may never had a chance to pitch this year. Obviously no one knows what to expect from him down the road but if he turns to be a solid #2 or great #3 and got to keep Benuelos and Joba. I think this is a good no deal. But who knows haha

  • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

    This is the third time I’ve posted this in the last couple days or so, and more or less on topic each time.

    For me, the 2001 WS loss is far and away hands down the most disappointing end to a season I’ve experienced in my 40 years of fandom. And that’s of all teams in all sports (second would be the Knicks in 2004. Just…ugh don’t get me started).

    I STILL cannot believe that karma alone didn’t deliver the WS to NY in 2001. Seriously. Seriously.

    If you weren’t here in NY then, or were young, and don’t feel the same way, I forgive you. Otherwise…….

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      I know most people blame Mariano for that loss but if Petitte had pitched well in just one of the two games he started we would have won that series.