Trading prospects for established players

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“As unpopular as trading Melky and IPK (along with a lesser prospect) could make me, I probably would.” – the world’s biggest idiot, yours truly, in November, 2007, referring to…Miguel Cabrera.

Well, that certainly was embarrassing. A bit less embarrassing is this post about saving the Big Three. In that situation we made our pleas to not trade Phil Hughes or Joba Chamberlain, top-five prospects in 2007 and 2008, respectively, for Johan Santana. Even in hindsight that is somewhat understandable. The hype machine ran strong for Hughes and Chamberlain, and Santana was about to become massively expensive. With CC Sabathia‘s free agency looming, why not concentrate efforts there and hold onto the young arms?

With Miguel Cabrera, there is no justification for the prospect hugging mentality. At the time Cabrera had just completed his age-24 season, his third straight with an OPS+ over 150. His defense at third base looked poor to both the eye and the stats, and the media griped about his poor attitude, but those flaws are mere nitpicks when it comes to a generational talent. Following the 2007 season the Yankees had an opening at third and a virtual opening at first. Even if they hadn’t, there is always room for a player who can hit like Miguel Cabrera.

At the time the Marlins sought a starting pitcher and a center fielder. Detroit paid the price, sending top-five prospect Cameron Maybin and 2006 first rounder (projected first overall) left-hander Andrew Miller. In addition, the Marlins sent Dontrelle Willis to Detroit. That might have seemed like a sweetener for Detroit, but Willis was getting expensive and was coming off a poor season — though I’m not sure anyone knew at the time that he was cooked at age 25. Given the state of the farm system in 2007-2008, the Yankees very well might have matched up with the Marlins.

Phil Hughes’s name comes to mind first, as a pitcher comparable to Miller. Melky Cabrera was still a promising center fielder, though the Yankees also had Austin Jackson, who was a top-50 prospect before 2008, as a younger, more cost-controlled option. With a seeming horde of mid-tier prospects, perhaps the Yanks could have sweetened the pot and trumped Detroit’s offer. You could spend days imagining how Yankees history would have unfolded in that scenario.

The Yanks never really made a run for Cabrera, or at least that’s the way it’s portrayed, because they didn’t want to part with their three young, promising pitchers: Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, and Ian Kennedy. In hindsight, it’s a head-smacking idea. None of the three amounted to anything special. Each pitched well for certain stretches, but in the six full seasons since they debuted none has particularly stood out.

Looking back at this case boiled my blood a bit. It seems the Yankees haven’t made many good prospects-for-veterans trades since Cashman received “full autonomy” after the 2005 season. He’s made dozens of trades in that time, of course, but very few that involved prospects in exchange for solid, everyday veterans. The track record isn’t all that impressive when he did, either.

July 30, 2006: Traded C.J. Henry (minors), Jesus Sanchez (minors), Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith to the Philadelphia Phillies. Received Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle.

Perhaps Cashman spoiled us with this first big trade of his autonomous reign. Everyone knew the Phillies were going to trade Abreu. Given his large contract and the Yankees’ desperate need in the outfield, the match seemed perfect. The Phillies played tough, demanding Phil Hughes in early July, but Cashman waited them out and eventually landed them for what amounts to very little.

C.J. Henry was the Yankees’ first-round pick in 2005, but just a year later it was evident — to fans, at least, and apparently to evaluators as well — that he wasn’t going to work. Getting a previous-year first-rounder helped the Phillies save face, maybe, but this was a coup for the Yankees.

July 7, 2007: Traded Jeff Kennard (minors) to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Received Jose Molina.

While this is a minor move on the face of it, the Yankees certainly needed a backup catcher upgrade; they had been playing Wil Nieves there all year. Kennard was on the 40-man and expendable, so the trade worked out as well as a trade for a backup catcher can.

July 26, 2008: Traded Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Ross Ohlendorf and Jose Tabata to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady.

The Yankees actually weren’t in that bad of shape at the time of this trade. At 58-45 they were just three games behind the first-place Rays and one game behind the Red Sox. With Jorge Posada out, they could have used some pop, and had an opening in the outfield thanks to Melky Cabrera’s horrible play. Nady had hit 13 homers and 26 doubles with the Pirates in what was looking like a career year. Tabata had proven disappointing by that point, and the three pitchers were back-end arms, at best, expendable for a first-division team.

Nady hit .268/.320/.474 in his 247 PA with the Yankees, quite a bit lower than the numbers he produced with Pittsburgh. That helped plenty, though, because Cabrera had played so poorly. The Yankees got essentially nothing out of Nady the following year, when he blew out his elbow. Tabata, while nothing special, has produced above-average numbers in three of his four MLB seasons.

November 13, 2008: Traded Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez to the Chicago White Sox. Received Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira.

It’s still difficult to look at this trade and believe it happened. It wasn’t totally prospects-for-veteran, since Betemit had been in the league since 2004. But the Yankees certainly got a steal here, in a deal that probably no GM rejects. Hell, I’m not sure Kenny Williams rejects it.

June 30, 2009: Traded Casey Erickson (minors) and Eric Fryer to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Received Eric Hinske and cash.

Another minor move that deserves mention, because Hinske played a role on the best team in the league.

December 8, 2009: As part of a 3-team trade, traded Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers and Ian Kennedy to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Received Curtis Granderson from the Detroit Tigers. In addition, the Detroit Tigers sent Edwin Jackson to the Arizona Diamondbacks; and the Arizona Diamondbacks sent Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Detroit Tigers.

With Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui departing, the Yankees needed an outfielder and some pop at the plate. Granderson wasn’t exactly known as a power hitter at the time, but he had hit 20-plus in each of the previous three years, including 30 in 2009. He has certainly produced a few quality years with the Yankees, socking 115 HR with a 120 OPS+. It’s hard to call this trade a failure.

At the same time, Jackson has been quite good for the Tigers. He doesn’t have Granderson’s skills at the plate, though he has produced a higher OBP than Granderson since his debut. In terms of WAR Jackson actually comes out on top, 19.1 to 14.1 in bWAR and 14.6 to 13.9 in fWAR. Defensive measurement represents WAR’s most prominent flaw, so make of that what you will. This wasn’t a bad trade by any means, but it certainly wasn’t a steal of any kind.

December 22, 2009: Traded Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, Arodys Vizcaino and cash to the Atlanta Braves. Received Boone Logan and Javier Vazquez.

The initial reaction to this trade was somewhat divided. Some Yankees fans hadn’t forgiven Vazquez for the second half of 2004. Others saw how he’d pitched after leaving and thought it was a good fit. At first the trade looked horrible, then it looked better, then it looked horrible again.

In the end, it was certainly horrible — not only for Vazquez’s performance, but because they could have used Vizcaino in a different trade later.

July 30, 2010: Traded a player to be named later to the Cleveland Indians. Received Austin Kearns. The New York Yankees sent Zach McAllister (August 20, 2010) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.

At the time this one didn’t seem too bad. Kearns had been good in the past and was seemingly amidst a resurgent season. McAllister was a middling prospect who probably didn’t have a role with the Yankees. Of course, the whole thing blew up in their faces. Kearns was generally horrible, and McAllister has started looking like a serviceable back-end starter.

July 31, 2010: Traded Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes to the Houston Astros. Received Lance Berkman.

Traded players to be named later to the Cleveland Indians. Received Kerry Wood and cash. The New York Yankees sent Andrew Shive (minors) (October 21, 2010) and Matt Cusick (minors) (October 21, 2010) to the Cleveland Indians to complete the trade.

Needing offense, the Yankees stood to gain with the Berkman acquisition. He wasn’t atrocious, but he brought no power to the table, hitting just one homer and seven doubles in 123 PA while struggling with injuries. Losing Melancon didn’t seem like a huge deal, since he’d struggled at every opportunity. But he’s turned into a serviceable reliever (who has, fairly, struggled in both New York and Boston).

The trade for Wood made and continues to make all the sense in the world. That one couldn’t have gone better, indeed: Wood ran his luck all the way through October, while the Yanks gave up no useful players.

April 4, 2012: Traded George Kontos to the San Francisco Giants. Received Chris Stewart.

Kontos turned in a very good 2012 season and a poor 2013. He’s still only 29 in 2014, and might be a useful piece of a bullpen. Stewart…I’m not even going there.

July 23, 2012: Traded Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell to the Seattle Mariners. Received Ichiro Suzuki and cash.

This seemed to make sense, in that the Yankees needed an OF and they gave up what seemed like little. Mitchell wasn’t going to amount to anything, and they had just claimed Farquhar off waivers from the A’s earlier in the 2012 season. Yet Farquhar dazzled this year, particularly in the second half, when he took over as Mariners closer. Chances are he reverts to being crappy again next year, but again, there’s a mixed blessing here. Trading for Ichiro led to the ill-advised two-year contract. Then again, he also played a role in the Yankees staying afloat last September as the Orioles constantly threatened.

February 13, 2013: Traded Abraham Almonte to the Seattle Mariners. Received Shawn Kelley.

It’s tough to say, since Almonte only just made it to the majors. But Kelley has worked out well, and could help as the Yanks rebuild their bullpen post-Rivera.

July 26, 2013: Traded Corey Black (minors) to the Chicago Cubs. Received Alfonso Soriano and cash.

Soriano made the second half at least partly interesting, and really extended the Yanks life in the 2013 season. We all know how Cashman feels about Corey Black.


This revisiting of prospects-for-veteran trades isn’t meant as a referendum on Cashman or the organizational philosophy. It’s not meant as a rip on the farm system. Instead, it’s meant as something of an eye-opener.

If media narratives in any way reflect reality, teams are more protective of their prospects than ever. The Yankees appear to be in that boat. From back in 2007 to now, they’ve played the reluctant role when playing the prospects-for-veteran game. Yet when you look through their track record, there aren’t many clear wins when they do partake.

Is that a lesson, that they should indeed be more reluctant, given their track record? Does it mean that they need to reassess how they evaluate their internal talent? I’d say no to the former and yes to the latter. Furthermore, looking at these deals makes me think that the Yankees should take advantage of this prospect-protective market and see what they can get for what they have in the minors. Given their current team landscape, it might be the best bet they have this off-season.

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Thursday Night Open Thread
  • pat

    I think you should combine the Woods/Kearn trade. Makes it a lot more palatable. Still an L on our end, imo but not as bad. Wood was nasty for us and ended up being a Type B free agent which means he could have garnered a pick if Cash offered arbitration.

  • Preston

    I had a big prospect crush on Zach Mcallister, I know he was struggling at AAA at the time, but that seemed like a bad deal at the time and in hindsight.

  • viridiana

    Nice research, but to all this one inescapable fact must be added. Prospects will be harder to find in the future with the new international signing rules and domestic draft limits. So however important it may have been to protect the right prospects in the past, I would say it’s even more important now as they’re tougher to replace.
    Also, those of us with long memories can not easily forget the pre-Cashman years when Yanks routinely overvalued veterans and undervalued their own prospects . As a result they lost some pretty big talents: these included Jay Buhner, Willie McGee, Doug Drabek and Fred McGriff. In return they got virtually nothing. And let’s not forget that Mattingly was almost traded for Steve Lyons. Jeter and Rivera were almost foolishly sent off too.
    Yes, there are trades for veterans that work. But in today’s game, if you have anybody that will be a pretty good — and very cheap — major leaguer, you have to be really sure before you let them go for an ageing and generally overpriced “star.”

    • Mikhel

      Buhner was the one that hurt the most back then, sure McGriff too but at the time the Yanks had an MVP caliber player in Donnie, and they even afforded to trade JT Snow for Abbott when they needed pitching.

      They made a few bad trades (Mulholland), other acquisitions we3re good (Key, the signing of Cone), others more or less worked (McDowell, not even counting when he flipped us the bird at Yankee Stadium).

      There was a time when I thought Kaminiecky, Sanderson, Wickman, Hitchcock and Ausanio had a chance to thrive in NY but it wasn’t so (Sanderson being probably the older of them in the days of Pascual, Mélido and Hawkins).

      • qwerty

        The Mulholland and McDowell trades were great at that time.

  • Bill

    Are we not counting the Pineda/Montero deal because Pineda wasn’t really a veteran?

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      Exactly. That was more of a challenge trade.

  • Revan

    There’s a fine line between trading with a top 30 prospect and your top 3. So yes, when you list all the C graded prospects the trades look good. When you get to the high B’s and A’s it looks a lot worse.

    However I will concede that since we are beyond awful of actually developing our top 5 prospects that trading them is probably the better way to go.

    The guys with no expectations always get patience and a lot of them end up doing well. However this article came a season or two late there is no point in going after established talent like the ones seen on this list. We need core, elite players not guys who might make a push like Abreu or Xavier Nady..

    • Robinson Tilapia

      “There’s a fine line between trading with a top 30 prospect and your top 3. So yes, when you list all the C graded prospects the trades look good. When you get to the high B’s and A’s it looks a lot worse.”

      The point is that, in some of the cases where fringe prospects, such as those included in the Swish deal, were involved, the team was able to get a strong amount of value for lesser players. There’s a lot to be said about being able to build a deal around players of that ilk.

      With the higher prospects also comes the strong possibility that you’re trading value for value. You couldn’t expect that Austin Jackson was going to fall off a cliff, even if he’s turned out to be a better player than expected. The point isn’t for the player you traded away never to be heard from again. It’s about the player you’re getting back to be worth why you made that deal in the first place.

  • Tom in Georgia

    Nice work, Joe.

  • Lukaszek

    Thing about Melancon, even if he wasn’t traded in 2010, would he still be here in 2013? In 2011, the bullpen was stacked with the likes of Luis Ayala (2.09), D-Rob (1.12), Mo (1.91), and Corey Wade (2.04). Mark Melancon would likely have gone the way of Buddy Carlyle or Lance Pendleton.

    If he survived 2011, would he really have survived 2012? He was an absolute disaster in Boston. Had he pitched that way with New York, he would’ve been sent away like a worn out dog. After 2012, there was no way you could predict that this guy could be an All-Star.

    Remember that episode of Scrubs where Dr. Cox accidentally kills three patients because their organs were infected with an extremely rare case of rabies? And remember how JD told Dr. Cox that there was no way he could’ve predicted the case of rabies due to how highly rare the disease is? That’s how much hindsight you needed to have to predict that Mark Melancon would be an All-Star

    • Pants Lendleton

      How about me?

      • MannyGeee

        I miss you, Pants. Never change…

    • Jedile

      Yeah I feel the same way about Marky. I think he is just a scrap reliever who will do better in the NL.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I loved him as a prospect and just immediately didn’t like him once he got to the Yankees. There’s just something about coming up and not throwing strikes that makes me want to hurl large objects at a young pitcher.

        In the end, I think he’s a pretty average reliever who will have a couple of more spikes along the way. No one I miss.

  • Lukaszek

    Otherwise the article was really good man. I agree that not even attempting to trade for a young Miguel Cabrera was dumb. As they say in my country “Chto za idiot!” Also some other trades that were erm “questionable”

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Just think of barely advocating for Melky+IPK for Miggy as both a mental exercise, as well as the gift that keeps on giving. We’re still trying to trade Melky+IPK to this day.

    I miss well-researched columns which take more than immediate history into account. We need a lot more of them. In other words, never leave again.

    • Psycho Trish

      Wow was it a breath of fresh air reading through the comment section of those old posts linked from above. The fact that you were not vomiting all over the comment section a few years ago was GREAT!!

      I guess all good things must come to an end…

  • Steve (different one)

    I read the article but didn’t come away with much of any conclusion. Some excellent trades, some bad ones, and some inconsequential ones. I doubt that’s much different than most teams, especially when looking at trades made in season when you are trying to fill holes from a small number of sellers.

    I appreciate the research, but it seems like trying to fit a narrative to the data instead of the other way around.

    • MannyGeee

      I guess I am struggling to get the ‘narrative’ part of this post. Feels pretty objective to me.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Yeah. I don’t think Joe was gunning for a narrative at all. Just an overview. I miss that.

      • Joe Pawlikowski

        The narrative part is how looking at all this, plus the Cabrera missed opportunity, got me thinking about how wrongheaded I’ve been in the past. There’s definitely a lot of emotional appeal here, which is where I see what Steve’s saying.

    • qwerty

      Cashman was sold on Vazquez, that’s all that matters. :)

      • qwerty

        crap, wrong topic, lol

  • Matt

    I think it’s important to mention about the Vazquez deal…at the time he looked like he would be a surefire Type A player. So part of the reason I ended up liking the deal was that you’re giving melky and a potential top prospect (Vizciano) who hadn’t played about Low-A at the time and got Vazquez but also got a potential pick when he departed after the season. We all saw how that played out.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Funny. I HATED that trade from Day One. Hated it. I wasn’t sold on Vazquez’s numbers in Atlanta, and we had an unnatural Melky attachment back home.

  • mike

    we are totally forgetting the $ the Yanks had to take on to achieve a W in the trade….Granderson for Jackson looks alot worse when it really is Jackson + $15m/yr vs. Granderson

    • Mike HC

      He only got paid 15 mil last year. His 4 years with the yanks averaged to under 10 mil per year.

      • Mike HC

        I should add that I think the Yanks slightly “lost” that trade, in hindsight. If they knew how well Jackson would play right off the bat, there is no way they would have made that move. Not even taking into account Kennedy. And like you said, the money is a factor too.

        • MannyGeee

          The big difference between Granderson and Jackson in my eyes is about 35 HR a year. They both play a decent to good outfield, both run well, both strike out a SHIT TON, and both seem to be stand up guys (good clubhouse guys).

          So is that extra power worth 10-15M a season? I would without a doubt, prospect hugging aside, its been worth it.

          And the Yankees KNEW Jackson was a good player, and that he’d be able to hang… and so did Detroit. Can’t throw shit against the wall and get back cash and prizes

  • WFAN Caller

    How could you leave out MICKEY STOREY? Ayayay, what could have been…

  • Frank

    What about the Tyler Clippard/ Jonathan Albaladejo trade?

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      Albaladejo wasn’t a veteran.

  • Laz

    Trading prospects for established players is a very unsound practice, especially when you are concerned with a budget. Is it worth it trading 6.5 years each of 3 top prospects for 1-2 years of a veteran? Trading prospects for veterans is a good idea if you want to get that last piece, it isn’t a way to overhaul a team.

  • Nathan

    Seeing as how the Yankees prospects don’t deliver, they might as well trade them for some established veterans.

    I’m sort of joking yet sort of serious at the same time.

    Wasn’t there a Joba + Hughes for Halladay trade talk back in the day?

    • MannyGeee

      There was a Joba and Hughes for EVERYONE talk back in the day….

  • qwerty

    Cashman wasn’t going to trade the number 4 prospect in baseball for just Miguel Cabrera.