Odd transactions abounded in the 80s

One thing that struck me while researching and writing posts for retro week was the odd quality of transactions in the 80s. There were players traded, and traded away, multiple times. There was even a player traded for himself. That’s not even to mention the frequency of trades in general. So to close out Friday, I wanted to take a look at some of the things that stood out to me as odd in the 80s.

Transaction explosion

Trades were apparently more common in the 80s than they are today. For example, in the calendar year 2008 the Yankees made five trades. They made seven in 2009, and then six in 2010. In 2011 they consummated only two trades. (Without looking, can you name ’em?) After making just four trades in 1980, the Yankees went kinda nuts for the rest of the decade. Here’s the breakdown.

1980: 4
1981: 10
1982: 8
1983: 9
1984: 10
1985: 6
1986: 8
1987: 10
1988: 7
1989: 14

So yes, the Yankees were just a bit more active in the past. Can you imagine them making 14 trades this year? It’d be insanity.

Why Ron Hassey?

I’ll be frank: I only remember Ron Hassey because I had a few of his baseball cards. He was pretty crappy, so he’d be a guy you got in every third or fourth pack. For the most part these were cards of him on the White Sox, but there was one year I had his Yankees card. In any case, the Yanks and the Sox dealt him frequently — and oddly.

The Yankees originally acquired Hassey from the Cubs after the 1984 season. (Ephemera: The Cubs got him from the Indians, in exchange for Joe Carter and familiar name Mel Hall.) Hassey caught for the Yankees during the 85 season, but after the season they traded him to the White Sox. That was in December. The following February, before Hassey had even put on a Sox uniform, he was traded back to the Yankees.

As if that weren’t enough, the Yankees ended up trading him at the 1986 trade deadline — back to the White Sox.

Traded for himself

After Thurman Munson’s death in 1979, the Yankees employed a ragtag duo at catcher. Neither Brad Gulden nor Jerry Narron could hit a lick — hence the Yankees’ acquisition of Rick Cerone that off-season. Gulden played sparingly for the Yankees in 1980, and after the season they traded him, along with $150,000, to the Mariners in exchange for Larry Milbourne and a player to be named later. That happened in November.

Six months later, the Mariners finally sent the Yankees that PTBNL. His name? Brad Gulden.

That didn’t end the Gulden saga with New York. Just before the start of the 1982 season they traded him to Montreal. Six months later, they purchased his contract back from Montreal. He became a free agent after the 1983 season, and he stayed as far away from the Yankees as possible, spending the rest of his career in the National League.

Dennis Rasmussen

In 1980 the California angels took left-handed pitcher Dennis Rasmussen with the 17th pick of the draft. He never made it to the majors with them, though. Just before the waiver trade deadline in 82, the Yankees traded Tommy John to the Angels. Three months later, the Angels sent Rasmussen to the Yankees as the PTBNL.

Rasmussen would make his debut the following season, but not for the Yankees. Again near the waiver trade deadline, the Yankees got John Montefusco from the Padres. Why they wanted a slightly above average 33-year-old pitcher I don’t know. Why they ended up trading a recent first-round pick for him I really don’t know. In September they sent Rasmussen to San Diego, where he threw 13.2 innings. Those would be the last innings he’d throw for the Padres until 1988.

Just as the Yankees were about to break camp in 1984, they traded Graig Nettles to the Padres. The return? Yep. That’d be Rasmussen. This time they held onto him, giving him 71 starts and six relief appearances from 84 through 86, wherein he produced a 4.13 ERA (97 ERA+). In 87 he fell off a bit, and so before the waiver trade deadline they dished him to the Reds for Bill Gullickson. He’d make his way back to San Diego less than a year later.

Tim Burke

For those who don’t remember, and I barely do, Tim Burke was a quality relief pitcher throughout the 80s. The Pirates had drafted him in the 2nd round in 1980, but before he made his debut they traded him to the Yankees for Lee Mazzilli. 362 days later, the Yankees traded him, still before his debut, to the Expos for Pat Rooney. I’m not quite sure what they saw in Rooney. He was a punch and judy hitter in the minors, while Burke had been at least decent.

Burke ended up having a fine career for the Expos; his 1.19 ERA (356 ERA+) in 91 innings in 1987 remains a career highlight. In July of 1991 the Expos traded him to the Mets, and then a year later the Mets traded him to the Yankees. They ended up getting 27.2 pretty good innings out of him before letting him walk in free agency, though he never pitched another inning in the bigs after that. It’s kind of a sad return on a quality reliever.

There were some other odd dealings. For instance, the Yankees traded for Claudell Washington twice, getting both the best (120 OPS+) and worst (18 OPS+) seasons of his career. There was something of a fascination with Tommy John. They also had multiple stints with Neil Allen. Again, these types of transactions seem downright outlandish by today’s standards. I mean, have you ever heard of a player acting as the PTBNL in his own trade? How about a guy traded back and forth in the same off-season? Those crazy 80s.

The RAB Radio Show: February 10, 2012

We’re back after a week off, running down the latest happenings.

  • Could Burnett be a goner? Mike and I talk about the possibilities and wisdom of trading A.J. Burnett.
  • The DH situation. The Yankees made some progress here, signing a few players to minor league contracts. But it appears that they have at least one more signing on their radar.
  • Retro roundup. Mike and I reflect on the memories we wrote about during retro week.

Podcast run time 42:00

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:


Intro music: “Die Hard” courtesy of reader Alex Kresovich. Thanks to Tyler Wilkinson for the graphic.

RAB Live Chat

An ode to The Bull

(photo by Otto Greule/Allsport)

As we near the end of Retro Week at RAB, I thought I’d take a look at one of the unsung heroes of the early-90s Yankee teams, a man who seemed to go entirely underappreciated despite putting up several very strong pinstriped campaigns: the immortal Danny Tartabull.

Tartabull, born to Cuban parents in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the third round of the 1980 amateur draft. He turned in two productive seasons in Rookie and A-ball, but struggled a bit after being promoted to the Reds’ AA affiliate. Following the 1982 season, he was selected by the Mariners as a free agent compensation pick, according to Baseball-Reference. Apparently teams could do that back in the day.

However, “struggled” is probably a bit unfair — he only really struggled by virtue of the fact that he managed a .774 OPS at AA after a .954 the year prior in Single-A. Additionally, it should be noted that Tartabull walked eighty-nine times in 126 games at AA and had an IsoD of .139, so even though his BA and SLG declined rather precipitously, his batting eye was outstanding and remained that way throughout his career.

He spent the 1983 season rediscovering his power stroke, and finally got a taste of the show in 1984, receiving 24 plate appearances for Seattle at age 21 at the end of the season. It all seemed to come together for Tartabull the following year, as he spent the 1985 season utterly annihilating AAA to the tune of a .300/.385/.615 line over 546 PAs, during which time he clubbed forty-three home runs and won the Pacific Coast League MVP.  Tartabull was rewarded with a September call-up for a second-straight year and hit to a Jesus Montero-esque .413 wOBA over 69 PAs.

Tartabull stayed in the bigs for good, breaking camp with the Mariners in 1986 and posting a robust .361 wOBA during his first full season in the Majors. After the season the M’s shipped Tartabull (along with reliever Rick Luecken) to Kansas City for starter Scott Bankhead, outfielder Mike Kingery and reliever Steve Shields. Shields only lasted one season in Seattle and was out of baseball after 1989; Kingery posted an exactly league average year in 1987 but was a decidedly below-average hitter for the majority of the remainder of his career; while Bankhead turned in two strong seasons and two injury-shortened campaigns in Seattle before leaving as a free agent in 1991.

Unfortunately for Seattle, Tartabull absolutely killed it in Kansas City, turning in a .392 wOBA  (145 wRC+) from 1987-1991, which was the fifth-highest wOBA in all of baseball during that five-year period. The Bull parlayed his outstanding production into a big-time contract with the Yankees, who signed the then-29-year-old to a five-year, $25.5 million deal which made him the fifth-highest-paid player in baseball at the time.

Interestingly, the Yankee 1991-1992 offseason apparently bore some striking similarities to this past winter’s. From YES’s own Jack Curry in a January 7, 1992, story in The New York Times:

After two months of offseason lethargy and front-office chaos, the New York Yankees emerged Monday with a $25.5 million free-agent outfielder and a suddenly voracious appetite for the trade market.

In a quick move that surprised fans and baseball people alike and reminded many people of George Steinbrenner`s previous spending sprees, the Yankees signed slugger Danny Tartabull to a $25.5 million contract just after midnight on Monday.


But by making a splash in the free-agent market and promising Monday that more roster changes were imminent, the Yankees indicated that their club philosophy had been altered and additional transactions are expected before spring training.

Now that Tartabull is signed, the Yankees have a surplus of outfielders, and Michael will almost certainly try to peddle Jesse Barfield for a pitcher or a third baseman.

Michael is reluctant to trade Roberto Kelly, who is very marketable. Mel Hall is a left-handed hitter, and that makes him valuable at Yankee Stadium, especially if the Yankees get a right-handed-hitting third baseman, such as Montreal`s Tim Wallach.

The Yankees ended up holding onto Barfield, who played one more season in pinstripes (putting up a heinous 21 OPS+ in 105 PAs) before retiring, and Curry wound up being a year early on Kelly, who of course was famously traded after the 1992 season for Paul O’Neill.

For his part, Tartabull lived up to his contract during his first two years in the Bronx, posting an outstanding .397 wOBA in 1992 — 4th-best in the American League that season — and a very good .376 in 1993. His production dipped some in the strike-shortened 1994 — a .358 wOBA in 470 PAs — but he really fell off in 1995, hitting to a paltry .321 wOBA through 59 games before the Yankees shipped him out to the A’s for Ruben Sierra.

All in all, Danny Tartabull was a pretty solid Yankee, posting a .370 wOBA (127 wRC+) during his three-and-a-half seasons in pinstripes. However, he was arguably only the third-best hitter on the team during that time frame, despite getting paid as if he were the best, and this — along with his precipitous decline from 1994-1995 — is presumably why he’s seemingly never been all that fondly reminisced by Yankee fans. Well, except for my brother, who is very likely the only person in the world with a customized “TARTABULL 45” name-and-number tee. (Yankee fans familiar with the all-time SNES classic, 1994’s Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball, also likely have warm memories of Tartabull, who was an absolute BEAST in that 16-bit classic).

Still, a closer look at his pinstriped career reveals a player who was pretty much the ideal Yankee — Danny Tartabull got on base with the best of them, posting a terrific 16% BB% (he finished his 14-year career with a 13.1% BB%; for reference Alex Rodriguez has an 11% career BB%, though he’s also played four more seasons) that helped fuel an excellent .372 OBP; and he hit for power, posting a .221 ISO and .473 SLG. So in essence, Tartabull was basically Nick Swisher, with even more walks and a touch less power.

Tartabull was traded to the White Sox for the 1996 season and had a reasonable bounceback year with a .353 wOBA, which he then parlayed into a one-year deal with the Phillies. Tartabull played in all of three games for the Phils in April of 1997 before fouling a ball off his toe which somehow caused him to miss the remainder of the season. Tartabull retired after the season, culminating a largely underrated career in which he swatted 266 bombs and posted a very respectable .377 wOBA and 132 wRC+.

Despite the apparent mutual dislike between Tartabull and the Bronx — he was quoted as saying “I feel like I’ve been released from jail” following being traded for Sierra — the statistician in me is happy to have had him on the Yankees, especially as the team began to emerge from the darkest period in franchise history.

Mailbag & Poll: Pineda, Non-Guaranteed Deals

Only four questions this week, but three are pretty long. As an added bonus, we’ve got a poll at the end as well. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything, mailbag questions or otherwise.

"Tell me about it. I've been stuck with this bullpen since 2005." (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Daniel asks: True that Pineda had a poor second half, and it is assumed he’ll build upon his performance last season. My question is how much will Pineda benefit from having a shutdown bullpen this season, even if he doesn’t make strides forward? How much did his bullpen hurt him last season? How many of his baserunners were allowed to score by the Seattle bullpen?

The Yankees had one of the very best bullpens in the game last season, but the Mariners were pretty much middle of the pack in terms of ERA (3.61) and FIP (3.86). Their 6.34 K/9 and 16.6 K% were the second worst marks in the game though, and relievers who can strike guys out tend to do a better job of pitching out of jams than guys who rely on contact. The Yankees, on the other hand, were among the best in baseball at 8.46 K/9 and 22.2 K%.

Seattle’s bullpen inherited eleven runners from Pineda last season, and they allowed eight (!) of them to score (72.7%). That’s pretty nuts, the league average was 31.2% last year. The Yankees were at 24.9%. If only four of those eleven men came across (approximating the 31.2% league average), Pineda’s ERA would have been 3.53 instead of 3.74. If only three of the eleven came around to score (approximating the 24.9% Yankees average), his ERA would have been 3.47. That assumes all those runs were earned, of course. Having a better bullpen should help, but I’d prefer it if Pineda avoided all those baserunners in the first place.

Patrick asks: When a player is signed to minor league contract with an invite to camp, and it’s later described as non-guaranteed, what portion of the contract is non-guaranteed? Are they guaranteed a spot on a minor league team? Do players that don’t make The Show typically accept such a role?

Non-guaranteed contracts also apply to players who sign one-year deals during their pre-arbitration and arbitration years (so Russell Martin‘s contract is not guaranteed this year, for example). For players on minor league contracts, the team doesn’t have to pay them a thing until they add them to an actual roster (other than meal money), either majors or minors. These contracts all have some kind of opt-out clause allowing the player to elect free agency if they’re not added to the big league roster by a set date. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement instituted a uniform June 1st opt-out date, but the two sides can agree to an alternative date. Bill Hall, for example, can opt out his contract with the Yankees on April 4th. He’d rather look for a big league job elsewhere than play in the minors for the Yankees, but that isn’t true for all players. Some do go to the minors, like Dustin Moseley in 2010 or Cory Wade last year.

Guys on the 40-man roster with non-guaranteed contracts can be released in Spring Training without being paid their full salary. The club does need a valid baseball reason to release them though, the union isn’t a fan of players being released for money saving purposes and they will fight it. This year clubs have until March 19th to release a player and only pay them 30 days termination pay, and after that (but before Opening Day) it’s 45 days pay. If someone is on the 40-man roster as of Opening Day, they are entitled to their entire salary. The Yankees released Chad Gaudin in Spring Training two years ago, and only paid him $737k of his $2.95M salary (45 days worth). Guaranteed contracts, which are most free agent and multi-year deals, entitle the player to every cent unless he voluntarily retires or is released due to breach of contract (like Aaron Boone playing basketball).

Mike asks: I’ve followed the Yankee farm system for a long time, but have never followed another team’s farm system in depth. I have noticed that while the 15-30+ range prospects might not posses the star power it seems the depth of the Yankee Farm is really quite impressive. Is this my bias or does Damon Oppenheimer have a gift at getting guys who might not be stars but have a great chance to develop into major league regulars? I see the Yankees producing lots of Brett Gardner types in the future.

(J. Meric/Getty Images)

We all focus on top prospects, and we should because those guys are the cream of the crop and deserve the attention. The best way to compare farm systems is to look further down the prospect rankings though. Don’t just compare the top three prospects, compare the #10 prospects, the #20 prospects, and the #30 prospects. Just as an example, Baseball America ranked Branden Pinder as the Yankees 30th best prospect in their Prospect Handbook, touting him as a power relief arm with a 93-94 mph fastball and a slider that’s shown “flashes of becoming a plus pitch.” The 30th best prospect in the White Sox’s farm system (the worst in the game) is Duane Heath, who had a 4.73 ERA in Triple-A last season and “won’t be trusted as more than a middle reliever.” Big difference between Pinder and Heath, showing the difference in each team’s prospect depth.

The Yankees still have some high-end star power in their farm system (though trading Jesus Montero took a big chunk of that away), but it’s primarily built on depth. They’ve done a good job of turning mid-to-late round draft picks into potentially useful players, which is far above the usual rate-of-return on those selections. Phil Coke is a useful player but nothing special, though he’s a star compared to most 26th round picks. David Robertson is 17th round gold. The Yankees have a lot of guys like that in the 12+ range of their farm system, including guys like David Phelps (14th), D.J. Mitchell (10th), Bryan Mitchell (16th), Brandon Laird (27th), Tyler Austin (13th), and Nik Turley (50th). The horde of power bullpen arms is just silly — Mark Montgomery (11th), Zach Nuding (37th), Graham Stoneburner (14th), Whitley (15th), Dan Burawa (12th), and Matt Tracy (43rd) among others — and it’s all by design. I don’t know if I’d call it a gift, but Oppenheimer & Co. have done a good job of maximizes those often forgotten late draft picks.

This doesn’t include the international players either, and prior to the CBA changes the Yankees were routinely among the biggest spenders in Latin America on an annual basis. It’s not all big seven-figure signings like Jesus Montero or Gary Sanchez, they’ve got a ton of quality prospects — like Ravel Santana ($150k), Claudio Custodio ($300k), Ramon Flores ($775k), and of course Robinson Cano ($150k) — on cheaper, six-figure payouts. They’re not all stars, but the Yankees have been consistently producing useful pieces for their roster and to use as trade bait over the last few seasons.

Jeb asks: If you could trade a future of uncertain performance (what is currently is) from the team in return for guaranteed bounce back years from all aging players and career years from the remainder of the roster at the cost of having a guaranteed steep decline in performance from each player for the remainder of their contracts, would you?

So the question basically asks a) the best possible year in 2012 plus utter crap in the future, or b) the current situation (a.k.a. reality). I know which one I would pick, but let’s do a poll. I’ll answer in the comments later so I don’t influence the poll results at all.

What would you prefer?
View Results

The children of the 1980s

On a Sunday in August in 1992, just 28,000 fans filled the Stadium to watch the Yanks lose in extra innings to the California Angels. (Photo by flickr user

As we while away the days until meaningful baseball returns to the Bronx, we’ve entered the Wayback Machine, and we’ve revisited, for many of us, the Yanks of our youth. It’s always entertaining to sit here with the perspective of five World Series championships and a slew of playoff berths under our collective fan belts while remembering the lost years of the 1980s and 1990s. After all, who doesn’t love a little stroll down Memory Lane with Hensley Muelens?

For me, this Retro Week look back has taken me on ride to my childhood. My first Yankee experiences were in the mid 1980s as the Yanks toiled behind the AL East leaders, as George Steinbrenner traded the same players over and over again, wouldn’t let youth develop and sacrificed the Yanks’ draft picks for mediocre free agents. Still, as a little boy, I loved going up to the Bronx for baseball games.

One of the biggest differences between the Yankees of today and the Yankees of yesteryear was, of course, the ballpark. The Yankees of the 1980s played in a stadium that was barely a decade removed from a renovation. While our parents knew the Stadium as it was for the Mick and Joe D, we knew it for Reggie, for Don Mattingly and, when they moved in the fences, for Jack Clark. Camden Yards and the retro stadium craze was but an idea on paper by the end of the decade, but for kids my age, it was a baseball playground and Cathedral rolled up into one.

The old stadium in late 1980s and early 1990s was marked by its focus on baseball. There were no other diversions for fans of all ages than the game on the field. The concourses, cramped by the mid-2000s, were always pretty empty and so too were the upper decks. Attendance on the weekends topped out in the high 20,000s or low 30,000s. Only Opening Day or a Red Sox visit, even then, pushed the attendance toward the 40 or 50 thousand range.

We went to the ballpark those days for the games just as we do today. But our expectations were low. The Yankees of 1990 were flat-out terrible, finishing in 7th place for the last time in franchise history. In fact, from 1989-1992, for a span of four seasons, the Yanks didn’t finish above .500 and couldn’t climb out of the bottom half of the AL East. So with rows upon rows of empty seats in the Tier Reserve stretching out into the Bronx night, teenagers would scramble for foul balls, and security guards would chase errant fans from shuttered sections.

Eventually, when A-Rod arrived and then when construction on the new stadium began, attendance climbed, and the Yanks sold out nearly every game. In high school, I could buy tickets on a whim; by the end of college, StubHub was the only way to go. The stadium changed as the Yanks fancied up the seats with extra padding and waiter service. But the shell of the structure was reaching 80, and the Steinbrenners wanted a modern facility.

Today, we come to expect winning from the Yankees, and I wouldn’t want to return to those days of bad baseball with no crowds. Today, we have a gleaming, modern facility with wide open concourses and a different view behind center field. Sometimes, I may miss being a little kid and being awed by the park and players below. There is an innocence to it that we cannot recapture. But that is what our memories are for. Today, the Yankees win, and the Wade Taylors, Jeff Johnsons, John Habyans and Greg Cadarets of our youth are better left there.

Open Thread: Terry Mulholland

The Yankees got 66 starts out of Jimmy Key and Jim Abbott in 1993, and the other 96 starts out of ten different pitchers. Then-GM Gene Michael spent the ’93-’94 offseason trying to shore up the starting rotation, but it wasn’t until early-February that he was able to add an arm. On this date in 1994, the Yankees acquired left-hander Terry Mulholland (and minor leaguer Jeff Patterson) from the Phillies for reliever Bobby Munoz and two Double-A guys (Kevin Jordan and Ryan Karp).

Mulholland, 30 at the time, was coming off an All-Star season in Philadelphia that saw him pitch to a 3.25 ERA in 191 IP. He’d thrown at least 180 IP in each of the previous four seasons, and there was talk about a multi-year contract immediately after the trade since he was due to become a free agent after the season. The Yankees beat Mulholland in arbitration ($3.35M vs. $4.05M) but didn’t sign him long-term. That turned out to be a very good decision.

In his first two starts, Mulholland allowed a dozen runs in just nine total innings. He allowed at least four runs in his nine first starts and in 12 of his first 13. By the All-Star break, he’d thrown 115 IP with a 6.65 ERA, a 1.57 WHIP, and a 1.8 HR/9. Batters were hitting .309/.358/.551 off him. Then-manager Buck Showalter moved him into the bullpen after the break, but five appearances later the season ended due to the strike. All told, the Yankees got 120.2 IP out of Mulholland, who posted a 6.49 ERA. None of three players they gave up toget him turned into anything great — Jordan was the bench of the bunch, spending seven years as a utility infielder — but the trade turned out to be a disaster.

* * *

Here is your open thread for the night. All three hockey locals are in action, and later on tonight you can catch Robinson Cano on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (11:35pm ET on NBC). You folks know how these things go, so have at it.