RAB Retrospective: The Perfection of The 2008 Off-Season

The 2008 free agent signings
So long ago. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The 2008 season might not have been as bad as 2013, but Yankees fans would still like to forget it. It seemed that every little thing went wrong that season. Whenever it looked as though the Yankees might have a charge in them, the suffered another blow.

Let’s consider a (perhaps incomplete) list of those maladies:

  • Both Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes, top prospects who showed promise in 2007, started off the season in disastrous fashion.
  • Then Hughes got hurt.
  • Darrell Rasner started 20 games.
  • Much worse: Sidney Ponson started 15.
  • Save for a brilliant start here and there, Andy Pettitte was thoroughly mediocre.
  • The only two starters under age 30, Robinson Cano and Melky Cabrera, had wholly disappointing seasons. Cano was benched for lack of hustle, while Carbera got sent back to AAA after more than two service-time years in the bigs.
  • Jorge Posada, fresh off signing a new contract, played the first half with a bum shoulder which required surgery, forcing a cast of offensively inept backups into starting roles.
  • Hideki Matsui‘s balky knees limited him to under 400 PA and sapped him of his power.
  • Chien-Ming Wang suffered a foot injury that would indirectly end his career.
  • Derek Jeter had his worst season since 1996. (Sure, he won the AL Rookie of the Year Award that year, but we’d come to expect more of him.)
  • Joba Chamberlain dazzled out of the pen, and then in the rotation — until he suffered a shoulder injury that cut his season short (and probably ended up causing a lot more long-term damage than we typically account for).
  • They traded a reasonably effective Kyle Farnsworth and got back a wholly terrible Ivan Rodriguez.
  • Xavier Nady hit .330/.383/.535 before the Yankees traded for him, .268/.320/.474 for them.
  • Damaso Marte was terrible and then broke after the trade. Thankfully, they didn’t end up giving away anything of consequence.
  • All told the Yankees used 27 — twenty-seven! — pitchers.

What went right? Mike Mussina’s resurgence was nice to watch. Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi both stayed healthy and produced decent numbers. Alex Rodriguez wasn’t his 2007 MVP self, but he was still a top-five hitter. Unfortunately, he started his streak of six straight years on the disabled list. (Which he’ll have snapped at season’s end.) The Yanks did discover Al Aceves, which was nice, and Brian Bruney, which was nice for a very short period of time.

Despite all that, had there been a second Wild Card, or had the Rays improved by 22 wins, instead of 31, the Yanks would have made the playoffs. So how bad could the season have been?

It could have been a fatal sign going forward. The franchise players were getting older. Each had been hurt or saw diminished production during the 2008 season. The only starters under age 30 took steps backwards. Maybe it didn’t feel like it at the time, but the potential for disaster loomed during that off-season. The Yankees needed big changes, and that’s not easy to achieve through free agency.

Thankfully for the Yankees, the 2008-2009 free agent class featured a number of players who fit their exact needs. Even more thankfully, they shed a number of their biggest, and in some cases worst, contracts at the exact right time.

The 2008 payroll was a then-franchise-record $209 million (just a bit more than the 2005 payroll). Without some of those bigger contracts coming off the books, there’s now way that even the Yankees can afford to add contracts for CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira (and to a lesser extent, Nick Swisher). But the exact right contracts expired at the exact right time.

Jason Giambi cost the club $22 million in 2008. They essentially shed $17 million, though, since they had to pay him a $5 million buyout on his 2009 option.

Carl Pavano cost the club $11 million in 2008.

Bobby Abreu cost $16 million, but with a $2 million buyout the Yankees saved $14 million.

Mike Mussina cost $11 million, but the Yankees probably weren’t glad to be rid of him at that point.

Andy Pettitte cost $16 million. Worthwhile in 2007, but not so much 2008.

They also saved some money when Ivan Rodriguez’s contract expired. Trading away Wilson Betemit’s $1.6 million was like finding some loose change in the couch cushions.

In total the Yankees shed more than $70 million in salaries, mostly for players they were glad to be rid of, of who were considerably overpaid in 2008.

Time to reallocate those resource to more productive players.

Add up the guys they signed. At $23 million for Sabathia. $22.5 million for Teixeira, $18.5 million for Burnett, and $5.3 million for Swisher, plus another $5.5 million for bringing back Pettitte, you get $74.8 million.

They were able to fill their needs with such high-priced guys, because they had a number of lower-cost players on both sides of the ball. It took some faith in them rebounding, but Cano and Cabrera cost them a combined $7.4 million in 2009. Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes earned the minimum, as did almost everyone in the bullpen. If they didn’t have those major-league-ready younger players, then spending $75 million on top-tier players makes less sense. You can have a core of great players, but you still need 25 players on the roster.

At the end of 2008, the Yankees were in a tough spot. Their younger players saw their flaws exposed during the season. There was plenty of uncertainty about the tested veterans. Without the perfect free agent class and money to lure them, the 2009 Yankees might not have been much better than 2008. Without some of those younger guys returning to form, or performing well for a change, the successful free agent signings might not have mattered.

The Yankees found the exact guys to fill needed spots. It cost them plenty, but each of the free agent signings (and trade bounty, in Swisher’s case) added significantly to the 2009 team’s production. Perhaps just as importantly, the Yankees stuck with those younger players and saw their patience rewarded. The entire off-season could have gone a lot differently. But it played out perfectly. We all know the reward.

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Sherman: Yankees scouted Abreu in winter ball

Via Joel Sherman: The Yankees scouted former Yankee Bobby Abreu during his winter ball stint in Venezuela. The didn’t like what they saw and have obviously decided to pass. Remember, they tried to acquire him from the Angels for A.J. Burnett last offseason.

Abreu, who turned 39 on Monday, went 8-for-41 (.195) with three doubles and a triple in eleven winter ball games, drawing nine walks against ten strikeouts. He managed a .242/.350/.342 (97 wRC+) line in 257 plate appearances for the Angels and Dodgers last season, his fourth straight year of declining production. Bobby can still draw a walk like few others (14.4 BB% in 2012), but his power had disappeared (.108 ISO since 2011) and he absolutely can’t hit lefties (79 wRC+ since 2011). He also doesn’t steal many bases anyway and he was a terrible defender when he was playing in the Bronx five years ago. Abreu worked out at first base for some teams this winter, but he’s shown all the symptoms of age-related decline and I don’t want the Yankees to be his employer when he finally crashes.

Thinking about Bobby Abreu

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The Angels came into the season with a very crowded outfield/DH picture, but they cleared things up a bit last night by releasing Bobby Abreu following their fifth straight loss. Top prospect Mike Trout was recalled to hopefully inject some life into their season. Anaheim is still on the hook for the $9M left on Abreu’s contract, less the pro-rated portion of the league minimum should he sign elsewhere.

The Yankees, as you may recall, actually agreed to trade for Bobby this past offseason before A.J. Burnett invoked his no-trade clause because he didn’t want to go to the West Coast. It stands to reason that they’ll at least explore the idea of signing Abreu as a free agent now even though they brought in a different left-handed hitting DH type after the trade fell through. It doesn’t hurt to look.

The timing works out well given Brett Gardner‘s injury. The Yankees are carrying a 13-man pitching staff at the moment, so they could easily option Cody Eppley to Triple-A and create 40-man roster space for Abreu by shifting either Cesar Cabral or Joba Chamberlain to the 60-day DL. That would give them a very short window to see what he still has to offer as the left-handed half of a DH platoon without having to jettison Raul Ibanez. It’s worth noting that Gardner performed bunting drills yesterday and was scheduled to visit the doctor, though no update was given. He is eligible to come off the DL next Friday.

Joe wrote about Abreu at length at the end of Spring Training, noting that he’s unlikely to be much an upgrade over Ibanez, if he is one at all. Since both guys are relatively cheap and terrible on defense, the decision would essentially come down to Ibanez’s power vs. Abreu’s on-base skills and base running. The Yankees value makeup and clubhouse presence, though they obviously have first hand knowledge of what Bobby is like in that department. Signing Abreu for what amounts to a week-long audition seems like a decent idea given the lack of risk, though I don’t think it’s the most imperative of moves. There are valid reasons both for it and against it.

Could the Yankees again turn to Abreu at DH?

(Via Reuters Photos)

Before the Yankees agreed to terms with Raul Ibanez, they explored the trade market for DH options. The thinking was that they might be able to offload A.J. Burnett in exchange for a left-handed hitter, fulfilling two organizational needs at once. While that never materialized, there were a few whispers about possible targets. Among them was former Yankee right fielder Bobby Abreu, who seemingly has been squeezed out of Anaheim’s lineup. But since Burnett could and did refuse a trade to the Angels, the situation never developed.

A month later, the situation has changed. While Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia spoke of giving Abreu 400 at-bats, that might no longer be the case. Kendrys Morales has come back strong, and the indication is that he’ll be the regular DH. With all three outfield spots spoken for, and with Mike Trout looming, there doesn’t appear to be any regular at-bats for Abreu. The Angels will almost certainly look to trade him before the start of the season. Might the Yankees match up?

The Yankees signed Ibanez to fill the DH spot against right-handed pitching, but the 39-year-old has done little to impress this spring. He has gone 3 for 40 with just two walks, though he did homer on Saturday. His bat looks slow, and there appear to be few redeeming qualities in his spring. We’ve received many emails to RAB lamenting Ibanez’s struggles and suggesting alternatives should he continue to flail. Since he earns just $1 million, he is expendable under the right circumstances. Unfortunately, Abreu’s situation is quite similar to Ibanez’s.

Abreu has 37 at-bats this spring and has just four hits. He has walked just three times, though chances are he’s not honing his discipline. Instead, according to Scioscia, he’s just working on his timing. Abreu, too, is writing off his poor spring performance, saying that he’s focused on getting himself ready for the season and not with his actual production. Still, it’s difficult to see how he’s in a better position than Ibanez. In fact, he might be in a worse position.

After a terrible season in 2011, Ibanez has worked to get himself back into playing shape. There have been no concerns about his weight, his preparedness, or his work ethic this spring. Abreu, on the other hand, has constantly chirped about his dissatisfaction with his role. He also gained weight, another concern for a player his age. Essentially, his words this spring have brought into question his attitude. Ibanez has never come under fire for such character issues. In fact, he is often lauded for his clubhouse personality.

Abreu can turn to his recent performances, but even those fall short. For the last two years he’s seen his average drop to .250, which has in turn dropped his OBP into the .350 range. His power dropped off considerably last year as well, further damning his case. Indeed, he might have a point about his treatment by the Angels; there’s little doubt that Abreu is a better offensive player than Vernon Wells, who will continue to start in left field. But his diminishing performance, combined with his spring numbers and his combative attitude, all work against him.

Perhaps a change of scenery would brighten things for Abreu. Maybe that would spur him to a season that resembles his 2009 and 2010 campaigns. Unfortunately, a match just doesn’t seem to be there with the Yankees. They already have someone like that in camp, and he didn’t show up overweight while throwing jabs at the organization. If Abreu were performing well this spring, maybe the Yankees would consider it. Even then, the Angels would probably have to release Abreu, since the Yankees won’t want to trade useful players for him or pay part of his $9 million salary. But with Abreu struggling similarly to Ibanez, there seems to be no point. The Yanks will just stuck with who they have and monitor the market for upgrades if they feel they need one.

Mailbag: Bobby Abreu

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

George asks: Would Bobby Abreu be a trade candidate for LH DH? Looks as though the Angels are shopping him and he’s signed for a year at $9 million. I’m not sure as to whether the Angels would take on A.J. Burnett‘s contract or not, but something may be worked out if it makes sense.

This was emailed in on Thursday night, before we learned that the ten teams included in Burnett’s no-trade clause are all on the West Coast. So right away we can forget about the Yankees trading him to Anaheim for anyone even though they could really use some rotation depth beyond that stellar top four.

As for Abreu, he definitely makes some sense as a left-handed DH. Putting aside the money and logistics for a second, Bobby still does three things exceptionally well: he draws a ton of walks, steals bases, and stay in the lineup (140+ games in each of the last 14 seasons). His batting eye remains one of the very best in the game, with a 14.7% career walk rate and 13.3% in 2011. He also stole 20 bases (21 to be exact) in 2011 for the 13th consecutive season. You have to figure he’ll slow down at some point — he likely already has, but his instincts have kept him productive on the bases — but if nothing else, he still fits into that Yankee mold of working the count and grinding away at-bats. That style fits perfectly into that seventh hole of the lineup.

On the downside, Abreu’s batting average has sunk into the .250s over the last two seasons (.254 to be exact) after sitting at .285+ for more than a decade. All those walks have resulted in a .353 OBP over the last two years rather than one that’s approaching or above .400. Don’t get me wrong, a .350-ish OBP is still pretty good, but it’s not what we’re used to seeing out of Bobby. Furthermore, his power has started to dry up at age 37 (38 in March), as he hit just eight homers in 585 plate appearances last season (two came in one game against the Yankees, if you remember). Part of that is the pitcher friendly ballpark in SoCal, but not all of it. It’s also worth noting that his performance against left-handed batters has completely tanked the last few years (like, sub-.290 wOBA bad), so you’ve got to consider him a strict platoon bat these days. Obviously, he can’t play defense either.

The Angels owe Bobby $9M in 2012, and he can become a free agent after the season. He’s reportedly open to a trade given the club’s crowded outfield/DH picture, but there’s a sense that they may hold onto him for the time because they don’t have another reliable left-handed bat with Kendrys Morales still on the mend. That said, Jayson Stark recently heard “they’d [trade him] for a middling prospect, just to move the money.” Ideally, they’d get a right-handed bullpen arm in return, he added Stark. The Yankees have middling prospects and a right-handed bullpen arm or two (George Kontos?) to spare, so matching up for a swap doesn’t figure to be difficult.

I don’t necessarily endorse it, but if the Yankees can free up some cash by trading Burnett, Abreu would be a viable DH option. The Halos would have to eat some money and take a lesser prospect in return, but it’s not the craziest thing ever. Someone from the Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez, Russell Branyan group might be more logical and affordable however, especially since Bobby isn’t guaranteed to outproduce any of them. In situations like this, oftentimes the easiest way to go (sign a free agent) is the best.

The Right Trades

Like most GMs, Brian Cashman knows a little bit about making a smart trade. And while he’s certainly caused us to sigh in absolutely hopeless exasperation (sometimes followed by ‘We’ll never win a World Series again!’), he’s definitely struck gold a few times in recent history. Lately, right field has been patrolled by players brought over as a result of Cashman successes, and not only have they done well, but the trades themselves have been absolute steals. Works of art, even.

In 2006, a 38-year-old Bernie Williams was patrolling right field due to badly timed injuries to Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield, and new call-up Melky Cabrera was in left. Williams was on his way to a .281/.332/.436 season, but Cashman was interested in more. He had his eye on Bobby Abreu, who was currently batting a career-low .277 and flitting with his career-low OPS of .871 in Philadelphia. Cashman refused to send Phil Hughes to the Phillies, but a deal was struck just before the deadline in 2006, sending Abreu to the Bronx with Cory Lidle for four minor leaguers. At that point, only one of them, Matt Smith, had logged any major league innings at all: a grand total of 12 IP, with four hits, eight walks, and nine strikeouts. The other three players — Carlos Monasterios, CJ Henry, and Jesus Sanchez — hadn’t played a single inning above A ball. Henry was a first round pick signed for $1.5M, so while the possibility was there, it was not exactly a sure thing. Sanchez and Monasterios were international free agents from Venezuela.

Abreu went on to hit .330/.419/.507 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs in his first 60 games in pinstripes and capped it off with four RBIs and a double in the postseason. It was a good start to his tenure, and his success would continue throughout 2007, where he hit posted an 117 OPS+, 16 homers, and five triples. The Yankees exercised his option for $16M for 2008, where he just kept getting better. He struck out less, hit more homers, and tacked twenty points onto his batting average. Meanwhile, the four minor leaguers pitched and hit in a grand total of 24 IP – all Matt Smith. There’s no question who got the better end of the deal. Abreu was worth a total of 7.3 WAR, while Smith clocked in at exactly replacement level.

Abreu would not return in 2009, though, due to the increase in his salary he was predicted to ask for. The Yankees had already picked up Xavier Nady (and Damaso Marte) near the 2008 trade deadline from the Pirates and were perfectly equipped to start him in right. They had traded Ross Ohlendorf (6.43 ERA in 40 IP), and three minor leaguers: Jose Tabata (AA), Jeff Karstens (AAA), Daniel McCutchen (AAA). Even better, Nady’s salary was a mere $6.5M in comparison to the +$16M Abreu was expected to ask for.

But Cashman wasn’t finished for 2009. He struck up talks with the White Sox for their first baseman/outfielder hybrid Nick Swisher, who had managed to hit career-worsts basically across the board, posting a pathetic .219/.332/.410. Cashman saw beyond the numbers, though; he saw a decent reserve outfielder who he could buy low and maybe even sell high on in the future. All Chicago asked for was Wilson Betemit, and minor leaguers Jeff Marquez and Jhonny Nunez. Betemit had played in 87 games in 2008 and hit a decent .265/.289/.429. Sold.

Then, only seven games into the 2009 season, Nady went down with elbow trouble and required Tommy John surgery. Swisher, picked up as a reserve player, was pushed into the starting right fielder’s spot. The rest was history: Swish turned into a clubhouse asset, a semi-decent right fielder, and a power slugger. While he hit only .249, he also took nearly 100 walks and slugged thirty home runs in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. He posted a then-career high .869 OPS, fueled by his .371 OPB, and all for the low, low price of $5.4M. Swisher and Nady together cost less than Abreu had in 2008, too. Swisher’s only problem was his dismal October numbers: 7-for-54 with 15 Ks. Ouch. Regardless, Swisher’s numbers were far, far better than the .200/.280/.311 Betemit posted in 50 plate appearances in Chicago. Nunez made seven appearances and posted a 9.53 ERA, giving up 10 hits and 6 ER.

2010 only made the deal sweeter. Betemit signed with the Royals and went .297/.378./511 in 315 plate appearances, which wasn’t half bad, but Swisher outdid him. Not only did he play in 150 games, even when we all thought he should sit due to a busted knee and a September slide for the team, but he completed his transformation to slugger by posting career-high numbers. He traded in his walks for hits, improving on his .249 in 2009 to .288 in 2010, hitting the same amount of homers and completing the transformation to 4 WAR player. He destroyed the Twins in the 2010 ALDS with a home run and two doubles. He’s even super clutch.

While Swisher isn’t guaranteed to maintain his career-high numbers, he’s definitely in line for another great year in pinstripes. Betemit, meanwhile, has signed a 2011 contract with the Royals, and while a modest improvement might happen, it’ll certainly be nothing in comparison to Swisher. The man’s already posted the 3rd and 4th best Yankee right fielder performances (Sheffield is #1 and #2) since Paul O’Neil.  Meanwhile, Marquez and Nunez stew in AAA, with the first posting a 4.48 ERA, and the latter a 5.48.

I think it’s safe to say that Cashman has a pretty decent head on his shoulders. Like all GMs, he’s going to make a few mistakes, and things are going to happen that are out of his control. But even when taking away the free agent power that Cashman wields, he still proves to be pretty good at picking out a right fielder when he sees one he wants. Go Cash.

Past Trade Review: Cashman’s Top 3 Heists

When two or more general managers consummate a trade, they believe that their team will benefit. Why else would they agree to it? As we’ve learned throughout baseball history, though, trades don’t always work out for both sides. GMs who end up on the losing end of a few deals find themselves looking for new jobs soon enough. Those who come out on the winning end extend their tenures. It seems, however, that few, if any, GMs can consistently come out ahead. There are just too many variables involved. Every so often, a trade is going to smack you in the face.

We’ll soon enough get to Brian Cashman‘s biggest blunders. Today, though, we’ll focus on his heists. That is, his best deals during the 12-plus-year reign as Yankees’ GM. This will not only include the players received, but the players sent. I’ll look at this using the WAR of the players acquired, for the length of his contract when traded, and the value of the players sent, either by the same measure, or, in the case of prospects, for the six years of team control.

3. Nick Swisher

After the 2008 season the Yankees had plenty of remodeling to do. A number of starters, including Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu, were slated to hit free agency and the team showed no desire to retain either one. Considering the numbers both produced in 2008, it wasn’t an easy task to replace them. Xavier Nady was in the fold, though, presumably ready to man right. In a buy-low move to fill first base, Brian Cashman traded Wilson Betemit, Jeff Marquez, and Jhonny Nunez for Nick Swisher and Kanekoa Texeira. He later acquired Mark Teixeira to play first base, rendering Swisher’s role unknown. After Nady tore his UCL, though, Swisher slid right into Abreu’s spot.

Swisher relished his new job, posting a .375 wOBA, the highest mark of his career. Always a patient hitter, he actually increased his walk rate in 2009 to 16 percent, also the highest of his career. Power came in abundance, too, as his .249 ISO was, again, the best mark of his career. This, combined with league average defense, produced 3.6 WAR, which is 4.2 higher than the sum of Betemit, Marquez, and Nunez (Betemit produced -0.6 WAR before his release). Marquez notably fumbled the season. It’s hard to imagine him pitching worse than the 9.85 ERA he produced in 2009.

There’s still time for the White Sox to see more from this trade, but it’s doubtful that they ever make up the 4.2 WAR difference from the first season, let alone keep up with Swisher’s pace. Marquez was never projected as a top of the rotation starter. If he’s lucky he’ll spend a few years in a major league team’s bullpen. Nunez could get another shot with the Sox, but again, it would take an enormous breakout for him to get within a few wins of Swisher’s eventual WAR total with the Yanks.

2. Bobby Abreu

The 2006 season was not an easy one for Yankees’ outfielders. On April 29 Gary Sheffield collided with Shea Hillenbrand at first base. He picked up two RBI on the play, but also had to leave the game. The issue was with his forearm, but after he tried to return in early May it was clear he’d need at least a long rehab period, and possibly surgery, to correct the problem. Then, just two weeks later, Hideki Matsui broke his wrist while sliding to make a catch in the outfield. There was a chance both would miss the rest of the season.

The injuries forced the Yankees to call up Melky Cabrera, who looked lost during his cup of coffee in July 2005. He started off the season hot as can be in Columbus, hitting .385/.430/.566 through his first 135 PA. With the injuries and few bodies to fill the outfield — the Johnny Damon signing loomed large here — Melky was the obvious choice. He and Bernie Williams would have to bear the load. They did it pretty well, but the Yanks still could have used some help. Thankfully, Brian Cashman was on the case.

For some reason, the folks in Philadelphia just did not like Bobby Abreu. Even though he’d played in at least 152 games in each of his first seven seasons with the club, and even though he’d posted a .415 OBP and .522 SLG in that span, they still did not warm to him. He had an expensive contract and the Phillies just weren’t contending that year. Heading into July they were 36-43, 11 games back of the first-place Mets. Rumors swirled all month that they desired to trade Abreu, and the Yankees, with two outfielders on the DL, were often connected. Those rumors, though, involved the Phillies demanding Phil Hughes in return.

The team’s tune changed later in the month, and eventually they traded Abreu to the Yankees for three prospects – including their 2005 No. 1 draft pick – and a lefty reliever. The trade, obviously, was all Yankees. The No. 1 pick and the lefty reliever, C.J. Henry and Matt Smith, are no longer playing for any system. One prospect, Carlos Monasterios, continues to dawdle in the low minors. The only promise the Phillies have from that trade is Jesus Sanchez, who converted to the mound last season. He performed well, and with some improvement he might be a salvageable prospect.

Still, the Yanks clearly won here, with Abreu producing 5.8 WAR over his 2.5 seasons in pinstripes. Corey Lidle takes that number down a bit, as he was worth -0.2 WAR during his half season. Matt Smith, the only player to appear in the majors for the Phillies, produced 0.3 WAR in 2006, followed by -0.3 in 2007. If Sanchez can come up and produce that might change the outlook on this trade. As it stands, though, Cashman pulled nearly six wins out of thin air.

1. Alex Rodriguez

When I first came up with the idea for this post, I thought Abreu would be the one. After looking through Cashman’s trade history, it appears that many of his best trades were for the short-term — David Justice stands out. The Abreu trade, to my mind, seemed the most one-sided. But then I saw the A-Rod trade and thought that it was worth examining. As it turns out, it was the most lopsided deal he ever made.

We all know the story. In the winter of 2004, after he had sent the Yankees to the World Series with an 11th inning walk-off home run off Tim Wakefiled, Aaron Boone tore his ACL playing basketball. Since his contract expressly prohibited that type of activity, the Yankees voided the deal. That left an opening at third base. The Yankees traded a minor leaguer to Texas for Mike Lamb, who had spent most of his time in 2003 demolishing AAA after hitting at about league average over the previous two seasons. The Yankees, though, probably wanted a bit more certainty from the position.

Then, about 10 days after acquiring Lamb, the Yankees worked a deal with Texas to acquire Alex Rodriguez. Most of us have stories of where we were and who we were with when we heard the news. It was a pretty big event in recent Yankees history, not only for who the Yankees acquired, but whom they traded. In exchange for the best player in baseball, the Yankees sent Alfonso Soriano to Texas. This might have made the deal seem a bit less palatable. It was not, though.

At the time of the trade Soriano had three years left of team control. He had produced tremendously for the Yankees in 2003, a 4.8 WAR. Yet the Yankees added nearly two wins over 2003 with A-Rod’s acquisition, as he produced 6.7 WAR in 2004. Soriano dropped precipitously, though, producing just 1.8 WAR that season. Over the next two he added another 7.5 WAR before hitting free agency, bringing his total to 9.3. A-Rod’s contract technically ran through 2010, but had the opt-out clause after 2007. For the period the Yankees controlled him, he produced 30.1 WAR. The difference, 20.8 WAR, represents an enormously lopsided deal.

On all three of these deals the Yankees came out tremendously ahead. In the first two the other teams had little or nothing to speak of. In the last, the player received vastly outproduced the player sent. It’s kind of crazy that A-Rod’s deal was the most lopsided, considering the Yankees sent a productive player in exchange for him. But, as his 30.1 WAR indicates, he’s just that good.

Photo credits: Swisher — Steve Nesius/AP, Abreu and Rodriguez — Gene J. Puskar/AP