Past Trade Review: Curtis Granderson

One of the 115 homers Granderson slugged in his four years with the Yanks. (Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
One of the 115 homers Granderson slugged in his four years with the Yanks. (Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Four winters ago, the Yankees faced a dilemma. Should they bring back Johnny Damon, a huge part of the 2009 World Series Championship team, or move in a different, younger direction?

During the season it actually looked like the Yankees would sign Damon for another two or three years. Given his productivity for the previous two years, and the life of the original four-year contract in general, this seemed like a decent enough idea.

Alas, it was not meant to be. After winning the World Series they did make Damon a two-year, $14 million offer, which he did not accept. With a need remaining in the outfield, and purportedly without the budget to sign Matt Holliday, the Yankees turned to the trade market.

Once we learned that Granderson would become available, the fit seemed logical enough. While the Yankees didn’t necessarily need a center fielder, with both Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner on the roster, they certainly needed an outfielder with some pop.

At the Winter Meetings, Cashman pulled the trigger on a three-team trade that cost the Yankees top prospect Austin Jackson, left-handed reliever Phil Coke, and starter Ian Kennedy. The price might have seemed a little steep at the time, and even steeper in hindsight. Was the trade worthwhile in the end?

The case at the time

When the Yankees sent those three players to the Tigers and Diamondbacks, the case was easy enough to make. With the losses of Damon and Hideki Matsui, the Yankees needed an outfielder with some pop. If they weren’t going to sign Matt Holliday (because they certainly weren’t going to sign Jason Bay), a trade was the only avenue to that end. Granderson was the best outfielder available on the trade market at the time, so the Yankees were right to pursue him.

The other end lies in what they traded. Few, if any, would miss Phil Coke and his pointing to the sky on home run balls. Ian Kennedy rubbed fans, and likely the organization, the wrong way during his horrible 2008 season. Perhaps he could have pitched himself into a spot on the team in 2009 had he not suffered an aneurysm and missed most of the season. Then again, maybe he just would have been dealt at the deadline.

Losing Jackson certainly hurt, but with the losses of Damon and Matsui, the Yankees did need a little pop. Jackson didn’t hit for much power in the minors, and at the time it was reasonable to think he’d show as much in the majors as Brett Gardner. The potential was there, sure, but the Yankees needed more of a sure thing. It was difficult to argue with the Granderson trade at the time.

Looking back

After a rough first four months in New York, which involved a hamstring injury, Granderson started to turn it around when he put in some serious work with hitting coach Kevin Long. He not only finished the 2010 season strongly, but he had a phenomenal postseason, going 10 for 28 with two doubles, a homer, and a huge triple off Francisco Liriano in Game 1 of the ALDS.

Jackson, for his part, put up decent numbers in his rookie year, though he lead the league in strikeouts. His defense dazzled at times. Earlier in the season it did appear that the Yankees might have been better off just keeping him, but by season’s end it was clear Granderson was coming around.

The kicker came in 2011, when Granderson belted 41 home runs while leading the AL in both runs and RBI. That’s the kind of year that changes the entire thinking on a trade. Not only did Jackson tank, with an 88 OPS+, but it was unlikely he’d ever perform anywhere near that level even in his best-case scenario.

That one year is really what the Yankees can hang their hat on. Jackson came back with a strong 2012 and good 2013, accumulating 14.6 WAR since the trade. Granderson put up only 13.9 during his time as a Yankee. This isn’t the best comparison, of course; defensive values are sketchy, and Granderson has clearly been the better hitter over the last four years (120 OPS+ vs. 105).

Ian Kennedy, for his part, found some success after leaving the Yankees. After a rocky April he went on to produce a 3.68 ERA in the final five months of the 2010 season, and then followed it up with a fourth-place finish in the Cy Young Award voting in 2011. Oh, what could have been.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Kennedy would have achieved that kind of success as a Yankee. Had he not suffered the aneurysm in 2009 he might have gotten another shot at consistent starts, since the Yankees were hurting for starters towards the end of the season. Had he failed to impress then, chances are he wouldn’t have gotten another shot. Arizona, coming off a 70-92 season, could afford to let Kennedy settle in.

The question in this trade comes down to how you value Granderson’s 2011 specifically, and his hitting in general. The Yankees needed that high-end production, and for at least one year they got it. Though he performed a bit worse in 2012, getting another 40-homer season certainly helps make the trade look a bit more favorable.

Long-term, the Yankees clearly would have been better served holding onto Jackson. He’s had one very good year to go with a few average ones, he plays stellar defense, and he’s still under team control for two more years. In an ideal world, they can keep him and let him play. But where they were at the time, in need of some outfield power, Granderson made a bit more sense.

Past Trade Review: Rickey Henderson

(AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine, File)

The mid-80s Yankees were better teams than they’re generally given credit for, and boy were they star-laden. Don Mattingly was a batting champion and MVP, Dave Winfield was a perennial All-Star and top ten MVP-candidate, Willie Randolph was insanely underrated, Ron Guidry was still fronting the pitching staff, and Dave Righetti was slamming the door in the ninth. All great players in their own right, but none were as big a star as Rickey Henderson in the 1980s.

Henderson had taken the league by storm in 1980, his first full season in the bigs. He hit .303/.420/.399 with a hundred steals on the nose for the Athletics, then improved to .309/.408/.437 the next year, though the work stoppage limited him to 56 steals. From 1982-1984, Henderson hit .284/.404/.420 with 304 steals in 436 games, and by the end of his fifth full season, he had five stolen base titles to his credit. Billy Martin managed Rickey early in his career, and in 1985 he had returned to New York for his fourth of five stints as Yankees manager.

“Billy Martin had been a manager of mine before and he always felt that the type of player I was that I needed to be a Yankee,” said Henderson to The Sacramento Press last year. “The Yankees were the best club, the best organization in baseball, and one of the best players in his eyes was on the Oakland A’s. He told George Steinbrenner that there is a player he wanted him to go get, and George was like, why? Martin said this is the best player in baseball, and I want you to go get this player. So Billy really made the deal for me to get over to the Yankees. He always told me he was going to bring me over to the Yankees.”

The Yankees acquired Henderson — then just 25 years old — from Oakland in December of 1984, a year before he was scheduled to hit free agency. Tim Birtsas, Jay Howell, Stan Javier, Jose Rijo, and Eric Plunk went to the Athletics while Bert Bradley joined Rickey in New York. Henderson signed a five-year, $8.5M contract following the trade. The Yankees had won 178 games in the previous two years and just added the best leadoff man in the game. The impact was immediate.

With Henderson, Randolph, Mattingly, and Winfield batting 1-2-3-4, the Yankees played .500 baseball through their first 58 games of the 1985 season while their leadoff man hit .313/.398/.480 with 21 steals in 22 tries. Rickey got hot after that and so did the Yankees, who went 69-36 in their final 105 games while Henderson hit .315/.429/.533 with 59 steals in 68 tries. He finished the season with a .314/.419/.516 batting line and a league leading 80 steals and 146 runs scored, earning him a third place finish in the MVP voting. Mattingly led the world with 145 RBI that year, 30 more than any other season in his career. It’s not a accident given who getting on base all the time in front of him.

Despite the hot finish, the Yankees closed the 1985 season in second place, two games back of the 99-win Blue Jays. Henderson had a down season by his standards in 1986 — .263/.358/.469 with a league leading 87 steals and 130 runs scored — but the team still won 90 games. They again finished in second place, this time five-and-a-half back of the Red Sox. Hamstring injuries hampered Rickey in 1987, and he insisted he wasn’t going to play until he was 100%. The Boss didn’t like that.

”If he says he can’t play and the doctor and trainer say he can, then he has a right to get his own opinion, and I’m going to demand that he do that,” said Steinbrenner. ”If there’s a disagreement, then we’ll get a third doctor to arbitrate. And if that doctor says he can play, then I will consider a suspension.”

(AP)

Henderson never was suspended, and he wound up hitting .291/.423/.497 with 41 steals in 95 games while the team finished in fourth in the division. His run of seven consecutive stolen base titles came to end. Rickey’s power output dropped off in 1988, though he still hit .305/.394/.399 with 93 steals, the most in the game and the most of his Yankees career. The team continued to go nowhere though, finishing fifth in the seven-team AL East. Entering the final year of his contract in 1989, Henderson reported to Spring Training a few days late.

”Yeah, it ticks me off one more day,” said new manager Dallas Green. ”I don’t know if he’s smart enough to know what he’s really doing. I don’t know whether it’s being spiteful, whether it’s a lack of understanding or whether he just doesn’t know what’s going on. I want to understand what his thinking is at this time … You’ve got to look at the kids out there watching. Maybe they don’t understand all this. Maybe they have Rickey Henderson as an idol or a role model. Is that the way you raise baseball players?”

It was the latest incident in Henderson’s Yankees career, which was built on greatness and what the team thought was selfishness or a lack of desire. He slumped to .247/.392/.349 with 25 steals through the team’s first 68 games, contributing to a 33-35 record that had them sitting in third place in the AL East. Rickey had worn out his welcome and the team was wary of giving him another big contract after the season, so they traded him. Back to the Athletics went Henderson on June 21st, with three players coming to New York: Luis Polonia, Greg Cadaret, and Plunk, who went from the Yankees to A’s in the original Henderson deal.

During his four-and-a-half years in pinstripes, Rickey hit .288/.395/.455 with 326 steals, and currently ranks tenth on the franchise’s all-time OBP list and second in steals. He was the first man to steal 300 bags in pinstripes, and held the club’s all-time stolen base record until Derek Jeter broke it last season. Jeter needed roughly 2,400 games to steal as many bases as Rickey did in 596. The Yankees never made the playoffs with Henderson, but it was hardly his fault. The pitching let them down, mostly.

The Athletics got five useful pieces in the trade sending Rickey to the Bronx, but none stood out while wearing their uniform. Rijo was the best of the bunch, pitching to a 4.74 ERA in 339.2 IP with Oakland from 1985-1987 before being traded to the Reds for Dave Parker. His career then took off in Cincinnati. Birtsas threw 143.1 innings with a 4.27 ERA while Howell pitched to a 3.68 ERA in 195.2 IP in their three-year stints with the A’s. The former went to Cincy with Rijo in the Parker trade. Javier was a part-time first baseman, hitting .255/.328/.346 in over 2,100 plate appearances across seven years with the Athletics. Plunk was an swingman for the most part, posting a 4.30 ERA in 322 innings before coming back to New York in the second Rickey deal.

I was a little too young to fully appreciate Henderson’s time with the Yankees, but he was clearly one of the best players of his generation and all-time. The trade was an easy win for the Yankees, who acquired Rickey’s prime years for what amounted to Jose Rijo and four spare parts. Yeah, they could have used a pitcher like Rijo later in the decade, but giving up a young pitcher like that (he was just 19 at the time) for an established superstar like Henderson is a trade you make every day of the week.

Past Trade Review: Al Leiter for Jesse Barfield

(Credit: New York Daily News)

While the 80s generally get lumped in with the Yankees’ dark years, they really weren’t all that bad. The Yankees did make the World Series in 1981, though they did so in relatively bizarre fashion. After stumbling in 1982 they came back to finish either second or third in the AL East in each of the next four seasons. But as the decade came to a close, the Yankees’ started to fall. One big reason was that their pitching staff grew old, and they had little in the way of young replacements.

The mid- to late-80s were all about trading young pitchers and getting essentially jack squat in return. It started after the 1986 season, when the Yankees traded Doug Drabek after his debut season. In return they got a 34-year-old Rick Rhoden, who actually did help in 1987. But that was his final quality season. It’s a good thing they got it out of him, too. The 1987 team might have been the messiest pitching situation of my lifetime — and that includes 2008.

The Yankees trotted out 14 different starters in 1987. Only four made double-digit starts. Among them was Dennis Rasmussen, the youngest of the double-digit starters, whom the Yankees traded mid-season. The other three regulars were all 34 or older, including a 44-year-old Tommy John and a 36-year-old Ron Guidry, who started only 17 games. The other 10 starters were a mixed bag, but most of them shared one thing in common: they had little future in the league. Only three of those pitchers were younger than 28 years old in 1987. As was their wont, the Yankees ensured that they wouldn’t be in pinstripes much longer.

A 26-year-old Bob Tewksbury started six games for the Yankees in 1987. He might have started more, too, had the Yankees not traded him mid-season for Steve Trout. Tewksbury went on to have a fine career, mostly in St. Louis. The pitching-starved early 90s Yankees could have used him badly. Trout, 29 at the time of the trade and an established mediocrity, completely collapsed. The Yanks traded him after the season, and he lasted just two more in the bigs before calling it quits. Brad Arnsberg, a 23-year-old righty, also made a couple of starts in 87, but the Yankees dished him after the season for Don Slaught. (Who, in all fairness, produced a couple of not-half-bad seasons for the Yanks.)

The clearest indication that the Yankees needed arms that season was Al Leiter’s presence on the roster. He was just 21 years old, and didn’t exactly have a sterling minor league record. While his results in A-ball in 1986 were decent, he still walked nearly 7 per nine. In 87 he advanced to AA, where he cut down on the walks and upped his strikeout rate. That earned him a trip to AAA Columbus, but he got knocked around a bit there (and walked nearly 6 per nine). Still, the Yankees gave him a September call-up. Again he got knocked around, but there was at least some promise there.

The ’87 Yanks finished fourth in the division, and things only got worse from there. Chief among their problems in 1988, when they finished fifth, was pitching. Rhoden and John still took the ball every five days, but they had very poor seasons. New addition John Candalaria pitched well enough, but Richard Dotson balanced him out with 171 horrible innings. The only saving grace in the rotation was the 22-year-old Leiter. He actually pitched fairly well in the first half, a 3.99 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning and a 2:1 K/BB ratio. Unfortunately, his season got cut short by a blister problem that cropped up during a fine start against the Tigers. That put him on the 21-day disabled list (fancy that), though he wouldn’t come back until September. Again injury cut him short, as he experienced back spasms in a start against the Red Sox.

Anyone expecting a bounceback from Leiter in 1989 would be sadly disappointed — and then disappointed again. He opened his season with a 5.1-inning, six-run performance against Cleveland, which he followed with three more unspectacular performances. He did pitch into the ninth inning of his second game, striking out 10. The only problem is that he walked nine, and, more importantly, threw 163 pitches. Maybe the Yankees saw that and thought it could lead to trouble. Maybe they were just obsessed with trading any young pitcher with a lick of talent. Whatever the case, they traded Leiter after just four starts, in return receiving Jesse Barfield from the Toronto Blue Jays.

In 1988 the Yankees got some serious production from right field. Dave Winfield hit .322/.398/.530, a 159 OPS+, but he would not be around for the 1989 season. Back problems in spring training led to season-ending surgery. The Yanks did acquire Mel Hall that spring to help fill the void, but he clearly wasn’t going to provide the kind of production the Yankees needed. The solution, then, was to acquire Barfield to man left field. He certainly stood to put up better numbers than Hall.

In the early 80s Barfield was a rising star. His production increased into his mid-20s; in his age-25 and age-26 seasons he hit .289/.369/.548, 143 OPS+, while playing in at least 155 games each season. Combined with his absolute cannon arm, and Winfield’s near-expiring contract, he seemed a perfect fit. The only problem was that his production had taken a step back in the following two seasons. At ages 27 and 28 he hit just .254/.318/.443, 104 OPS+. If the Yankees were trading for the mid-20s Barfield, it would have been one thing. The late-20s Barfield still had something to prove.

All told, his first season in pinstripes didn’t go so badly. He hit .240/.360/.410, 118 OPS+, for a 74-win team. In 1990 he turned in a better season, hitting .246/.359/.456, 128 OPS+. Of course, there was no OPS+ back then, and few people looked beyond batting average, home runs, and RBI. In that sense, Barfield was .246/25/78 in 1990, hardly the stuff of a superstar. He’d last another two years in pinstripes, though he played only 114 games combined. In his early 30s, his career had crashed.

Leiter, on the other hand, almost immediately succumbed to injuries. He got hurt after his first start in Toronto and didn’t make another start for the big league club that year. In fact, he threw just 8 innings in three rehab starts. In 1990 he spent most of the year in the minors, throwing 24 innings of rehab in A-ball before another 78 in AAA. Again in 1991 he spent most of the season on the shelf, pitching just 10 innings between the majors and the minors. In 1992 the Blue Jays just stuck him in the minors, where he threw 163.1 innings. It wasn’t until 1993 that he finally pitched over 100 innings in the bigs. But it wasn’t until 1995 that he was actually any good. That was his last season before free agency.

It’s easy to look back on the trade and see failure, because Leiter went on to enjoy so much success later in his career. But the reality is that during his team-controlled years, Leiter did little other than walk hitters. Before reaching free agency he threw just 522 innings in the majors, and spent the better parts of four seasons on the disabled list. It was only after he reached free agency, and really after he made his way to the Mets, that he really stood out as a pitcher. We can’t judge the trade based on those performances, because they came long after the Yankees would have retained control of him.

Jesse Barfield was a mostly unremarkable player for the Yankees. He showed that he was not the player he appeared to be in his mid-20s, but was instead a merely above-average hitter. That his career came to a halt just a few years after the trade makes it seem all the worse. But think of it this way: if Barfield had continued performing at slightly above average levels, instead of completely falling off a cliff, do the Yankees trade Roberto Kelly for Paul O’Neill a few years later?

In the mid- to late-80s, the Yankees loved trading young pitching for very little return. Leiter was just another name on that list. It might seem like a terrible trade, because Barfield’s performance didn’t stand out and Leiter went on to win a World Series and then realize a very fine career. But the Yankees weren’t exactly in the wrong here. They had a young, promising pitcher, but they had also worked him hard. He had injury problems the previous year, and then had the infamous 163-pitch start in early April. They ended up dodging a bullet, as Leiter spent much time on the DL after that. At the time it was a short-sighted move, given the team’s lack of young arms, but in terms of results it worked out pretty well. Even a healthy Leiter couldn’t have saved those early 90s pitching staffs.

Past Trade Review: Raul Mondesi

(Grainy photo via AP)

The Yankees enjoyed above average production from Paul O’Neill for the better part of a decade, but they had a bit of a hole in right field after his retirement following the 2001 season. They opened 2002 with Shane Spencer getting the majority of the playing time in right while John Vander Wal subbed in against the toughest of right-handers. New additions Jason Giambi and Robin Venture were expected to pick up most of the offensive slack.

Spencer, 29 at the time, was four years removed from his monster September showing in 1998, but he brought a .269/.324/.468 batting line in nearly 800 big league plate appearances into the season. He opened the year with a three-hit game on Opening Day, and finished the month of April with a .311/.403/.508 batting line. Vander Wal had reached base 16 times in his 43 plate appearances that month, a .372 OBP that was more than enough off the bench. He took at-bats away from Spencer in May, and by the end of the month he owned a .290/.369/.449 batting line. Spencer was hitting .256/.341/.388 following his May slump.

The duo didn’t last another month. Vander Wal reached base six times in his next dozen games while Spencer was unable to string together any success. Juan Rivera came up for a few days and Marcus Thames made his big league debut that month, both getting a short-lived crack at the right field job. With Rondell White banged up and the outfield stretched thin, then-manager Joe Torre started utility infielder Enrique Wilson in right against the Mets on June 29th. The Yankees got blown out and Wilson made a fool of himself in the field, the only time in his professional career (majors or minors) he would play the outfield.

During the nationally televised broadcast of the Saturday afternoon game, announcer Tim McCarver proclaimed that the Yankees needed Raul Mondesi to play right field. Mondesi, 32 years old at the time, was a star earlier in his career but he hadn’t aged well. He was hitting just .224/.301/.435 with the Blue Jays, and it was no secret that they were trying to unload him and his massive contract. George Steinbrenner didn’t need to hear anything more than what McCarver said on television. Less than two days after Wilson’s episode in right field, the Yankees acquired Mondesi from Toronto in exchange for non-prospect Scott Wiggins. They assumed the remaining $5.5M of his 2002 salary, and agreed to pay $7M of his $13M salary in 2003.

“Our outfield has been depleted, and when Joe (Torre) needs something, I’m going to do everything I can to get it for him,” said Steinbrenner in a statement after the trade.

As Keith Law explained two years ago (6:00 mark), the deal was made above GM Brian Cashman‘s head. The Yankees team president called the Blue Jays team president and brokered the trade because The Boss thought McCarver had a good idea. Pretty nuts.

(Photo via LIFE.com)

Mondesi stepped right in as the full-time right fielder following the deal, and the start of his Yankees career went pretty well. He reached base four times in his first game with the team and nine times in his first three games without a single strikeout. A little slump followed, but Mondesi produced fairly consistently from the middle of July through the end of the season. In 71 games after the trade, he hit .241/.315/.430 with eleven homers. He had three singles and three walks in the four-game ALDS loss to the Angels.

The outfield picture was shored up the following offseason with the addition of Hideki Matsui, who replaced White in left while Bernie Williams and Mondesi remained in center and right, respectively. Mondesi had a scorching hot April in 2003 — .347/.422/.683 with eight doubles and eight homers in 27 games — but his production gradually declined during the rest of the summer. The Yankees were stuck in a four-game losing streak and mired in a 3-11 skid on May 26th when Mondesi lollygagged on a fly ball that would have ended the inning but instead dunked in for a two-run single, allowing the Red Sox to blow open what turned into the Yankees fifth straight loss. An inning earlier he grounded into a double play with the bases loaded and one out with his team down by two, so the boo birds were out in full force.

With his batting line sitting at .258/.330/.471 in late-July, Mondesi was replaced by a pinch-hitter in the late innings of a game against the Red Sox. He showered and went home while the game was still being played, and a day later he missed the team’s flight to the West Coast. The entire organization — Steinbrenner included — had grown tired of him, and those last two incidents were the straws that broke the camel’s back. The Yankees shipped Mondesi and $2M to the Diamondbacks two days later, receiving outfielder David Dellucci, righty reliever Bret Prinz, and minor leaguer Jon-Mark Sprowl in return.

“To me, discipline is a big part of being a good team,” said Torre after the trade. “And a lot of the discipline has to come from within yourself. I know he was frustrated. He’s not a bad person, and I want to make sure everybody knows that. I just think he got emotional about it, and it’s not good for the club … It’s not acceptable what he did. Brian and I pulled the trigger on this one.”

Mondesi played a little more than a full season with the Yankees, suiting up for 169 games in pinstripes. He hit .250/.323/.453 with 27 homers and 23 steals, but the team grew tired of his antics. They managed to find a buyer in Arizona, and shipped him off at the first opportunity. Wiggins managed to reach the bigs with the Blue Jays in 2002, giving up a run in 2.2 IP, his only big league time. Dellucci didn’t do much in pinstripes (nine hits and four walks in 58 plate appearances), Sprowl never reached the show, and Prinz threw 30.1 ineffective innings (5.08 ERA) for the team from 2003-2004.

Believe it or not, Mondesi is currently the mayor of the San Cristobal province in the Dominican Republic, the largest municipality in the country. He played three more years after the Yankees traded him away, before geting into the politics game. The trade was a classic Steinbrenner impulse buy but it wasn’t a total disaster, since Mondesi was basically league average at the plate and in the field during his time in New York. He was overpaid and kind of a jerk though, which ultimately punched his ticket out of town and is why we don’t remember him all that fondly.

Past Trade Review: Javier Vazquez, Part II

(Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty)

TYA/Yankeeist readers may recall a semi-regular offseason feature I always greatly enjoyed doing, “Bizarre Moves from Seasons Past,” in which I’d examine a particular move or non-move the Yankees made and try to make sense of why they opted to go the way they did. For your reading enjoyment, here’s the full roster of previous “Bizarre Moves” posts:

I’d been racking my brain for some new entries in this series, but kept coming up blank until it finally hit me why: Brian Cashman and the Yankees haven’t really made any so-called “Bizarre” moves during the last few seasons. I won’t go so far as to say the transaction record has been flawless, but, for the most part, the trades, free agent signings and non-moves made by Cash since the 2008-2009 offseason have been understandable/defensible. Sure, we can all decry the A.J. Burnett contract now — and it certainly had its detractors back when it was signed — but the 2009 Yankees needed pitching, and though it may have been an overpay, Burnett filled an important need on the team that season.

Off the top of my head, the only flat-out terrible moves made by Cash — and here I’m defining flat-out terrible as “completely obvious to the entire world that they wouldn’t work out” — during the last couple of years were the additions of Randy Winn and Chan Ho Park. And even though they were pointless signings, it’s still hard to kill Cash for trying to bolster the bullpen and bench on the relatively cheap. I think we can all agree that nothing better underscores Cash’s restraint than his (non)activities during the previous calendar year (save Pedro Feliciano), which include remaining calm in the face of growing unrest regarding the pitching staff last January, and passing on unrealistic trades for questionable pitchers at last July’s trade deadline.

However, as quiet as Cash has been, we also know he won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a deal when he thinks he’s found a good one. Being that the Javier Vazquez/Boone Logan for Melky Cabrera/Arodys Vizcaino/Mike Dunn deal was the last blockbuster trade Cash orchestrated, I thought I’d take a look back at it from RAB’s “Past Trade Review” perspective, as it really doesn’t fall under the “Bizarre Moves” heading. One other note — in fairness, Mike and Joe were a bit hesitant about me reviewing this deal seeing as how the book is still out on Vizcaino, but I think we can take a look at how the trade worked out given the other players involved while keeping Vizcaino in the backs of our minds.

Anyway.

Not content to rest on the laurels of the franchise’s 27th World Championship, Brian Cashman quickly went to work in the 2009-2010 offseason to bolster (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) the pitching staff, as the Yankees managed to win it all despite being just the second team in the last 20 years to utilize a three-man rotation throughout the entire postseason.

Noted workhorse and one-time Yankee Javier Vazquez — who Cashman had previously traded three players (Nick Johnson, Juan River, and Randy Choate) for in November 2003 following a superb season by Vazquez in which he struck out 9.4 men per nine, walked 2.2, and put up a pitcher triple slash 3.24 ERA/3.31 FIP/3.41 xFIP worth 6.0 fWAR, only to have Vazquez come apart at the seams in the second half of the 2004 season after an All-Star first half and subsequently get shipped out of town for Randy Johnson — was coming off a superb 2009 campaign with Atlanta, in which he racked up his fifth straight season of 200-plus innings (and 9th in the last 10 years), 2.87 ERA, and 9.77 K/9 and 1.81 BB/9, which led to a matching 2.77 FIP and xFIP, the latter of which led the entire National League.

With Brett Gardner showing that, at the very least, he was a reliable 4th outfielder if not outright platoon player, and the execrable Melky Cabrera coming off his 4th straight season of below-average offense (wRC+es of 98, 89, 69 and 94), the Yankees correctly made the no-brainer move of dealing from a position of strength in shipping the ever-underwhelming Cabrera to the Braves as the centerpiece of a deal that reunited Vazquez with the Yankees. Of course, Melky alone wasn’t enough (1.6 fWAR in 2009) to get a player of Vazquez’s caliber (fresh off a 6.5 fWAR campaign), and so the Yankees added the highly touted, right-handed, flame-throwing Arodys Vizcaino (who had just come off a 2.13 ERA/2.49 FIP season in 42.1 innings with Staten Island) and left-handed reliever Mike Dunn. The Braves also chipped in a lefty reliever of their own to complete the deal, sending Boone Logan to the Bronx.

After putting up a 4.91 ERA/4.78 FIP/4.51 xFIP in 198 innings (worth 2.2 fWAR) for the 2004 Yankees, there were high evenly tempered hopes that Home Run Javy’s second tour of duty as a Yankee would turn out significantly better. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, as HRJ battled A.J. Burnett for much of the 2010 season to see who could be more historically awful. Javy wound up winning this ignominious battle with flying colors, putting up a 5.32 ERA/5.56 FIP/4.69 xFIP in 157.1 innings (worth -0.1 fWAR) and posting career-worsts in just about every major category.

However, for as wretched as Javy was in his second go-round with the Yanks, Melky was arguably even worse for the Braves, tying Carlos Lee for the least-valuable player in all of MLB in 2010. Somehow, both men found new employers for 2011 and each enjoyed an absurd amount of success relative to their 2010 failures, with Vazquez recording a 3.69/3.57/3.87 year in 192.2 innings (worth 3.2 fWAR) for the Marlins, while Melky had the year of his life in Kansas City, boasting a .305/.339/.470 slash in a season worth 4.2 fWAR. Suffice it to say, I don’t think either player would ever have put those respective seasons up at any point as members of the Yankees. Melky maybe, but Vazquez pretty clearly needs the National League to be a successful pitcher. In any event, if you look at the trade primarily as a Melky-for-Javy swap, I’d still say the Yankees wound up ahead even with Javy’s terrible season, as he out-fWARed Melky by 0.9.

What about the secondary components of the trade? For all the griping about Boone Logan, he’s actually been pretty effective as the Yankees’ sole left-handed reliever these last two seasons, putting up 0.7 combined fWAR across just over 80 innings (yes, I know fWAR is near-worthless in assessing relievers, but I’m using it anyway). Mike Dunn threw 19.1 frames for the Braves in 2010 (1.89 ERA/3.61 FIP) and walked 8.05(!) men per nine, before hooking on with the Marlins this past season and hurling 63 innings of 3.43 ERA/4.30 FIP ball, almost halving that absurd walk rate (though it still checked in at an unsightly 4.43 per nine) but not enough to provide positive value to the team (-0.1 fWAR). I’d say the Yankees got the better end of the left-handed reliever swap as well.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, while they may not regret losing Melky or Dunn, they almost certainly regret including Vizcaino — who ranked 16th on Baseball America’s midseason Top 50 list this past season, and currently checks in as the Braves’ second-best prospect overall on both BA’s list and John Sickels‘, behind only Julio Teheran — in the deal, as Vizacaino rocketed through the Braves’ system and reached the big league club this past August, throwing 17.1 innings of 4.67 ERA/3.54 FIP ball out of the bullpen with an 8.83 K/9. Vizcaino — still just 21 years old —  is expected to compete for a rotation spot on the staff come Spring Training. While the Yankees have their share of minor league pitching talent knocking on the door, having Vizcaino — who our own Mike Axisa would have slotted as #3 in between Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances on his  Top 30 Yankee Prospect list — in the mix for a potential rotation spot would certainly make the team’s 2012 starting rotation picture a bit less fuzzy.

Past Trade Review: Robin Ventura

(AP)

The dust had barely settled after the end of the 2001 World Series, but the Yankees knew they were already going to have to replace several key pieces of the roster in the offseason. Everyone knew that Paul O’Neill was retiring and it was no secret that the aging Tino Martinez was going to be pushed aside as the team prepared to go all out for free agent Jason Giambi, but Scott Brosius’ retirement seemed to catch everyone off guard. By no means was he great, but he was a steady third baseman and suddenly the Yankees had an empty spot at the hot corner.

That’s when something unusual happened. The Yankees and Mets actually got together for a trade, a rare exchange of legitimate big leaguers. On December 7th, two weeks after Brosius called it a career, the Yankees shipped David Justice across town in exchange for Robin Ventura. Justice had been acquired a year-and-a-half earlier for some minor leaguers, a deal that worked out tremendously in 2000. The Amazins’ were set to acquire Roberto Alomar and shift Edgardo Alfonso to third, so they had a spare part and the pieces of the trade puzzle fell into place.

Ventura, 34 at the time, was coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons, a .237/.359/.419 effort in 2001 and .232/.338/.439 in 2000. His glovework at third was second to none though, and the Yankees were just looking for a short-term stopgap until Drew Henson was ready to take over the position for the next decade. Don’t laugh, Baseball America ranked Henson as the ninth best prospect in baseball just a few weeks after the trade, one spot ahead of some kid named Mark Teixeira. The Yankees only needed a band-aid third baseman, and that’s exactly what Ventura was.

Batting fifth behind Bernie Williams and ahead of Jorge Posada on Opening Day, Ventura drew a walk in four trips to the plate. It was an unspectacular debut, but he made his mark in pinstripes in the following weeks. Ventura hit a solo homer two days later, the only run of the game in the team’s first win of the 2002 season. He hit a three-run homer the very next day, chipping in three of the team’s four runs in the win. Another homer followed four days later. Then another. And another and another and another. Before you knew it, Ventura had gone deep six times in the team’s first 14 games and a dozen times in their first 39 games. That was more than half of his season total (21) from the year before.

Ventura cooled off a bit after that but remained productive, hitting .240/.372/.419 with 15 homers the rest of the way to finish the season at .247/.368/.458 with 27 homers, the third highest total of his then-14-year career. The left-handed power he provided was a nice compliment to righty Alfonso Soriano and the two switch-hitters, Bernie and Posada. Ventura made the All-Star Team for the second time in his career and for the first time in a decade. The Yankees lost to the Angels in the ALDS, though Ventura doubled twice and drove in four runs in the final two games of the series.

With Henson not developing as hoped in 2002, the Yankees kept Ventura around in 2003 but had him platoon at third with Todd Zeile. Seriously. Ventura went on another April homerun binge (five in the team’s first 16 games), but his power started to disappear and his season batting line bottomed out at .236/.326/.386 on July 11th. His defense also deteriorated as well, and the Yankees had a bonafide hole at third base on their hands.

The fixed that hole at the trade deadline, sending two minor leaguers and cash to the Reds for Aaron Boone. The 30-year-old was hitting .273/.339/.469 with Cincinnati at the time and was obviously going to play third base everyday in New York. Ventura was a man without a job, but Brian Cashman managed to flip him to the Dodgers just before the deadline. In return for a declining player everyone knew he had to move, Cashman received Bubba Crosby and Scott Proctor, two young players that proved to be useful (to varying degrees) in pinstripes.

Ventura never really had a signature moment with the Yankees, at least not that I remember, but he was certainly a solid contributor on a 103-win team in 2002. All told, he hit .249/.359/.433 with 36 homers in 888 plate appearances in pinstripes, and he retired the season after the trade. As for Justice, he never actually played for the Mets. They traded him to the Athletics a week after acquiring him, getting relievers Mark Guthrie and Tyler Yates in return. Justice hit .266/.376/.410 as Oakland’s DH in 2002, and retired the following offseason. It was a deal with little impact for both sides, but Ventura bridged the gap between three very significant players in recent Yankees history – Brosius, Justice, and Boone.

Past Trade Review: Jose Tabata

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

There was a time, during RAB’s halcyon days, when Jose Tabata invited encouraging comparisons. The name Manny Ramirez appeared frequently, which left Yankees fans salivating. Even better, when Baseball America rated him the Yankees’ No. 2 and the No. 27 overall prospect in 2007, they said that he “has the talent to reach New York by the end of 2008.”

By the end of 2008 not only was Tabata not in the majors, but he wasn’t even in the Yankees system. On July 25th, 2008, when they sat three games back of first and were starting a series against Boston, they pulled off a major trade in which Tabata was the centerpiece. They sent him, along with Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, and Ross Ohlendorf to the Pirates in exchange for Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady. In Marte they got a lefty reliever — one whom they once traded for Enrique Wilson — and a right-handed outfielder in the midst of a career year. The Yankees certainly needed the help that Marte and Nady could provide, but losing Tabata still stung a little.

While Tabata possessed plenty of upside, his attitude and antics certainly soured the Yankees. After all, the same Baseball America scouting report that glowed about his “innate ability to get the fat part of the bat to the ball quickly, consistently, and with power,” also said that the “tends to cost and turn his talent on and off.” He stormed out of one game and considered quitting. That doesn’t even touch on his decades-older wife, who was accused of kidnapping a baby. In 2008 all that appeared to catch up to him, and he sported a mere .248/.320/.310 line in AA prior to the trade. The Yankees’ patience, apparently, wore thin.

Even with the reinforcements the Yankees couldn’t overcome their depleting pitching staff. At that point Chien-Ming Wang was already done for the year, and Joba Chamberlain had just a few starts remaining before he, too, would go on the DL. Marte pitched well at first, but after a long outing in Texas (I believe on the same day Joba got hurt) he was apparently gassed. Nady stumbled in his new digs. It amounted to a 32-28 record post-trade, which was actually worse than their pre-trade record. The Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. The only bright side was that they had Nady and Marte for at least one more season each.

With Nady, they ended up with essentially nothing. The Yankees named him the starting right fielder in 2009, despite Nick Swisher‘s presence on the roster, but he suffered an elbow injury a few games into the season and didn’t play another one until 2010 with the Cubs. His time with the Yankees amounted to 0.6 WAR. Instead of exercising Marte’s $6 million option for 2009, the Yankees signed him to a three-year, $12 million contract. He’s spent most of it on the DL, though he did come through in the 2009 World Series. The only way the Yankees won this deal was with the old saying, flags fly forever. (Though I suppose that assumes that the Yankees would not have won the series without Marte, which is debatable, to say the least.)

Karstens, McCutchen, and Ohlendorf were mere afterthoughts in the trade. Ohlendorf broke camp with the 2008 team as a reliever, though his role was never clear. Whether that made him seem worse I’m not sure, but it’s impossible to define his stint with the big league club as successful. He might have helped in the future, but the Yankees had plenty of other mid-range pitching prospects. The same goes for Karstens and McCutchen. Both had their bright spots, but both were fungible assets. There was little to argue about when trading them, and even using hindsight, with Karstens experiencing some success this year, it’s hard to find fault with trading these guys. It was actually a Yankees fan’s dream: trading middling non-prospects for actual major leaguers.

Tabata, on the other hand, represented someone the Yankees could actually use. The system has lacked power corner OF bats since RAB started in 2007, and Tabata was the one guy who could have grown into that type of player. But given all his issues both on and off the field, they apparently thought he wasn’t the best fit. And despite all the hype, he has never hit for power — not in any stop in the minors in which he had more than 100 AB, and not in the majors.

The lack of power brings up an important question when evaluating the Tabata trade: where would he have played? Even if the Yankees were a bit aggressive with him, as the Pirates were last year, where would he have fit? Last year Brett Gardner was working on a breakout year, and the Yankees had Nick Swisher manning right field. From 2010 to 2011 Nick Swisher has produced a .367 wOBA and Gardner has produced .351 (9th and 20th among qualified MLB OFers). Tabata, meanwhile, has produced a .332 wOBA, and that’s pretty evenly divided between his two seasons. (It would rank 40th if he were qualified.)

It was impossible to know at the time, of course, that the Yankees would acquire Swisher and develop Gardner into a borderline elite player, so all of that represents hindsight evaluation in one way. But in another it represents a legitimate viewpoint, since Tabata wouldn’t have been ready for the majors until the Yankees started to see what they had in those two players. Even if he miraculously broke out in 2009 the Yanks wouldn’t have had room for him.

This weekend Tabata was rewarded for his 3.5 career WAR, and his potential for more, with a five-year extension worth a guaranteed $14.25 million that could end up a eight-year, $36.75 million deal. With the Yankees he never would have gotten that opportunity. With Gardner and Swisher taking over the outfield corners in the past two years, he would have remained blocked. That could have worked out if he turned things around in the Yanks system; they could have traded him this past winter, perhaps for a starting pitcher. But if he continued to falter they would have gotten even less. The Yanks apparently saw that risk ahead of time and dealt him while at least one team still valued him.

The hardest part of reconciling these past trades is figuring out how the Yankees would have fared had they not made the trade. It’s especially tough in this situation, when they got so little value for the return, but also wouldn’t have had room for the centerpiece. While it was a clear loss for the Yankees — they gave up something of value to another team and got little value back — the real-world effect isn’t that great. It would have taken a big turnaround from the disappointing Tabata in order for the Yankees to realize any value from him in the future.