The Bobby Abreu trade was great for the Bombers for several reasons. For one thing, it probably made the Yanks the favorites to win the AL East. In one fell swoop, it addressed two glaring problems: poor production at the corner outfield position and the anemic back-end of the rotation. And the Yanks did this at little cost in terms of on-field talent. YF has analyzed this aspect of the trade expertly in this space already, so there’s no need to go into any further detail about the on-field improvement resulting from the trade. But more importantly the deal, perhaps, represents a shift in organizational approach that will benefit the Yanks in the years to come. As Jonah Keri writes in a great article posted on the Yes Network site, "From the Yankees’ perspective, they managed to add a top-flight bat and a useful starter, all without relinquishing any top-tier prospects from an underrated farm system that has several. Years from now, we may look back at the Abreu-Lidle deal as the blueprint for all Yankees trades: Taking advantage of teams’ willingness to dump salary and give up top talent for second-class farmhands." This has not been the way it has been done in the past. To demonstrate this point, Keri quotes from the book "The Baseball Trade Register: Every Trade, Sale, and Free-Agent Signing from 1900 on", by Joseph L. Reichler, published in 1984:"…Given their willingness to spend, why don’t the Yankees win more often? One reason is their reliance on older players. They have consistently traded away young players who could be so vital to their future for the single player they feel they need right now." In fact, short-sighted trades have been an unfortunate part of the Yanks’ history. Owing in large part to a win-now philosophy that has been an essential feature of almost every Yankees management team, the Yanks have made many bone-headed (Jeff Bagwellian) deals. And now thanks to Keri we now have a list of the ten worst trades in the Bombers’ history. Among the ten, my two favorite entries are provided below (you’ll have to read the whole article for the 8 others):
"Jan. 22, 1918: Traded Urban Shocker, Les Nunamaker, Fritz Maisel, Nick Cullop and Joe Gedeon to the St. Louis Browns for Eddie Plank, Del Pratt, and $15,000
Plank was a Hall of Famer who’d amassed 326 wins to that point in his career. He was also 42 years old. Though still effective into his early 40s, Plank would never pitch a game for the Yankees. Pratt was a solid Yankee contributor for three years, including a 1920 season that saw him hit .314. Meanwhile, four of the five players the Yankees gave up never amounted to much.
The Yankees dealt the fifth, Shocker, to St. Louis after manager Miller Huggins was told that his pitcher was being disruptive. Shocker went on to shock the league, developing into one of the dominant starters in all of baseball, including four straight 20-win seasons from 1920 to 1923. The Yankees finally reacquired him before the 1925 season, with Shocker by then well into his 30s. He had some gas left in the tank, though: At age 36 he was arguably the best pitcher on the famous 1927 World Series-winning team, going 18-6…
July 21, 1988: Traded Jay Buhner, Rich Balabon and Troy Evers to the Seattle Mariners for Ken Phelps
"How could you have traded Buhner for Ken Phelps?" The line made famous by George Costanza’s acerbic dad Frank on Seinfeld could have easily been uttered by any Yankee fan in the 1990s. To his credit, Phelps was a gem in Seattle for more than five seasons, flexing huge power and putting up Ted Williams-level walk totals. Despite a strong minor league track record, Phelps didn’t break into the majors until age 25, as scouts feared his long swing, strikeout totals and overall non-scouty gestalt. Even in the majors, the Mariners didn’t quite turn him loose, with Phelps topping out at 125 games played in 1986. (Phelps’ long stint in the minors and sporadic big league playing time — despite great production whenever he did play — gave rise to the "Ken Phelps All-Star Team." A Ken Phelps All-Star is a player who produces everywhere he goes, but for one reason or another fails to get a fair shot, usually getting left behind in the minors.) Steinbrenner coveted Phelps, daydreaming about the carnage he’d inflict on the league once given an everyday chance to take aim at the short right-field porch in Yankee Stadium. But by the time he hit New York, Phelps was going on 34 years old, his best days behind him.
Meanwhile the Yankees gave up way too soon on Buhner, a player 10 years Phelps’ junior who ironically had a very similar skill set, with tons of power and patience mixed with a so-so batting average. The Yankees had previously engineered a heist, having dealt Steve Kemp, Tim Foli, and cash to the Pirates in December 1984 for Dale Berra, Alfonso Pulido and Buhner. But the Phelps deal wiped out most of the benefit of that steal. The man known as Bone went on to become one of the greatest .254 hitters to ever play the game, crunching 310 career homers, gunning down legions of baserunners who dared test his cannon arm and serving as a focal point for some of the best teams in Mariner history."
Why anyone would trade a person named Urban Shocker is beyond me. In my humble opinion, this is by far the greatest name in baseball history. And, of course, Buhner’s very good years with the Mariners were difficult for me to deal with. What could have been! At least it inspired one of the funniest scenes in sitcom history.
But as Keri suggests, the Yanks seem to have turned a corner. Brian Cashman’s newfound power in the organization is the main reason for this. Or put another way, George Steinbrenner’s decision to grant Cashman complete power over personnel-decisions is the main reason. The 2006 season, regardless of whether the Yanks win the world series or not, has been a very good one in this Yanks fan’s eyes. Cashman’s rededication to player development, coupled with intelligent use of the Yanks overwhelming resources, has me excited not only about this fall but the next five years.