"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: Trades

There's a Trade Up in Them Thar Trees

If you are a fan of the sports infographic representations of Flip Flop Fly Ball, then you might also enjoy a site called “MLB Trade Trees“.

From the site’s home page: “Find out how MLB trades evolved from a historian/baseball nerd in Iowa.”

The site isn’t splashy, but its quietly interesting, and the owner promises improvements.

Tell Us What You Really Think

I say my piece on the Yankees three deadline acquisitions on the latest episode of SNY.tv’s “Baseball Show.” Dig it:

Check It Out

I have a couple of pieces up on SI.com today. The first is my Rookie of the Year Awards Watch. It was a frustrating column to write this week because of the glut of strong rookies in the National League and lack thereof in the American League, though I squeezed in a lot of NL honorable mentions in the introduction. [Update: I initially had an old column linked. The link is now fixed to this week's Awards Watch.]

The second is my look at the top waiver-trade pickups of the Wild Card era. No Yankees make my top 5, though the botched Pat Listach trade in 1996 yielded Graeme Lloyd, who after struggling mightily down the stretch, got some huge outs in the postseason as the Yankees won their first championship under Joe Torre. Other notable Yankee waiver trades were the returns of Mike Stanley in 1997 and Luis Sojo in 2000, and the dumping of Mariano Duncan and addition of Rey Sanchez as a second-base solution in ’97. Meanwhile, Sterling Hitchcock went 5-1 with a 3.78 ERA for the Cardinals after the Yankees traded him to St. Louis in August 2003.

Elsewhere, the latest edition of Kevin Goldstein’s Future Shock at Baseball Prospectus kicks off with good words on a pair of red-hot Yankee prospects:

Dellin Betances, RHP, Yankees(High-A Tampa): 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 11 K

Of Betances 11 starts this year, eight of them could arguably be described as dominant, with none more so than last night’s when Betances retired the last 14 batters he faced, nine via the strikeout.  With a fastball that is all the way back (94-98 mph) and control that we’ve never seen before, the 22-year-old has whiffed 68 over 57 innings while allowing just 31 hits and walking 15.  Only an ugly ttrack record when it comes to staying healthy prevents him from being labeled with an elite tag.

Brandon Laird, 3B, Yankees(Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre): 4-for-4, 2 HR (2), 3 R, 2 RBI

It’s been a darn good year overall for the Yankee farm system, and one of the brightest points of light has been Laird, who entered the year as a nice little hitter with some upside, and is now considered one of the better offensive prospects in the system.  After batting .291/.355/.523 in the Eastern League, you couldn’t have asked for a better Triple-A debut, but much like Jesus Montero, it’s hard to figure out where his big league future lies if he remains a Yankee.

Observations from Cooperstown: Vazquez, Left Fielders, and George Michael

Due to the vagaries of the holiday schedules, I’ve yet to comment publicly on the Yankees’ last major acquisition of the winter: the Javier Vazquez trade. So we’ll file this in the category of “better late than never.” On the one hand, I have to confess I’m not Vazquez’ biggest fan. His career has largely been a disappointment, based on the context of the ability he flashed as a young Montreal Expo seven or eight years ago. He’s had only two dominant seasons in his career—2003 and this past season—which isn’t sufficient for the kind of stuff he’s always had. He’s had a good career, no question, just not the kind of career that matches the talent of his right arm.

With that criticism out of the way, I cannot legitimately complain about the trade that brought him back to the Bronx. The Yankees simply did not give up that much to acquire a capable right-hander who would be a legitimate No. 2 starter on many staffs. Melky Cabrera is a serviceable ballplayer who will never be a star, Mike Dunn is a minor league pitching prospect who cannot start, and Arodys Vizcaino is a 19-year-old right-hander who has never pitched above the pitching-minded NY-Penn League. (As a frequent visitor to Oneonta and Utica, I’ve seen too many kid pitchers dominate this league before flaming out in tougher hitting environments.) Of the three, the only player that caused the Yankees any pain in surrendering was Vizcaino, but there is still so much distance—and so much uncertainty—between where he is now and his anticipated arrival in the major leagues.

For me, the key to the trade was acquiring Vazquez without having to surrender Nick Swisher, whose contract was probably too rich for Atlanta’s thinning bloodstream. Giving up Swisher in this deal would have been a mistake; his regular season power, his versatility, and his infusion of enthusiasm have been forgotten too quickly by too many media types who only want to dwell on the postseason or some ridiculous notion of staid and serious Yankee professionalism. Would the Yankees really have been comfortable opening the season with an outfield of Brett Gardner (left field), Curtis Granderson (center field), and Cabrera (right field)—and Rule 5 pickup Jamie Hoffmann in reserve? I wouldn’t.

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Card Corner: The Friday Night Massacre

chambliss

This was the other “Massacre.” Most Yankee fans remember the celebrated “Boston Massacre,” that remarkable four-game sweep of the Red Sox during the heat of the 1978 AL East pennant race. The other massacre took place 35 years ago, had nothing to do with the rival Red Sox, and involved nearly half of the Yankees’ pitching staff in 1974. And it remains a matter of debate to this day.

During the late hours of Friday night, April 26, Yankees president and general manager Gabe Paul agreed to a massive seven-player trade with the Indians. Paul sent four of his pitchers—right-handers Fred Beene, Tom Buskey and Steve Kline, and flaky left-hander Fritz Peterson—to Cleveland for first baseman Chris Chambliss and right-handers Dick Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw.

Considering that the Yankees used a ten-man pitching staff in April of 1974, the idea of giving up four hurlers and receiving back only two did not go over well in the Yankee clubhouse. “I can’t believe this trade,” said outfielder Bobby Murcer, who normally did rock the boat so noisily but was visibly upset with Paul for losing confidence in a team that was a mere half-game out of first place. Other veteran Yankees joined in the chorus of disapproval. “You don’t trade four pitchers,” said senior staff member Mel Stottlemyre. “You just don’t.” The most outspoken of the Yankees, Thurman Munson, offered one of his typically blunt pronouncements in assessing the deal. “They’ve got to be kidding,” said Munson, who now had more work to do in familiarizing himself with two new pitchers.

A majority of Yankee fans seemed to agree with the public opinions expressed by the team’s leaders. Hundreds of angry fans flooded the team’s switchboard with calls of complaint. When Chambliss, Tidrow, and Upshaw made their first appearances at Shea Stadium (the Yankees’ temporary home), they received a barrage of boos from a group of not-so-adoring fans. Clearly, Chambliss’ great mutton chops did not appease the Yankee faithful.

Members of the New York media also joined in the refrain. Why did the Yankees surrender so many pitchers in one trade? Why would they give up Buskey, who had been named the team’s outstanding rookie during spring training? And why did they trade for a first baseman when they really needed a second baseman? The 1974 edition of the Yankees struggled to find a middleman. They had started the season with an aging Horace Clarke but would eventually purchase mediocrities Sandy Alomar and Fernando Gonzalez. Neither would provide an answer at second base; that would have to wait until Willie Randolph’s arrival in 1976.

The all-encompassing criticism of the Chambliss trade did not bother the Yankees’ president and GM. Paul had already achieved a comfort level in making trades with the Indians, the organization that he had previously run. Over the past two seasons, Paul had made direct deals with Cleveland for Graig Nettles and Walt “No-Neck” Williams, while also adding ex-Indians Duke Sims and Sam McDowell. “I think we got an outstanding first baseman in Chambliss,” Paul said proudly. “[He’s] a fellow who could be our first baseman for ten years.”

Chambliss would eventually solidify the Yankees at first base—and clinch the American League pennant with a Championship Series-ending home run in 1976—but he flopped badly in 1974. In 400 at-bats, Chambliss batted only .243 with a mere six home runs. He reached base less than 29 per cent of the time and slugged .343. If anything, Chambliss’ poor performance might have cost the Yankees the AL East title, as they fell just two games short of Earl Weaver’s Orioles.

Chambliss was the headliner acquired in the “Friday Night Massacre,” but it was another player who would bring more immediate dividends to New York in 1974. Right-hander Dick Tidrow, one of the most versatile pitchers of the seventies, made 33 appearances for the Yankees that summer, including 25 starts. His ERA of 3.87 was not particularly good for that era, but he did log 190 innings, pitched five complete games, and represented an improvement over the fading Fritz Peterson. For what it’s worth, Peterson, Kline, and Beene all flopped for the Indians that summer, leaving Buskey’s good work in relief as the sole salvation of the deal from Cleveland’s standpoint.

While the long-term benefits of adding Chambliss and Tidrow are undeniable—both became important complementary pieces to the Bronx Zoo dynasty—the questions about 1974 lead to a much murkier answer. Would the Yankees have won the AL East in ’74 if they had not executed the “massacre?” Without Chambliss, the Yankees might have given a longer look to top prospect Otto Velez, a power-hitting first baseman-outfielder who was buried at Triple-A Syracuse. As Steven Goldman and other historians have pointed out, Velez may have been more productive than Chambliss in the short term. And with Buskey in the bullpen, the Yankees would have had a set-up reliever just as capable as the sidearming Cecil Upshaw, who helped out Sparky Lyle in the late innings.

It’s a tough call. Maybe Munson, Murcer, and Stottlemyre were right about the Friday Night Massacre. But, then again, they were only right for 1974.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for MLBlogs at MLB.com.

Observations From Cooperstown–The Truth, Chase Wright, and The Toaster

Someone is not telling the truth here. Imagine that happening in our great game. Last week, free agent second baseman Orlando Hudson told reporters that his agent has been talking contract with four teams: the Nationals, the Dodgers, the Mets—and, of course, the Yankees. The very next day, in response to a question about the pursuit of Manny Ramirez, Brian Cashman told the media that the Yankees have finished signing high-profile free agents this winter. If any additions are to be made between now and the first day of spring training, it will involve non-roster invitees. Obviously, a high profile player like Hudson does not fit into the non-roster category.

Given Cashman’s history of oration, I’m inclined to believe Hudson, whose defensive, energy, and attitude have been highly regarded by the Yankee front office for years now. After all, it was Cashman who proclaimed in 2006 that Bubba Crosby would be the Opening Day center fielder, only weeks before Johnny Damon signed on the dotted line. Earlier this winter, Cashman said that the Yankees’ budget would not allow them to sign three big-ticket free agents like CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and either A.J. Burnett or Derek Lowe. In not so uncertain terms, Cashman considered that possibility a pipe dream. Lo and behold, Sabathia, Tex, and Burnett have all been fitted for pinstripes.

So why would Cashman fib on the matter of Hudson? Two reasons, at least from where I’m standing. Cashman doesn’t want other teams thinking he’s involved in the bidding, just like he didn’t in the pursuit of Teixeira. Better to swoop in at the final minute and get the player at the price you want. And Cashman doesn’t want Robinson Cano thinking that he’s once again on the trade market. That way, if the Yankees explore the market for Cano and find nothing to their liking (like a frontline center fielder), then Cashman won’t have to admit to anyone—including Cano—that he was even considering a trade of his starting second baseman. Considering Cano’s fragile psyche and his tendency to mope when situations degrade around him, that might be smart thinking on Cashman’s part…

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Observations From Cooperstown–Fifth Starters, Backup Catchers, and Rickey At 50

The heralded off season acquisitions of Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett have answered most of the Yankees’ questions surrounding first base and starting pitching, but at least one rotation place remains available for the taking. The identity of the No. 5 starter is still unknown, pending the re-signing of Andy Pettitte or the importing of one of Milwaukee’s Best (Ben Sheets) or a Fallen Angel (Jon Garland). So what should the Yankees’ best course of action be, a proven free agent commodity, or a four-way battle of young arms Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy, Alfredo Aceves, and lefty Phil Coke?

When it comes to pitching, I tend to believe in the theory of excess, especially in light of the twin avalanches of injuries that have assaulted the Bronx the past two summers. I’d like to see Sheets signed to a two-year deal, or Pettitte to a one-year deal, with Garland a less expensive backup plan should those offers fall short. Signing one of those three would allow the Yankees to use Aceves as a long man in the bullpen while having Hughes and Kennedy in reserve at Scranton-Wilkes Barre. The days of getting through a season with five starters are long gone; you’d better have at least seven to eight pitchers capable of giving you a substantial number of starts and innings from April to October…

***

The YES Network’s Steven Goldman, often an astute observer of Yankeeland, was a thousand per cent correct this week in offering his assessment of the tenuous state of the Yankees’ catching situation. If the Yanks are not careful, they may end up with Jose Molina again doing the majority of the catching, an untenable prospect given Molina’s overall futility at the plate. (With Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera set to play center field, the Yankees cannot afford to give away two lineup slots to defense-first players.) In the event that Jorge Posada’s surgically repaired shoulder allows him to catch no more than 80-90 games this summer, the Yankees need another catcher to share the burden. They won’t necessarily require a No. 1 catcher to fill the void, but they would need someone who is capable of splitting the load with Molina in some kind of a platoon arrangement.

Let me advocate two possibilities, one a free agent and the other on the trade market. The free agent is switch-hitting ex-Red Javier Valentin, who is decent enough with the bat to serve as a platoon partner and “designated” pinch-hitter for Molina. It isn’t that Valentin is a great offensive player, but he happens to be a much better hitter than Molina, with a career on-base percentage that’s 35 points higher. At 33 years of age, he’d be happy with a one-year deal, making him a far cheaper alternative to Jason Varitek. (That would also spare us the inevitable Varitek-Alex Rodriguez soap opera.) The other possibility is Chris Coste, now relegated to third-string catching status with the world champion Phillies, behind Carlos Ruiz and the newly acquired Ronny Paulino. Even at the age of 35, Coste has acceptable on-base skills and enough versatility to play the infield corners in the pinch. He shouldn’t cost too much in a trade either, maybe something at the level of a Chase Wright or an Alan Horne…

***

Last week’s election of ex-Yankee Rickey Henderson and Boston’s Big Jim Rice to the Hall of Fame figures to give the village of Cooperstown a much-needed boost in tourism this summer, especially when compared with the meager turnout for the 2008 induction. Fewer than 10,000 fans visited Cooperstown for the induction of Goose Gossage and Dick Williams, despite Gossage’s obvious connection to the Yankees from 1978 to 1983. (Perhaps Goose didn’t pitch long enough for the Yankees, or maybe he simply played too long ago, but his induction brought surprisingly few fans north from the Bronx.) This year’s induction attendance could double last year’s total of about 8,000 visitors—but not because of Henderson’s superstar presence. Henderson played only four and a half seasons with the Yankees, preventing him from developing the cult following of someone like Don Mattingly or Paul O’Neill or Bernie Williams. Given the distance between Cooperstown and Oakland, the team with which Rickey is most associated, it’s likely that few A’s fans will make the cross-country trek to Cooperstown.

So where will the attendance boost come from? There will be a large contingent of Red Sox faithful in town for the long-awaited induction of Rice, who played his entire career in Beantown. Boston is a mere four hours away from Cooperstown; the Hall of Fame is already a convenient destination for members of the dreaded Red Sox Nation, and that will only intensify during what figures to be the Summer of Rice…

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Speaking of Henderson, I’d love to see the “Man of Steal” carry through with his wish of playing one final season in the major leagues. Even at 50, he’s still in prime physical condition and probably capable of filling a role as a pinch-runner and fifth outfielder. He’s also a far smarter player than most give him credit for, a student of both pitchers’ repertoires and their moves to first base. If the Yankees find themselves in a pennant race come September, why not sign Henderson as an extra body for the 40-man roster? I’d enjoy the theater of watching him enter a tie game as a pinch-runner, pawing his way off first base against a pitcher 20 years his junior. If nothing else, it would beat watching Angel Berroa under similar circumstances.

Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for MLBlogs at MLB.com.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver