It happens every season: the Yankees tie a bow around some package containing a couple of live arms and a kid who didn’t hit much during his cup of coffee in the Bronx, and ship it to a rival GM in exchange for whatever vital cog the team appears to be missing. Whether it’s the dead of January’s doldrums or the heat of a July race, fans hail the arrival of said cog, rarely fretting over the prospects sent packing. Heck, it’s been 16 years since Jay Buhner was traded for Ken Phelps; he’s been retired for three, and his harshest critic, Frank Costanza, has been gone for twice that long.
Last summer’s trade of pitcher Brandon Claussen to the Cincinnati Reds for third baseman Aaron Boone was a rare exception, for Claussen had recently tantalized Yankee fans with a stellar nationally-televised debut. The confident young lefty looked like the ideal antidote to the struggling, enigmatic Jeff Weaver, but the Yankees sent Claussen to the Reds in favor of upgrading their offense. The outcry among Yankee fans was vociferous, if more symbolic than anything else. Since the deluge of homegrown talent which fueled their championship run–Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Ramiro Mendoza–the Yankee farm system has produced very little, so the idea that a product of the Columbus Clippers might be worthy of joining that esteemed bunch was an attractive one.
Was the Claussen trade a good one for the Yankees? Boone cemented his spot in pinstriped lore with one October swing, though he spent the rest of his time confounding the Yanks and their fans. But the real answer to that question will take several years to unearth, as Claussen does or does not develop into a major-league caliber pitcher. After much delay, he’s finally off and running, winning his first start as a Red on July 20.
As the trading deadline approaches and the hype surrounding a potential Randy Johnson deal reaches a deafening crescendo, I decided to take a look at how well the Yankees have done in dealing young players. I’m not concerned with who they get in return except as a footnote, nor do I care whether they “won” a particular trade according to a value measure. Those scales can wait to be balanced for another day. The question is whether the Yanks have let another Buhner, another unproven product of the Yankee system, slip out the door. How well did the players they traded turn out?
To answer this, I examined every trade the Yankees made over a roughly 10-year period from the end of the ’93 season to Opening Day 2004, as listed in either baseball-reference.com (with an assist from Retrosheet) or MLB.com (for more recent deals). By my count, the Yanks made 76 trades in that time period, not including conditional deals and ones in which no prospect for either side ever made the majors (and thus no record surfaced on baseball-reference.com). Of those, I focused on the 44 deals in which the Yanks gave away unproven talent (defined as players with fewer than 502 career major-league plate appearances or 162 career major-league innings pitched–numbers which represent a single-season of qualifying for the batting or ERA crowns).
I debated drawing that line much lower, say, at players still qualifying as rookies (fewer than 130 big league at-bats or 50 innings pitched). In the end, it didn’t matter much. Few players fell into the middle ground, and two of the potentially most valuable ones traded by the Yanks recently–Nick Johnson and Ted Lilly–were outliers on the upper end of experience as well (Johnson with 935 plate appearances, Lilly with 229 innings; Ricky Ledee, at 587 PA, was also left out of this group). I recorded the players’ ages at the time of trade, using the July 1 convention common across most baseball databases. For players traded in the offseason, I considered their age for the coming year. To measure the impact of the trades, I used Wins Above Replacement (WARP3, which adjusts for league difficulty and era) from BP’s Davenport Cards.
The total pool consists of 70 players. Forty-five of those players are still active in professional baseball, including two in the independent leagues, three in the Mexican League, and one, Chris Singleton, who played last year but was released by the Pirates after failing a physical this spring. Three of the inactives played as recently as last year, but Drew Henson has hung up his cleats and Lyle Mouton and Mike Judd have yet to surface this season–Judd’s spring-training stint with the Expos notwithstanding.
The 25 retirees, all traded between November ’93 and July ’01, averaged 23.8 years of age. Only seven had big-league experience before being traded by the Yanks, with Andy Stankiewicz (461 PA) at the top of the list for hitters and Mark Hutton (56 IP) leading the pitchers. Those seven players averaged 1.1 WARP pre-trade, but most of that value is Stankiewicz, who put up a 5.1 WARP season as a rookie in 1992, and managed only 0.7 for the rest of his big league career.
Eighteen of the 25 retirees were pitchers. Of the 18, nine pitched in the majors, but only three accumulated even 1.0 WARP after being traded. Of the seven hitters, only four played in the majors at all (including Henson, who was traded back to the Yankees within a year), and only two topped 1.0 WARP. The tradees with positive WARPs:
Russ Davis, 3B 8.9
Lyle Mouton, OF 6.2
Mark Hutton, P 3.4
Bobby Munoz, P 3.0
Marty Janzen, P 1.0
A. Stankiewicz, 3B 0.7
Brett Jodie, P 0.3
Rafael Medina, P 0.1
Those are slim pickings. As a group, the players accumulated only 23.2 WARP combined post-trade, about 0.9 per player. The single best season among the group was Bobby Munoz‘s 1994 campaign, his first after being traded, in which he was 4.0 wins above replacement. Russ Davis‘ best season clocked in at 3.8 WARP, Mouton’s top was 2.5, and the only other season more than 1.0 was by Hutton at 1.7. Lest anyone think the Yanks got nothing in return, consider some of the names netted by this dubious group: Jack McDowell, David Cone, Tim Raines, Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson, contributors to good and great Yankee teams. In some cases the Yanks included more established players (such as Sterling Hitchcock in the Martinez deal) along with the prospects. But really, these small potatoes played a nice part in dressing up the Yankees big feast.
Turning to the active players, 22 of the 45 have seen time in the big leagues this year, another one, Chris Spurling is on the Tigers’ DL, and Singleton, a major-league caliber ballplayer when he’s healthy, isn’t under contract anywhere. Of those 22, 14 had some major-league experience prior to being traded by the Yanks, with Juan Rivera (280 PA), Andy Fox (259 PA), Randy Choate (91 IP) and Jim Mecir (89 IP) the most seasoned. Not that anybody was very effective; those who played averaged under 0.6 WARP prior to being traded, with Choate and David Lee, a reliever who spent only a couple of winter months with the team, representing the most successful at 1.9 WARP.
Here are those 24 players, ranked by career WARP post-trade (“W3post” in the charts below) prior to this season, meaning that some players won’t have registered any impact yet:
Player Pos W3post Peak
Mike Lowell 3B 27.3 7.5
Eric Milton P 23.6 5.6
Chris Singleton OF 20.1 6.2
Jim Mecir P 15.6 3.8
Cristian Guzman SS 13.3 5.1
Tony Armas, Jr. P 12.2 4.7
D’Angelo Jimenez 2B 11.7 5.6
Homer Bush 2B 9.5 5.6
Andy Fox 2B 8.4 3.5
Damaso Marte P 7.7 4.8
Jake Westbrook P 5.4 3.7
Brian Buchanan OF 4.9 2.1
Zach Day P 4.1 2.8
Tom Wilson C 2.8 1.5
Chris Spurling P 1.8 1.8
David Lee P 1.3 2.1
Brian Reith P 0.9 1.3
Rosman Garcia P 0.6 0.6
Wily Mo Pena OF 0.1 0.1
Randy Choate P 0.0 1.6
Juan Rivera OF 0.0 1.0
Brandon Claussen P 0.0 0.3
Marcus Thames OF 0.0 0.1
Craig Dingman P -0.2 0.1
There are a handful of quality major-leaguers on that list, along with some real flotsam. Coming into the season, this group had accumulated 187.2 WARP, but of course that number is increasing by the day. Mike Lowell, Eric Milton, and Singleton are head-and-shoulders above the rest in their post-trade careers. But only eight players have put up even one season worth more than 4.0 WARP, a level that might represent (to pick some illustrative 2003 examples) a so-so season from a regular (Adrian Beltre, 4.0) or a starting pitcher (John Lackey, 4.0), a good full season from a reserve (Greg Myers, 4.1) or a non-closer (Ricardo Rincon, 4.1), or a good partial season from a call-up (Alex Cintron, 4.1). Still, some of those players may yet cross that plateau.
Breaking the above into pitchers and hitters to consider their 2004 performance (through July 25) and using the EqA report and the spiffy, updated, in-season DT cards:
Player Team Age PA EqA RARP WARP1
Mike Lowell FLA 30 420 .315 35.8 5.3
D’Angelo Jimenez CIN 26 397 .268 15.3 4.0
Cristian Guzman MIN 26 375 .242 4.8 2.6
Wily Mo Pena CIN 22 213 .298 12.9 2.0
Juan Rivera MON 25 208 .231 -3.8 0.7
Marcus Thames DET 27 65 .305 4.5 0.4
Brian Buchanan SDP 30 53 .229 -1.2 0.0
Tom Wilson NYM 33 5 .256 0.1 -0.1
Homer Bush NYY 30 8 .000 -1.0 -0.1
Andy Fox MON 33 43 .000 -5.8 -0.6
Lowell is the only regular with an EqA that’s significantly above the .260 average, and the only All-Star on this list. D’Angelo Jimenez has heated up after a slow start and looks as though he might finish the season where he started for the first time in memory. Wily Mo Pena, who’s been en fuego lately (a .310/.395/.681 July), has at the very least turned into a major-league power threat coming off of a .224 EqA season. Marcus Thames, whose career looked to be careening forever downhill since his first at-bat homer off of the Big Unit, is coming on nicely in a reserve role for Detroit. Cristian Guzman has been his usual craptacular self with the bat as Minnesota’s starting shortstop. Juan Rivera’s been a bust so far in Montreal (as has Nick Johnson, with a .263 EqA and 1.2 WARP). Tom Wilson‘s a good-hitting catcher most of whose career was squandered in the minors; he was recently sent down, as was Brian Buchanan. Fox and Homer Bush have fond memories of warming the benches of championship teams, itching for a chance to pinch-run.
Turning to the pitchers (stats through July 25):
Player Team Age IP ERA PRAR WARP1
Jake Westbrook CLE 26 130.7 3.10 35 3.9
Damaso Marte CHW 29 45.0 2.60 25 2.8
Zach Day MON 26 110.7 3.90 31 2.6
Eric Milton PHI 28 124.7 4.40 23 1.7
Jim Mecir OAK 34 30.3 4.70 12 1.3
Craig Dingman DET 30 19.7 5.03 6 0.7
Tony Armas, Jr. MON 26 45.3 3.97 7 0.5
Randy Choate ARI 28 34.7 5.45 2 0.2
Brian Reith CIN 26 26.0 7.27 1 0.2
Rosman Garcia TEX 25 4.0 6.75 0 0.0
David Lee CLE 31 4.3 8.31 -5 -0.5
Do you think the suddenly pitching-poor Yankees wish they had some of these guys back right now? Jake Westbrook and Zach Day are further above replacement level (PRAR) than any Yankee starter besides Javier Vazquez, and Milton has been better than Mike Mussina, Jon Lieber, and Jose Contreras. If we include Ted Lilly, then it’s possible to construct an ex-Yankee prospect rotation that trumps the performance of the current Yankee rotation as of this writing:
Jake Westbrook 35
Ted Lilly 34
Zach Day 31
Eric Milton 23
Tony Armas, Jr. 7
Javier Vazquez 36
Kevin Brown 15
Jon Lieber 21
Mike Mussina 19
Jose Contreras 15
Before anybody, from The Boss on down, starts calling for Brian Cashman’s head, they should be reminded that Day and Westbrook–the two pitchers poised to do the most damage going forward–fetched David Justice in 2000, while Milton was the key to the Chuck Knoblauch package. Damaso Marte, on the other hand, was traded to Pittsburgh for Enrique Wilson, which ought to be worth a blindfold, a cigarette, and a shiny silver bullet for whoever advocated that deal. The lefty would certainly help the pinstriped team more than Felix Heredia has.
We’ve accounted for the 25 retirees and 24 major-leaguers, leaving 21 players active outside the majors. This group was the youngest of the three prior to trade, averaging 23.2 years. Only three of them (Ruben Rivera, Ed Yarnall, and Jason Anderson) had any major-league experience prior to being traded by the Yankees, and only seven have played in the majors post-trade. Many of them are still on the way up and hold a significant key to this analysis. At least six are presumably on their way down, playing outside of organized baseball: Oswaldo Mairena, Juan Melo and the nefarious Ruben Rivera, who are in the Mexican League, and Kevin Jordan, and Ryan Bicondoa, who are in independent leagues. Rivera (11.3 WARP) and Jordan (4.4) are the only ones of the bunch with more than 0.4 WARP in their careers. This leaves 14 players in the minors, not including the small handful who have appeared in both the minors and majors this year (denoted with an asterisk).
Player Age Level PA EqA RARP mjEqA
Marcus Thames* 27 AAA-I 269 .353 37.2 .304
Tom Wilson* 33 AAA-P 91 .328 10.0 .278
Homer Bush* 30 AAA-I 147 .254 3.3 .224
Jackson Melian 24 AAA_I 35 .314 3.0 .269
AA-E 136 .272 6.1 .216
AA-S 81 .226 -0.7 .180
J-F Griffin 24 AA-E 371 .273 17.2 .215
Seth Taylor 26 AA-E 54 .158 -3.5 .130
A+Ca 27 .191 -0.7 .147
Darren Blakely 27 AA-S 102 .306 8.3 .234
A+Cr 177 .288 10.4 .216
The combination of age, level and performance confirm that Seth Taylor and Darren Blakely are longshots, while Bush and Wilson are Quadruple-A players at this point, likely to get short stints in the big here and there if somebody goes down with an injury, though Wilson, at least, deserves better. Thames was ripping up International League pitching to the tune of 24 homers and an 1.145 OPS, indicating that he’s ready for a spot on a major-league roster if not in its starting lineup.
John-Ford Griffin and Jackson Melian are the swing votes here, two 24-year-old outfielders of varying fortunes. Griffin is one of a plethora of talented Jays outfield prospects; at first glance, he’s had an unexceptional season in Double-A so far, hitting .244/.335/.460. He’s showing good isolated power (.216) and plate discipline (one walk for every 8.5 PA), but he’s striking out in about 27 percent of his plate appearances. The Venezuelan Melian, who received a $1.6 million bonus as an international free agent in 1996, is still trying to get his minor-league career on track after the tragic 1998 death of his parents in an auto accident. Since being traded to the Reds in the Denny Neagle deal, he’s passed through the hands of the Brewers, Cubs, Yankees again (returning as a minor-league free-agent), and as of last month, he’s now in the Braves system. In three stops this year, he’s hit a combined .249/.324/.431, striking out 22 percent of the time–superficially similar numbers to Griffin, but with less ISO (.182) and considerably less plate discipline (one walk per 11.6 PA). While Griffin is only in his fourth minor-league season, Melian is now in his eighth without having had much success in the high minors. He’s young enough not to write off yet, but he needs to start making real progress.
Pitchers AGE Level IP ERA K/9 K/W HR/9 BABIP
Jason Anderson 25 AAA-I 40 3.35 5.4 4.0 0.7 .285
Jason Arnold 25 AAA-I 37 3.65 3.6 1.3 1.5 .279
Brandon Claussen* 25 AAA-I 100 4.66 10.0 2.4 0.9 .345
Craig Dingman* 30 AAA-I 14 4.77 11.6 3.4 2.7 .281
Randy Flores 28 AAA-I 81 3.44 7.7 2.6 0.9 .294
Rosman Garcia* 25 AAA-P 57 4.61 6.0 1.4 1.0 .312
David Lee* 31 AAA-I 44 3.45 7.3 1.4 0.6 .262
Ed Yarnall 28 AAA-I 86 4.29 6.4 1.5 0.7 .295
Scott Wiggins 28 AA-E 14 5.14 9.6 1.4 0.6 .270
Charlie Manning 25 AA-E 11 3.27 4.9 3.0 0.8 .229
AA-S 70 5.12 9.1 3.4 0.6 .379
Yhency Brazoban 24 AAA-P 8 3.24 11.9 — 1.1 .391
A+Fl 51 2.65 10.8 2.8 0.7 .274
Ricardo Aramboles 20 A+Cr 59 6.14 6.1 1.4 0.6 .354
Anderson Garcia 23 A-SA 58 4.32 8.2 1.8 0.6 .339
Brandon Weeden 20 A-SA 83 4.14 8.2 1.6 0.5 .321
(Repeat after me: “There’s No Such Thing…“)
While it’s obvious not everyone worked out, there are a few pretty decent looking pitchers here, at least looking through the lens of statistics and offering the caveat that I’m not a scout, nor am I a prospects expert. Claussen, as mentioned above, just returned to the big leagues. Don’t let the ERA fool you; he earned his way there with that strikeout rate, sweeping aside the questions surrounding his health after being shut down late last season. Yhency Brazoban, a converted outfielder traded to the Dodgers in the Jeff Weaver-for-Kevin Brown deal, came into the season with a 5.34 ERA in 64 minor league innings. He’s made great strides this year, having jumped from high-A Jacksonville, where he was the closer (13 saves), to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he’s off to a good start.
Charlie Manning, a lefty who went to Cincinnati with Claussen, recently returned to the Yankee chain when the Yanks decided that Gabe White‘s porn-star looks and accoutrements were too much for their bullpen. BP 2004 wasn’t very optimistic about him (“He’ll need to be pushed to have a career.”) but his good K rate, control, and left-handedness mean that the door should remain open for awhile. Speaking of recidivism, Anderson, who was traded to the Mets in the Armando Benitez deal, has found his way back to Columbus after passing through the Indians’ system. After walking more batters than he struck out last year, his control is vastly improved, but it appears he’s still little more than a bargaining chip to the Yanks. Scott Wiggins, who had come back to the Yankee organization this season, was recently released by Double-A Trenton.
Randy Flores, who’s had 29 big-league innings with a 7.44 ERA, deserves another chance, especially when Tony LaRussa comes looking for that inevitable fourth lefty out of the pen. He spent last year at Colorado Springs and lived to tell about it (posting a 4.98 ERA), and has had a solid season at Memphis with a decent K rate and good command. It’s hard to believe Yarnall is only 28. He’s passed through the Mets, Marlins, Yankees, Reds, A’s, and Red Sox systems, not to mention Japan, and now makes his living in the Phillies chain as a Scranton-Wilks Barre Red Baron, still trying to solve the riddle of the strike zone. It says something that the Yanks were the only team to give him a taste of the majors, most recently in 2000. Lee is another Quadruple-A warrior, now on his sixth big-league organization. The Indians let him pour a little bit of gasoline on their fires before he shuffled off to Buffalo.
Ricardo Aramboles, you may recall, was signed by the Marlins back in 1996, but his contract was voided when it was discovered he was underage. The Yankees swooped in and signed him at the tender age of 16, developing him for three-and-a-half seasons before shipping him out for Mark Wohlers. He’d shown impressive stuff in the minors (3.72 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 3.1 K/BB) despite having undergone Tommy John surgery in 1999. But he had further elbow trouble in 2002, limiting him to 22 innings, and an even more dreaded injury, a torn labrum, cost him all of 2003. He’s being batted around like a piñata in high-A ball right now; his situation is dire with regards to reaching the majors. Jason Arnold has been on the disabled list since May 20 with shoulder problems after experiencing a loss in velocity, hence the paltry strikeout rate. He was recently sighted throwing off a mound for the first time in awhile and is headed to Dunedin to rehab. Anderson Garcia and Brandon Weeden both show some promise with their high strikeout rates and decent control, but they’re a ways off for anybody to get too excited about.
As a whole, the group of unestablished players the Yankees have traded away over the past decade has been a decidedly mixed bag thus far. Out of 70 players traded, less than one-in-four have had careers of any consequence in the big leagues–and by “careers of any consequence,” I’m being especially generous: 10.0 total WARP. Lowell, Milton, Singleton, Mecir, Guzman, Armas, Jimenez, and Ruben Rivera have already crossed that threshold. Marte and Westbrook should make it this year barring complete collapse. Day will make it with another good season beyond this one, but with pitchers, health is anything but guaranteed, and he’s already shown himself to be fragile. Pena is the best bet among the hitters–the only one besides Lowell who could reach Jay Buhner status, a real loss for the Yankees–with Thames and Juan Rivera longer shots.
Of the minor league hitters, only Griffin appears to have a fighting chance; Claussen and Brazoban appear to be the best bets among the pitchers, though they’re far from sure things. Perhaps, perhaps another one or two might eventually break out of the pack from among, say, Arnold, Manning and the A-ballers. Seen through the most rose-tinted of glasses, that’s right around 25%, while in the worst case it’s 14%, and that’s just to spend a few decent years in the bigs. While it’s easy to mix and match a few of these players with the Yanks’ current holes, the reality is that George Steinbrenner’s minions haven’t done too badly when they’ve dealt unproven talent. Even if the Yanks end up one of the five players Dayn Perry highlighted last week, the jewels of their nearly barren farm system, Yankee fans shouldn’t fret too much.
The creator of the Futility Infielder Web site, Jay Jaffe is a graphic designer and freelance writer living in New York City. While vociferously denying rumors that he was once traded for a Luis Sojo bobblehead doll, Jay eagerly awaits the day when the Yanks will give such a doll away. Jay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.