The Team the Yankees Traded Away

02.18.2005 | Tim Marchman | Sports | 3 Comments

From the New York Sun

When people bring up the cost of the Yankees’ dominance in the Joe Torre era, they usually mean payroll numbers. Very few of the prospects and young players the Yankees have traded away over that time have gone on to do much in the big leagues. Those who have were either blocked at the major league level - as Mike Lowell was by Scott Brosius - or more than adequately replaced, as Alfonso Soriano was by Alex Rodriguez.

But what if I told you that the Yankees have essentially traded away an entire league-average team since 1997? That might seem a bit hard to believe, but that’s basically what they’ve done.

Think the Yankees could use a centerfielder with a good glove who slugged .527 in the majors as a 22-year-old? They’d have one if they hadn’t traded him for the last dregs of Drew Henson’s baseball career. How about a 27-year-old starter who finished third in the American League in ERA last year? They’d have one of they hadn’t dealt him for David Justice. For more or less every need the Yankees have, there’s a solution they’ve traded away; enough, all told, to construct a decent major league roster.

In putting together this hypothetical team, I used some arbitrary criteria. I didn’t use Jeff Weaver or Javier Vasquez, two young pitchers the Yankees gave up on, because they didn’t come up through the Yankees’ system and were well-established major leaguers when the team acquired them. I did use several players, like Jake Westbrook and Damaso Marte, who just passed through the minor-league system, because they were traded when they were still unproven.

That said, this is a team that fans in Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh would love to have. Cheap, young, talented, and improving, I think it would be at worst slightly below average. At best, it could contend in a weak division.

PLAYER

2004 BA/OBA/SLG

TRADED FOR

2B D’Angelo Jimenez

.270/.364/.394, 563 AB

Jay Witasick

1B Nick Johnson

.251/.359/.398, 251 AB

Javier Vasquez

3B Mike Lowell

.293/.365/.505, 598 AB

Ed Yarnall

LF Alfonso Soriano

.280/.324/.484, 608 AB

Alex Rodriguez

CF Wily Mo Pena

.259/.316/.527, 336 AB

Drew Henson

RF Juan Rivera

.307/.364/.465, 391 AB

Javier Vazquez

DH Marcus Thames

.255/.326/.509, 165 AB

Let go as minor league f.a.

SS Cristian Guzman

.274/.309/.384, 576 AB

Chuck Knoblauch

C Dioner Navarro

.260/.352/.366, 391 AB*

Randy Johnson

* At AA and AAA

The lineup isn’t great, but it is perfectly decent. Lowell, who turns 31 this month, is the old man here, and several of the hitters in this lineup - notably Wily Mo Pena and Juan Rivera - are still improving. In the real world, one would not, it is true, start a minor-league catcher like Dioner Navarro, but given that this list is restricted to players the Yankees have traded away in the last few years, this is an impressive group of young hitters.

They would be supported by a bench including catcher Tom Wilson (who was drafted by the Yankees in 1990 and has twice signed with them as a minor-league free agent only to be let go at the end of the year), outfielders Brian Buchanan and Ricky Ledee, infielder Homer Bush, and the position less John-Ford Griffin, who hit 22 home runs in AA last year.

Using some conservative estimates about playing time, Baseball Prospectus’s statistical projections of what these men will do this coming year, and the back of an envelope, I figure the starting lineup here would create about 665 runs. Assuming 1,000 at-bats’ worth of .250 AVG/.300 OBA/.400 SLG performance from the reserves, and this team would score somewhere in the neighborhood of 790 runs - more than the 2004 Minnesota Twins, who won the A.L. Central.

PLAYER

2004 ERA/IP

TRADED FOR

SP Jake Westbrook

3.38, 215 2/3 IP

David Justice

SP Ted Lilly

4.06, 197 2/3 IP

Jeff Weaver

SP Eric Milton

4.75, 201 IP

Chuck Knoblauch

SP Zach Day

3.93, 116 2/3 IP

David Justice

SP Tony Armas Jr.

4.88, 72 IP

Mike Stanley

RP Brandon Claussen

6.14, 66 IP

Aaron Boone

RP Randy Choate

4.62, 50 2/3 IP

Javier Vazquez

RP Yhency Brazoban

2.48, 32 2/3 IP

Kevin Brown

RP Jim Mecir

3.59, 47 2/3 IP

Mike Stanley

CL Damaso Marte

3.42, 73 2/3 IP

Enrique Wilson

While the pitching staff is nowhere near so impressive as the lineup, there are several bright spots. The respectable top three of Jake Westbrook, Ted Lilly, and Eric Milton would at worst provide 500-600 league-average innings; the late-inning relief trio of Marte, Jim Mecir, and Yhency Brazoban would be quite a lot better than what many contending teams have. Really, the weak point here would be relying on the injury prone Zach Day and Tony Armas as no. 4 and no. 5 starters. Still, that’s better than what major league teams like the Reds have going for them.

Again using the back of the envelope and Baseball Prospectus’s projections, I’d guess this staff would have something around a 4.65 ERA in 1,000 innings. Make up the rest of the 1,400 innings an American League staff pitches in a year with generic batting-practice pitchers with a 5.50 ERA and account for unearned runs, and you’re looking at a team giving up 840 runs in a year. A team that gave up 840 runs and scored 790 would be expected to finish the year 79-83.

Of course there’s one other number in play here, and that’s payroll. With 12 players on this roster who can be had for the league minimum, and the highest salaries being Milton’s $8 million, Soriano’s $7.5 million, and Lowell’s $6.5 million, this group will make a bit over $40 million this year - not much more than the Yankees are paying Jason Giambi and Kevin Brown. Give our theoretical team’s general manager another $40 million to spend on two impact players and a few spare parts, and you’re looking at a 90+ win team for less than half the Yankees’ $200 million payroll.

The point of this exercise isn’t that the Yankees should be running out a team featuring Zach Day on the hill and Marcus Thames in the DH slot. It’s very easy to sit and construct a baseball team on paper, and very difficult to win a World Series. When you trade away young talent, some deals are going to come back to haunt you, and even the easily-maligned likes of Chuck Knoblauch and Jeff Weaver made real contributions to pennant winning Yankee teams.

Rather, the interesting pattern here is the frequency with which the team has traded bushels of useful young players for fringe contributors. David Justice, crucial as he was to the 2000 Yankees, probably should not have cost two good young pitchers and a solid reserve outfielder. Jay Witasick should not have cost a starting second baseman. Enrique Wilson should not have cost a good relief pitcher. These aren’t criticisms made with the benefit of hindsight; the Yankees were derided for these moves at the time they were made, and the detractors proved to be right.

With a bloated payroll and a rapidly aging roster, the Yankees have some real problems. There are many things they need to do to prevent those problems from getting worse. First among them, it seems to me, is not trading away an entire good team’s worth of players over the next eight years.



Nice work, as usual, Tim. I'd add two notes. One is purely sentimental: as a fan of a team, it is nice to see young guys about whom you've read for a couple years come up to the major league club and make long term, solid impacts. The Yanks' current m.o. doesn't allow that to happen anymore.
Second, many of these moves have long chains of solid young players gone in return for one grizzled graybeard - trade Ted Lilly for Weaver, who doesn't work out; replace Weaver with Vasquez, for whom you trade Choate, Rivera, and Nick Johnson; Vasquez doesn't work out (arguably), so get Randy, for whom you trade Navarro. Just feels desperate to me.
02.18.2005 | Zach Intrater
With regard to your first point, I definitely agree- I think the Yankees might well be doing long term damage to their fan base with all these trades and free agents. Mets fans are really invested in the success of David Wright and Jose Reyes, and will be for years- do Yankees fans feel any connection to Randy Johnson? Will they ever?
02.18.2005 | Tim Marchman
The A's gave up Jeremy Bonderman as a throw-in in the Weaver trade. Sometimes you don't know what you have. But the Justice trade has to be looked at like this: the Yankees had to give up a lot, but they got a World Series out of it. They couldn't have won without Justice. But they had to give up two good pitchers. Was it worth it? Most would say yes.
10.13.2005 | Frank Black

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