Anytime the Yankees make a big move one guy never gets the credit he deserves. Due to a high payroll the Yanks apparently have no front office. Instead, they have guys hanging at an auction yard waiting for big money items to be up for sale. This is how they are viewed. But trades and waiver moves require experience, intelligence, and maybe a tad of recklessness.
Look at the trade the Yanks made last month. They sent Jesus Montero to Seattle for Michael Pineda. Montero has been the most prized gem the Yanks have had from their farm system the last several years. He was going into his first full season as an everyday player. Just as Montero player T-shirts were going to be the new “have to have it” item, Brian Cashman pulls the trigger on his biggest trade in nine years. That was when he sent another young hot shot in Alfonso Soriano to Texas for Alex Rodriguez. Since then it is clear the Yanks got the better of the two. A-Rod has won a pair of MVP awards and led the Yanks to a World Series title in ’09. Soriano used to hit 40 bombs and swipe 40 bags a year. The guy has not done the same 20/20 the last five years. It’s easy to look back at who won in that trade. This latest one, however, we have to wait and see.
Last season Pineda and Sabathia ranked 2nd and 6th in strikeouts per nine innings, respectively in the American League. This season they will be in the same rotation. Montero marveled in his call-up last season as well as in October. He batted .328 with four homers and 12 RBI in 18 games during the regular season. Then was a perfect 2-2 in the playoffs. His upside is unlimited. Some think he can be like Victor Martinez but I think he will be better. Seattle needs offense bad. They used to be one of the most feared lineups in all of baseball. Before this trade they were baseball’s most inept offensive team. They may still be. Montero should bat over .300, hit more than 30 home runs and get close to 100 RBI. While doing this he will run away with the Rookie of the Year award. Cashman will look bad if this happens. You need to realize, though, Montero would be batting fifth or maybe even sixth if he did not get traded. Why not trade him for one of the game’s top young pitchers?
Cashman is no stranger to trading away young talent. Look at two years prior when he was ready to trade Montero to Seattle for Cliff Lee. One of his first moves after taking over as the Yankee General Manager came when he traded for Chuck Knoblauch in February 1998. He sent Minnesota four prospects including future star favorite Eric Milton. Looking back at that one and Cashman looks like a genius. Milton retired after the 1999 season and won less than 90 games in his career. Knoblauch was part of the Yanks’ most clutch infield during their three-peat. During that stretch he helped with clutch hits and strong defense. He would leave in time for Soriano to take over.
After the 1998 season Cashman pulled the trigger on another big trade. That was when he traded Homer Bush, Graeme Lloyd, and David Wells to Toronto for Roger Clemens. Even though the Yanks got the better end of the deal it was tough letting go of Boomer. The guy had pitched a perfect game the previous season. He was a guy’s guy. He bought one of Babe Ruth’s game-worn hats then wore it during a game. He had to remove it when the umpires realized the ‘NY’ was not much bigger than a silver dollar. We would see him again in pinstripes a few years later so we don’t look at the trade as anything but a slam dunk. Heck, I remember sitting in English class when Corey Shook came running in saying the Yanks traded for Clemens. It was definitely a “Where were you when…” moment. This was years before the steroid accusations would forever crush any legacy Clemens was building at the time. Still, the Rocket had plenty left in the tank. He helped the Yanks win two World Championships before capturing his 6th Cy Young award in 2001.
During the 2000 season Cashman traded three more prospects to Cleveland for David Justice. Included with the prospects were Ricky LeDee and Zach Day. Many say the Yanks would not have even made it to the World Series had they not made this trade. Cashman acquiring Justice made the aging slugger attractive to other teams after the ’01 season. Billy Beane trading for him prior to the ’02 season is a good chunk in the Oscar-nominated Moneyball. Beane would not get the same value Cashman did though. Sometimes the best trades are ones you don’t make. The Yanks came so close to trading Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain to Minnesota for Johan Santana during the ’07 season. But Cashman kept his chips at the table. He knows when to hold them and when to fold them. Hughes and Chamberlain have both been inconsistent since. Santana had some success with the Mets but has been on the DL far too much.
Before the ’09 season, Cashman made another good trade when he sent Wilson Betemit to the White Sox for Nick Swisher. Even though Swisher is an up and down player his addition to the clubhouse and intangibles prove invaluable to the Yanks. Sneaky skillful moves such as this are what make Cashman stand alone as one of the best GM’s in sports. Don’t get me wrong. There is not much skill involved when you can go out and sign Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira. But if you really look at all of the guys the Yanks have added since Cashman has been there, some of the best moves were via trades.
People always like to say stuff like “The Yankees buy Championships.” The players they get still need to make good pitches and get big hits in clutch spots for championships to be won. The next time someone says that talk about the trades. Maybe 10 years from now we will be asking ourselves, “Where were you when the Yanks got Pineda?”