The Yankees’ recent acquisition of Michael Pineda has caused mixed emotions for many fans. Excitement about adding a rare talent to the rotation has been balanced by regret over losing one the franchise’s mostly highly touted offensive prospects. As bright as Pineda’s future might be, it’s still hard to not think about Jesus Montero potentially becoming the one who got away.
At Bronx Banter, I recently took a look at position players who found success with other teams after making a brief debut with the Yankees. Although Montero is definitely a unique talent, the franchise has established a pretty good record of not trading away its most productive offensive prospects. But, what about the pitchers?
Since 1901, 319 pitchers (including actives) have debuted with the Yankees, but only 32 went on to amass a career WAR of at least 15. Of that subtotal, eight pitchers found success after being traded by the Yankees, a 25% miss rate that exactly matches the team’s result with position players. However, whereas 19 of the top 20 homegrown Yankee hitters blossomed in the Bronx, five of the top 20 pitchers didn’t flower until being uprooted.
Of course, not all young prospects make the major leagues before being traded, and the Yankees have developed a reputation for dealing young pitchers before they even see the bright lights. And yet, even in this regard, the franchise has done a good job scouting its own system. Since the first Rule IV draft in 1965, the Yankees have traded only one drafted-and-signed minor leaguer who went on to have a career WAR greater than 15 (Scott McGregor), which perhaps proves there really is no such thing as a pitching prospect.
The Ones That Got Away – Pitchers
Note: Includes pitchers with a WAR greater than 15 who were traded by the Yankees early in their careers.
Note: Dazzy Vance, who amassed a WAR of 56.4, pitched for the Yankees in his first season, but only after debuting with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
What most jumps out from the list above is that half of it could have wound pitching in the same rotation. Between Al Leiter, Jose Rijo, Doug Drabek, and Bob Tewksbury, the Yankees had the makings of a dominant rotation, but instead, the team’s impatient and disorganized approach during the 1980s resulted in a roster that was perennially short on starting pitching. Making matters worse, only Rijo, who was part of the deal for Rickey Henderson, brought back a valuable return. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Rick Rhoden (Drabek), Steve Trout (Tewksbury) and Jesse Barfield (Al Leiter) didn’t exactly help mitigate the loss of such talented young arms.
Yankees 1992 Rotation vs. “What Might Have Been”
|Scott Sanderson||193 1/3||12||11||4.93||80|
|What Might Have Been||IP||W||L||ERA||ERA+|
|Doug Drabek||256 2/3||15||11||2.77||124|
Note: Al Leiter was injured in 1992.Melido Perez led the 1992 Yankees with an ERA+ of 138 in 247 2/3.
Although Leiter has the highest WAR among all pitchers the Yankees gave away, the one who really came back to haunt them was Lew Burdette. After only one inning in pinstripes, the 24-year old righty was sent to the Boston Braves in exchange for Johnny Sain. The New York Times described the trade as a “startling move”, but Sain was really living off a reputation established earlier in his career. He did have a productive season in 1953, but otherwise was a non-factor on the Yankees’ dynasty teams. Meanwhile, Burdette developed into one of the Braves best pitchers.
Judging by the Yankees’ success in the decade, it’s hard to argue that trading Burdette was a hindrance, at least not until 1957. That year, the Yankees met the now Milwaukee Braves in the World Series, and, much to their chagrin, renewed acquaintances with Burdette, who not only won games 2 and 5, but also slammed the door on the Bronx Bombers by shutting them out in the deciding game 7. In total, Burdette went 3-0 with a 0.67 ERA in 27 innings, but the Yankees got their revenge the following season when they turned the tables on Burdette by beating him twice in the 1958 World Series rematch.
The Yankees paid a steep price for being impatient in 1980s, but otherwise the franchise has done a good job protecting its future by not cutting bait too quickly on pitching prospects. That’s something to keep in mind as the Yankees navigate through a period in which both their major league and minor league rosters boast several impressive young arms. After all, identifying whom not trade can sometimes be the most important decision an organization can make.