The Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies are sellers? The Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics, and Baltimore Orioles have all been aggressively trying to upgrade their rosters for a playoff push? When the second wild card was implemented, most observers predicted it would be anything but business as usual around the July 31 deadline, but who knew baseball’s trade market would wind up being so topsy turvy?
With so many exceptions to past trade deadline rules currently in play, the Yankees have provided some stability to the proceedings. Just like in most of its 112 seasons, the franchise once again will not be on the selling end of a deadline trade (the first trade deadline in the American League was established in 1921). Considering the great amount of success the team has enjoyed over the years, the Yankees’ unfamiliarity with being a seller isn’t a surprise. Nonetheless, there have been a few occasions when other teams have looked to the Bronx for late season support. Listed below are two rare instances in which the Yankees traded an established veteran having a productive season to a contending team for future considerations. Because of the subjective criteria used for determining eligible transactions, there may be a few others deals that qualify, but the following are arguably the most notable.
August 31, 1982: The New York Yankees traded Tommy John to the California Angels for a player to be named later. The California Angels sent Dennis Rasmussen (November 24, 1982) to the New York Yankees to complete the trade.
After making the postseason in five of the previous six seasons, the 1982 Yankees were a disappointing 10 games behind the division leading Milwaukee Brewers on August 31. At the time, left hander Tommy John, who was only one strike-shortened sesaon removed from consecutive 20-win campaigns, was 10-10 for the Bronx Bombers, but all season had been butting heads with management over his usage and at one pointed demanded a trade. So, facing the deadline for postseason eligibility, the Yankees finally granted John’s wish by dealing the left hander to the second place California Angels, who trailed the Kansas City Royals by 1 ½ games in the A.L. West.
Over the final month, John went 4-2 for the Angels, helping them leap frog over the Royals for the division crown. In the ALCS, John went 1-1 versus the Brewers, including a game-one victory. In his second start, John had the chance to send the Angels to the team’s first World Series, but didn’t last past the fourth inning of game four. The Brewers won that game, and the next, to advance to the Fall Classic against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Yankees used Dennis Rasmussen in a trade to get John Montefusco from San Diego in 1983, but later reacquired him when Graig Nettles was sent packing to the Padres just before the 1984 season (and after authoring a book that was very critical of Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner). Rasmussen would eventually win 18 games for the Yankees in 1986 before being traded again, this time to the Reds for Bill Gullickson in 1987.
June 21, 1989: The Oakland Athletics traded Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk and Luis Polonia to the New York Yankees for Rickey Henderson.
When the Yankees’ acquired Rickey Henderson from the Athletics in December 1984, the Bronx Bombers were bonafide contenders, while Oakland was in a rebuilding phase. By 1989, however, the roles were reversed. At 33-35, the Yankees were only 6 ½ game behind the division leading Orioles when Henderson was dealt on June 21, but the handwriting was on the wall for the Bronx Bombers, who were about to embark on four consecutive losing seasons for only the second time in franchise history (1912-1915). So, with Henderson struggling by his standards, the team seized on the opportunity to trade him back to his hometown in exchange for an infusion of youth.
Henderson went 1-4 in his last game for the Yankees, ending his season in pinstripes at a relatively lackluster .247/.392/.349, but soon after the trade, he returned to All Star form. Over the rest of the season, the future Hall of Famer compiled an OPS+ of 148 with his new team, but he saved his best work for October. In the ALCS, Henderson not only stole a record eight bases, but posted an astounding line of .400/.609/1.000 in the series. Then, in the World Series, he nearly equaled his performance against the Giants. From 1989 until he was traded to the Blue Jays in 1993, Henderson compiled a bWAR of 29, including an MVP season in 1990, the same year the Yankees ranked dead last in runs per game.
I hated to give up Rickey. He played hard and busted his tail. But this trade was for the betterment of the Yankees.” – Yankees Manager Dallas Green, quoted by AP, June 21, 1989
After trading Henderson, the Yankees went 41-52 and finished the season in fifth place, 14 ½ games behind Toronto. Adding insult to injury, none of the players the Yankees acquired in the deal contributed much value to the team. In their combined careers with the Bronx Bombers, Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk and Luis Polonia contributed 5.2 bWAR, or barely more than Henderson provided Oakland in the second half of 1989 alone. Although it seldom gets mentioned among the most lopsided trades of all times, the Yankees’ decision to jettison Henderson not only symbolically ushered in a period of rebuilding, but, by failing to obtain value in return, probably prolonged the process as well.
Note: All transactions sourced from baseball-reference.com