Brief Yankees: Do You Remember Them?
By Chris O’Connor
March 16, 2021
With Jay Bruce notably having a terrific spring training for the Yankees, it made me think of how many veteran players had brief stops with the Yankees over the past decade. I wanted to take a look at players who had good, long careers but were on the Yankees for a very short period of time. To qualify for the list, a player could not have been on the team for more than one season. That removes guys like Ichiro and Andruw Jones from the mix, but it allows other brief Yankees who might be forgotten to get their due.
I listed all of the players who had at least 20 career WAR and played one season or less with the Yankees since 2010. In addition, the percentage of their career WAR that was accumulated with the team is noted. Using Baseball Reference WAR in my calculations,
12 players fit the criteria. Listed by year:
2010: Lance Berkman
Career WAR: 52.0. Yankees WAR: -0.3. WAR %: 0
Berkman was acquired by the Yankees at the 2010 trade deadline to be the DH after the Yankees missed out on Cliff Lee. In 37 games with the team, the 34 year-old slashed .255/.358/.349 with just 1 home run and 9 RBI’s. In the postseason run to the ALCS, he was 5 for 19 with a home run and 4 RBI’s in 5 games. Ultimately, a rather forgettable trade for the Yanks, especially when considering that they gave up 25 year-old reliever Mark Melancon, who was then in the minors. Melancon, who is still playing today, has had an excellent career, saving over 200 games with a 2.85 ERA. Berkman would leave as a free agent after the season.
2010: Kerry Wood
Career WAR: 27.6. Yankees WAR: 1.5. WAR %: 5.43
Like Berkman, Wood was acquired at the 2010 trade deadline. He was terrific in his only half-season with the team. In 26 innings, he gave up just two runs and had 31 strikeouts. In 8 playoff innings, he allowed just 2 runs and struck out 7 guys. Though he would leave as a free agent after the season, this was definitely a successful trade for the Yankees.
2011: Bartolo Colon
Career WAR: 45.8. Yankees WAR: 1.5. WAR %: 3.28
Big Sexy signed a minor league deal with the Yankees prior to the 2011 season after missing all of 2010 with injuries. I think he surprised even the Yankees by starting 26 games for the team and posting a 4.00 ERA in 164.1 innings. While he did not pitch in the playoffs and left as a free agent after the year, it was definitely a successful, albeit brief, Yankees tenure.
2012: Raul Ibanez
Career WAR: 20.9. Yankees WAR: 0.5. WAR %: 2.39
Ibanez signed a one-year deal with the Yankees prior to his age-40 season in 2012. He played in 130 games for the team as the DH, slashing .240/.308/.453 with 19 homers and 62 RBI’s. While he swung a solid bat during the regular season, he will forever be remembered in Yankees lore for his performance in Game 3 of the 2012 ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles. With the series tied 1-1, the Yankees trailed 2-1 with no one on and one out in the bottom of the ninth. Manager Joe Girardi then benched a struggling Alex Rodriguez to allow the lefty Ibanez to face the right-handed Jim Johnson, the O’s All-Star closer who saved 51 games that year. Ibanez blasted a 1-0 offering to the right field bleachers to tie the game. Then, leading off the bottom of the 12th, Ibanez did the same thing, sending Yankee Stadium into a frenzy in one of the more memorable games in Yankees history. He ended up leaving as a free agent after the year, his name firmly etched into the history books.
2013: Vernon Wells, Kevin Youkillis, and Travis Hafner
Wells Career WAR: 28.6. Yankees WAR: -0.1. WAR %: 0
Youkilis Career WAR: 32.4 . Yankees WAR: -0.4 . WAR %: 0
Hafner Career WAR: 24.8 . Yankees WAR: -0.1. WAR %: 0
I wanted to lump these guys together in a very forgettable year in the Bronx. None had a big impact for the team or any memorable moments, and all three saw their seasons end with them taking their last licks in the big leagues. Wells had the largest role, playing in 130 games, with Hafner and Youkilis playing in 82 and 28 games. Hafner’s OPS+ of 87 led the way among the three. Wells was acquired in an offseason trade, but was designated for assignment after the year. Youkilis and Hafner signed free agent deals before the season and subsequently retired.
2017: Matt Holliday
Career WAR: 44.4 .Yankees WAR: -0.1. WAR %: 0
Holliday signed a one-year deal with the team that offseason. He played a big role in the team getting off to such a great start: he was on a 30-homer pace while slashing .262/.366/.511 through late June before a mysterious illness caused him to miss some time. His production fell off a cliff for the rest of the year, which may have been due to age or the illness, and he received just three at bats in the playoffs. He was, however, a good veteran presence for a young team and I remember his time with the Yankees fondly. He went back to the Rockies and played a limited role in 2018 before calling it a career.
2018: Lance Lynn
Career WAR: 24.2. Yankees WAR: 0.3. WAR %: 1.24
Lynn is close to the Yankees version of the one that got away. There was little fanfare when he was acquired at the 2018 trade deadline, and for good reason: while he was really dependable throughout his career, he had a 5.10 ERA with the Twins before being traded and looked to be on the downswing of his career. He was just okay with the Yankees, pitching to a 4.14 ERA in 54.1 innings (9 starts) and converting to a long relief role in the playoffs. After signing a free agent deal with the Rangers, he immediately bounced back with back-to-back top-6 Cy Young finishes in 2019 and 2020. This was a tough break for the Yankees and continues a long trend dating back to the mid 2000’s of the team failing to get the most out of imported, talented starting pitchers.
2018: Andrew McCutchen
Career WAR: 44.6. Yankees WAR: 0.9. WAR %: 2.02
The Yankees acquired McCutchen from the Giants at the August 31 waiver deadline in 2018 and he proved to be a great leadoff hitter for the team. In 25 regular season games, he had a .421 OBP and scored 18 runs. Though he did struggle in the 2018 playoffs, with just two hits in eighteen at bats, McCutchen was a welcome sight to see during the regular season when outfield injuries had forced Shane Robinson into an extended role. He signed a 3 year, $50 million contract with the Phillies after the season.
2019: Edwin Encarnacion
Career WAR: 35.7. Yankees WAR: 0.8. WAR %: 2.24
While most fans wanted more pitching, the Yankees big move at the 2019 trade deadline was trading for Encarnacion in mid-June to beef up the lineup in preparation for an extended playoff run. Like McCutchen, Encarnacion proved to be a solid regular season acquisition but sputtered in the playoffs. In 44 regular season games with the team, he slashed .249/.325/.531 with 13 homers and 37 RBI’s. He also had made an impact in the sweep of the Twins in the ALDS but went just 1 for 22 with 11 strikeouts against the Astros in the ALCS. Though it might be unfair, Encarnacion failing to put up any fight in that series will most likely be his lasting legacy in a Yankee uniform. The Yankees refused to exercise his $20 million team option for 2020 and he signed with the White Sox.
2019: Troy Tulowitski
Career WAR: 44.5. Yankees WAR: 0.1. WAR %: 0.22
Remember 2019 Opening Day? Tulo, after signing a one-year deal for the league minimum, was the starting shortstop while Greg Bird manned first base (with Luke Voit at DH). A low-risk, high-reward signing, the Yankees had such high hopes for Tulo at the shortstop position that they had Gleyber Torres stand pat at second base while the recently-signed D.J. Lemahieu was on the bench. Injuries limited Tulo to just 5 games, though his March 31st home run against the Orioles was a rare highlight. He retired after the season with his brief Yankees stint being a forgettable final chapter to his terrific career.
Honorable mentions for one-year wonders Yankees include Rich Hill, Billy Butler, Kirby Yates, and Neil Walker.