It’s Not Too Late
By Mike Whiteman February 8th, 2021
Today is February 8th. Spring Training is coming soon, a welcome development any year but especially in 2021, as we can use the distraction to this terrible time we’re going through as a nation. It’s a taste of the normalcy that we are absolutely craving.
By this time of the winter, many Yankee fans are at a point of acceptance/resignation that the perceived holes in the roster haven’t been filled…and won’t be going into the season. The time for a big deal is over, right?
Well, not necessarily.
Here are some historical high impact moves that happened in Yankeeland after February 1:
Eddie Lopat (February 24. 1948) – The Yankees dealt 1947 All-Star catcher Aaron Robinson and minor leaguers Fred Bradley and Bill Wight to the Chicago White Sox for Lopat, a solid starter toiling with the mediocre Pale Hose.
Upon putting on a Yankee uniform, he became one of the Big Three in the rotation which included Allie Reynolds and Vic Raschi. The crafty lefty was the perfect complement to the hard-throwing right-handers, and he won 113 games over his eight year stint, with a 2.60 career World Series ERA.
Sparky Lyle (March 22, 1972) – Boston was desperate for right-handed hitting and a first baseman. The Yanks had both in Danny Cater, basically an average first sacker who hit .290 in New York. Lyle at the time had a solid if not overly distinguished career for the Red Sox. The swap happened not long before the regular season began, and Cater continued to be an average player for the Bosox. A switch flipped in New York though as Sparky became one the better relief pitchers in the game, reaching the All-Star game three times and culminating with the 1977 AL Cy Young Award.
Bucky Dent (April 5th, 1977) – While WAR wasn’t a thing in 1977, the fact was that the Yanks hadn’t gotten positive WAR from the shortstop position since Stick Michael and Tom Tresh manned the position in 1969. Having picked up free agent prizes Reggie Jackson and Don Gullett prior to the season, George Steinbrenner was in no mood to risk the fate of his well paid team of stars with mediocre shortstop play.
Bill Veeck’s cash-poor Chicago White Sox had the young, All-Star shortstop Dent available for the right price, and on April 5th, the teams came together on a deal. The Yanks traded part-time outfielder Oscar Gamble, prospects Bob Polinsky and Lamarr Hoyt (yes, the future Cy Young winner), and cash for one of the most famous (at least in New England) Yankees of all.
Graig Nettles (March 30th, 1984) – A stunner, not because of whom the team picked up, but of the player they dealt. Nettles was appointed the revered position of Yankee captain in 1982, and had re-signed with the Yanks a two-year contract in November 1983, but committed an unforgivable sin – he wrote critically of Steinbrenner in his book Balls, released over the winter. He was dealt to San Diego for prospect Dennis Rasmussen.
While Nettles was 39 years old and approaching the end of his career, it was still a shocking deal – a franchise icon dealt for a prospect. Definitely not the Yankee way. Despite Rasmussen’s WAR as a Yankee (5.6) outpacing Nettles’ WAR for the rest of his career (5.1) it’s still a deal that still stirs painful memories for Yankee fans. Chuck Knoblauch (February 6th, 1998) – Off a 1997 season when the team had a combined second base WAR of -1.9, spread among four players with 30+ starts, the Yanks needed a better solution for 1998. They struck on February 6th, when they dealt four prospects, including eventual big leaguers Eric Milton and Christian Guzman, to Minnesota for Knoblauch, who had a 6.8 WAR in ’97.
Sadly, Knobby never approached that level of production in the pinstripes, but was a solid regular for the legendary 1998 team.
Roger Clemens (February 18th, 1999) – A stunner. Do you mess with a team that won 125 games, regarded among the best of all time? If you’re the Steinbrenner Yankees you do.
They dealt David Wells, coming off a stellar 1998 (18-4, 3.49 ERA, 3rd in Cy Young voting) season that included a perfect game and a 4-0, 2.93 ERA postseason, along with reserve infielder Homer Bush and relief pitcher Graeme Lloyd, to Toronto for Clemens.
The 36-year old Clemens was perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, winning the 1997 and 1998 AL Cy Young awards for the Blue Jays. While he had a rather pedestrian 1999 season (14-10, 4.60 ERA, 102 ERA+) , he was a reliable, durable Yankee, always taking the ball and winning 83 games with a 114 ERA+ over six years in New York with a 7-4. 3.48 postseason slate.
Alex Rodriguez (February 16th, 2004) – After signing with Texas for, at the time, the largest Free Agent contract in baseball history ($252 million), the talented but somewhat enigmatic shortstop went out and really earned his salary. He averaged 8.5 WAR from 2001-2003, winning the 2003 MVP. ARod’s elite performance didn’t translate to team success however, as the Rangers finished in last place in the AL West each season.
Looking to get out from the weight of the pact, they first tried to work out a deal with Boston, but the trade was rejected by the Players Union. They balked at the teams’ inclusion of restructuring the contract, reducing Rodriguez’s annual salary, despite his eagerness to do so in order to make the swap work.
Undeterred, the Rangers next turned to the Yankees, still steaming from a 2003 World Series loss to the Marlins. ARod was eager to be a Yankee, so much that he was willing to move to third base in deference to Derek Jeter, despite the fact that he was arguably the better shortstop, having won the past two AL Gold Gloves at the position. Texas put up $67 million and Rodriguez for the exciting power/speed All-Star Alfonso Soriano, and the deal was done. Yankee fans were ecstatic.
ARod’s Yankee career has been well documented; he didn’t make the team unbeatable as hoped, and the Yanks won only one title (2009) in his twelve year tenure. He did hit 351 home runs in Pinstripes, and took home two more MVP awards.
Andy Pettite (March 16th, 2012) – Talk about a pleasant surprise seemingly from left field! Pettite was a Yankee icon who had retired at age 38 after the 2010 season, despite a 3.28 ERA and All-Star selection that year. After sitting out the 2011 season, Pettite was in Yankee camp in 2012 as one of the many guest instructors to frequent Tampa, when he evidently caught the playing bug again. After showing Yankee brass that he still had enough left to contribute, the big lefty signed a one-year contract with the team.
Andy’s 2012 season was shortened by a broken leg sustained on a line drive comebacker, but his remaining season and a half for the Yanks was solid 117 ERA+ effort, serving as a #2 starter for the 2013 team before retiring for good. He went out in style, throwing a complete game over Houston in his last start: https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/HOU/HOU201309280.shtml .
So, if you’re dissatisfied with the Yankee roster, don’t lose hope! As history shows, a deal could happen!