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Thank You, Gabe Paul - Guest Post from Robert Seidenstadt

By Robert Seidenstadt

May 24, 2023

***

Let’s begin in July, 2017. The Yankees made two trades that month acquiring

Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the Chicago White Sox

and Sonny Gray from the Oakland Athletics. Counting those two trades and

through the 2022 season, the Yankees made almost 40 trades according to

Sportrac. What was the result of these transactions? The good news is that the

team made the playoffs each season from 2017 onward. The bad news is that

there were no World Championships, nor any World Series appearances. The

best the Yankees did in these years was the ALCS where they lost to Houston in

2017, 2019 and 2022.


There are 15 players acquired since July, 2017 that are still on the roster

including seven on the Injured List (IL): Michael King, Giancarlo Stanton (IL),

Wandy Peralta, Clay Holmes, Anthony Rizzo, Josh Donaldson (IL), Isiah Kiner-

Falefa, Ben Rortvedt, Jose Trevino (IL), Jake Bauers, Scott Effross (IL), Frankie

Montas (IL), Lou Trivino (IL) Tommy Kahlne (IL) and Harrison Bader. Thought

question: If you had the opportunity to build a team to win a World Series or even

a credible World Series candidate, how many of these players would you draft to

be on your team? We can argue the pros and cons of each player (age, injury

history, recent performance), but I don’t think very many would make the list:

Perhaps, King? Holmes? Rizzo? Bader?


I started to think about this when I reminisced about the Graig Nettles and Chris

Chambliss trades in the 1970s. The Yankees were in the World Series in 1976,

1977 and 1978. They were swept by Cincinnati’s “Big Red Machine” in 1976 and

then beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1977 and 1978, four games to two each

year. How were those teams put together: home grown talent, trades, free

agents?


The Yankees played 16 World Series games in those years. I used the starting

line-up of each of those games as a gauge of the important players on the team

and then looked to see how each of these players became a member of the New

York Yankees. The first thing I noticed is the remarkable consistency of the line-

ups over the three-year period:


1.Thurman Munson was the catcher and batted third in each game. Graig Nettles

was at third base for all 16 World Series games and batted sixth in 15 of the 16

games.


2. Mickey Rivers manned center field for 14 games and batted first in all of those

games. Lou Piniella also started 14 games, 6 in left field, 7 in right field and one

as the designated hitter.


3. Chris Chambliss was the starting first baseman in 13 of the games.


4. Bucky Dent, acquired in early 1977, was the starting shortstop in all 12 games

in 1977 and 1978.


5. Roy White started all the games in left field in 1976 (4 games) and 1978 (6

games).


6. Willie Randolph started all the games at second base in 1976 and 1977 for 10

appearances.


7. Reggie Jackson, acquired after the 1976 season, played in 12 games, six in

right field and six as the designated hitter and he always batted fourth.


The starting pitching was a bit more varied. The Yankees used 8 different starting

pitchers for the sixteen games. Catfish Hunter started 4 games and Ed Figueroa

started three games. There were two starts each for Ron Guidry, Don Gullet and

Mike Torres. On the relief side, Dick Tidrow was in 6 games 2 in each year,

Sparky Lyle was in 4 games, 2 each in 1976 and 1977 and Goose Gossage

made three relief appearances in 1978.


Back to the original question: How were these teams constructed? Roy White,

Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, Jim Beattie were the home grown players. Four

of the players were free agent signings: Hunter (12/31/74), Gullet (11/18/76),

Jackson (11/29/76) and Gossage (11/22/77). The remaining 20 players who

received any playing time of note were acquired via trade. Let’s look at the more

important of these trades.


The Trades:


Sparky Lyle. A Yankee-Red Sox trade. Lyle was obtained for third baseman

Danny Cater. Lyle had a storied career with the Yankees. Over seven seasons

he had 141 saves and won the Cy Young Award in 1977. His Yankee lifetime

WAR was 14.9 and 1.2, 7.7 and 0.4 for 1976, 1977, and 1978. Danny Cater

played through the 1975 season generating a post-trade lifetime WAR of 1.7.


Graig Nettles. Nettles was acquired from the Cleveland Indians along with

catcher Jerry Moses on October 27, 1972. The Yankees gave up John Ellis,

Jerry Kenney, Charlie Spikes and Rusty Torres. Nettles had an outstanding 1972

season. His WAR at 7.5 lead the Cleveland team. He hit 28 HR and had 86 RBI.

And, as we know, he had a left-handed swing that was picture-perfect for Yankee

Stadium.


Nettles’ lifetime WAR with the Yankees was 44.4. His WAR in the three World

Series years was 8.0, 5.5, and 5.7. The combined lifetime WAR post-trade of the

four players the Yankees surrendered was 2.5.


Lou Piniella. Piniella and pitcher Ken Wright came to the Yankees from the

Kansas City Athletics on December 7, 1973 in exchange for relief pitcher Lindy

McDaniel.


Piniella’s lifetime WAR as a Yankee was 9.3 and his WAR in each of the World

Series years was 1.2, 1.4 and 3.7. McDaniel’s lifetime WAR post-trade was 0.9.

To be fair, McDaniel only pitched in 1974 and then he retired. Overall, McDaniel

was a fine pitcher whose career lasted 21 seasons.


Chris Chambliss. Chambliss was also acquired in a trade with Cleveland.

Chambliss came to the Yankees on April 26, 1974 along with pitchers Dick

Tidrow and Cecil Upshaw. In return, the Yankees sent pitchers Fred Beene, Tom

Buskey, Steve Kline and Fritz Peterson to Cleveland.


Chambliss’s lifetime WAR as a Yankee was 15.4 and 4.1, 2.4 and 3.2 for each of

the three World Series years bating in at least 90 runs in each year. Tidrow had a

Yankee WAR of 4.6 and 1.4, 2.4 and 1.2 for the WS years. The four players the

Yankees gave up generated a combined lifetime WAR of 1.5. Only Buskey

managed to achieve a positive WAR number (4.9).


Mickey Rivers. Rivers and pitcher Ed Figueroa were acquired from the Los

Angeles Angels in exchange for Bobby Bonds on December 11, 1975. Bonds

was acquired from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Bobby Murcer.

Bonds spent one year with the Yankees and was a member of the 30 stolen

bases-30 home run club.


Rivers had a Yankee WAR of 15.1 and 6.4, 5.3 and 3.5 for the three World

Series years. Figueroa’s lifetime WAR was 9.6 and 2.1, 3.3 and 4.0 for the three

World Series years. Finally, something resembling and even trade: Bonds’ post-

trade lifetime WAR was 14.8.


Willie Randolph. Another December 11, 1975 trade. The Yankees acquired

Randolph and Dock Ellis from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Doc Medich.

Randolph was 21 at the time of the trade and went on to play 13 years with the

Yankees generating a 54.0 WAR. For the World Series years or, his WAR was

5.0, 4.6 and 5.8. Ellis won 17 games in 1976 and a game in the ALCS against

KC. He was traded to Oakland at the beginning of the 1977 season.


Doc Medich pitched through the 1982 season while completing his medical

education. For those seven seasons he generated a 8.9 WAR.


Doyle Alexander, Elrod Hendricks, Ken Holtzman, Grant Jackson and

Jimmy Freeman were obtained from the Baltimore Orioles on June 15, 1978 in

exchange for Rick Dempsey, Tippy Martinez, Rudy May, Scott McGregor and

Dave Pagan. Paul Semendinger has done an excellent analysis of this trade on

SSTN (May 12, 2023) in the context of the Vida Blue fiasco.


Briefly, the combined career Yankee WAR of the four players the Yankees

acquired was 1.2. Dempsey, Martinez and McGregor each played at least ten

years with the Orioles and their combined lifetime WAR was 46.1. None of the

players the Yankees acquired lasted more than 2 years with New York. This was

one trade that did not go the Yankees way.


Bucky Dent. Dent came over from the Chicago White Sox on April 5, 1977 for

Bob Polinsky, Oscar Gamble and LaMarr Hoyt.


Dent’s lifetime Yankee WAR was 12.5. He generated a 2.7 WAR in each of the

1977 and 1978 World Series.


Mike Torrez. Oakland traded Torrez to the Yankees on April 27, 1977 for Dock

Ellis, Larry Murray and Marty Perez. He won 14 games, generated a 2.4 WAR

and pitched two complete game victories in the 1977 World Series. He signed

with Boston as a free agent after the 1977 season.


Eight of these nine trades were an unqualified success leading to two World

Championships. And two of these players provided fans with great moments in

Yankee history: the Chris Chambliss home run in 1976 to win the ALCS against

Kansas City and the Bucky Dent home run in 1978 to win the AL pennant playoff

game against the Red Sox (off Mike Torrez).


Who was the genius behind all of these trades? In a name you would have to say

Gabe Paul. But there are complications. Paul was a veteran baseball man having

served as the GM in Cincinnati (1951-1960) and later in Cleveland (1961-1972).

He was also friends with George Steinbrenner whose shipping business was

located in Cleveland. When Steinbrenner purchased the team from CBS in

January, 1973, Paul resigned his position in Cleveland to join the Yankees as

President. Paul was not formally named as Yankee GM until 1976 but it is hard to

believe that Paul was not involved when the trade negotiations were taking place.

So all of the trades the Yankees engineered from 1973 onward could have some

attribution to Gabe Paul. But the 1972 Nettles acquisition occurred before he

arrived in New York. The Yankee GM was Lee MacPhail. Who was the

Cleveland GM? That’s right – Gabe Paul. So, a big thank you to Gabe Paul for

creating great teams and greater memories. The only trade that did not have a

Paul imprint was the Sparky Lyle-Danny Cater swap.


But there was also George Steinbrenner whose thirst for winning knew no limits.

Thank you George for showing no hesitancy to sign the premiere free agents of

the day: Hunter, Gullet, Jackson and Gossage.


Although the baseball landscape has changed greatly over the past 50 years

(e.g. Competitive Balance Tax) are there any lessons to be learned by comparing

the 1970 transactions with the 2017 – 2022 trades?


The remarkable consistency of the World Series starting line-ups attests to the

health of those players. To be sure there were injuries (Randolph missed the

1977 Series with a hamstring injury) but when a team is able to field essentially

the same line-up over three World Series seasons, health is an overriding

strength: “the best ability is availability”. So, as best you can, acquire healthy

players. Frankie Montas is the “poster child” of what not to do.


Acquire ballplayers that work with your ballpark, “The House That Ruth Built”:

Nettles, Chambliss and Jackson. Of course, Brian Cashman is aware of this and

has had mixed results with the Anthony Rizzo, Andrew Benintendi, and Joey

Gallo trades. Shohei Ohtani didn’t want to play in New York but passing on

Bryce Harper was a mistake.


This year’s trade deadline will be here faster than we think. Let’s hope that we

can get another Nettles trade and that the days of Montas, Gallo, Healy and yes,

Doyle Alexander are far behind us.

Comments


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