Knowing your own system and making the right moves. One might argue it was the difference between the New York Yankees of the 1990s and 1980s. Keeping the likes of Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. Trading the likes of Jay Buhner, Doug Drabek, Jose Rijo, Hal Morris, Willie McGee and Fred McGriff. As the current Yankees retool on the fly, they have to get creative and once again that means trades.
Yes, the Yankees have always been blessed with vast resources of cash and those 90s clubs had a solid core of homegrown talent, even beyond the above mentioned players. Yet, the most underrated aspect of how those teams were constructed, is the shrewd trades made by Gene “Stick” Michael, Bob Watson and Brian Cashman.
As the Yankees embark on the twentieth anniversary of the 1996 Word Series championship squad, for our purposes I’ll look at the first team of the dynasty.
In a controversial move at the time, the Yankees let fan favorite Mike Stanley walk in free agency. New York then dealt minor-league reliever DeJean to the Colorado Rockies for Girardi. Girardi would hit a career best .294 in 1996 and hit a key triple in Game 6 of the Fall Classic against the Atlanta Braves. Girardi and his defense and leadership, would help the Yanks to three titles as a player and one (so far) as a skipper. Conversely, DeJean carved out a respectable ten-year career, posting a 4.30 ERA and 52-saves, between five teams.
A rising star and AL All-Star with the Seattle Mariners in 1995, Martinez batted .409 in the ALDS and was starting to price himself out of the Emerald City. Not that the Yankees didn’t give up some blue chip prospects in the process. Davis was a power hitting third baseman and earned Eastern League MVP honors with the Double-A Albany-Colonie Yankees in 1992. Hitchcock was a highly touted lefty starter, who made his Yankee debut at age 21, in 1992.
While this trade signified the end of the Don Mattingly era, it also ushered in the cornerstone of a dynasty. No offense to Donnie Baseball but looking at the numbers, the Yankees probably don’t win in 1996 without Tino. Martinez belted 25 home runs and batted .292 in 1996. Martinez would help the Yankees win four World Series titles and five AL Pennants.
The side-arming Nelson was a workhorse in 1996, appearing in 73 contests. In the 1996 World Series, Nelson fanned five and tossed 4.1 innings of scoreless relief. Nellie would help forge one of the toughest three-headed bullpens with Mariano Rivera and Mike Stanton, pitching the Yankees to four titles and six pennants.
Mecir was solid for the Yanks in the early going, before carving out a solid career with Tampa Bay, Oakland and Florida.
Conversely, Davis was hampered by injuries but did have three seasons of more than 20 home runs with the M’s. Hitchcock battled his share of maladies too and his high point was earning the 1998 NLCS MVP with the San Diego Padres.
Fans of a certain age (me) will remember when Gerald was supposed to be the “better Williams.” Williams had all the tools but for whatever reason, couldn’t crack the lineup as a regular. Wickman was a workhorse and one of the more consistent bullpen arms for New York.
When New York obtained Lloyd from the Milwaukee Brewers, he had bone chips in his elbow. Listach had a broken foot and Bones was ineffective for the most part.
However, when the dust settled, this was a steal for the Yankees. During the postseason, Lloyd threw 5.1 innings of scoreless relief, including 2.2 in four World Series contests, when he whiffed four. Lloyd helped pitch the Yankees to a pair of titles and across 13 playoff games, posted a 0.00 ERA in 8.0 innings of work.
On the flip side, Williams would post some solid seasons with Milwaukee, Atlanta and Tampa Bay, across a 14-year career. After New York, Wickman would record an additional 256 saves between Milwaukee, Cleveland, Atlanta and Arizona, in a 15-year career.
Believe it or not, at the time this trade wasn’t as clear cut at it ultimately wound up being. Kelly was an emerging, young, homegrown star. While Kelly did put together a solid 14-year career as a .290 hitter, O’Neill would become the heartbeat of those Yankees.
Across nine seasons with New York, O’Neill was a .303 hitter, swatting 185 home runs. During the ’96 campaign, Paulie batted .302 with 19 home runs and 91-RBI. In Game 5 of the ’96 Fall Classic at Atlanta, his game-ending grab on a bum leg in right-field, preserved a 1-0 Yankee victory. O’Neill helped lead the Yankees to four championships and five pennants.
This was a coup for the Yankees. While Sierra helped the Yankees make the playoffs in 1995 and would change his tune in a second tour of duty, in 1996 he became a malcontent, with the infamous line of “all they care about is winning.” Drews, a first round pick in 1993, would never make the majors.
With Cecil “Big Daddy” Fielder, the Yankees got 13 home runs in 53 games in 1996. One could argue Fielder and his .391 batting average in the ’96 World Series, should’ve been named MVP.
Tim Raines for Blaise Kozeniewski:
Acquiring Raines from the Chicago White Sox, the Yankees got some wheels and a legit leadoff hitter. Raines would hit .284 in ’96 and provided a strong veteran presence. Raines hit .299 during his Yankee tenure and helped the Yankees win a pair of titles.
Kozeniewski never made the majors.
Charlie Hayes for Chris Corn:
During his first go-round in 1992, Hayes made his mark with the Bronx Bombers, swatting 18 home runs at the hot corner. Unfortunately the Yankees lost Hayes to the Rockies in the expansion draft. Looking to jolt the offense, New York traded minor-league pitcher Corn to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Hayes. Down the stretch, Hayes hit .284 across 20 games. With Wade Boggs slumping, Hayes came up with some key hits and played solid defense in the World Series, along with catching the series clinching out in Game 6. Hayes was also a solid contributor as the Yankees made the postseason in 1997.
Putting this trade in perspective, when the Yankees acquired Cone from the Toronto Blue Jays in 1995, he won nine games down the stretch. Janzen won six games in his career, Gordon and Jarvis never made the majors. Conversely, Coney helped pitch the Yanks to four World Series titles. Cone would post a .615 winning percentage in pinstripes. In ’96, Cone went 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA, fanning 71 in 72 innings. The gutsy Cone came back from an aneurysm in his right arm, helping the Yanks turnaround by winning Game 3 of the ’96 World Series, tossing six innings of three-strikeout, one-run ball.
Hutton was considered an up and coming prospect, posting solid consecutive campaigns in 1992 and 1993 at Albany-Colonie and Columbus respectively. While Weathers’ regular season numbers with the Yankees weren’t much to write home about, his postseason heroics were something to behold. When no one could get out ’96 AL MVP Juan Gonzalez, of the Texas Rangers, Weathers’ sinker was secret weapon. In that ALDS, in two games, Weathers went 1-0 and whiffed five across five scoreless innings, yielding only one hit. On the whole that postseason, Weathers hurled eleven innings, registering two victories, eight strikeouts and a 0.82 ERA.
OK, so this was more of a salary dump from the fledgling Montreal Expos. While Seguignol put up some power numbers in the minors, they didn’t translate to the majors. Wetteland and his sweat stained cap were solid in 1995 and really stepped it up in 1996. Teaming with Mo, Wetteland led the AL with 43 saves in 1996, whiffing 69 in 63.2 innings, pitching to a 2.83 ERA. During the 1996 postseason, Wetteland saved seven games, including all four World Series wins. Wetteland was named the 1996 World Series MVP.
Originally projected as a starter, Boehringer provided the Yankees with a decent amount of useful innings out of the bullpen, as a swing-man. Conversely, Assenmacher pitched one season for the White Sox, before becoming a solid contributor with the Indians.
In his final season, Aldrete gave the Yankees a versatile veteran off the bench, who could play first base and outfield. Aldrete batted .250 with the 1996 squad. The 1996 campaign with the California Angels, also proved to be his final season in the majors.