The pitching, though … well, let’s just say the absences of Andy Pettitte and his flame-throwing buddy Roger Clemens were felt. The Yankee rotation was led by Chien-Ming Wang, a pseudo-ace who generated plenty of ground balls but nearly no strikeouts. Wang was the kind of guy who could eat up a lot of innings at a nice clip, but made you pine for a true shutdown arm. (The Yankees found such a hurler in the winter of 2009.)
Mike Mussina was still around, prominent as ever in the Yankee rotation, and in fact, his 2006 season was pretty strong. By this point, Mussina’s cleverness became even more important as his stuff faded. Finishing out the top three was Randy Johnson, acquired before the 2005 season in yet another desperate trade made by a mid-00s Yankee team to get some pitching. The Big Unit was pretty good in 2005 — not quite his peak self, but good — and pretty bad in 2006.
So, that was the top three. Solid, more famous than productive, but solid. Here’s the fun part, though. Guess who had the fourth-most starts for this 97-win team. Just guess.
Jaret Wright. Jaret freaking Wright. Spoiler: it wasn’t great (140 innings, 4.49 ERA). The bullpen was the bullpen, led by a predictably astonishing Mariano Rivera and the usual assortment of mid-00s worrisomes, aside from Scott Proctor, who was awesome and subsequently buried alive by Joe Torre‘s usage.
Heading into late July, the Yanks found themselves in second place. They clearly needed a pitcher — sounds oddly familiar, eh? — but frankly, there wasn’t one to be had. No major starter changed hands in the summer, and frankly, had the Yanks just brought back Pettitte and Clemens — never mind, sorry.
But, the Yanks had cash and were eager to make moves. The lineup remained potent, but with Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui hurt for the most of the season, the outfield had become a bit thin. How thin? On July 30, the same day the team swung the big deal we’re about to discuss, the Yankees started Aaron Guiel in right field. He was hitting sixth. A very young Melky Cabrera was in left, batting eighth.
So, what to do? Brian Cashman swung a big trade and acquired right fielder Bobby Abreu and starting pitcher Cory Lidle from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for CJ Henry, Matt Smith, Jesus Sanchez, and Carlos Monasterio. Henry was the Yanks first-round pick in 2005 and never amounted to anything. None of those prospects did.
Abreu was a sneaky great player in Philadelphia, overshadowed by more potent sluggers but nearly as valuable as most. Abreu got on base a lot — in eight full seasons with the Phils, Abreu’s OBP was .415 — and, early on, Abreu was a smart base-stealer and a more-than-capable defender. In the Bronx, he made an already strong lineup all that much harder to get through.
Cory Lidle added reliability to a rotation that aged Joe Torre. Johnson was struggling; beyond Wang and Mussina, there were some serious pray for rain moments. Lidle wasn’t a star, but he was reliable. With that lineup and the Sandman waiting in the bullpen, guys like Lidle won a lot of games in the Bronx. Lidle ate up some innings in 2006 and was poised to be part of the Yankees rotation in 2007, but died tragically in a plane crash that off-season.
Ultimately, the 2006 season ended poorly, as the Yankees were defeated in the ALDS by the upstart Detroit Tigers. (Jaret freaking Wright started Game 4 on the road. WHAT?!?!) Alas, Cashman’s move at the deadline bolstered a depleted lineup and a beleaguered rotation. The 2019 Yanks sorely need a starter or two — probably more than even the 2006 squad — and it remains to be seen what the team can cobble together. If the goal is a championship, reinforcements are needed.