New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman is an absolute ninja when it comes to unearthing and cultivating talent. Yes, the organization has nearly limitless revenue generating resources but Cashman still makes shrewd moves without blindly throwing good money after bad. From David Justice to Andrew McCutchen, the deadline deals have hit the mark. Yet, the one bugaboo has been acquiring an ace starting pitcher.
During the dynasty years, the rotation was essentially set by the time Cashman assumed full-time GM duties in 1998. Granted aces don’t grow on trees but Cashman’s trade deadline track record suggests more “stuff guy” projects than bonafide aces. As the current edition of the Yankees’ angle for an ace to stabilize a rotation riddled with injury question marks, we look back at some of Cashman’s deadline driven starting pitching deals.
In 2000 David Cone battled through a lost season and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez posted an up and down campaign. To solidify the rotation, the Yankees acquired the southpaw Neagle and his train noise impressions from the Cincinnati Reds. Neagle, along with Mike Frank, was acquired for outfielder Jackson Melian, third baseman Drew Henson, pitchers Brian Reith and Ed Yarnall. None of those guys panned out for the Reds and they eventually traded Henson back to the Yankees.
Neagle came out gangbusters in pinstripes, limiting the Philadelphia Phillies to one run in eight innings. His next outing was a complete game with eight K’s against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Even his next start against the Minnesota Twins included six K’s in seven frames, pitching to the scoreboard with four runs allowed in victory.
August and September were a mixed bag and late September Neagle found himself tangled in the tailspin.
Neagle didn’t start in the ALDS against Oakland. The Yankees lost both of his underwhelming ALCS outings against Seattle, where he posted a 4.50 ERA. He was OK in his start against the New York Mets in Game 4 of the World Series, leaving with a 3-2 lead with two outs in the fifth.
Another lefty with a postseason and Yankee pedigree, the Yankees took a flier Hitchcock, who worked his way back from injury in 2001. Attempting to shore up the back of the rotation, the Yankees sent minor-league outfielder Darren Blakely and Brett Jodie to the San Diego Padres for Hitchcock.
In ten outings, including nine starts, Hitchcock registered a 6.49 ERA. His best outing was an eight-strikeout complete game against the Chicago White Sox. Hitchcock also recorded six K’s in four scoreless frames of relief in the World Series.
Weaver was billed as another “Cone.” He had “stuff,” an arsenal of pitches and arm angles. He was also a basketcase. Acquired in a three-team trade involving the Detroit Tigers and A’s, gave up lefty starter Ted Lilly, outfielder John-Ford Griffin, and minor-league pitcher Jason Arnold to the A’s. The Tigers got Franklyn German, Carlos Pena, and Jeremy Bonderman from the A’s. The Yankees got Weaver from the Tigers in 2002.
Lilly pitched a solid decade plus and was a two-time All-Star across multiple stops.
Pitching parts of two seasons in the Bronx, Weaver compiled a 5.35 ERA in 237.1 innings, making 47 appearances, including 32 starts. Weaver also gave up a game-winning home run to the light-hitting shortstop Alex Gonzalez in the twelfth inning of Game 4 of the 2003 World Series against the Florida Marlins.
He was also the gift that kept on giving, traded for an even bigger veteran headcase, Kevin Brown, of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Weaver had his one shining moment winning a ring with the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, ironically against the Tigers. New York, however, was not a fit for him.
Still chapped at George Steinbrenner swooping in and signing David Wells after he had a handshake agreement with David Wells in the 2001 offseason, Arizona Diamondbacks Owner Jerry Colangelo sent Curt Schilling to the Boston Red Sox for a bag of baseballs and asked for a king’s ransom for Randy Johnson. Hence the Yankees couldn’t land “The Big Unit” until a trade before the 2005 season and settled for plan b, Loaiza.
In 2003, Loaiza was an AL All-Star, led the junior circuit with 207 K’s and finished second in Cy Young voting. An All-Star in 2004 with the Chicago White Sox, the Yankees dealt the talented but frustrating Jose Contreras to the South Side for Loaiza.
In 42.1 innings, Loaiza posted an 8.50 ERA in ten outings, including six starts. Loaiza didn’t make any starts in the playoffs and took the loss in relief during Game 5 of the ALCS.
The next season Contreras would pitch out of his mind and help the Chisox hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy.
SHAWN CHACON AND AL LEITER
With Brown, Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright injured and or busted, Cashman played ninja with some low key moves in 2005. Chacon, once highly touted with the Colorado Rockies, was acquired for pitchers Eduardo Sierra and Ramon Ramirez. Plus, the ex-Yankee lefty with a postseason pedigree, Leiter, from the Marlins for basically nothing.
While Ramirez would carve out a nice nearly decade career of relief, Chacon saved the Yanks bacon in 2005, posting a 2.85 ERA in 14 outings, including 12 starts, compiling 79 innings. Chacon tossed a solid start in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Los Angeles Angels, going 6.1 innings, yielding two runs on four hits, fanning five. Leiter would actually pick up the win in relief during that game as well.
Leiter had a memorable outing on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball at Fenway Park, fanning eight in 6.1 frames, allowing three hits and one run in the victory. Leiter would mostly grind out five innings during his starts until being mostly relegated to the bullpen in September, pitching to a 5.49 ERA in 62.1 innings.
This trade was more about Bobby Abreu but the Yankees also got Lidle from the Phillies in 2006. Lidle was mostly up and down posting a 5.16 ERA in 45.1 frames.
Lost in the desert and pitching to a 5.01 ERA, Cashman sent Vidal Nuno to the Diamondbacks for McCarthy in 2014. McCarthy nearly pitched the Yankees back to relevance by posting a 2.89 ERA with 82 K’s in 90.1 innings across 14 starts. A stealth move which paid off.
Do I even have to rehash this one? OK, Sparky, the Yankees passed on obtaining Justin Verlander from the Tigers for basically a salary dump and all he would do is pitch the Houston Astros past the Yankees and onto their first World Series title in franchise history in 2017. Gray, to be fair, wasn’t terrible, pitching to a 3.72 ERA 65.1 innings in 11 starts. Yet, he was far from the ace who was a 2015 All-Star, who finished third in the junior circuit in Cy Young voting. Gray got knocked around by the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS but provided a representative outing against the Astros in the ALCS.
By 2018, Gray, who was traded for outfielder Dustin Fowler, shortstop Jorge Mateo, and pitcher James Kaprielian, was a lost cause, relegated to mop-up duty by the end and pitching to a 4.90 ERA. Those three haven’t materialized yet but what a waste of prospects. The Yankees traded Gray, complained about pitching to Gary Sanchez and throwing his slider, to the Cincinnati Reds.
The Yankees also obtained Jaime Garcia from the Minnesota Twins, who pitched to a 4.82 ERA in eight starts in 2017, not great.
J.A. HAPP AND LANCE LYNN
Happ was exactly what the doctor ordered down the stretch in 2018. Obtained from the Toronto Blue Jays for outfielder Billy McKinney and infielder Brandon Drury, Happ posted a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts, fanning 63 in 63.2 innings. Yet, Happ couldn’t put the Yankees over the hump and was smoked by the Boston Red Sox in Game 1 of the ALDS, recording a 22.50 ERA in two innings. A great clubhouse guy, the Yankees re-signed the veteran lefty.
The Yankees got Lynn from the Twins for Tyler Austin and minor-league pitcher Luis Rijo. Lynn, to be fair, was pegged to be a reliever but was thrust into a starting role because of crybaby Gray. Lynn registered a 4.14 ERA in 54.1 frames. His 11.57 ERA in two postseason appearances was nothing to write home about.
So, there you have it, some threes, sixes, jacks and wild cards in that bunch. But aces? Not so much. Will Cashman be dealt a better hand in 2019? Only time will tell.