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Top Yankees gone in their prime

On a recent episode of the Bronx Pinstripes Show, Andrew Rotondi and Scott Reinen talked about how the parting between the New York Yankees and shortstop Didi Gregorious isn’t something one sees too often with a Yankee player in his prime.

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Even a year ago, virtually no one could’ve seen the split, but Gregorius got hurt and the emergence of Gleyber Torres and DJ LeMahieu proved a solid tandem up the middle.

In addition to some of the names they brought up, it got me to thinking about some players the club either traded or let walk in their prime.

For our purposes, I’m using ages 25-30 as prime years. Hence, the omissions of players like Joe Gordon, Reggie Jackson, Andy Pettitte, Willie Randolph, Tino Martinez, Hideki Matsui, etc. Nor are players like Bobby Richardson or Tony Kubek listed, both of whom decided to retire early.


The second sacker posted a 45.5 career WAR in pinstripes. That number ranks 14th in club history. Cano won a title in 2009 and was a five-time All-Star. His five silver slugger awards and two gold gloves made him look like a lock for Monument Park. After his age 30 season in 2013, Cano chased the money in Seattle and bolted the Bronx. Yet, disinterest and getting banged for PEDs appear to have derailed his path to Cooperstown.

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In December 1984, the Yankees acquired Henderson from the Oakland Athletics. He was right in his prime, about to enter his age 26 season. Henderson sported a 30.9 WAR in pinstripes, ranking him 26th in franchise history. In 1985, the speedster and leadoff-hitting All-Star left-fielder finished third in AL MVP voting, and earned a silver slugger. The Hall of Famer was a four-time All-Star in the Bronx, led the Junior Circuit in steals four-times, runs three-times and walks once. By 1989, New York was about to hit rock bottom and dealt the 30-year-old Henderson back to the A’s. The Yankees received Luis Polonia, Greg Cadaret and Eric Plunk, while Henderson helped Oakland win the World Series. Henderson earned the 1990 AL MVP and would help the Toronto Blue Jays repeat as World Series champions in 1993. Henderson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2009.

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Groomed as the next Mickey Mantle, Murcer and his 27.7 WAR rates No. 29 in team history. Murcer was a four-time All-Star and earned a gold glove in the Bronx. In 1971, the outfielder led the Junior Circuit in OBP and OPS and total bases in 1972. After his age 28 season in 1974, the club traded Murcer to the San Francisco Giants for Bobby Bonds. One could also make an argument for Bonds on this list, after he hit 32 homers in a 1975 All-Star campaign, the Yankees traded the 29-year-old outfielder to the California Angels for Ed Figueroa and Mickey Rivers. As for Murcer, he was an All-Star with the Giants in 1975, and after 1976 was traded to the Chicago Cubs. Murcer found himself dealt back to the Bronx in 1979 for a second stint until retiring to the broadcast booth in 1983.

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Like Murcer, Pepitone looked like he was going to be a part of the next wave of Yankee stars. From 1963 to 1969, Pepitone was a three-time All-Star and three-time gold glove winner. The first baseman swatted 166 homers in eight seasons with the Bronx Bombers. Pepitone played on a pair of pennant winners (1963-64) and a lot of lean years in New York. At 29 in Dec. 1969, the Yankees traded him to the Houston Astros for outfielder Curt Blefary. Pepitone would be mostly a role player with the Astros, Cubs and retired after playing playing his final three games with the Atlanta Braves in 1973.

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Much like Murcer, Gamble had bad timing when it came to playing for a World Series winner. In Nov. 1975, the Yankees traded for the outfielder and his signature Afro from the Cleveland Indians for pitcher Pat Dobson. The outfielder Gamble, hit 17 home runs and helped the 1976 squad win the AL pennant. Yet, at age 27, in April of 1977, the Yankees dealt him to the Chicago White Sox for shortstop Bucky Dent. After stints with the White Sox and San Diego Padres, the Yankees re-acquired Gamble from the Texas Rangers in 1979, for Rivers, among others. Gamble would help the Yankees win the 1981 AL pennant. Across seven seasons in the Bronx, Gamble hit 87 home runs. Gamble’s final season in the Bronx came in 1984. He would finish his career with the White Sox in 1985.

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Soriano looked destined to be the next cornerstone player of the Yankees dynasty. Finishing third in AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2001, Soriano nearly sent the Yankees to a fourth consecutive World Series title with his go-ahead home run off Curt Schilling in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series in 2001 at Arizona. Soriano was nearly a 40/40 guy in 2002, finishing third in AL MVP voting, leading the Junior Circuit in steals, hits and runs, earning a silver slugger and All-Star honors. After clubbing 39 homers in 2002, the slugging second baseman was an All-Star in 2003 and swatted 38 bombs. Yet, after helping the Yankees to the AL pennant, the club traded the 27-year-old fan favorite to the Rangers for Alex Rodriguez. Soriano posted more huge campaigns with the Rangers, Washington Nationals and Cubs. Soriano finished out his career in the Bronx.

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At 15.5, Downing ranks No. 34 in pitching WAR in club history. The stalwart southpaw helped pitch the pinstripes to a pair of pennants (1963-64). An All-Star in 1967, Downing pitched to a 3.23 ERA, 3.18 FIP and recorded 1,028 K’s in nine seasons in the Bronx. At 29, Downing was traded to the A’s in Dec. 1969. After a season between the A’s and Milwaukee Brewers, Downing was stellar with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1970, finishing third in NL Cy Young voting, winning 20 games with a 2.68 ERA and a league-leading five shutouts.
Downing finished out with the Dodgers in 1977.

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Perhaps more disappointing than surprising, Wang, who ranks No. 37 with a pitching WAR of 14.0, finished second in AL Cy Young voting in 2006 and turned in another stellar campaign in 2007. But on his way to a solid season in 2008, Wang got hurt running the bases in Houston (when they were still in the NL) and he was never the same. Wang pitched part of 2009 in pinstripes but could never regain his form. At 29, Wang only pitched parts of four more seasons with Washington, Toronto, and Kansas City.

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Robertson posted a 13.1 pitching WAR with New York, ranking No. 41 in club history. Houdini in high socks, Robertson helped the Yankees win the 2009 World Series and was an All-Star in 2011. Robertson became the Yankee closer in 2014, but after his age 29 season was allowed to sign with the White Sox. The club re-acquired Robertson in a 2017 trade, and he was lights out down the stretch and into the postseason. The organization let him walk to the Phillies following the 2018 campaign.

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