We are finally in the midst of this year’s Spring Training schedule and Thursday, James Paxton (aka “The Big Maple”) turned in another good Grapefruit League start. Paxton was acquired from Seattle early in the offseason for prospect Justus Sheffield and two other minor leaguers.
It was the latest deal between the Yankees and Mariners, two teams who have had no problem swapping big and promising names over the years.
Here’s a look at the most notable transactions between the two franchises:
George Costanza is dead
“What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?!? He had 30 home runs, over 100 RBIs last year, he’s got a rocket for an arm, you don’t know what the hell you’re doin’!!” An exasperated Frank Costanza shouted at the fictional George Steinbrenner on the Seinfeld episode, “The Caddy”.
It took that January 1996 airing of Seinfeld to finally allow Yankees fans to laugh hysterically over the controversial July 1988 trade that sent Buhner (310 career home runs, of which just three were hit as a Yankee) to Seattle for DH Ken Phelps.
To say that the trade was not well received in the tri-state area is a monumental understatement. On paper, Phelps’ numbers were good at the time of the trade – a .982 OPS with 14 HR and 32 RBI in 244 plate appearances. He also had more walks (51) than strikeouts (35). However, Phelps was a gap hitter, not a left-handed pull hitter whose swing could take advantage of the short porch in Yankee Stadium’s right field.
Unfortunately, the deal came at a time when the real George Steinbrenner had no problems dispatching prospects for aging veterans.
Phelps had an .899 OPS (pumped up by walks) with 10 HR and 22 at-bats in 127 plate appearances after the trade but his contributions did little for a team that needed a lot more tweaking. The Yankees finished in 5th place in the AL East (85-76) and Phelps was dealt to the A’s the following season after a first-half flop.
Meanwhile, Buhner earned folk hero status in Seattle and on prime time TV.
The Bamtino Delivers
One of the best deals the Yankees ever made with the Mariners was, of course, their swap of pitcher Sterling Hitchcock and third baseman Russ Davis for first baseman Tino Martinez, and relievers Jeff Nelson and Jim Mecir.
The trade, which took place on December 7, 1995 (Martinez’s birthday), swung heavily in the Yankees’ favor.
“The Bamtino” became a mainstay in the Yankees’ lineup from 1996 – 2001. He overcame the challenge of replacing icon Don Mattingly, slugged .435, became a team leader and won four World Series rings.
Besides a power-bat, Martinez also provided superb defense and certainly lost out on any Gold Glove Awards due to the squirrely nature of the voting process.
Nelson became one of the best set up men in the game for closers John Wetteland and Mariano Rivera. Hitchcock had a serviceable career, which included a second stint in New York and captured the NLCS MVP Award in 1998, but he was far from outstanding.
Davis had three solid seasons (1997 – 1999) with the Mariners but was out of baseball after the 2001 season. He was just 31-years old at the time.
Montero and Pineda: dual disappointment
At one time, Jesus Montero was one of the highest rated prospects in all of baseball and was the Yankees’ top prospect. He tore things up in an 18-game September 2011 call-up, hitting .328/.406/590 with four home runs and 12 RBI in 69 plate appearances.
Mouths watered in the Yankees Universe thinking of all the havoc that Montero would wreak on the American League in 2012.
But, rumors of attitude and work-ethic issues followed Montero during his minor league career and may have played a part in the trade that winter that sent to him to Seattle for starting pitcher Michael Pineda.
While Montero continued to show promise at the plate in 2012, (in 515 at-bats, he hit 15 HR, legged out 20 doubles, and knocked in 62 runs) his Slugging Pct. was under .400 and his On-Base pct. was only .298.
Still, it easily topped the 2012 season for Pineda. “Big Mike” didn’t appear in one Major League game in 2012 or 2013.
Pineda’s 2011 rookie campaign displayed a ton of promise and prompted the Yankees to give up Montero to make the deal. Pineda, who finished fifth in the year’s AL Rookie of the Year Award voting, posted a 3.74 ERA (with a 3.42 FIP), struck out 9.1 batters/per 9 IP, allowed less than a home run per game, and finished with a respectable 2.2 WAR.
But, Pineda’s numbers from July on were below his first-half performance and may have been an indicator of what was to come – surgery.
The newest Yankees pitcher struggled in 2012’s Spring Training and complained of shoulder soreness. An MRI revealed a torn labrum in Pineda’s right shoulder, leaving no choice but to surgically repair the injury.
At that point, it appeared the Mariners came out on top in the deal, but things soon changed.
After a terrific rookie year, Montero’s career started a downhill slide. He started slowly at the plate in 2013 and struggled behind the plate as well. The Mariners demoted him after 29 games and started using him at first base. Meniscus surgery on his left knee soon followed as did a 50-game suspension for the catcher’s participation in the Biogenesis PED scandal.
During a minor league rehab assignment in 2014, Montero hit rock bottom. Not in the lineup, he was the team’s first base coach that night. Mariners’ scout Butch Baccala, seated in the first base-side stands, heckled Montero about his lack of hustle and his weight.
Baccala, a team cross-checker, turned things up a notch when he ordered an ice cream sandwich and had it delivered between innings to Montero in the dugout. Montero was not amused.
Armed with a baseball bat, the 24-year old began screaming and spitting at Baccala and eventually threw the ice cream at him. As a result of the incident, the Mariners let Baccala go. Montero played in just six Major League games in 2014 and 38 a year later, his last in the bigs.
Montero played in the Toronto organization in 2016 and had a brief stint in the minors for Baltimore in 2017. He was out of American baseball in 2018, playing briefly in the Mexican League.
By then, the deal had swung in the Yankees favor. Pineda returned in 2014 and made 13 starts. He produced a very good 2.71 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) mark and a fabulous 0.825 WHIP.
Pineda built off of that success in the 2015 season. In 17 first-half starts, Pineda struck out 111 batters and walked just 13 while compiling a 2.76 FIP.
His starts included a seven-inning, 16-strikeout game against the Orioles in May at Yankee Stadium. After a couple of bad starts in June, Pineda seemed to right himself with a pair of starts to begin July in which he allowed one earned run in 13.1 innings pitched.
The same could not be said for his next two starts, which were miserable. Pineda struck out just six hitters in the two games combined. Soon after he landed on the disabled list with a strained forearm, a worrisome injury for a pitcher.
Pineda missed 30 games and was not the same pitcher when he got back. His second-half FIP rose to 4.67.
The 2016 season continued to be a search for consistency for Pineda. He struck out a career-high 10.6 batters/ 9 IP and topped 200 strikeouts for the first time in his career. But many starts saw Pineda appear to be having trouble loosening up his back, right shoulder and/or right arm.
Pineda seemed to bounce back in 2017 and was having a decent season when things once again fell apart as Spring turned to Summer. He made his last start as a Yankee on July 5, a three-inning fiasco in which he gave five runs and nine hits to the Blue Jays.
The deal didn’t have a huge impact on the Yankees but it’s noteworthy anytime you acquire a player such as Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro’s resume shows more than 3,000 hits in the US alone, a future Hall of Fame member, and one of the best defensive outfielder’s of all-time.
Ichiro was well past his prime, but the Yankees acquired the legendary hitter for the stretch-run in 2012. He surprised many by hitting .322 and played two more seasons in the Bronx. After a return to the Mariners and a brief retirement in 2018, he returned this year to the team with which he gained stardom. He’ll be the target of the spotlight as the Mariners and A’s open the season in Japan.
Ironically, Ichiro was acquired by the Yankees for Danny Farquhar (and former first-round pick D.J. Mitchell). Farquhar returned to the Yankees’ organization this season in an attempt to return from a near-life ending brain aneurysm he suffered while with the White Sox in 2018.