Yanks May Be Hunting for a Pitcher via Trade But Such Acquisitions Tend to Be Hit or Miss

July 20, 2018

A theme in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry this year is that the Yankees, who have an abundance of talented position players in the minors, will acquire a top gun pitcher to fortify their suspect starting rotation before the end-of-July deadline for non-waiver player trades. Such moves carry two risks.

First, the Yankees have a checkered history of acquiring pitchers in mid-season. David Cone in 1995 proved to be a fantastic pick-up, and Kerry Wood acquired in 2010 performed well as a reliever over the remainder of that season for the Yanks. The team went 95-67 that season, finishing in second place to the Red Sox in the Eastern Division. The Yankees ultimately lost to Texas in six games in the American League Championship season, and Wood moved on to another team the following year. There are more bad than good instances of June-July pitching acquisitions through  trade by the Yankees. Most notorious was the acquisition of Ken Holtzman in 1976, in a trade with Baltimore that gave that team three notable players (Scottie McGregor, Tippy Martinez, and Rick Dempsey among others) for many years thereafter. Holtzman, who has career stats  just shy of Hall of Fame caliber, had won 18 games in 1975 with a 3.14 ERA but with the Yanks went 9-7 with a 4.17 ERA in 1976. Three of the other busts acquired in July have been Jaimie Garcia, Denny Neagle, and Chris Capuano. All had been quite good at times earlier in their career but performed well below those norms on the Yankees.

More broadly, there’s a lot of pressure for successful pitchers coming to New York and the Yankees, and it’s not uncommon for them to take time to get comfortable there. Even Roger Clemens, who’d won back-to-back Cy Young Awards in 1997 and 1998 with earned run averages in Toronto of 2.05 and 2.65, posted a 14-10 record with a 4.60 ERA with the Yankees in 1999. Ed Whitson came from San Diego after 1984, when he was 14-8 with a 3.24 ERA, but he saw that ERA mushroom in N.Y. to 4.88 in 1985 and 7.54 in 1986. He returned to San Diego and reacquired better results. Go figure?

The other huge risk in a late July trade for a pitcher in exchange of several good young prospects is that even if the pitcher has a favorable immediate impact on the 2018 season, the trade may in part mortgage the Yankees’ future. Unless the Yanks make or win the World series, which are the only outcomes that would represent an improvement on their 2017 season, a trade for a pitcher could in time be seen as not worth the cost.

Copyright 2018, Larry Greenberg. All rights reserved. No secondary distribution without express permission. 

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