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Cashman’s Awful, No-Good, Very Bad Trade

December 24, 2008
Yeah, _this_ guy.

Yeah, _this_ guy.

Last week I began trying to evaluate Brian Cashman as a GM, with full knowledge that this has been discussed on sports talk radio, blogs, and in your office cubicles ad nauseum. I promised that this week we’d examine all of Brian Cashman’s role-player deals, but, uh, there was a lot of holiday shopping to do. And then the Yanks went out and signed Mark Teixeira for $180 million.

So I thought three things in this order: 1) Nick Swisher will be blogging from a corner outfield spot;  2) Anyone who became a Yankee fan within the last decade at age 18 or older deserves a swift kick in the back;  2a) For the last 80 years it has always been thus: Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for i) the Sun, ii) US Steel, iii) Microsoft; 3) God, has Brian Cashman ever made (or needed to make) a trade/domestic free agent signing in which the player received had not yet reached his peak? (Domestic free agent signing = not Alfonso Soriano, Hideki Matsui, etc.)

The Yanks have a lot of payroll money coming off the books in the form of Bobby Abreu, Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina, and Carl Pavano, so they’re not spending money above and beyond last year. In the early days of the Depression, without the union and free agency as leverage, owners used the economic climate as a convenient excuse to force ballplayers to take large paycuts – including the Bambino.

If any team is recession-proof, it’s the Yankees with their own network, global brand, and built-in millionaires’ season tickets. And while we’d all rather these lavish contracts going to the labor instead of the Steinbrenners, the whole concentrated excess of the last two weeks feels like, I don’t know, getting into a fight with a drunk octopus who’s been eyeing you at a bar. You know it’s gonna happen, you’re powerless to stop it, and you feel a little sad afterwards.

So as just a little bit of catharsis, I will take an extended look at the deal that Cashman pushed through on February 1st, 1999, which he’s said before is his biggest transactional regret:

The Yankees trade Mike Lowell to the Florida Marlins, and receive Mark J. Johnson, Ed Yarnall, and Todd Noel.

It’s fairly easy to forget that Ed Yarnall, whale of a fella that he was, was rated pretty highly. Remember, this was one of the two major prospects, along with Preston Wilson, that netted Mike Piazza for the Mets from the Marlins.

Yarnall was the better of the two prospects when he shipped to the Marlins, at least by the standards of Baseball America and even more so by Baseball Prospectus, who wrote, glowingly in June 1998:  

Yarnall, the Mets’ 3rd-round pick in 1996 from LSU, may be the best left-handed pitcher in the minor leagues. He throws 4 pitches for strikes, and with the exception of the one bad start at AAA last year, he has dominated wherever he has pitched. This year his numbers resemble those high-school-pitcher-throwing-95-against-quivering-16-year-olds lines you see in Baseball America. Not even translating his stats can get his ERA above 1. He’s obviously not going to keep doing that, but he is good enough to step into the Marlins rotation right now and be their #1 starter…

(Tangent 1, on the strange and fairly brief career of Preston Wilson. In this same article, Rany Jazayerli says also, quite definitively, “Wilson is not, and probably will never be, a productive major league hitter.” 

Jazayerli points to Wilson’s inability to want to draw a walk, which now with the hindsight of his decade of major league service, is very fair. Wilson had only one year when his OBP reached .350. He topped the .500 slugging mark twice, but his ridiculous strikeout rate was very notable, especially because he wasn’t getting on base in the way that Adam Dunn or other free-swingers did.

Despite the Marlins’ belief that he was a cornerstone talent when they signed him to a $32 million arbitration-avoiding contract in March 2001,  Wilson was traded to the Rockies a year and a half later. Along with personal tragedies (death of an infant son, separation from wife) and chronic knee injuries, Mookie’s nephew hobbled between four teams from 2005 to 2007 and slid into apathetic retirement at 32.

Wilson contributed in sorts to the Marlins and for a year the Rockies, but he was overall pretty bad. Whatever your feelings on strikeouts’ detriments to a hitter’s worth, you’d have to admit that hitting into double plays are worse. Comparing Wilson to Dunn highlights that. Even disregarding Dunn’s far superior OBP, look at this: Sure, Wilson struck out 1,085 times in 4,003 at-bats for a rate of one K every 3.69 ABs, while Dunn’s 1,256 strikeouts in 3,871 at-bats are a rate of one K every 3.08 ABs. But Wilson hit into 129 twin-killings; Dunn has hit into just 57.)

(Tangent 1a:  Reggie Jackson K’d once every 3.79 at-bats. By the way, Dunn is far outstripping Mr. October in the K-race: Through his 28th year, Jacko had 996 strikeouts.)

The following year, months after Cashman traded Lowell for Yarnall et al., Baseball Prospectus wrote after Yarnall had a decent season at Triple-A Columbus:

…The Yankees have responded by trading away Hideki Irabu and all but handing Yarnall the fifth starter’s job…Take-home lesson: Number one, Brian Cashman completely ripped off Dave Dombrowski, which is a very, very bad sign for the rest of baseball. Number two, this is how good organizations operate: they bring their best pitching prospects (especially starters) along slowly, let them pitch a full year in Triple-A, and give them some low-pressure work in long relief or a meaningless September start before throwing them into the rotation. Yarnall is more likely to contribute as a rookie than any starting pitcher in recent memory: he’s the #5 starter for the defending World Champions, he’s a left-handed pitcher working in Yankee Stadium, he has a year and a half of Triple-A experience under his belt, and he’s simply a tremendous pitching prospect. If ever there was a rookie pitcher worth drafting on a Rotisserie team, this is him.

Cue cartoon trumpet sound that goes “Weah-weaaaaaaah.”

The following season, of course, Yarnall pitched horribly in March, lost the fifth rotation spot, continued a bad streak in Columbus, and got shipped to Cincy for Denny Neagle.

(Tangent 2: The crop of highly-touted rookie pitchers in 1998 and 1999 had two very notable flame-out lefties who were initially compared very favorably to southpaws in the AL; Andy Pettitte was Yarnall’s comp; and the Big Unit’s Little Unit, Ryan Anderson, who, as was ubiquitously noted two years ago, is now a chef.)

(Tangent 3: Ed Yarnall was the Gio Gonzalez of his day.

Well, only in the fact that he was a highly-touted pitching prospect who was involved in three major deals before becoming a major leaguer and averaged well over a strikeout per inning through the age of 22.

Yarnall was flipped in the Piazza, Lowell, and Neagle trades; Giovany moved to Philly for Jim Thome, back to the ChiSox for Freddy Garcia, and over to the A’s for Nick Swisher.)

And Mike Lowell? Mike Lowell ended up just fine.


From → Prospects, Stats

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