Bizarre moves from seasons past: The trading of Mike Lowell

My friend and fellow huge Yankee fan Dave (who comments under Davey) has long maintained that his dream Yankee infield would have been an all-homegrown group of Jorge Posada at catcher, Derek Jeter at short, Nick Johnson at first, Alfonso Soriano at second and Mike Lowell at third.

With talk of Nick Johnson possibly returning to the Yankees, I started thinking about Lowell — who, incidentally and unsurprisingly has been made available by the Red Sox — not because I want him now (does anybody?), but because the unceremonious dumping of Lowell in 1999 is one of the stranger moves Brian Cashman has made as GM during the last decade.

The Yankees traded Mike Lowell to the Marlins on February 1, 1999, for minor league pitchers Ed Yarnall, Mark Johnson, and Todd Noel. In 1997, Mike Lowell put up an OPS of 1.000 in 78 games at AA Norwich, and a .909 OPS in another 57 games at AAA Columbus. In 1998, Lowell rocked an .890 OPS in 126 games at AAA Columbus. In other words, he was obviously very good at hitting.

Scott Brosius came to the Yankees for the 1998 season and had the second-best year of his career, with an .843 OPS (121 OPS+). Brosius would never come close to that again, turning in below-average campaigns in 1999 and 2000 (84 and 70 OPS+, respectively) before finishing his Yankee career on a respectable note with a 105 OPS+ in 2001.

Here are Lowell’s and Brosius’ wOBAs from 1999-2001:

Brosius Lowell
1999 .314 .321
2000 .295 .352
2001 .340 .337

And here are Lowell’s and the Yankee third basemen wOBAs for the following two years (2003’s Yankee number is the average of Robin Ventura and Aaron Boone):

Yankee 3B Lowell
2002 .358 .349
2003 .324 .371

So while the Yankees weren’t exactly getting chopped liver out of 3B during this time period, it’s pretty clear that Mike Lowell would’ve been a fine and largely more effective option at 3B from 1999 through 2003. Obviously the comparison stops being relevant once A-Rod came in for 2004, although who knows if the Yankees would have bothered trading for Alex had they just received a .371 wOBA from Lowell and possibly even won the World Series with Lowell on their roster instead of on the Marlins’?

Obviously that’s a tremendous leap to take, as we have no idea whether any of the 2003 season would have still played out that way, but it’s interesting to ponder on a slow offseason day. In any event, despite Brosius’ 1998 season, the Yankees had no good reason to trade Mike Lowell for three scrub pitchers. Would it have killed them to at least have kept him on the bench, even if he was blocked by Brosius? In due time they would have realized that Lowell was a superior option at third.

Perhaps even more vexing was the Yankees giving Brosius a three-year extension based on one season that was completely out of line with his career norms. I can’t say I’m horrendously upset at how things ultimately turned out with the team’s 3B situation, given that the Yankees were able to get Alex Rodriguez, but it’s still baffling that Cashman traded what was probably their top hitting prospect at the time — not to mention a cost-controlled third baseman that could rake and potentially be the solution at 3B for years to come — for what essentially amounted to a bag of balls. Did the team really expect that Brosius would be manning the hot corner beyond 2001?

Cashman obviously thought he was getting something with Yarnall and the other no-names, but thankfully he’s learned his lesson since then, and hopefully we’ll never see another trade this shortsighted or poorly conceived by the Yankees ever again.

One thought on “Bizarre moves from seasons past: The trading of Mike Lowell

  1. It's ridiculous to imagine that when this trade went down, the Yanks never would have figured on facing off against Lowell as a Marlin just two years later in the World Series — let alone getting beat!