Let’s start with the big one ; the Yankees trading Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy and Phil Coke for Curtis Granderson. How does this one rate on the value scale? Well for a long time, with Granderson struggling mightily and Austin Jackson looking like a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year as he played an excellent centerfield and somehow managed to sustain an outrageous BABiP, this looked like a clear failure. Ultimately though, the players were nearly identical in worth; Jackson posting a 3.7 fWAR and Granderson 3.6. Looking a little deeper though, Jackson was the same player he’d been in the minors. His average and OBP were heavily reliant on a whopping .393 BABiP, and he struck out 170 times while only slugging .400. In other words, while the two were close in value, Granderson is probably the safer bet to remain a good offensive player, and he has much more power than Jackson, which makes him a better fit for the bottom of the Yankees lineup.
But what about the other two players? Coke was worth 1.1 fWAR in the Tigers bullpen, while Kennedy was worth 2.4 fWAR starting for Arizona. But while this makes it look like the Yankees got a bad deal, these two were mostly immaterial to the Yankees. Kennedy wouldn’t have made the big league rotation out of spring training, and while he might have gotten a chance to start with Pettitte hurt, and Burnett and Vazquez pitching awfully, that was a worst case scenario that couldn’t have been planned for at the time. He probably also wouldn’t have pitched quite as well in the A.L. East as he did in the N.L. West. So on the whole, the Yankees more or less broke even in value this year on the Granderson trade, and there’s a good chance they’ll still come out ahead in the long run.
What about alternatives? Well obviously there was Jackson, but the Yankees clearly weren’t willing to have an offense including both Jackson and Gardner as starters. The big free agents were Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. The former played well this year, but also commanded a long-term, 9 figure contract. Would the marginal upgrade really have been worth the extra commitment, especially considering the Yankees had the best offense in baseball anyway? All in all, I’d say that there weren’t any particularly good alternatives to Granderson, and the value was pretty good as well. I’d say that, even after the first year, this was a pretty good acquisition.
Next, Cashman signed free agent Nick Johnson. The thinking here was pretty straight-forward; Johnson gets on base an absurd amount of the time he’s playing, and by moving to DH he might have a better chance of staying healthy. It didn’t work out that way, and while he posted an OBP of .388, he only got 98 plate appearances. So the value obviously was not there.
What about the alternatives? Well, there are always a number of DH possibilities. Last year, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Vlad Guerrero, and Jim Thome all could have served as great alternatives to Johnson. Matsui and Guerrero signed quickly, and Damon was asking for an unreasonable amount. Still, I think Cashman moved far too quickly to sign Johnson, and a part of me wonders if he wasn’t simply trying to put pressure on Damon. Ultimately, Thome signed much later than Johnson for a lot less money, and then had a great season for Minnesota. Simply for the haste with which Cashman signed Johnson, and for the amount of money committed, I’ll call this one a bad move.
Then, another big trade. This one sent Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn, and pitching prospect Aroyds Vizcaino for Boone Logan and (dum dum dum) Javier Vazquez. Let’s switch up and look for alternatives here first. The Yankees obviously wanted another starting pitcher for this year, and ultimately settled on Vazquez. They also clearly covet Cliff Lee, so a long-term commitment wouldn’t have made much sense. Were there other pitchers the Yankees could have acquired besides Vazquez? Of course. Would any of them be coming off of the year Vazquez had in 2009 and require just a one year commitment? Not that I can see. So I think it’s beyond fair to say there weren’t any real alternatives to Vazquez considering the Yankees overall plan.
As for value, believe it or not the Yankees actually did better on this trade this year, and the most valuable player acquired by either team was…Boone Logan! Logan’s 0.4 WAR offset Vazquez’s -0.2 figure, leaving the Yankees with a total 0.2 WAR in the trade. The real drawback for Atlanta was Melky, who was just awful this year, ultimately wracking up -1.2 fWAR! If the Yankees hadn’t traded Melky, he probably would have ridden the bench through the first 2 months of the season and then been DFA’d. Dunn was worth just 0.1 fWAR, coming nowhere close to making up for how awful Melky was in Atlanta, who have since released him.
Of course, the real prize here for Atlanta was Vizcaino, a reasonably touted 19 year old lefty with a live arm. In retrospect the Yankees would probably prefer not to have done this deal simply because of him, but he has yet to pitch above A-ball and suffered an arm injury this year. In other words, he may well pan out as a big league starter, but he’s a long way off. The Yankees still have 3 pitchers in their system who are both better prospects than Vizcaino and closer to being major league ready. On the whole, it’s really hard to call this a bad trade for the Yankees, though it may be one of the ugliest dual-sided trades in major league history.
Other than those 3 acquisitions, the only thing Cashman did at the major league level was sign Marcus Thames and Randy Winn for the bench. Thames, of course, worked out splendidly, providing an excellent bat off of the bench and ultimately a platoon DH, easily earning every bit of his $900,000 salary. Winn, on the other hand, was downright terrible, but the commitment was small enough that he was easy to DFA when it was clear he wasn’t worth a roster spot. Those happen to just about every team over the course of the season.
So there, the 2009-10 offseason consisted of one seemingly bad trade that ultimately didn’t return much value to either team, one bad signing that won’t have any long-term impact on the team, a couple of hit-or-miss bench signings (with the hit being more consequential than the miss), and one major trade that was basically a break-even deal this year, but could still be “won” by the Yankees. It wasn’t the 2008-09 offseason by any means, but considering the relative lack of alternatives to all of the moves they made within their long-term organizational plan (read, signing Cliff Lee) it was about the best you could reasonably have expected any GM to do.