Looking back at trades of the past for my Retro Trade Analysis, I started to talk with people about past trades. As a Yankees fan since the 1970s, I experienced a time with that organization when they traded almost anything and anybody for the biggest name and those with the most potential. However, I remember three trades in particular that may be the worst Yankees trades of all-time. Of course, these trades all occurred in the 1980s.
For those that do not remember the Yankees of the 1980s, they were the team that had the most wins of the decade, just did not win anything after 1981. They were the team that let go Reggie Jackson, signed Dave Winfield and traded any player that they thought would help them win. These are three such trades that the Yankees made in the hopes of winning “right now”. In fact, not only did they not win, they traded away three players that could have actually helped them for years to come.
October 21, 1981 New York Yankees trade former first round draft pick Willie McGee to the St. Louis Cardinals for Pitcher Bob Sykes.
Yankees received a pitcher that never pitched another game in the major leagues. In his five seasons before the trade, left handed reliever Sykes was 23-26 with a 4.65 ERA. However, after the trade, he never again pitched in the major leagues.
In an 18 season career, McGee batted .295, with 2,243 career hits, 352 career stolen bases and a career OPS of .729. He was the 1985 National League Most Valuable Player and Silver Slugger Award Winner, a four-time all-star, three time Gold Glove Award winner and led the National League in batting twice. He was a top center fielder in the National League for many years while the Yankees had center fielders such as Jerry Mumphrey, Omar Moreno, Claudell Washington and Roberto Kelly after they traded McGee (until Bernie Williams showed up).
Needless to say, the Yankees lost this trade. They could have kept the young outfielder and he could have been an anchor in the Yankees outfield for a decade and maybe more.
December 9, 1982 New York Yankees trade first baseman/outfielder Dave Collins, right handed pitcher Mike Morgan and 9th round draft pick Fred McGriff to the Toronto Blue Jays for utility player Tom Dodd and right handed reliever Dale Murray.
The Yankees received one player that never played a game in the major league for them and a pitcher that pitched a total of 59 games before he was released by the Yankees in 1985. Murray compiled a record of 3-6, with an ERA nearly 5.00 and no saves.
Dave Collins played for the Blue Jays for two seasons. Mike Morgan pitched for the Blue Jays for one season, however the player that ended up as the superstar of the trade was Fred McGriff.
One reason the Yankees traded McGriff was that they had an up and coming player named Don Mattingly that they felt was their future at first base. Don Mattingly came up as an outfielder, imagine if he stayed in left field and the Yankees played McGriff at first. McGriff was a career .284 hitter with 441 home runs and 1,882 career runs batted in. His career slugging percentage was .502 and his OPS was .886. Those numbers would have been much higher if McGriff played with the short porch in right field. McGriff was a five time all-star, three time all-star, hit over 30 home runs in a season ten times in his career, drove in 100 runs in a season eight times and finished in the top ten of the American league Most Valuable Player voting five times.
McGriff joined the major leagues in 1987. From 1987 to 1994, the Yankees fielded players such as Gary Ward, Oscar Azocar, Hensley Meulens, Mel Hall, Gerald Williams and Dion James.
This trade was a huge loss for the Yankees. They had their future first baseman, McGriff was expendable. However by trading away McGriff, they let go a player that was feared in the Major Leagues for 19 seasons.
July 21, 1988 The New York Yankees trade Rich Balabon (a pitcher that never pitches in the major leagues), Troy Evers, Troy Evers (a pitcher that never pitches above Double A ball) and a young outfielder named Jay Buhner to the Seattle Mariners for designated hitter Ken Phelps.
Ken Phelps played a total of 131 games for the Yankees, hitting 17 home runs and driving in 51 runs. It was assumed that the lefty hitter would take advantage of the short porch and help lead the Yankees to the playoffs. He led them nowhere. He batted .240, striking out 73 times in those 131 games with the Yankees. The Yankees dumped his off on the Oakland A’s for a player that never made it to the major leagues.
Jay Buhner is who the Mariners wanted from the Yankees. Jay Buhner, a career .254 hitter, hit 310 home runs and drove in more than 1,400 runs in his major league career. His career slugging percentage was .494 and his career OPS was .852. Buhner made the all-star team in 1996, the same year he won the Gold Glove. Buhner is not a superstar, but he was a very steady player that played in the majors for 14 more seasons after the trade.
Instead of having Buhner in their lineup, the Yankees had players such as Steve Balboni, Luis Polonia, Kevin Maas, Daryl Boston and Ruben Rivera on their roster. Such a memorable few that replaced Buhner, they were so few that none of them had any future with the Yankees.
What did these trades have in common? The Yankees lost every single one. I did not include the Rickey Henderson for Luis Polonia trade and about the 50 bad free agent signings the Yankees had during the 80s (Ed Whitson anyone?). So Yankees haters enjoy, here is one time that we all can yell from the rooftops that the Yankees lost.
Until the next Retro Trade Analysis, keep wheeling and dealing.