Since Brian Cashman assumed the title of GM in 1998, the three most distinguished trades of his tenure for position players (that is, non-pitchers), in my estimation, rank as follows:
(i) Alex Rodriguez for Alfonso Soriano (February 2004)
(ii) Bobby Abreu (and Corey Lidle) for CJ Henry, Matt Smith, Jesus Sanchez, and Carlos Monstrios (July 2006); and
(iii) David Justice for Ricky Ledee, Jake Westbrook, and Zach Day (June 2000)
Sure, the trade Cashman completed last night for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte in exchange for Ross Ohlendorf, Jose Tabata, Jeff Karstens, and Dan McCutchen warrants celebrating.
Cashman overcame the farm fetish that has plagued his judgment over the last year-- as manifest in his decision to forsake first Santana and more recently, Sabathia-- and relinquished promising prospects for two major-league players who immediately improve their major league roster's depth, flexibility, and talent.
That being said, the trade ranks no better than fourth among the foregoing three.
Yes, the Yankees satisfied their desperate need for another productive hitter that arose with Posada and Matsui's injuries. (It shouldn't surprise anyone that once the trade deadline expires, the Yankees suddenly announce that both will undergo surgery that ends their seasons.)
The bottom third of the lineup Girardi has had to field recently of Melky, Molina, and Gardner only has underscored how woeful the Yankees' lineup has become. And by replacing Gardner's paltry production with a right-handed bat capable of league-average or better production, Xavier Nady should improve their run production and add balance to their lineup immediately. (Nady has played both corner outfield positions adeptly in addition to having seen time at 1B and in CF.)
However, Nady, his production this year notwithstanding, hardly qualifies as the premiere hitter either Justice or Abreu were in 2000 and 2006, respectively, to say nothing, of course, of Rabbi Alex.
Indeed, his rather prolific statistics in 2008 (.330/.383/.535 with 13 HRs, 26 2Bs, and 57 RBIs) represent something of an aberration. Nady's career statistical splits are .281/.337/.456 and in six profession seasons before this year, not once did Nady post an on-base percentage above .337 or a slugging percentage over .476.
Contrast these statistics with Abreu's in 2006, a player who until then, consistently walked over 100 times a year and had an on-base percentage over .393 for 8 consecutive years-- every year, that is, since he became an everday outfielder. In addition, Abreu's career slugging percentage exceeded in 2006, and still exceeds, Nady's .456 number.
Nor for that matter is Nady the established hitter Justice was in 2000 either. With minor exception, Justice posted over a .900 OPS (Slugging + OBA) almost every year he played a full season.
In other words, to have matched his previous coups in obtaining Abreu and Justice and to compensate fully for the lost production Matsui and Posada's injuries entail, Cashman would had to acquire a hitter like the Pirates' other corner outfielder, Jason Bay or perhaps, Mark Teixiera.
Of course, Cashman, in this latest deal, also obtained in Damaso Marte, a pitcher the organization has slavered over for years and the lefty-handed reliever Joe Girardi has insisted is a necessity. Given the bullpen's recent performance, however, I'm not sure I agree with him. A left-handed reliever of Marte's caliber strikes me less as a necessity than a luxury at the moment.
Left-handed batters actually have a lower batting average (.183) against Jose Veras than right-handed batters (.238) in an almost equivalent number of plate appearances. And the splits of right-handed and left-handed batters against Edwar Ramirez don't differ materially either .156 (RHs) vs. .176 against (LHs).
(In fact, in his persistent decision to play inferior right-handed lineups against left-handed pitchers, I often wonder, whether Girardi hasn't become overly enamored with the "match-up" tactic in circumstances where it isn't always warranted.)
As Joe Torre often observed, proficient relievers, regardless of from what side they throw, can retire any hitter, lefty or righty.
As for the price Cashman had to pay? Naturally, it's still too early to judge. Ricky Ledee, for instance, was the centerpiece of the Justice trade, but Jake Westbrook, in the end, developed into the more profitable dividend. Still, it appears Cashman, at the very least, yielded more than he did for Abreu. (Although with good reason: the Phillies, in Abreu's case, were eager to rid themselves of the salary.) In contrast, Ohlendorf and Tabata, each, have shown signs of the potential to develop into viable or even superior major league talents. Meanwhile Dan McCutchen recently has skyrocketed through the Yankees farm system and to many, had surpassed Alan Horne and Jeff Marquez on the organizational depth chart. (McCutchen, indeed, might have been there all along had he not neglected to inform the Yankees he takes physician-prescribed Adderall for ADHD and not earned a suspension for it after testing positive for stimulants. Evidently, McCutchen has since received medical clearance to take the drug.)
In sum, Cashman deserves praise for improving his major league roster and with it, the Yankees' ability to contend for a playoff spot this season. What's more, to do so, he surrendered four players, whatever potential they possess, unlikely to help their major league club this year.
However, two misgivings, apart from those expressed above, prevent me from giving this trade an unqualified and resounding endorsement.
First of all, the Yankee farm system's greatest weakness is a deficiency in premiere hitting prospects. And Tabata, along with Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero, numbered among their top three. Accordingly, with the Yankees' corner outfielders all over 33, and Melky Cabrera increasingly demonstrating himself little more than a fourth outfielder, I would have felt far more confident about relinquishing Tabata had the Yankees acquired Pirates' outfielder Jason Bay instead. Bay has more power, a higher career on-base percentage, and slugging percentage than Nady, and has averaged more pitches per plate appearance over his career. Bay also is signed through 2009.
I recognize the Yankees would not have received Marte in such package -- but to my mind Marte's a luxury with Bruney returning and the farm system deep in middle-relievers. And in the long-run, Bay would have been better served the Yankees as a future left-fielder than the less prolific Nady as a prospective one in right.
Which brings me to my second qualm about the deal. In his analysis of it, Newsday's Ken Davidoff writes "Nady, as long as he performs capably over the next two months, should be the Yankees' starting rightfielder in 2009, allowing the club to bid farewell to Bobby Abreu."
If the Yankees are indeed planning to act as such, I submit they would be making a major error. Xavier Nady, if perhaps minor improvement over Abreu defensively (and I'm not sure he is), certainly cannot replace Abreu's production as the Yankees 'three-hitter,' not even in Abreu's last two sub-par seasons. No, I concede, Abreu, recently, hasn't shown the same proficiency he exhibited in his first half-season with the Yankees, but his 4.3 P/PA at-bat and .BA with two-strikes, two important qualities in a hitter preceding A-Rod in the lineup, is still beyond compare, as is his speed. Accordingly, if the Yankees can re-sign Bobby for a year or two at less than the $16 million annually they currently pay him-- and by all reports, Abreu wants to return-- they should.
For if the Yankees think they can replace Abreu's spot in the lineup with Xavier Nady or Robinson Cano, for that matter, they're seriously deluding themselves. I only hope my good friend, Ken, is wrong this one time because I can't think of a worthy replacement for Abreu among next year's free-agents either. Mark Teixiera, perhaps, the one palatable alternative, is a Boras client and would cost the Yankees another Giambi-like contract-- money better spent in trying to allure CC Sabathia to the Bronx.
So let's give Cashman his due-- no deal comes easily and his farm restoration project enabled this one. However, he hardly merits canonization for this deal either.