The Cashman Legacy Project: Part 1, Trade 2

For an explanation of this project, click here:  The Cashman Legacy Project

For Part 1, Trade 1, click here: Part 1, Trade 1 (Knoblauch)

PART 1, TRADE 2

February 1, 1999.  The Yankees traded Mike Lowell to the Florida Marlins for a package of three young pitchers – Ed Yarnall, Todd Noel, and Mark Johnson. 

Ouch.  I already know at the outset that this trade was one that didn’t work out.  The pieces were in place, the Yankees needed young pitching, and the players they received were high-end minor leaguers, but… well, let’s take a look.

In 1998, the Yankees won 114 games enroute to a World Series Championship.  Outside of the twenty-six year old Andy Pettitte, the main starting pitchers on that team were not young.  The rest of the staff consisted of David Wells (35), David Cone (35), Orlando Hernandez (32), and Hideki Irabu (29).  The only other Yankees pitcher to make a significant amount of starts was the twenty-six year old Ramiro Mendoza who started 14 games that year. 

The only top pitching prospect for the Yankees at the time was Ryan Bradley who had pitched a grand total of three games at AAA (Columbus) in 1998 (after pitching all of three games at AA (Norwich)).  A year previously, the Yankees had traded their best pitching prospect, Eric Milton, for Chuck Knoblauch.  It seems clear that the purpose of this trade was to bolster the Yankees pitching depth by adding some high quality young arms.  In fact, that was exactly how the trade was reported by the New York Times

Let’s take a look at each of the pitchers the Yankees received in this trade:

Ed Yarnall –  Yarnall was a tall (6’, 3”) left-handed pitcher.  With some minor league success, he was the highest touted prospect the Yankees received in the deal.  Before the 1998 season, he was ranked in the Top-100 prospects (#60) by Baseball America.  The Marlins had received Yarnall from the New York Mets as part of the package for Mike Piazza.  A lot of baseball was very high on this kid.  In 1998 between the Mets' and Marlins’ systems, in AA and AAA, Yarnall pitched to a 13-5, 3.76 with 114 strikeouts in 131.2 innings.  He was tall, strong, and left-handed.  The future seemed bright for Ed Yarnall.

And, right after the trade, Yarnall didn’t disappoint.  Pitching for the Columbus Clippers in 1999, Ed Yarnall went 13-4, 3.47 in 23 starts.  He struck out 146 batters in 145.1 innings.  After the season, he was ranked (again by Baseball America) as one of the Top 10 Prospects from the International League and the 55th best prospect in baseball.  He even appeared in five games with the Yankees and did well.  After one year in the Yankees organization, his first full year at AAA, Yarnall’s stock was actually rising!

In 2000, Yarnall spent most of his time again at AAA.  In 10 starts there, he pitched only 49 innings and has a 2-1, 4.56 record when, on July 12, he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds as part of the package that brought the Yankees Denny Neagle.  Unfortunately, this return was not great.  Denny Neagle pitched to an unimpressive 7-7, 5.81 record with the Yankees. 

In spite of the promise, the Yankees didn’t get much from Ed Yarnall.  He pitched in only seven big league games (he pitched in two games in 2000) with the Yankees and was traded as part of a package for an underwhelming big leaguer.  After that 2000 season, Yarnall was released by the Reds organization and he went off to pitch in Japan.  He returned to play in the minor leagues, but never again played big league ball.

Todd Noel – Todd Noel was a tall (6’, 4”) right-handed pitcher and had been a first round draft pick in 1996 by the Chicago Cubs.  Noel had been traded to the Marlins for Felix Heredia (who would later become a Yankee).  Noel had never pitched above single-A ball at the time of the trade – and never would.  His career was over after pitching four games for high-A Tampa in 2000.

Mark J Johnson – Mark J. Johnson was also a tall (6’, 3”) right hander and was also a first-round draft pick (1996).  In two seasons prior to the trade, Johnson had pitched 297 Minor League innings.  He had a high-upside, but after one season with the Yankee organization (pitching as high as AA), he was selected by the Tigers in the Rule 5 draft.

In sum, the Yankees got a total of seven games from Ed Yarnall and some mediocre to poor pitching from Denny Neagle for half of a season in exchange for Mike Lowell, a highly regarded Yankees farm hand who was blocked at third base because of Scott Brosius’ surprising performance as a Yankee.  Most people felt that Lowell was going to be a star for the Yankees. 

While it seemed, on paper at least, like the Yankees were getting three potentially impactful big league pitchers, it didn’t work out.  If the trade seemed to have upside, that upside was never realized. 

Mike Lowell, on the other hand, became a star…

In six seasons with the Marlins, Lowell batted .272/.339/.462 with 143 home runs.  He went to three All-Star games and earned a Silver Slugger Award and a Gold Glove.  Lowell was on the 2003 Marlins World Championship team that defeated the Yankees.  After the 2005 season, Lowell went to the Red Sox in a package for Hanley Ramirez and others.  Lowell played five years with Boston, batting .290 over that span with 80 more homers and one more All-Star appearance.  Lowell won the 2007 World Series MVP Award as he helped the Red Sox to the World Championship. 

In 13 Major League seasons, Mike Lowell was a 24.8 WAR player.

***

This was a tough one to assign a final grade to.  On paper, it looked like a fair swap – a highly regarded third base prospect for three future big league arms – all also highly regarded.   The results speak to a failing grade, but because the trade at least made sense at the time, even if it didn’t work out, I’ll assign a final grade of a D- for this trade - one that didn’t work out at all for the Yankees or Brian Cashman. 

Grading thus far:

Chuck Knoblauch trade: B+ (3.3)

Mike Lowell trade: D- (0.7)

Overall GPA:   C  (2.0)