This the third installment of a long (long) project where we will be examining, first trade-by-trade, and then signing-by-signing, the long history of the deals Brian Cashman has made while serving as the General Manager of the New York Yankees.
For a thorough explanation of the project, click here: The Cashman Legacy Project
For the previous installments of this series, click below:
PART 1, TRADE 3
February 18, 1999. The Yankees traded Homer Bush, Graeme Lloyd, and David Wells to the Toronto Blue Jays for Roger Clemens
Remembering back to that February day in 1999, this was a trade that sent shock waves throughout the Yankees fan base. David Wells was a bigger than life hero. He was, to some, the Yankees' "every man." Wells was not a player in the best physical shape, he liked to have fun... In short, he wasn't the typical corporate Yankee. In addition, Wells had pitched a legendary perfect game in 1998. The Yankee fans embraced Wells. He was loved. The Yankees had just won the World Series. There was a lot of anger that the Yankees had traded David Wells.
To make matters worse, Wells was traded for a player who many saw as The Enemy. Roger Clemens was a headhunter who had no problems throwing inside and seemingly hitting batters on purpose. And, even though the trade was made with the Blue Jays, where Clemens was pitching, Clemens was, for all intents and purposes, a Red Sox - and a hated one at that.
This writer remembers many discussions with passionate Yankee fans. Many said that the Yankees didn't need any old Red Sox on their team. This writer's comeback, listing players such as, let's see, Babe Ruth, Red Ruffing, Sparky Lyle, and Wade Boggs wasn't able to hold much weight in the emotions of the time.
Now, we have do time, almost 19 years (amazingly) to look back on the trade to see who got the better deal.
To begin, let’s take a look at the pitcher the Yankees received in this trade:
ROGER CLEMENS - I believe that we have to eliminate the steroids talk from this discussion at the start. While there was some talk about performance enhancing drugs at that time, it was not a major focus in baseball. The Mitchell Report was eight years in the future. Readers can feel free to debate this subject, but for the purposes of this series, I will be looking at the trade (and future deals) strictly from the performance aspects of the players.
At the time of this trade, Roger Clemens was the reigning back-to-back Cy Young Award winner. Clemens won the Cy Young Award in 1998 with a 20-6, 2.65 record (along with 271 strikeouts in 234.2 innings). The previous year, 1997, Clemens also won the award by pitching to a 21-7, 2.05 record (with 292 strikeouts in 264 innings). These were Clemens' fourth and fifth Cy Young Awards.
The Yankees were receiving a pitcher whose lifetime record was already in line with some of baseball's greats. Clemens owned a lifetime 233-124, 2.95 record. After dominating baseball for years as a Red Sox, Roger Clemens went through a few lesser years before heading to Toronto where he dominated again as evidenced by his two Cy Young Award seasons. He would be entering his age 36 season as a Yankee.
In order to acquire Clemens, the Yankees gave up a package of three players. Let's examine each:
HOMER BUSH - Homer was also a fan favorite. He was an up-and-coming second baseman with great speed and the knack for getting hits. In 55 games between 1997 and 1998, Homer Bush owned a .378 batting average as a Yankee. Bush was also the opposite of Clemens in demeanor. Clemens was serious and sometimes surly. Homer Bush, on the other hand, seemed to be always smiling and always enjoying the moment. Homer Bush seemed to be one guy on the Yankees who might just be your friend. Bush would be entering his age 26 season and all indicators pointed to the fact that he'd be a valuable player to have around - even if he was blocked at second base by Chuck Knoblauch.
GRAEME LLOYD - A tall (6', 8") pitcher from Australia, Graeme Lloyd was an important part of the strong Yankees bullpen that helped them win the World Series in 1996 and 1998. A tough lefty, Lloyd had pitched in 109 games in his three years in pinstripes. And, while his regular season overall record in those three years of 4-3, 3.51 with a WHIP of 1.343 wasn't overly impressive, he was unhittable in the post season. In 13 post season games, totaling 8 innings, Graeme Lloyd allowed only two hits - and never walked a batter or allowed a run. He was also coming off his best overall year as a Yankee in 1998 (3-0, 1.67, 0.850 WHIP). He would be entering his age 32 season.
DAVID WELLS - "Boomer", as he was known, was a pitcher that had always had promise who finally seemed to have found himself in New York. In his two Yankee seasons, David Wells pitched to a 34-14, 3.85 record. His 1998 season wasn't too far off of Clemens' as he finished third in the Cy Young Award voting with an 18-4, 3.49 record that also included his Perfect Game. David Wells was also a force in the post season. In the 1998 playoff and World Series, he went 4-0 and captured the American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award. He was a fan favorite. He would be entering his age 36 season.
In short, the Yankees gave up a lot for Roger Clemens. How did this all work out?
In 1999, Homer Bush hit .320 in 128 games for the Blue Jays. He also stole 32 bases. He was living up to his promise. But, then the bottom seemed to fall out. In 2000, he played in only 76 games, batting just .215. He came back with a .306 performance in 78 games in 2001, but that was basically it for Homer Bush. In 2002, he was sent to the Marlins and he was out of baseball in 2003. In 2004, Homer Bush made a surprising return to the Yankees appearing in 9 games in May and June.
Graeme Lloyd was his typical self in 1999 (5-3, 3.63, 1.264 WHIP), but he got injured and sat out the 2000 season. Between 2001 and 2003, he bounced around playing for the Brewers, Marlins, Mets, and Royals. He wasn't the same pitcher after the injury. In fact, when looking at his 1998 season, it was the outlier in his overall career. 1998 was the only season that Lloyd had a WHIP under 1.000. It seems Lloyd was traded at just the right moment.
David Wells pitched well in 1999 (17-10, 4.82) and very well (20-8, 4.11) in 2000. In 2000, Wells was, again, third in the Cy Young Award voting. After a poor 2001 season with the White Sox, David Wells returned to the Yankees and put up some good years in 2002 and 2003, although he was not the pitcher he had been in the post season before he left New York. Wells then left the Yankees again and pitched for a host of teams including the Padres, the Dodgers, and... the Red Sox. Wells was also a player who brought some controversy as he seemed to relish in the fact that he wasn't in shape and there was the perception that lack of preparation may have caused him to pitch poorly in a playoff game that the Yankees lost.
And, then there was Roger Clemens.
With Roger Clemens in the rotation, the Yankees won the World Series in 1999 and 2000. In his five seasons in New York, he went 77-36, 3.99. Clemens pitched over 1,000 innings as a Yankee. He won the 2001 Cy Young Award with a 20-3, 3.51 record.
Clemens also brought out the raw emotions of the sport. He was not embraced by the fans as David Wells had been. Absent of the 2001 season, while he pitched very well, his performance, at times, seemed to be not quite up to par in some of his years as a Yankee (1999 14-10, 2000 13-8, 2002 13-6). Clemens was also not as dominating of a pitcher in the post season as Wells had been. But to be fair, he did have a 9 inning, 1 hit, game with 15 strikeouts against the Mariners in 2000 - which was one of the greatest post season pitching performances of all-time.
Clemens was also a lightning rod of controversy, never more so than with his battles with Mike Piazza of the Mets and those some famous beanball incidents. And then, there was the steroids and Clemens' retirement only to un-retire, twice, once to dramatically help the Yankees when they seemingly need him the most. Of course, when Roger Clemens left for Houston, Andy Pettitte followed... This is a multi-layered story.
This was a very difficult trade to assign a final grade to. David Wells left New York and found success in Toronto. Would be have continued that in New York? Would Wells have outpitched Clemens, especially in those years when Clemens wasn't other worldly?
During Clemens' time in New York, he earned an overall WAR of 21.2. In three of his first five seasons with the Yankees, Clemens was a 4.0+ WAR pitcher.
David Wells earned 9.1 WAR in his first three years after leaving the Yankees. He earned another 8.1 in his two years when he returned to New York. He was still an effective pitcher.
In their years after leaving in the trade, neither Homer Bush nor Graeme Lloyd accumulated much WAR or made too much of an impact - especially after Bush's one best season in 1999.
It is clear that Brian Cashman gave up a lot to get Roger Clemens. The Yankees made the post season in each of Clemens' years in New York. He won a Cy Young Award as a Yankee. The Yankees won two World Series. And, judging by WAR, in the first three years after the trade, Clemens outpitched Wells 13.1 WAR (Clemens) to 9.1 WAR (Wells). But it's close. Oh so close.
In making this trade, Brian Cashman demonstrated that he is not afraid to make the big deal and that he was willing to do something unpopular to help the team. Cashman was probably surprised by how well Wells did after the trade considering his age and aversion to exercise as contrasted to Clemens who was a player who worked out religiously and was a much better bet to be effective going forward as both pitchers entered their late 30's.
This is a results business, and the results do speak for themselves. I'll give Cashman a solid B on this trade for all of the reasons above - a willingness to do what is necessary to help the team, the courage of his convictions, and the results. He gambled on Clemens being a better bet than David Wells. It did work out, though less clearly than one may have thought when the trade first went down. In the end, we can't ignore the back-to-back World Series championships in 1999 and 2000 of which Roger Clemens was a part. Cashman gets the B, but, this evaluator might be giving him too much of the benefit of the doubt.
Grading thus far:
- Chuck Knoblauch trade: B+ (3.3)
- Mike Lowell trade: D- (0.7)
- Roger Clemens trade: B (3.0)
Overall GPA: C+ (2.33)
(Comments welcome, but please remember to keep it clean and appropriate.)