The last time the Yankee brass made a deal that defied conventional wisdom was 1994, when Gene Michael dealt Roberto Kelly to the Reds for Paul O’Neill. Kelly, a two-time all-star and arguably the team’s best player during dark days of the early 1990s, was considered by many a superior player to the Reds’ O’Neill, a talented but flawed right fielder whose inability to hit left-handers was seen as a liability. Years later, after Kelly’s career petered out and O’Neill became a central figure in the Yankee dynasty, the move was hailed as one of Michaels’ greatest accomplishments.
These days such bold transactions are far and few between. Nearly all of the trades the Yankees have made over the past decade are of the prospect-for-pricey-veteran variety. Javier Vazquez and Curtis Granderson were both acquired this way, and both, it can be argued, have contributed less to their new employer than the prospects used to net them have to theirs. Alex Rodriguez became available because the pinstripes were willing to part with Alfonso Soriano, who was then a few years removed from being a top prospect but was considerably more affordable than A-Rod, whose Yankee-sized contract always seemed more fit for New York than Texas.
For the Yankees, it seems, creative deal-making is a thing of the past. For the foreseeable future our best talent will be shipped off to bring in those players we can’t get on the open market. Aside for the free agent superstars and the few stud prospects we keep around — Hughes, Chamberlain and Cano are notable exceptions — the remainder of the roster will be filled out with replacement level scrubs and veterans who have flamed out long ago.
This complete lack of flexibility is a pity. The Yankees, of course, can afford to buy championships, but the break-the-bank style of player acquisition should be supplemented by a dogged determination to get players who, for whatever reason, are undervalued by their employer. This was the overriding impetus behind the O’Neill-f0r-Kelly swap, a perfect buy low, sell high deal.
To his credit, in 2008 Cashman persuaded Kenny Williams to deal Nick Swisher for the Wilson Betemit, who is currently floundering in the minor leagues. Now Cashman should turn his attention to another undervalued position player: Chris Iannetta. It comes as little surprise that the Red Sox have been long rumored to be after Iannetta, a catcher relegated to the minors by the Rockies’ short-sighted management. Iannetta boasts excellent power and a sharp batting eye; plus, he’s affordable, and under contract until 2012.
Cashman, like the rest of the New York, seems enamored with Francisco Cervelli, a slap hitter who, despite his hot star, does not possess the skills to become an above average catcher. For 13 years the Yankees have had the luxury of having a top-tier bat at the position. But if Jorge Posada can’t catch full time when he returns from the disabled list, the team will have lost one of its most precious advantages over its competitors.
It is unlikely that Chris Iannetta will become an impact bat on par with Paul O’Neill. Like O’Neill, however, Iannetta is vastly undervalued by his team. And we’re betting that if the Yankees wanted him, they wouldn’t need to offer up their best player.