The Yankees have a number of new players on their roster in 2014, and some, like Brian Roberts and Kelly Johnson, are veterans on one-year contracts. Acquiring players such as them is nothing new for the franchise. The one-year deal is a low-risk/high-reward type deal. They could crash and burn like Kevin Youkilis last year, or they could rise to the challenge and help propel the Yankees into the playoffs.
Bobby Bonds, 1975
Long before Barry Bonds was doing insane things to baseballs and generating ridiculous fact lists, Pops was a tremendous player in his own right. He quickly rose to prominence playing alongside fellow all-around star Willie Mays in San Francisco, batting .273/356/.478 with 186 homers, 263 steals, a 131 OPS+, and 37.9 rWAR out west in just seven seasons. By the end of '74 though, the Giants were unsure about his future, perhaps in part due to his growing alcoholism. So in one of the most divisive trades in Yankees history, the Bronx Bombers sent the incredibly popular successor to Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer, to San Francisco in exchange for Bonds. Murcer and his fans were crushed, but the trade made a ton of sense.
Murcer was a consistent All-Star, but he was never as well-rounded as Bonds. The Yankees were getting an absolutely electric player, and though Bill Virdon's team missed the playoffs in '75, that could hardly be blamed on Bonds. The righthanded hitter became the first 30/30 player in franchise history by bashing 32 homers and swiping 30 bases. The 32 homers were made more impressive by the fact that the Yankees were playing in pitcher-friendly Shea Stadium in Flushing while Yankee Stadium was being renovated. Thus, his triple slash of .270/.375/.512 generated a gaudy 151 OPS+, sixth in the league. He made the All-Star team and his 5.1 rWAR trailed only catcher Thurman Munson for best on the team. Alas, Bonds's Bronx tenure was brief. Just 13 1/2 months after acquiring him, the Yankees internally felt the same reservations about Bonds's future due to his alcoholism as the Giants. They decided to trade him to the Angels for starter Ed Figueroa and center fielder Mickey Rivers. Both were key players on their championship teams of the late '70s, so it worked out for the Yankees. However, it did leave Bonds's one-season cameo as a curious footnote in Yankees history.
Raul Ibanez, 2012
A New York City native, Ibanez had a long and successful career well before joining the Yankees as a 40-year-old in 2012. The hitter's version of Jamie Moyer, Ibanez was unremarkable at the time of his 30th birthday. Then out of seemingly nowhere, Ibanez went on to hit more homers after the age of 30 than almost any other player in baseball history. He has gone from 28 career homers at age 30 to the 300-homer milestone as of the start of 2014, which will be his 19th season. At the end of 2011, it seemed like the lefty slugger was finally fading for the Phillies. He had his first season under a 100 OPS+ since his twenties, and his atrocious defense made him a -2.1 rWAR player, third-worst in baseball. Hoping that the short porch at Yankee Stadium would recharge his bat, the Yankees signed him to a one-year, $1.1 million contract toward the beginning of spring training.
Ibanez looked awful in camp, batting a mere .150/.190/.333 in 21 games, but he managed to get his game going at the start of the season, hitting .273/.336/.582 with nine homers in 34 games through May 20th. The notoriously streaky Ibanez then was mostly quiet for the next four months, nearly returning to spring training form with a .198/.274/.338 triple slash through September 19th. He only hit six dingers in 85 games and did not endear himself to the fans at all through his defense. Then suddenly, his game was resurrected in a 14-inning epic against the AL West champion Athletics on September 20th. Ibanez belted a pair of homers, including a game-tying shot with one out in the bottom of the 13th, leading the Yankees to a dramatic 10-9 victory. He was scorching hot over the final two weeks while the Yankees were neck-and-neck with the Orioles at the top of the division. In Game 161, he golfed another game-tying two-run homer, this time against Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey. For good measure, he won the game in the bottom of the 12th on a grounder through the left side to clinch at least a tie for the AL East crown.
In the playoffs, Ibanez continued his mystifying late-game homer heroics with a trio of blasts that cemented his place in Yankees history. With the Division Series against the Orioles knotted at one game each and the O's winning Game 3 by a run in the ninth, Joe Girardi pinch-hit Ibanez for the injured Alex Rodriguez. Ibanez promptly took closer Jim Johnson deep to tie the game. Two innings later while facing Brian Matusz, Ibanez won it with his only homer against lefthanded pitching all year long, a monster walk-off blast that gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the series. The Yankees won it in Game 5 by a score of 3-1, as Ibanez contributed then as well with a RBI single in the fifth that broke the scoreless tie. The Yankees trailed Game 1 of the ALCS against the Tigers 4-0 in the ninth, but they rallied to bring Ibanez up as the tying run with two outs. Amazingly, Ibanez came through again by taking Jose Valverde deep to tie the game. The rest of the series was completely forgettable for the Yankees, but no Yankees fan should forget Ibanez's 2012 for a long, long time.
Don Bollweg & Bill Renna, 1953
Casey Stengel's greatest strength as a manager was likely his mastery of the platoon, as he consistently squeezed value out of his bench year after year while the Yankees captured ten AL pennants and seven World Series titles during his 12 seasons as skipper. In '53, these skills were on full display, as Bollweg, a 32-year-old lefty first baseman with 10 career games played, managed to hit .297/.384/.503 with a 142 OPS+ in 70 games. Renna was a 28-year-old rookie with no prior experience, and as an outfielder, he batted .314/.385/.463 with a 132 OPS+ in 61 games. The Yankees won 99 games and their record fifth straight championship in '53; neither Renna or Bollweg ever approached those numbers again in brief careers. Stengeled.
Kerry Wood, 2010
In the days before David Robertson had his walks under control, the Yankees badly desired a better bridge to closer Mariano Rivera than what they were getting from Robertson, Boone Logan, and Joba Chamberlain. At the trade deadline, they turned to Wood, the former Cubs Rookie of the Year and strikeout artist who was now the Indians' closer. Acquired for mere players to be named later (though perhaps the separate absorbing of the miserable Austin Kearns in exchange for future starter Zach McAllister should be included), Wood was dynamite for the Yankees down the stretch in 2010. He allowed just two earned runs in 26 innings to produce a 0.69 ERA, stranding nine of ten runners inherited as well. His control was shaky like Robertson's, but he was clearly more experienced at the art of stranding runners. He struck out 10.1 per nine innings and helped the Yankees lock down a playoff spot. They were eliminated in the ALCS, but Wood provided a sizable raise to the Yankee 'pen.
Tony Clark & John Olerud, 2004
With slugging first baseman Jason Giambi gone for the majority of the season due to a benign tumor growing on his pituitary gland, the Yankees turned to the tall switch-hitting slugger Clark, signed in the off-season as a backup. The popular MLBPA player representative and future president was quite capable for awhile, slugging 16 homers and batting .242/.346/.484 through July 21st. He even tossed in a three-homer game against the Blue Jays. When the Mariners cut veteran lefty John Olerud loose at the beginning of August though, the Yankees jumped at the opportunity to get him. Olreud started most of the games the rest of the way and hit .280/.367/.396. Thus, the powerful Yankees didn't miss much of a beat while Giambi was out.
Mike Torrez, 1977
An underrated boost to the Yankees' 1977 starting rotation, Torrez was acquired early in the season from the Athletics for bits and pieces, and he went on to start 31 games, pitching 217 innings in the process. The righthanded workhorse was good for a productive 2.4 rWAR, 217 innings, 104 ERA+, and 15 complete games despite a low strikeout rate. He shined his brightest in the World Series against the Dodgers, when he hurled a pair of complete games with a 2.50 ERA, securing the Yankees' 21st title on a pop-up directly to him. Plus, he served as a Yankees sleeper agent by giving up Bucky Dent's one-game playoff homer a year later while pitching for the Red Sox! How courteous.
Jack McDowell, 1995
Jon Lieber, 2004
Bartolo Colon, 2011
Lightning round! Like Torrez, all three of these starters had "teh veteran presents" and actually backed it up with solid, productive seasons in the Yankees' rotation for playoff teams. "Black Jack" McDowell gets a bad rep from flipping off Yankee Stadium and giving up the crushing season-ending double in ALDS Game 5 to Edgar Martinez, which ended beloved captain Don Mattingly's career. That shouldn't discount his 118 ERA+ over 30 starts and 217 2/3 innings for a team that wouldn't have made the playoffs without his consistent performances in the rotation while most of the other starters suffered from injury.
Lieber was signed for two years and $3.5 million in '03 after some good years from the Cubs, and he spent the whole season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The Yankees' low-risk investment paid off in '04 when Lieber stayed a steady presence in the rotation all year long. He worked fast, had the best control in the league with a minuscule 0.9 BB/9, and he was at his best down the stretch with a 3.21 ERA in his final 10 starts. The Yankees won the division title, and Lieber pitched well in each of his three playoff starts. He parlayed his success into a three-year, $21 million deal with the Phillies, so the deal worked out well for everybody! Hurrah.
Colon's career had basically no pulse at the start of 2011. He hadn't pitched in the majors since July 24, 2009, and he last posted a season of over 0.2 rWAR during his Cy Young year in 2005. He was 38 and sat out all of 2010. So... kaput. Then in the Winter League under Yankees bench coach Tony Pena, he seemed to have life again, so Pena convinced the Yankees to give him a minor league contract and an invitation to spring training. The Yankees paid Colon $900,000 in 2011 and he rewarded them with a career renaissance. He found his way into the Yankees' depleted starting rotation and through mid-August pitched to a 3.31 ERA and 2.4 BB/9 in 119 2/3 innings. The big righty even mixed in his first shutout in five years during a four-hit dominance of the Athletics on Memorial Day. Although he faded somewhat down the stretch likely due to fatigue and wasn't on the Yankees' playoff roster, he has now secured another $25 million through contracts from the A's and Mets. Maybe it was powered by HGH, maybe it wasn't. Regardless, it was fun to watch for everyone.
Jack Clark, 1988
In the days before OBP was truly appreciated, the former NL slugger Clark was maligned during his one year in the Bronx because he only hit .242 and fanned 141 times. However, those figures were accompanied by 27 homers, a .381 OBP, a 130 OPS+, and 2.8 rWAR. Suh-wing and a miss there, Clark critics. Dude was fine.
Aaron Boone, 2003
Chicken Hawks, 1921
He hit .288/.333/.479 with a 103 OPS+ in 41 games for the Yankees' first-ever pennant winners. Also, the guy was called Chicken Hawks.