16 years ago, the famous '96 Yankees were in a situation very similar to the one the current club finds itself in. They held a 12-game lead over the second place Baltimore Orioles on July 28th, but even though the team fortified its offense by adding slugger Cecil Fielder, it went into a tailspin. By August 23rd, the Orioles made up seven games on the Yankees and stood only five games behind. The Yankees recognized that if they made the playoffs, they would need a good lefthanded pitcher in their bullpen to neutralize lefthanded hitters like Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro and Atlanta's Ryan Klesko. General manager Bob Watson had been trying to find such a southpaw most of the year, and the team cycled through several bullpen lefties like Steve Howe and Dale Polley. None of them successfully filled the role though, so Watson continued his search. The team asked its best lefthanded hitters for their opinion on the toughest lefthanded reliever, and the unanimous opinion was Australia native Graeme Lloyd of the Milwaukee Brewers, who held lefties to a minuscule .210 batting average through August 23rd.
Watson offered sinkerballing reliever Bob Wickman to the GM Sal Bando in exchange for Lloyd, but Bando asked for fourth outfielder Gerald Williams as well. Watson was reluctant to part with Williams because he was a great clubhouse guy and he did not want to call up outfield prospect Ruben Rivera, who had been briefly suspended by the AAA team earlier in the season and complained about being demoted from the majors on June 15th (Williams was also regarded as a good defensive outfielder, but modern statistics indicate otherwise). To avoid this conflict, Watson also asked for '92 AL Rookie of the Year Pat Listach, whose role on the Brewers diminished quickly after his first season. The deal was completed on August 23, 1996: Lloyd and Listach went to the Yankees, and Wickman and Williams went to the Brewers. Although Watson denied that the team's recent slump affected the trade, he said, ''There was no other quality left-hander out there and I didn't want to lose the opportunity to get this particular young man. And we're running out of time.''
The trade immediately looked awful from the Yankees' perspective. Listach never played a game for New York, as he was put on the DL three days after the trade with a foot fracture previously unnoticed by X-rays. Lloyd struggled to a 53.90 ERA in five appearances, and he later mentioned that he took a cortisone shot to his elbow shortly before the trade, which caused his arm to feel numb and ineffective. The Yankees knew nothing about these faults beforehand, so the Brewers also sent them reliever Ricky Bones, who did nothing of worth for them in four games. Williams was ineffective with the Brewers, but Wickman pitched to a 3.24 ERA and a 163 ERA+ down the stretch for Milwaukee. Owner George Steinbrenner felt humiliated, telling Watson, "They pulled your pants down, Bob. You were a good player, but you are a horseshit executive."
Fortunately for Watson, the deal looked much better during the Yankees' postseason run in October. Lloyd barely made the playoff roster over Polley and was booed in ALDS Game 1 pregame ceremonies at Yankee Stadium, but he retired all three Texas Ranger lefties he faced on seven pitches. He gave up a single to the only batter he faced in Game 2, center fielder Darryl Hamilton, but that was the last he hit he surrendered for the remainder of the postseason. Lloyd retired all 11 batters he faced from the ALCS onward, emerging as an unsung hero in the World Series win over the Atlanta Braves with a perfect combined 2.2 inning stint in four games. Wickman became the best player out of the deal (a 3.57 ER and a 126 ERA+ in a 15-year career), but since Lloyd helped bring the Yankees a championship in '96 and again in '98, the trade was certainly worth it. The deal was completed 16 years ago today.
Lloyd's postseason career with the Yankees: 13 games, 8 IP, 0.00 ERA, 2 H, 0 BB, 6 K.
Other sources: Sherman, Joel. Birth of a Dynasty: Behind the Pinstripes with the 1996 Yankees. New York: Rodale, 2006.