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The Stephen Drew deal and the rare nature of Yankees/Red Sox trades

The two members of one of baseball's biggest rivalries don't exchange players that often. Surprised?

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Rich Schultz

There were numerous big trades during the MLB Trade Deadline yesterday. Superb players like David Price and Jon Lester were among many to find new homes as MLB teams prepare for the final two months of the season. While there were several trades much more relevant than one the Yankees pulled off yesterday, perhaps none was quite as unusual. With just under an hour left before the deadline, the Yankees swapped infielders with the Red Sox, shipping Kelly Johnson up to Boston in exchange for Stephen Drew. It was a somewhat-minor move, a gamble taken by Yankees GM Brian Cashman that Drew is more the player he was in 2013 than the guy who struggled badly in June, his first full month of 2014. However, the historical implications of the deal made it even more fascinating.

Incredibly, it was the first trade made between the two rivals in almost 17 years. In that trade, consummated on August 13, 1997, the Yankees reacquired former catcher Mike Stanley to be their DH, as they wanted a little bit more power in the lineup with Cecil Fielder on the disabled list. Stanley helped the Yankees win the Wild Card that year by notching an OPS+ of 127 down the stretch, though they fell in the Division Series to the Indians. One of the pitchers sent to Boston in that trade, Jim Mecir, was claimed by the Devil Rays in the '98 expansion draft and didn't end up doing anything for Boston. The other pitcher acquired by Boston in the Stanley trade was Tony Armas. That November, then-Red Sox GM Dan Duquette (former Expos GM) made a deal with Montreal to acquire NL Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez in exchange for pitching prospect Carl Pavano and a player to be named later. That player turned out to be Armas, so the Yankees did inadvertently help the Red Sox acquire Pedro. Whoops. (Of course, it's not like Armas was the deciding factor in the trade--he wasn't even sent to Montreal until a month after the trade became official.)

The Yankees and Red Sox just don't make trades very often. There are a few theories why trades between them are so uncommon. The biggest is probably that any trade made between them would fall under far more scrutiny from their respective fanbases, and that it could create great anger among the fans if it works out poorly.

Exhibit A: Babe Ruth

Purchased by the Yankees on December 26, 1919 --- he was a guy. Ruth was just one of numerous players acquired by Yankees GM Ed Barrow from his old team, and many players on those '20s Yankees were former Red Sox. What a raid.

Exhibit B: Red Ruffing

Acquired by Yankees in exchange for 33-year-old outfielder Cedric Durst and $50,000 on May 6, 1930. Durst played poorly for Boston and never played MLB again after the season. Ruffing became a Hall of Famer and the greatest righthanded starter in franchise history. Whoops.

Exhibit C: Sparky Lyle

Acquired by the Yankees in exchange for first baseman Danny Cater and a player to be named later (Mario Guerrero) on March 22, 1972. Cater and Guerrero didn't make much of an impact for Boston, and both were gone by the time the Red Sox won the '75 AL pennant. Meanwhile, their former closer became the Yankees' bullpen star for most of the rest of the decade, winning two World Series titles and the '77 AL Cy Young Award.

The Red Sox and Yankees have only made four trades in 42 years since the Lyle faux pas. I don't think that's an accident.

The two teams might be reluctant to do anything to greatly boost the other's future. For one thing, Boston GM Ben Cherington told everyone that Lester was available to every team except the Yankees. That's hardly a stunner. The Drew only has a marginal impact on the 2014 campaign, which is lost for the Red Sox, so I'm sure that helped push Cherington to agree to the swap. Had there been prospects involved or a bigger impact player like Lester, then it would have gotten dicey.

Trades aside from basic waiver claims like Esmil Rogers yesterday are additionally just very rare between teams in the same division, as noted by Cashman today on MLB Network Radio. The Yankees and Orioles have made only three trades in the last 21 years, and just one of them was a trade of players, not just a purchase. *Jaret Wright for Chris Britton in November 2006, a move designed to just get Wright out of the Bronx.) The last trade made between the Yankees and Blue Jays was 12 years ago, the infamous Raul Mondesi deal in July 2002, a trade born from Steinbrenner's fury at seeing infielder Enrique Wilson playing right field and screwing up a fly ball. They have made five trades in the last 30 years. The Rays and Yankees have the best trade history of them all--exactly one trade in Tampa's 16-year franchise history. That was just the Yankees purchasing reserve infielder Nick Green in May 2006. There's a reason intra-division trades are unusual.

It's also possible that the Yankees and Red Sox simple dislike for each other contributed to the drought. Former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino got into a battle of words in the press during this timespan of 17 years, and it's possible that the ill will from the sniping made the teams even more reluctant to trade with each other. Steinbrenner's presence on his own might have been enough to cause the Cold War, as he bought the Yankees in 1973 and his GMs made just three trades with Boston during his 37-year tenure.

Nonetheless, the two teams finally ended their embargo with the Drew/Johnson deal. I leave you now with a short list of what's happened in the world since their last trade:

  • Y2K Bug Scare
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' franchise history
  • "Titanic" released to American cinemas
  • Roger Maris's single-season home run record broken six times
  • Death of Princess Diana
  • Yankees prospects Dermis Garcia, Miguel Flames, and Jonathan Amundaray all born
  • Eric Chavez and Roy Halladay's entire MLB careers
  • Monica Lewinsky scandal hits national media
  • Mike Piazza traded to the Mets
  • The European Union adopts the Euro

Also this:

Yeah, it's been awhile. Feel free to chime in with any other notes of what has happened since the last Yankees/Red Sox trade.