The Yankees have had a lot of great players, they’ve had a lot of bad players, and then there were a few greats who just couldn’t hack it in their time with the Yankees. This is an attempt the worst best players that ever played in the Bronx. Dishonorable mentions include A.J. Burnett, Kenny Rogers, Derek Lowe, Alfonso Soriano, and Chili Davis.
Javier Vazquez - 53.9 WAR
A two-time Brian Cashman screw-up, Vazquez was a solid big league pitcher for most of his career, outside of his time spent with the Yankees. They initially brought him in before the 2004 season, he pitched to a 3.56 ERA in the first half, and made his only All-Star appearance. Things went downhill in a hurry after that, and he maintained an abysmal 6.92 ERA in the second half of the season. It was even worse when he proved to be an integral part of the Boston Red Sox overcoming a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 ALCS, but we don’t have to talk about it. After the season he was shipped out, despite having signed an extension with the Yankees.
Fast forward to 2010, Brian Cashman thought he’d try again, but the results were even worse the second time around. A 5.32 ERA and a 5.56 FIP through 157 innings that season eventually pushed him to the bullpen for a brief period of time. Luckily, the Yankees never got a chance for a third time as he retired following the 2011 season.
Lance Berkman - 56.1 career WAR
Throughout his 12 years with the Houston Astros, Berkman was an offensive force in the team’s lineup. He typically hit for power and average, had been named an All-Star five times, and received MVP votes almost annually. By 2010, his abilities were starting to erode. He was no longer hitting for average with a .245/.372/.436 batting line, his power numbers were dipping, and he was a few months away from reaching free agency. The Yankees, looking for an improvement over Marcus Thames at designated hitter, thought that Berkman could still add some pop.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t have been more wrong. After sending off future closer Mark Melancon, Berkman completely bottomed out, hitting .255/.358/.349 with just one home run in 123 plate appearances. To make matters worse, he spent time on the disabled list with a sprained ankle, and even admitted to being completely uncomfortable playing in New York. His 2011 renaissance season with the Cardinals proved he still had something left in the tank, but it never worked out with the Yankees.
Dwight Gooden - 56.7 career WAR
Gooden will always be remembered for his 1996 no-hitter against the Mariners, but outside of that great day, there was nothing all that good about his career in pinstripes. He finished the 1996 season with a 5.01 ERA and 4.85 FIP over 170 innings, and his numbers were even worse following his May 14th no-hitter. He suffered a hernia in 1997, missing nearly two months of the season before producing a 4.91 ERA and a 5.27 FIP in just 106 innings.
Bizarrely, these numbers were actually considered to be around league average at the time, because the steroid era was a terrible time to be a pitcher. In his time with the Yankees, Gooden suffered from some of the worst peripherals of his career, with a walk rate over 4.50 and a strikeout rate falling below 6.00 in ‘97.
Despite all his talent, it was clear that Gooden was never the same player following his 1995 suspension. The Yankees gave him a chance to get back on course, but it didn’t work out. He managed to leave us with some pretty nice memories, though. Gooden got another chance with the Yankees in 2000 where he spent the season with three different teams and managed to put together some decent appearances before calling it a career.
Ichiro Suzuki - 58.2 career WAR
A future Hall of Famer with a fantastic glove was an easy pickup for the Yankees in the middle of the 2012 season. The move paid off as the 38-year-old hit .322/.340/.454 with five home runs and 14 stolen bases to turn around his season. Ichiro’s Yankees career probably should have ended there, but ownership had other ideas. Smelling the bonuses that would come with his 3,000th hit, the Yankees signed him to an additional two seasons and things got ugly.
He was initially expected to serve as the team’s fourth outfielder in 2013, however, several freak injuries to Curtis Granderson opened up playing time for Ichiro to accumulate 555 plate appearances. No longer a .300 hitter, his OBP also plummeted below .300 and was generally helpless with the bat. He saw a drop in playing time in 2014, but he still managed to appear in 143 games. As cool as it once was to have Ichiro Suzuki on the Yankees, the novelty quickly wore off as he put together the worst seasons of his career with New York.
Andruw Jones - 67.1 career WAR
For the first 11 seasons of his career, Andruw Jones was the amazing new face of baseball. Then he turned 30, got fat, and everything shut down on him. Reduced to a limited role on the bench, the Yankees only needed him to perform against left-handed pitching, and it worked. Jones had a .851 OPS with 13 home runs over 77 games in 2011. Limiting his time spent facing right-handed pitching turned out to be a great decision by Brian Cashman. The only problem was that they thought they could catching lightning in a bottle twice.
After completing a successful first season in pinstripes, the Yankees felt there was no reason they shouldn’t try it again with him. Signing Jones to a new deal for the 2012 season, he hit .197/.294/.408 in 94 games with 14 home runs. The home runs were there, but the consistency against left-handed pitching was not. As a player who could no longer hit, nor offer much in the field, Jones turned out to be a liability in the end.
Ivan Rodriguez - 68.9 career WAR
Pudge is considered to be one of the greatest catchers of all time, so who better to bring in after your starting catcher misses extended time with an injury? 2008 was a disastrous season for the Yankees behind the plate. Jorge Posada missed a significant amount of time with a torn labrum in his shoulder and there was no significant backup. The team would end up needing six different catchers to make it through the season with Ivan Rodriguez being the midseason addition tasked with righting the ship.
At the time of the trade, Pudge was in the midst of possibly his best offensive season in years, hitting .295/.338/.417 with the Tigers before heading over to the Bronx. Unfortunately, his bat never really showed up with him. He hit a mere .219/.257/.323, playing in 33 games for the Yankees, and doing very little to make up for the loss of Posada. A catching tandem of Jose Molina and Rodriguez proved to be a very depressing thing to watch.
Kevin Brown - 76.5 career WAR
The name Kevin Brown will live on in infamy among Yankees fans for all eternity. Despite the disdain for him amongst the fanbase, as a six-time All-Star and after many MVP and Cy Young votes, Brown was likely a few votes away from becoming a real Hall of Fame candidate. He came to the Yankees in 2004 and actually had an acceptable season in the Bronx. His 4.09 ERA and 4.03 FIP in 132 innings was above league average for the time, however there was that incident at the end of the season where he punched a wall and broke his hand.
In the 2004 playoffs, he doomed the Yankees when he allowed five runs in 1.1 innings, surrendering a big home run to David Ortiz of all people, and leaving the team with an insurmountable deficit. He had already pitched poorly in Game 3, but luckily it was a blowout win. He returned in 2005, but had a 6.50 ERA in 73 innings while dealing with multiple injuries. He was done for the season by July and never returned to the mound.
Tommy John - 79.4 career WAR
Known primarily for the surgery, Tommy John actually enjoyed a long and successful 26-year career. After undergoing the famous procedure in 1974 and missing the entire 1975 season, he began his first stint with the Yankees in ‘79. He was considered to be one of the best pitchers in baseball in 1979 and 1980. John made two All-Star appearances, was a 20-game winner twice, and pitched in his third World Series before he was traded away in 1982.
After the 1985 season, the Yankees brought John back on a year-to-year basis, signing him to one-year deals from 1986 until 1989, and this is where the magic wore off. By 1989 he was 46 years old and he was basically done. Over 10 games he pitched to a 5.80 ERA with a 4.60 FIP in 63 innings. His strikeout rate dropped to a career-low 2.54 with a 3.11 BB/9 that was the highest since before his surgery. The Yankees had signed him to one too many deals, and he was released in May. It was an overall solid career, brought down by one last disaster season.
Randy Johnson - 110.6 Career WAR
One of the greatest pitchers in the history of baseball, it was no surprise that George Steinbrenner demanded that the Yankees acquire him at some point in his career. Unfortunately, he was in his 40s by the time he came to the Bronx and what happened should have been expected. Following a disappointing ending to the 2004 season, Brian Cashman sent Javier Vazquez to Arizona in order to make his boss happy.
His first season in New York was decent, but he was hardly the same pitcher you came to expect from the Big Unit. He was coming off a season where he returned to his former Cy Young performance level, putting up a 2.60 ERA and 2.30 FIP in 245 innings to finish second in the voting behind Roger Clemens. The Yankees thought he could duplicate that success, but it was never meant to be.
In 2005, Johnson pitched to a decent 3.79 ERA and 3.78 FIP over 225 innings, a number no one should be upset over, even if you expected more from him. The only concern was that his strikeout numbers were way down. Things got ugly the following year when he maintained a 5.00 ERA with a 4.27 FIP over “just” 205 innings as his strikeout numbers continued to drop down to 7.55 K/9. It was discovered that he had been concealing a balky back for most of the year and in the offseason underwent surgery to fix a herniated disc.
Following the death of his brother, Johnson request to be traded back to Arizona to be closer to his family. The Yankees, being sympathetic, and with no real desire to hold onto an injured former star, had no trouble obliging.
Roger Clemens - 133.7 career WAR
By the time Clemens began his career with the Yankees, he was no longer the same pitcher he was in Boston and Toronto. Of course, he was still an effective pitcher during his time in pinstripes, making two All-Star Games and winning the 2001 Cy Young Award (though it’s debatable whether or not he deserved to win it even over his own teammate Mike Mussina). A five-year career in the Bronx culminated in a 3.99 ERA and 3.77 FIP, which was still above average at the time, but decidedly very un-Rocket-like.
After the 2003 season, Clemens decided to settle down in Houston (alongside Andy Pettitte) where he expected to finish out his career pitching closer to his Texas home. After another Cy Young win and two All-Star Games, it looked like the 2006 season would be his last. That was until the Yankees brought him back out of retirement for one last hurrah where he famously appeared in George Steinbrenner’s box to tell the fans he was returning.
Despite the season being well underway, the Yankees paid him $17 million to return, which amounted to about $1 million per start. Clemens joined the big league roster in June for his age-44 season. Things didn’t work out as well as everyone hoped, and the Rocket sputtered to the tune of a 4.18 ERA and 4.14 FIP over 99 innings. His 6.18 K/9 was easily the worst of his career, and in the playoffs that year he aggravated a hamstring injury that finally brought his season–and career–to a close.