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Players who brought their careers back from the dead with the Yankees

In the spirit of Easter, let’s look back at some Yankees who saw their careers receive new life in the Bronx.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

You may have missed it due to the fact that the lack of activity made it feel no different than any other day since the middle of March, but yesterday was Easter Sunday (except for Orthodox Christians, who celebrate it this coming Sunday). Inspired by the man who decided that, after trying death, life was just so much more interesting, let’s take a look at some Yankees who in recent years have seen the resurrection of their careers while in pinstripes.

Cameron Maybin

On Opening Day in 2019, things were looking bleak for the 12-year veteran. Fresh off a season in which he posted a .249/.326/.336 in 129 games at the age of 31, Maybin was forced to settle for a minor-league contract with the San Francisco Giants, with an invitation to spring training. Failing to make the team, he was released, then signed a minor-league deal with the Cleveland Indians the following week.

At face value, Maybin’s career did not look completely dead in the water—after all, there’s always a need for backup outfielders who can at least fake it in center field. However, he was already on the wrong side of 30 in a free-agent market that preferred to invest in younger players with higher ceilings than veterans with higher floors. Languishing in the minor leagues for too long would sap him of any value that he had.

The injury-riddled Yankees, in need of an outfielder after injuries to Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and Clint Frazier, purchased his contract from Cleveland, and the rest is history. Maybin put together the best season of his career, hitting 11 home runs and posting a 128 OPS+ in 82 games, allowing him to sign a one-year deal with the Detroit Tigers over the winter.

Chris Young

Before there was Cameron Maybin, there was Chris Young. When the Yankees signed the outfielder to a minor league contract after he was released by the Mets during August 2014, it had been four years since he had been a league-average hitter. Before his release, he had posted a dismal 81 OPS+.

Upon coming to the Yankees, however, Young suddenly found his power stroke, with 11 of his 20 hits in September going for extra bases. His 145 OPS+ in that time earned him a one-year deal with the Yankees in 2015, during which time he posted a 109 OPS+ in 140 games, and he actually started the Wild Card Game against the Houston Astros over Jacoby Ellsbury.

Young spent the next two years as an important role player on the Boston Red Sox, before last playing for the Los Angeles Angels in 2018. Although his career did not last long after his time in pinstripes, his performance as a Yankee nonetheless breathed new life and extended it.

Brandon McCarthy

In what seems to have become a pattern in recent Yankees history, the 2014 squad was battled by injuries, particularly in the rotation—of the original five starters, only Hiroki Kuroda stayed healthy the entire season. Desperate for arms, Brian Cashman sent Vidal Nuno to the Diamondbacks in exchange for the struggling veteran Brandon McCarthy. At the time, McCarthy had an ERA of 5.01, and had not had posted a sub-4.50 ERA in two seasons.

However, by encouraging McCarthy to use his cutter more often, which the Diamondbacks had him scrap, he became a lights-out pitcher in the second half of the season. In 14 starts, McCarthy posted a 2.89 ERA (3.22 FIP) and recorded the best K/BB ratio of his career to that point (6.31).

McCarthy turned this dominant stretch into a four-year, $48M contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Spending large chunks of time on the injured list, he never quite lived up to his performance with the Yankees, but that hot stretch in 2014 revitalized the career of a pitcher who had been spinning his wheels with an organization that clearly did not know at the time how to best develop pitchers.

Eric Chavez

You would have been forgiven if you expected nothing out of Eric Chavez in a Yankees uniform. After all, when the Yankees signed him to a minor league deal before the 2011 season, it had been five years since he had played more than 90 games in a season, and his OPS+ for the three previous years was a 61. He appeared to simply be one of a number of veterans that Brian Cashman rolled the dice on with minor league contracts and an invite to spring training, such as Mark Prior, Freddy Garcia, and Bartolo Colon.

His first season in pinstripes was largely forgettable, posting an 82 OPS+ and missing over two months due to a broken foot. The Yankees, however, re-signed him to an incentive-laden deal prior to the 2012 season, and they received more than a return on their investment. Playing more than perhaps expected due to injuries to Brett Gardner and third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Chavez turned the clock back almost ten years: in 113 games, he authored a .281/.348/.496 batting line, his best since 2004.

Chavez played with the Arizona Diamondbacks for the next two seasons, continuing his solid hitting as a part-time player, before abruptly announcing his retirement at the end of July in 2014 while on the injured list.

Bartolo Colon

The most famous player to have revitalized his career as a Yankee, Bartolo Colon signed with the Yankees not only having missed the entire 2010 season due to injury, but under a cloud of suspicion, as the surgery used to repair damage in his right shoulder and elbow often involved the use of HGH, a banned substance. Even without that distraction, at 38 years old, it seemed unlikely that Colon—who had not thrown 100 innings in a season since winning the Cy Young Award in 2005—would be able to mount a comeback.

Despite missing some time with injuries during the season, however, 2011 would be the beginning of a new career for Colon. Throwing 164 innings in 29 appearances (26 starts), he posted a respectable 4.00 ERA (3.83 FIP) and struck out 7.4 batters per nine innings, his best rate since 2001. He played for seven more seasons afterwards, making two All-Star teams in his 40s, before last pitching for the Texas Rangers in 2018 at the age of 45. Don’t call him retired, however — Colon has still been throwing, and hopes to latch onto a team for the 2020 season at the age of 47.