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The best “Secret Santa” gifts in Yankees’ history

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Players to be named later are often unknowns, but some turn into pretty good players.

Santa Claus pays a visit to New York Yankees’ home opener ag Photo by Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

If you’ve exchanged gifts this Christmas and Holiday season, you might’ve participated in a “Secret Santa” exchange. Secret Santas typically involve a group getting together and picking names on who buys who a present within the group, with the giver’s identity often remaining a mystery.

There’s no real way to do that in baseball transactions, but there is occasionally one aspect of trades that can be a mystery.

Players to be named later are often parts of a trade when the final exchanges, for whatever reason, are not fully decided. It’s very unusual for a PTBNL to be someone of note. Most of the time, they only occur in smaller deals, or as a smaller piece in a trade. However occasionally, a player to be named later can turn into something pretty good.

Scott Brosius

After 1997, it had become clear that pitcher Kenny Rogers was not going to work on the Yankees. They then looked for somewhere to trade him, and found it in Oakland, with the return being cash and a player to be named later. A little more than a week after the trade, Brosius was made that player.

In seven years in Oakland, Brosius had been a decent but slightly below average hitter, but became expendable with the likes of prospect Eric Chavez on the horizon. With the Yankees having no obvious option at third base after the expiration of Wade Boggs’ contract, Brosius was a fit.

Brosius quickly slotted right into the Yankees’ third base job, putting up his career-best season in 1998. His 5.3 Baseball Reference WAR season tied his career best as Brosius made his first and only All-Star Game. The year ended with the third baseman winning World Series MVP after hitting .471/.471/.824 in a sweep of the Padres.

Brosius never quite reached the ‘98 peak again, but he was a solid and dependable option as the Yankees won two more titles in 1999 and 2000, coming very close again in 2001. He retied after ‘01 after a four-year Yankee career that was pretty good considering he was a throw-in piece from getting rid of a free agent bust.

Charlie Hayes

This one is a bit of a cheat, as the Yankee stint you remember him from was not the same time as when they got him as a PTBNL.

After four seasons with the Giants and Phillies, the Yankees got him as a player to be named later, a month after a deal that sent pitcher Darrin Chapin to Philadelphia. Hayes spent 1992 as the Yankees regular third baseman before he was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the expansion draft.

Four years later at the deadline, the Yankees brought him back, trading him to the Pirates for — funnily enough — a player to be named later. Hayes was mostly used as a bench player in 1996, but is forever part of a famous moment in Yankees history, having caught the final out of the ‘96 World Series.

Carl Mays

Mays is a complicated figure in baseball history, having thrown the pitch that killed Ray Chapman, among other things. He also played a role in helping the early-1920s Yankees turn into a contender, even if he wasn’t a important piece by the time they broke through in 1923.

A two-time World Series champion with the Red Sox, Mays and Boston started to sour towards each other in 1919. In one game that season, he threw a ball into the stands, hitting a fan. A few weeks after that, he stormed off the mound after being hit in the head by a throw as his catcher attempted to throw out a runner. That would be the last straw. Two weeks after that, Mays was named a played to be named later the day after a Yankees-Red Sox trade that sent to Bob McGraw and Allen Russell to Boston.

This one is a bit of a technicality. Baseball Reference lists him as a PTBNL, despite the fact that he was by far the best and most relevant player in the trade. The reason for that is almost certainly due to the circumstances around the trade.

AL president Ban Johnson had privately suspended Mays after the storming off incident, and had told AL teams not to acquire him while he served his suspension. Johnson apparently feared players following Mays’ path and refusing to play as a way to subvert the reserve clause and force trades. Johnson attempted to block the trade, but was eventually forced to back down from that stance, and Mays was cleared to go to the Yankees.

Mays spent five seasons with the Yankees, leading the AL in wins in 1921. He played for the team in their first ever World Series appearances in ‘21 and ‘22, but had a down season the next year, and didn’t play when the team broke through in ‘23. He was sold to the Reds after that season.

Clete Boyer

Boyer spent eight seasons in New York, after being involved in one of the largest trades in Yankees history. On February 19, 1957, the Yankees and Kansas City Athletics exchanged 12 total players, three of which were PTBNLs. Boyer was one of those three, and went to New York that June. It wasn’t a typical PTBNL trade, as the Yankees essentially used the A’s as an extra farm team and Boyer had likely been planned for the Yankees all along.

Boyer did not actually play for the Yankees in his first two seasons with him, not debuting until 1959. He went on to be a longtime member of the Yankees, helping them to championships in 1961 and ‘62.

Bonus

While the above four have all been about PTBNLs the Yankees brought in, this last one is about one the Yankees traded away — and specifically the player it wasn’t.

When the Yankees acquired Álex Rodríguez, they sent Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later to the Rangers. Texas was given a list of prospects from which to choose for the PTBNL, and took Joaquín Árias.

Árias had a eight-year MLB career, which isn’t bad for a PTBNL. However, he’s not as good as Robinson Canó, who was reportedly one of the other names on the list.

Sources

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/b/brosisc01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/h/hayesch01.shtml

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/m/maysca01.shtml

https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/carl-mays/

https://www.mlb.com/news/10-biggest-trades-in-rangers-history-c300874418