Hello, everyone, I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas and joyous holiday season. The festive period has gotten some of us here at PSA in the mood. Yesterday, Jesse compiled his Christmas wishlist of the four things he’s hoping to see from the Yankees once the new CBA is ratified, and earlier today, Matt remembered some great Yankees “stocking stuffers.” Sticking with the theme, I thought I’d look back on the best “Christmas presents” the Yankees have received and rank them by fWAR.
Granted, the Yankees have never signed nor traded for a player on Christmas Day itself, so I’ve expanded the window of consideration by a week on either end. I’ve also decided only to tally the WAR accrued in the uninterrupted Yankees tenure following their signing/trade, which is why Roger Clemens — signed to his penultimate Yankees contract December 30, 2002 — Dave Righetti — extended December 23, 1987 — and Tommy John — brought back for second Yankees stint December 21, 1987 — all miss out on inclusion in this list. With those qualifications covered, let’s look under the Christmas tree.
12. Gary Sheffield, December 19, 2003 (6.5 fWAR)
Prior to the 2003 season, the Yankees signed Gary Sheffield to a three-year, $39 million contract. Even in his age-35 and age-36 seasons, Sheffield was still one of the best sluggers in the game, topping 30 home runs and 120 RBIs en route to a pair of All-Star appearances.
However, a collision with Toronto’s Shea Hillenbrand in May 2006 led to wrist surgery. That all but ended Sheffield’s Yankee career, as he didn’t return until September and was traded the following offseason with Bobby Abreu now entrenched in right field.
11. Gerrit Cole, December 18, 2019 (6.7 fWAR)
After a masterful two seasons in Houston, during which he transformed into one of the best pitchers in the game, the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a record-setting, nine-year, $324 million contract in the 2019-20 offseason. And while he has been far and away the best Yankees pitcher and a top starter in the league since joining, it’s fair to say Cole so far has not fully delivered on the promise of his arrival, with the Yankees crashing out of the 2021 Wild Card game while their ace tried to pitch on an injured hamstring.
10. Bullet Joe Bush, December 20, 1921 (8.5 fWAR)
In the winter of 1921, the Yankees acquired Bullet Joe Bush as part of a three-player return in a trade that sent Rip Collins, Roger Peckinpaugh, Bill Piercy, Jack Quinn, and $100,000 to the Red Sox. He finished fourth in 1922 AL MVP balloting and was part of the 1923 that won the Yankees’ inaugural World Series title. In three seasons in the Bronx, Bush went 62-38 with a 3.44 ERA and 297 strikeouts, pitching at least 250 innings in each campaign.
9. David Wells, December 24, 1996 (8.7 fWAR)
David Wells signed on for his first Yankees stint prior to the 1997 season and chose number 33 in homage to Babe Ruth. Boomer memorably pitched the 15th perfect game in MLB history — and second in Yankees’ history — on May 17, 1998, reportedly while severely hungover.
Wells would go on to win his second World Series ring that year before being traded to the Blue Jays in the offseason as part of the package that brought Roger Clemens to the Bronx.
T-7. Sad Sam Jones, December 20, 1921 (10.1 fWAR)
Sad Sam Jones was the second of three players included in the aforementioned 1921 trade between New York and Boston. He pitched a no-hitter September 4, 1923, becoming only the third player in MLB history to toss a no-hitter without recording a strikeout. He also clinched the 1923 World Series over the Giants, converting the save in the deciding Game 6. Across five seasons with the Yankees, Jones went 67-56 with a 4.06 ERA and 363 strikeouts.
T-7. Catfish Hunter, December 31, 1974 (10.1 fWAR)
Following a breach-of-contract dispute with the A’s in 1974 when Oakland owner Charlie Finley refused to pay an agreed $50,000 to a life insurance annuity, an arbitrator granted Hunter free agency. Soon after, he became the most expensive player in baseball, signing a groundbreaking five-year, $3.35 million contract with the Yankees. He was a part of the World Series winning squads of 1977 and 1978, but struggled with arm injuries in the final years of his career following back-to-back 300-plus inning seasons in 1974 and 1975. Hunter was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987 but sadly passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1999.
6. Hideki Matsui, December 19, 2002 (12.6 fWAR)
After playing the first 10 years of his career with the Yomiuri Giants, Matsui signed a three-year, $21 million contract with the Yankees in December of 2002. Godzilla terrorized opposing pitchers from his first season in the bigs, narrowly missing out on the Rookie of the Year award after two writers took issue with his age.
Matsui capped of his Yankees tenure in style, winning the 2009 World Series MVP after going 8-for-13 with three home runs and eight RBIs, including his six-RBI smackdown in the decisive Game 6 over the Phillies.
5. Luis Severino, December 26, 2011 (13.0 fWAR)
The Yankees signed Luis Severino as a 17-year-old international free agent in 2011. Despite some early growing pains after debuting in 2015, Severino vaulted himself onto the national stage with a pair of five-plus-win seasons in 2017 and 2018, looking like one of the new aces in the league. Unfortunately, injuries have limited him to just 18 innings since the start of the 2019 season, and the Yankees are hoping he can rediscover some of his dominant form three years and two major injuries removed from sustained success.
4. David Cone, December 21, 1995 (18.1 fWAR)
The Yankees acquired David Cone from the Blue Jays right before the trade deadline in 1995 and extended him for three years, $19.5 million that winter. He was an integral member of the most recent Yankees dynasty that won four titles in five years. He also pitched the 16th perfect game in MLB history just a year after his teammate Wells’ feat.
In an amazing twist, that day was Yogi Berra’s first return to Yankee Stadium after a long feud with George Steinbrenner, and the Hall of Fame catcher caught the ceremonial first pitch that day from Don Larsen, whose perfect game he caught in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.
3. Jason Giambi, December 18, 2001 (21.9 fWAR)
After a two-year stretch in which he won the 2000 AL MVP and was worth almost 17 wins, Jason Giambi signed a seven-year, $120 million contract with the Yankees. Although he never quite hit the heights of his final years in Oakland, Giambi was arguably one of the most underrated players on his Yankees teams, routinely leading the league in walks while still hitting for power.
In seven years in the Bronx, Giambi batted .260/.404/.521 with 209 home runs, 604 RBIs, and a 145 wRC+, narrowly missing out on a ring with the team when his 2009 option was declined.
2. CC Sabathia, December 18, 2008 (31.6 fWAR)
Following his heroics in his half-season with the Brewers, Sabathia signed a then-record seven-year, $161 million contract for a pitcher as part of the inaugural season for the new Yankee Stadium. He helped deliver a title that year and was dominant in his first three seasons in the Bronx, putting up a trio of five-plus-win seasons.
However, chronic issues stemming from a 2011 torn meniscus in his right knee sapped the southpaw of velocity and effectiveness in the latter years of his Yankees tenure, though a change in form did lead to a mini-resurgence from 2016-18 until his retirement in 2019.
1. Babe Ruth, December 26, 1919 (149.9 fWAR)
And finally, who more appropriate to top the list of most valuable Yankees Christmas presents than the WAR king himself, Babe Ruth. On December 26, 1919, Red Sox owner Harry Frazee sold the rights to Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000 and a $350,000 loan from Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert, secured by a mortgage on Fenway park. The rest is history, as Ruth would go on to win four World Series with the Yankees, setting the single-season home run record at 60 in 1927 — broken by Roger Maris in 1961 — the career home run record at 714 — broken by Henry Aaron in 1974 — and the single-season WAR record of 15 wins in 1923, in the process becoming the most iconic legend in the history of the game.