Longtime Yankees general Brian Cashman is no stranger to the midseason trade market, as despite his (well-earned) reputation as someone not willing to significantly overpay in a deal, he has ended up making an acquisition before the trade deadline more often than not. Typically, he waits until the week of the deadline to make a move; once in a while, however, Cashman has struck early, primarily to fill a major hole on the roster.
With the injury to Aaron Hicks making a major trade seem inevitable barring something unexpected, let’s take a look at the five most notable* early-season trades that Cashman has made in his tenure as the Yankees’ GM.
*For the purposes of this article, a notable trade is considered one where actual players are swapped, not simply cash or players-to-be-named-later.
June 29, 2000 - David Justice
We tend to think of the dynasty years as a powerhouse team, due in part to the powerhouse that was the 1998 team. However, the 2000 Yankees, were far from that despite capturing the third championship in a row, winning only 87 games and finishing the season in the middle of the pack with 5.41 runs/game and a 103 OPS+.
Those values would have been much worse, however, had they not acquired David Justice from Cleveland in exchange for Jake Westbrook, Zach Day, and Ricky Ledée, as the Yankees were trotting out only three players — Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter, and Bernie Williams — who were above-average offensively that year. Desperate for a power bat and unable to swing a deal for Sammy Sosa or Juan Gonzalez, the Yankees front office turned to the aging Justice for power.
Playing mostly in left field but occasionally subbing in for Paul O’Neill in right, Justice delivered, knocking 20 home runs in only 78 games, with a .305/.391/.585 slash that was good for a 145 OPS+. He came up even bigger in the ALCS against the Mariners, when he won MVP honors for slugging .538 and delivering the go-ahead, seventh-inning homer in Game 6 that would send the Yankees to the Subway Series.
June 20, 2000 - José Vizcaíno
Justice, however, was not the first move that the Yankees made in 2000. Acquiring Vizcaíno from the Dodgers in exchange for Jim Leyritz was not driven by offensive concerns, but rather by second baseman Chuck Knoblauch’s yips, which had turned him into an absolute nightmare on defense.
Vizcaíno split time as the starter and filled in as a defensive replacement late in other games — sometimes coming in as early as the fifth! Of course, despite the fact that his glove was the reason he was acquired, Vizcaíno’s most lasting impact came with the bat, as he went 4-for-6 with the walk-off single in the Fall Classic opener that kicked off the Subway Series in memorable fashion.
July 1, 2002 - Raúl Mondesi
Out of the nine spots in the starting lineup, the 2002 Yankees started the season with a definitive starter entrenched at pretty much every position; the one position that wasn’t, right field, was filled by a platoon of Shane Spencer and John Vander Wal. Looking to bolster the lineup, George Steinbrenner called up the Toronto Blue Jays and brokered a trade for Mondesi, who had been struggling in 2002 (a .224/.301/.435 slash) but who had a longer track record of success (a career .282/.335/.499 slash).
Yea, you read that right — Cashman did not make this trade, but Steinbrenner, having heard Tim McCarver say on a national broadcast that the Yankees needed Mondesi in right field, went above his general manager’s head to make it happen. Ultimately, while Mondesi did not play terribly as a Yankee, he wasn’t the upgrade that the Boss expected, finishing the year with a .241/.315/.430 slash in pinstripes. The Yankees were bounced in the ALDS by the Angels, and Cashman ultimately flipped Mondesi to the D-backs at the 2003 trade deadline.
June 30, 2009 - Eric Hinske
Unlike the other players on this list, the 2009 Yankees weren’t looking for Hinske to be an everyday starter for them, as they had Nick Swisher starting in right field, Johnny Damon in left, Mark Teixeira at first base, and Alex Rodriguez at third. It sure didn’t look like the Yankees needed him; however, given that they were only giving up low-ranked prospects Eric Fryer and Casey Erickson, it must have seemed like too good a deal to pass up.
The added depth turned out to be a wonderful addition to the team, as Hinske started 19 games in the second half of the season, mostly in right field, and came off the bench as a pinch0hitter in another 19. It was in this latter role that he really shined, for in 38 pinch-hit at-bats between the Pirates and Yankees, he posted a .300/.421/.400 slash, as the Yankees went on to win the 27th World Series in franchise history.
June 15, 2019 - Edwin Encarnación
The earliest notable trade that the Yankees have made during Brian Cashman’s tenure also happens to be the most recent — not to mention one of the more surprising, as nobody saw the Yankees sending Juan Then to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for the first baseman. The fact that Cashman made a trade was not surprising in itself; most, however — myself included — expected that addition to be a pitcher, not another power bat to slot in behind Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Voit, and Gary Sánchez.
Nonetheless, the move proved to be just what the Yankees needed, thanks to the fact that all four of those bats struggled to stay on the field down the stretch in 2019 ... then again, neither did Encarnación, who broke his wrist after getting hit by a pitch on August 3rd and never really got going again. He’d only play 44 games after being acquired, though he did belt 13 of his 424 career homers in pinstripes.