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25 Smartest Moves of the Last 25 Years: The 2017 White Sox trade

The Yankees filled a couple holes and set themselves up for a memorable run with one July 2017 trade.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

In the summer months of 2016 with the Yankees only tangentially in the playoff race, they decided to become sellers for the first time in a long time. They moved the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltrán, adding some high-end prospects to their organization. For a team that has never really done a true teardown, that was about as close as they’re going to get.

Flash forward to a year later and the Yankees were looking at a fairly different situation. Gary Sánchez had come onto the scene with an outrageous stretch run in 2016 and had carried that into an All-Star-worthy start in 2017. After making his debut in ‘16, Aaron Judge was putting up historic rookie numbers in ‘17, nearly netting him MVP honors. Luis Severino was in the midst of a season that would end with him finishing third in Cy Young voting. Jordan Montgomery was giving the Yankees good starts in the back end of the bullpen.

Beyond those young guns, veterans like CC Sabathia, Didi Gregorius, and others also chipped in with good seasons. Suddenly, a year on from their “teardown,” they were suddenly in a situation where they were looking at additions to make ahead of the trade deadline.

Trade Details: Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson to Yankees; Tyler Clippard and prospects Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo, and Blake Rutherford to White Sox

Transaction Date: 7/19/2017

Frazier NYY Stats (2017): 66 G, 241 PA, .222/.365/.423, 11 HR, 115 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR

Kahnle NYY Stats (2017-20): 133 G, 112.1 IP, 4.01 ERA, 3.23. FIP, 111 ERA+, 12.6 K/9, 2.0 fWAR

Robertson NYY Stats (Second stint only, 2017-18): 99 G, 104.2 IP, 2.49 ERA, 2.68 FIP, 173 ERA+, 12.2 K/9, 2.5 fWAR

Despite the success of the season, there were still holes that they could fill. While the overall season numbers for the bullpen were very good, they were dealing with some struggles in July. The Yankees had re-signed Chapman after trading him away the previous year, but he missed time with a shoulder injury. After an outrageously good start to 2017, Dellin Betances struggled in July, raising his season ERA from 1.78 to 2.87 after a July 18th outing.

There was also certainly space in the Yankees’ lineup for at least one other bat. After an excellent first three months, Matt Holliday had started to fall away after dealing with the Epstein-Barr virus, and Greg Bird had missed most of the season with a right foot injury. Between all that and some underperformances elsewhere, there were spots available if the Yankees wanted to improve the batting order.

In one fell swoop, the Yankees basically improved everything that needed to be addressed.

On July 19th, the Yankees acquired third baseman Todd Frazier and relievers Tommy Kanhle and David Robertson, getting both bullpen help and another solid bat in the lineup. In exchange, they sent prospects Ian Clarkin, Tito Polo, and Blake Rutherford to the White Sox, plus reliever Tyler Clippard, who had contributed to the bullpen’s shaky results. All three additions played a role down the stretch as the Yankees returned to the playoffs and got within a game of a trip to the World Series.

David Robertson’s return to the Yankees after leaving in free agency a few years prior began with him allowing a run in an eventual one-run loss to the Mariners in his second game back. After that outing, he allowed just three more runs total over the rest of the regular season. While in his first stint in pinstripes, Robertson got the nickname “Houdini” for his ability to work into and out of trouble, in 2017, he just didn’t get into trouble, period. In his stretch run in 2017, he put up a 0.743 WHIP, and allowed just 14 hits total in those 35 innings.

Robertson also produced maybe his defining moment as a Yankee in the Wild Card Game. With the game left in the hands of the bullpen after Luis Severino was knocked out early, D-Rob went 3.1 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and a walk. His reaction after after Sánchez was hit in the, um, “nether regions” by a foul tip was also unforgettable.

American League Wild Card Game - Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Like Robertson, Kahnle also returned to the Yankees’ organization via trade. He had been drafted by the team and spent four seasons in the organization before the Rockies pried him away in the Rule 5 Draft. After a couple average seasons there, he was traded to the White Sox, where he became an excellent reliever.

Also like Robertson, Kahnle became an invaluable bullpen piece down the stretch, putting up a 2.70 ERA in 26.2 innings. He was another crucial part of the Wild Card win, throwing 2.1 scoreless innings.

Finally there was Frazier, who took over at third base and helped solidify and deepen the lineup. He also was part of producing what became the rallying cry for the 2017 team. With the Yankees playing a road game against the Rays at Citi Field due to Hurricane Irma, Frazier hit a three-run home run in a 5-1 win on September 11th. After the homer, a man in the crowd, later revealed to be a Mets fan, was caught by the YES Network cameras giving a thumbs down to the homer. The gesture quickly caught on among the Yankees’ players and became the things they would do to the dugout whenever someone got on base.

Additionally — as various broadcast booths loved pointing out — it was also a bit of a homecoming for Frazier, who was from Toms River, NJ, and once stood on the field with Derek Jeter at a Yankee game after winning the Little League World Series.

With those three players in store, the Yankees comfortably got into the AL Wild Card Game, where they defeated the Twins (with the help of Robertson and Kahnle in particular). After that, they rallied from an 0-2 deficit to eventually defeat Cleveland in the ALDS. They then heartbreakingly lost the ALCS in seven games to the Astros, in a series you might’ve heard is now pretty controversial.

Frazier was a free agent after 2017, and signed with the Mets. Robertson helped the Yankees return to the playoffs in 2018, but the team again let him walk in free agency after that year. Kahnle had some up and down years before going down and needed Tommy John surgery in 2020. The Yankees decided to outright him, and he also left in free agency. While none of the three are still Yankees, they all provided some big moments after the trade.

As for what the Yankees gave up, they haven’t missed out on much. Clippard was still active in 2021, but he’s also still Tyler Clippard. Despite the fairly high pedigree of the former first-round picks Clarkin and Rutherford, none of the three prospects the Yankees gave up have played in an MLB game. Only Rutherford is still in the White Sox organization.

The 2017 Yankees’ season was arguably the most fun of any since the last championship in 2009. The additions of Todd Frazier, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson helped that team put together a memorable run.