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Yankees Trade Partner History: Cleveland Guardians

Recapping over a century of deals between Cleveland and New York

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles

The Yankees and Guardians franchises, once known as the Highlanders and Naps, respectively, struck their first deal back in May of 1907. Now, well over a century later, the two historic franchises have been at it ever since. Even just a couple weeks ago, the Yanks and Guards swapped Estevan Florial and Cody Morris. They are names of some note at the moment, but with a bevy of trades to choose from, there have been many more for greater (or worse) impact, so let’s get right into it.

Best Trade

November 27, 1972: Cleveland trades Jerry Moses and Graig Nettles to the Yankees for John Ellis, Jerry Kenney, Charlie Spikes, and Rusty Torres.

The 1972 Yankees were on the heels of a mediocre campaign, and made a move to shake things up in November. They traded away Ellis who was coming off a solid 52 games at the plate, but would never quite pan out in Cleveland, Kenny, who would only appear in five games, Spikes, who found a lot of playing time in a mostly-average half decade with Cleveland, and Torres, who managed a paltry 67 OPS+ in 231 games with the team. A few fine additions, but nothing of tremendous note.

In return, the Yankees received catcher Jerry Moses, a 1970 All-Star who would only appear in 21 games with the Yankees while struggling mightily at the plate. They also gained the services of 29-year-old third baseman Graig Nettles. He had spent the last three seasons with Cleveland, and had done a nice job at the plate and in the hot corner, but the Yankees received even more than that.

Nettles played 11 seasons in pinstripes, and would become one of the all-time greats to play the position for the franchise. Over that time, he was the most valuable Yankee, and the 11th most valuable player in baseball by fWAR. He clubbed 250 homers with a 115 wRC+ while gaining a reputation as a truly elite defensive third baseman. He won a pair of World Series rings with the team, and netted the 1981 ALCS MVP. Nettles established himself as one of the true franchise greats, while creating himself a fairly deserving Hall of Fame case, though he has never gotten the call.

Worst Trade

July 31, 2016. The Yankees trade Andrew Miller to Cleveland for J.P. Feyereisen, Clint Frazier, Ben Heller, and Justus Sheffield.

This one comes with some caveats as the worst trade for the Yankees, though it is certainly fair to say it didn’t pan out. In the midst of a mediocre 2016 season, the Yanks were definitely in a position to sell, particularly from their loaded bullpen. First they traded Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs, and this time opted for their other dominant lefty, Andrew Miller.

Miller was electric in 2015 with the Yankees, and had begun 2016 even better, boasting a whopping 311 ERA+. Impressively, he kept on chugging, finishing with a 1.45 ERA and 1.68 FIp in total, capping off the best season of his career, topped only perhaps by his next season, also with Cleveland. Where he made the most noise however, was the postseason. Miller mowed through opposing lineups, helping Cleveland reach the World Series, netting an ALCS MVP award, and helping to revolutionize how teams use dominant relievers in the postseason.

So, not only did the Yankees trade away a stud in Miller (who had another full year left on his contract), their returns never quite panned out. Clint Frazier had the most prospect pedigree of the bunch, and was the headline of the return. He famously never found his footing between struggles and injuries, before being released after the 2021 season. Feyereisen was eventually traded away, and followed it elsewhere with breakout seasons out of the ‘pen in 2021 and ‘22. Heller had various cups of coffee with the Yankees and did a nice job, but only pitched a total of 31.1 innings for the team over four seasons. Sheffield was also a highly viewed prospect, though he would barely appear in pinstripes before being sent away in the James Paxton deal. This was the right move for the Yankees to make at the time, but that certainly doesn’t mean it worked out in their favor.

Most Overlooked Trade

October 11, 1946: The Yankees trade Joe Gordon to Cleveland for Allie Reynolds.

There is little as satisfying as a true guy-for-guy swap between teams, and the Yanks and Cleveland did just that following the ‘46 season — with a pair of Top 100 Yankees. Gordon, who the Yankees sent away in the deal, had played seven superb seasons in the Bronx, managing a 121 OPS+ and averaging over 20 homers as a second baseman, while capturing the 1942 MVP on the way. After a couple of lost seasons due to military service, the Yanks moved on from the franchise staple. He would play four more seasons with Cleveland, two of which were in his true form, earning a trio of All-Star selections. Gordon would eventually be elected to the Hall of Fame via the Veterans Committee in 2009.

This may seem like a lot to give up, but the Yankees got perhaps even more for the future, in the form of righty hurler Allie Reynolds.

The then-30-year-old would go on to pitch eight seasons for New York, carving out a spot for himself in franchise history. Reynolds pitched at least 200 innings in six of those seasons, he went to five All-Star games, tossed two no-hitters in 1951, and had a league-leading 2.06 ERA in 244.1 innings in 1952, finishing second in MVP voting. He was also a part of six World Series winning teams, doing his part with a 2.79 ERA in 77.1 innings on the game’s biggest stage. Baseball history buffs won’t overlook this one, but this one still isn’t as well-remembered in Yankees lore as it should be.

Weirdest Trade

November 22, 1975: The Yankees trade Pat Dobson to Cleveland for Oscar Gamble.

On the surface, this may not be the weirdest looking deal in the world, a fairly straight-up one-for-one. But of course, this would not be the time Gamble was remembered for in pinstripes.

Dobson was a fairly average right-handed starter who had a 20-win season on the resume. He had spent the last three seasons with the Yanks, doing a fine-enough job in the rotation, including a 19-15 record in ‘74. He would pitch two seasons for Cleveland, the first of which was solid, but his final season in 1977 was perhaps his worst, putting an end to his career.

Gamble did a nice job at the plate for the Yankees in ‘76, with 17 homers and a 118 OPS+, but as Matt alluded earlier in this series, he would be traded away in the offseason to help bring in Bucky Dent. Gamble would actually return to the Yankees via trade in 1979, and begin his much more memorable six-season run with the team, during which he played played some of the best baseball of his career.

Best of the Rest

May 25, 1913: Cleveland traded Roger Peckinpaugh to the Yankees for Jack Lelivelt and Bill Stumpf.

In return for a Top 100 Yankee who gave New York 32.1 rWAR across nine years and played long enough to contribute to their first pennant-winner, the erstwhile Highlanders surrendered two guys who were done in MLB after 1914. Not bad.

April 26, 1974: The Yankees trade Fred Beene, Tom Buskey, Steve Kline, and Fritz Peterson to Cleveland for Chris Chambliss, Dick Tidrow, and Cecil Upshaw.

Peterson had an excellent nine-year career with the Yanks before being dealt. In return, New York most notably received Chambliss, who was more than solid at the plate for the Bombers from ‘74-’79, and of course sent them to the World Series with his iconic homer in the 1976 ALCS. This would probably be the best deal if not for Nettles’ truly outstanding run.

February 5, 1984: The Yankees trade a player to be named later, George Frazier and Otis Nixon to Cleveland for a player to be named later and Toby Harrah. Cleveland sent Rick Browne (February 8, 1984) to the Yankees to complete the trade. The Yankees sent Guy Elston (February 8, 1984) to Cleveland to complete the trade.

You just knew a questionable George Steinbrenner deal had to show up somewhere. The former All-Star Harrah played one subpar season in New York. Nixon stole 618 more bases across his 17-year career after leaving the Bronx (most famously in Atlanta); only two had come in pinstripes.

June 29, 2000: The Yankees trade Zach Day, Ricky Ledée, and Jake Westbrook to Cleveland for David Justice.

Westbrook would go on to have a nice career with Cleveland, becoming an All-Star in 2004, while Justice would have a short-but-impactful run with the Yanks. He’s one of their better midseason acquisitions in franchise history for a reason. After the trade he swatted 20 homers in 78 games with the Yankees to close out 2000, won the ALCS MVP, and helped them capture their third consecutive championship.

Previously in the Trade Partner History series

Chicago Cubs
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