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Yankees Trade Partner History: Seattle Mariners

The Yankees and Mariners have been quite intertwined on the trade market over the last couple decades.

Milwaukee Brewers v New York Yankees Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images

Over the past 30 years or so, the Yankees and the Mariners have been intertwined a decent amount. On the field, they’ve battled several times in the playoffs, including in the famous 1995 ALDS and 2001 ALCS matchups.

Beyond that, they’ve also had quite a number of dealings from their front offices. Today, we’re going to dig into that history and look back at some of the most notable trades the Yankees and Mariners have made over the years.

Best Trade

December 7, 1995: The Mariners trade Tino Martinez, Jim Mecir and Jeff Nelson to the Yankees for Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock.

After finally getting a chance to appear in the postseason, a no longer under contract Yankee legend Don Mattingly announced that he was going to sit out the 1996 season after years of injury and wear and tear. Now in need of a first baseman, the Yankees made a call to the team that had just famously dispatched them in the 1995 ALDS.

Tino Martinez was a very good piece of that 1995 Mariners’ team, but was set for a raise in arbitration and was nearing free agency after a breakout season. Due to that and some general cheapness, Seattle entered into discussion with the Yankees for a trade for the first baseman.

On paper at the time, the Mariners drove a hard bargain, as they insisted on getting back Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis, both of whom were top 100 prospects in all of baseball. However, the Yankees were in need of a first baseman and agreed to the deal, and it worked out perfectly.

Martinez would become a key middle order bat for the Yankees as they won four championships in five years. Besides him, the Yankees also got reliever Jeff Nelson in the deal, and he also was an important bullpen piece in those championship years.

As for Hitchcock and Davis, both went on to have perfectly fine major league careers (the former more so than the latter). However, neither of them were remotely good enough to cause regret, considering what Tino and Nelson did for the Yankees.

Worst Trade

July 21, 1988: The Yankees trade a player to be named later, Rick Balabon, and Jay Buhner to the Mariners for Ken Phelps. The Yankees sent Troy Evers (October 12, 1988) to the Mariners to complete the trade.

This trade will forever live in infamy thanks a famous scene from “Seinfeld.”

In a tight race in the AL East in July, the Yankees looked to add to their lineup and acquired veteran bat Ken Phelps from the Mariners for a couple prospects, of whom, Buhner had a bit of major league experience.

Possibly due to “Seinfeld” or your general Yankees’ fandom, you may be aware of what happened next. Buhner bashed over 300 homers over the next 14 seasons in Seattle, becoming an All-Star and an important bat for those M’s teams that battled the Yankees in the postseason.

To be fair to Phelps, he hit perfectly well for the Yankees, putting up a 120 OPS+ in over 300 plate appearances. The issue was that he was in his 30s, nearing free agency, and fairly redundant for what the Yankees had. Phelps was a DH/first base type, and at the time the Yankees acquired him, they had Mattingly and and Jack Clark filling the same type of role fairly well. It’s not that they shouldn’t have traded Buhner for someone that theoretically could’ve helped them in 1988, it’s that Phelps wasn’t the player they should’ve acquired.

Most Overlooked Trade

June 15, 2019: The Mariners trade Edwin Encarnación and cash to the Yankees for Juan Then.

With the Yankees off to a good start in 2019, they added to their already strong lineup and acquired Encarnación for pitching prospect Juan Then ... who the Yankees had gotten from Seattle to begin with in a 2017 trade for Nick Rumbelow.

While he ended up missing some time after getting hit by a pitch and fracturing his wrist, EE produced for the Yankees, putting up 13 home runs and a 123 OPS+ in 44 games. He also then hit .308/.357/.462 in the Yankees’ sweep of the Twins in the ALDS.

As for Then, he only just made his major league debut this past season, and is currently without a team after electing free agency.

Weirdest Trade

August 6, 2003: The Yankees trade Armando Benítez to the Mariners for Jeff Nelson.

The 1995 trade that included Tino was not the only time the Yankees acquired Nelson from the Mariners. After becoming a free agent after the 2000 season, Nelson returned to Seattle on a three-year deal. He mostly pitched well for them in that time, helping the M’s to their 116-win 2001 season.

In the final year of that contract, Seattle didn’t do much at the trade deadline, despite being in a battle with the Oakland Athletics for the AL West. Nelson was unhappy with that and criticized management for failing to add to the team. The team placed him on waivers and, shortly after that, he was headed back to New York as the Yankees claimed him.

Going the other way was reliever Armando Benítez, who the Yankees had only just acquired themselves a few weeks prior. Seeing two division-leading teams swap similar-ish pieces is a bit weird, but Nelson was a bit of a better fit than Benítez for the Yankees for, uh, reasons.

Nelson didn’t have the best of regular seasons after the trade, but was solid in a losing effort in the World Series before leaving for good in free agency.

Other Trades of Note

January 23, 2012: The Yankees trade Jesús Montero and Héctor Noesí ­to the Mariners for Vicente Campos and Michael Pineda.

One of the more infamous trades on this list, it worked out for, well, no one.

Pineda had some good moments as a Yankee, but he wasn’t quite what you would want in exchange for Montero, who was considered an all-world prospect at the time. However, Montero ended up extremely not living up to that prospect potential, and washed out after just five seasons in the majors. Just pain all around.

July 23, 2012: The Mariners trade Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees for Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell.

While he wasn’t at his peak, Ichiro was still one of the biggest names in baseball when the Yankees acquired him near the 2012 deadline. Since the Yanks were already in Seattle, he just had to change clubhouses. It was also notable that this was the first time the future Hall of Famer would be playing for a MLB team other than the Mariners, and it was for that to come with the Yankees.. Plus, he did perform well after the trade as the Yankees narrowly beat out the O’s for the AL East crown.

On the other hand, that led to the Yankees re-signing him after that, and that didn’t quite work out.

November 19, 2018: The Mariners trade James Paxton to the Yankees for Dom Thompson-Williams, Justus Sheffield, and Erik Swanson.

Another high profile trade for a pitcher that was completely understandable, but didn’t quite work out as intended.

January 21, 2019: The Yankees trade Shed Long Jr. to the Mariners for Josh Stowers.

Including this one because had only acquired Long just a few minutes before in the trade with the Reds for Sonny Gray.

Previously in the Trade Partner History series

Arizona Diamondbacks
Full list to date