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Yankees Trade Partner History: Los Angeles Angels

The frequent 2000s playoff opponents have featured quite a few memorable moves between them.

New York Yankees
Mick the Quick

In a parallel universe, I would have jumped at the opportunity to write about the history between the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels. It’d be a chance to highlight the blockbuster deal that netted the Yankees Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, or even both across the last few years in limbo for the Angels. Nevertheless, as it was once famously said, you can’t always get what you want.

Clearly on two very different levels but both in their way with rich histories, the Yankees and Angels have crossed paths on more than one occasion, discussing significant deals before and after the height of their rivalry in the first decade of the 21st century. Here, we’ll delve into some of their more memorable trades.

Best trade

December 11, 1975: The Yankees trade Bobby Bonds to the California Angels for Mickey Rivers and Ed Figueroa.

In a somewhat rare occasion of the past, in this particular instance, the Yankees found success as the savvy team selling the high-profile player on a deal for a top package. A lot of the past was built on getting the name-brand superstars, no matter the cost.

This time around, GM Gabe Paul recognized the variety of needs, and used Bobby Bonds, one of the most famous players at the time, to address those spots. The elder Bonds had only one season in New York, and while it was one of his best with an .888 OPS and a 30/30 campaign, the team only finished at 83-77.

Looking to improve their pitching and acquire a legitimate starting center fielder, the Yankees negotiated this deal. The righty starter Ed Figueroa and outfielder Mickey Rivers settled in nicely, playing big roles in the team’s success in the late ‘70s.

Bonds took a big step back in 1976, finishing with the worst OPS of his career, but he would eventually right the ship. That, however, doesn’t take away from the stellar work of Rivers, who finished third in the MVP voting in 1976 and stabilized the Yankees’ CF situation en route to becoming a Top 100 Yankee. Figueroa pitched his way into the top five of the AL Cy Young voting, joining with Catfish Hunter to form a strong front of the rotation.

Paul sacrificed one of the Yankees’ top talents. But in doing so, he acquired a pair of essential cogs to the teams that won three consecutive American League pennants from 1976-78, and a pair of World Series crowns.

Worst trade

May 11, 1990: The Yankees trade Dave Winfield to the California Angels for Mike Witt.

DAVE WINFIELD ANGELS

This isn’t the trade that sent the franchise back several years. Not even close to it, but there isn’t a catastrophic move at that level to highlight between these two teams. The Winfield deal was chosen because it was the sad coda to a long saga of growing animosity between team and player.

Coincidentally, this article is coming out the same day as Winfield’s Top 100 Yankees feature, so Josh will delve into far more details there. The short version is that the future Hall of Famer had been angry at owner George Steinbrenner for a multitude of reasons, especially for not making agreed-upon payments to Winfield’s foundation. The Boss, in turn, hadn’t fully appreciated Winfield’s terrific production for his team, so when the outfielder had to miss 1989 due to a back injury, it got even more ugly.

After a lackluster first couple of months in 1990, Winfield waived his no-trade clause to be shipped off to the Angels. He went on to have two very productive seasons in California, and following free agency, he signed with the Blue Jays in 1992. There, he finished in the top five for the AL MVP with a 138 OPS+ in 1992 and helped lead them to their first-ever title with a crucial extra-innings hit in World Series Game 6.

Now, would Winfield with the Yankees instead of the Jays in 1992 be enough to make these two teams swap places? Probably not. However, one can’t ignore the key role he played in a championship season for Toronto — not to mention the fact that the Yankees’ primary DH in 1992 (Kevin Maas) finished the year with a 99 OPS+.

The former perfect-game artist Mike Witt covered just shy of 150 innings on a near-5.00 ERA across three seasons with the Yankees ... almost all of which saw Steinbrenner banned from baseball after it came out that he had conspired with gambler Howard Spira to try and dig up dirt on Winfield. Yikes.

Ideally, the relationship would have been much better with Winfield wrapping up his contract with the Yankees and choosing to stay in the Bronx until the end of his career. He showed just how much he still had left in the tank, and thanks to Steinbrenner, New York missed out.

Most overlooked trade

April 29, 1990: The Yankees traded Luis Polonia to the California Angels for Rich Monteleone and Claudell Washington.

In lieu of any particularly good candidates, we’ll turn to this transaction. The 1990 Angels didn’t go anywhere, finishing the season two games under .500, but what little success they had offensively, is owed to the Yankees. A couple of months before sending Winfield out west, the Yankees moved Luis Polonia, who ended up having a bit of a breakout campaign in 1990. It was ultimately an outlier year in the grand scheme of his career, though.

Polonia finished his first season with the Angels with a great .336 average and even stole 20 bags. Maybe he shouldn’t have run so much because his success rate was bad, ultimately leading the league in caught stealing during each of the next three seasons.

Washington was at the end of his career and only got 80 at-bats with the Yankees in 1990 before retiring. He had a more successful stint in New York a couple years earlier, but this was the end.

However, Monteleone proved an important piece despite not making an impact in his first year. Between 1991 and 1992, the righty covered nearly 140 innings out of the Yankees’ pen, with a very respectable 3.42 ERA. It wasn’t his fault that the team around him wasn’t very good — Monteleone did his part.

New York Yankees Headshots Mandatory Copyright: Copyright 2004 MLB Photos

Amusingly enough, after Monteleone bounced around with the Giants and Angels, the Yankees signed him before 1996, had him in the minors, and dealt him back to the Angels midseason without him throwing a single pitch for the Yanks that year.

Since New York still had a strong relationship with Monteleone, he would rejoin the organization once more after retiring, aiding pitching development at the Tampa complex for several years as the dynasty ascended, before serving as Joe Torre and Joe Girardi’s bullpen coach from 2002-08.

Weirdest trade

Part 1: November 22, 2021: The Yankees trade Tyler Wade to the Los Angeles Angels for a player to be named later.

Part 2: July 14, 2022: The Los Angeles Angels trade Tyler Wade to the Yankees for cash considerations

The two most recent trades between these two organizations both involved Wade and no one else (as Matt just discussed). A bench bat for the Yankees between 2017-21, the Yankees shipped him off to the Angels mainly to clear space ahead of the 2022 campaign.

Fulfilling more of the same role with the Angels, but with particularly poor hitting numbers even for his standards, with a .544 OPS in 2022, the Angels moved him back to the Yankees in July. Wade never got to the majors again with the Yanks and was granted free agency. The middle-infielder spent 2023 with the Oakland Athletics.

Other Trades of Note

December 6, 1992: The Yankees trade J.T. Snow, Jerry Nielsen, and Russ Springer to the California Angels for Jim Abbott.

GM Gene Michael made several moves in advance of the 1993 campaign to try to rejuvenate New York, most notably trading for Paul O’Neill and signing two more Top 100 Yankees in Jimmy Key and Wade Boggs. Nabbing the lefty Abbott was another, but outside of his inspirational no-hitter, he was only OK across two seasons. J.T. Snow was blocked by Don Mattingly and Tino Martinez would later prove a worthy successor, but the six-time Gold Glove winner Snow became a terrific major leaguer for the Halos and Giants.

March 26, 2013: The Los Angeles Angels trade Vernon Wells to the Yankees for Exicardo Cayones and Kramer Sneed.

The minor leaguers didn’t really matter here, as this was a desperation partial salary dump acceptance by the Yankees just ahead of the injury-riddled 2013 campaign. Wells looked like his former All-Star self for one month before regressing hard in an ugly final season. At least he’s self-aware.

References

Baseball Reference

Madden, Bill. Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

SABR

Previously in the Trade Partner History series

Full list to date