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Yankees Trade Partner History: Detroit Tigers

Among other things, trades with the Tigers helped the Yanks break a long World Series drought.

World Series - Atlanta Braves v New York Yankees - Game One

In more than 120 years, the Yankees and Tigers have engaged in 33 transactions with each other, per Baseball-Reference. There are a lot of good trades for New York in this series, beginning with the very first one.

Along the way, the Tigers have helped the Yanks break a long World Series title drought, replace a legend and all-time great at shortstop, and bring Curtis Granderson and Chad Green to the Bronx, even while some of the best players in some trades have neither come from nor arrived in New York. This has been a fruitful relationship for the Yankees. So let’s get on with it.

Best Trade

July 31, 1996. The Yankees trade Matt Drews and Rubén Sierra to the Tigers for Cecil Fielder.

Call this one “Big Daddy at the Deadline.” The Yanks snagged the two-time AL home run leader in the summer of ’96. All Cecil did down the stretch was smash 13 dingers in 53 regular season games, then club three more with 14 RBI in 14 playoff games, helping propel the Yanks to their first World Series since they won the Fall Classic in 1978. That 18-year drought was, and still is, the club’s longest since they won their first championship in 1923.

It almost would not have mattered who they sent to Detroit in the transaction. But the former Top 100 prospect Drews never went on to play in The Show. Sierra meanwhile had been perfectly cromulent for the Yanks since they acquired him in ’95, though nowhere near the offensive force he’d been early in his career with the Texas Rangers, and he wasn’t very good in Detroit.

Big Daddy stuck around New York one more season, reaching free agency after the ’97 season. He played one more year in the bigs, retiring after 1998.

It wasn’t always dingers either as the Yanks got off the schneid. Fielder’s two-bagger sunk the Braves in Game 5 of the ‘96 World Series. I don’t care that he only played 1.5 seasons in New York. He was a key cog in breaking the longest championship drought in Yankees history. For that, he gets “Best Trade.”

Worst Trade

September 8, 1941. The Yankees trade Billy Hitchcock to the Tigers for players to be named later. The Tigers sent Tuck Stainback (December 4, 1941) and Boyd Perry (December 4, 1941) to the Yankees to complete the trade.

I guess if everyone loses a trade, no one can be too upset? Neither team escaped this deal with anything resembling a clear win. Let’s start with Hitchcock. The Yankees had signed him in 1939 but he never wore pinstripes for a single contest before they sent him to Detroit. From there, he managed to stick around the majors through 1953, losing three seasons to wartime service during WW2. You decide whether the 65 OPS+ or the -5.2 career rWAR is less inspiring. But by dint of putting together a long career, he lays claim to the title of best player in this trade.

Three months after Hitchcock went to Detroit, Stainback and Perry came to New York. Like Hitchcock, Perry never put on pinstripes. In fact, after the deal, Perry never again appeared in the big leagues. His 1941 season was his first and only. Stainback, coming off the worst season of his career in ’41, ends up being the best player New York received. He stuck around New York for four seasons, hitting .252 with basically no power (five dingers) and averaging a cool -0.1 rWAR per season. That’s Tuck, second from the right, hanging out with Joe D and other Yankees outfielders.

Joe DiMaggio Photo by Sports Studio Photos/Getty Images

Most Overlooked Trade

December 9, 2015. The Yankees trade Justin Wilson to the Tigers for Luis Cessa and Chad Green.

The most recent deal between the two clubs gets my vote for most overlooked deal, especially at the time. A little more than a year earlier, the Yankees acquired Wilson from Pittsburgh for Francisco Cervelli. Now, they sent him off to Detroit for two young arms. Cessa stuck around the Bronx for a while until he was sent to Cincinnati in July 2021 with … Wilson, who the Yanks had re-signed.

But Green was the real get. His Yankee tenure ended prematurely due to injury and he’s since signed with divisional rival Toronto. From 2017 through 2021 though, he was outstanding with 442 Ks in 338 IP and a 147 ERA+. His indelible Yankee moment? Likely the 2017 AL Wild Card game, when he entered with one out in the first inning and the Yankees down three to the Twins. Six outs later, he left the game and the Yankees led a game they’d ultimately win amid 8.2 innings from the bullpen.

Weirdest Trade

June 15, 1968. The Yankees trade John Wyatt to the Tigers for a player to be named later. The Tigers sent Jim Rooker (September 30, 1968) to the Yankees to complete the trade.

This swap features yet another player who never donned the pinstripes in a game, but this one went on to a pretty decent big league career. In May ’68, the Yankees purchased Wyatt’s contract from the Red Sox. He tossed 8.1 innings for New York, with a 2.16 ERA. But a month later, he was off to Detroit, where he also pitched well. Prior to the 1969 season, however, the Tigers released him. He caught on with the Athletics and made sporadic appearances in ’69, the final year of his career.

Rooker went on to a nice career after the Yanks acquired him, throwing over 1800 innings and finishing with a 104 ERA+. But here’s the rub. Not a single one of those innings came in pinstripes. In October ’68, the American League held an expansion draft to herald the imminent entries of the Seattle Pilots and Kansas City Royals into the junior circuit. The Royals, replacing the since-departed Athletics in Kansas City, poached Rooker from New York with the sixth overall pick of the expansion draft.

Other Notable Transactions

Off to a good start: June 10, 1903: The New York Highlanders trade Ernie Courtney and Herman Long to the Detroit Tigers for Kid Elberfeld.

The first transaction between these clubs was a clear W for the Highlanders. Long, at the end of a long and distinguished career, went to Detroit with Courtney, who went on to a nondescript major league career. In exchange, the Yanks got Kid Elberfeld, who went on to put up a 106 OPS+ in his six full seasons in New York. Over his full six-and-a-half year tenure, he accrued 19.1 rWAR. That’ll do. Way to set a tone from the very beginning.

Waite! They traded Hoyt?: May 30, 1930: The Yankees trade Waite Hoyt and Mark Koenig to the Tigers for Ownie Carroll, Harry Rice and Yats Wuestling.

After the 1930 season ended, Hoyt, who came in at No. 47 in the ongoing PSA Top 100 Yankees series, was coming off two subpar seasons. So perhaps it’s no shock the Yanks dealt him, figuring his best days were done. And while he never regained his peak form, he was no slouch throughout the 1930s, averaging 146 innings per year to the tune of a 110 ERA+. Turns out he had some gas left in the tank. Meanwhile, neither Carroll, Rice, nor Wuestling set the Bronx on fire.

Pudge comes to the Bronx: July 30, 2008. The Tigers trade Iván Rodríguez to the Yankees for Kyle Farnsworth.

Years after Pudge Rodriguez was first rumored to be headed to New York, he finally ended up there. Whereas seven seasons earlier the rumored return for the Texas Rangers was Jorge Posada and either Andy Pettitte or Roger Clemens, at the deadline in ’08 New York sent reliever Farnsworth to Detroit. With Posada injured and on the shelf, Pudge went on to have a less-than-stellar 33-game tenure in New York as the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.

Oh, The Grandyman Can!: December 8, 2009: As part of a 3-team trade: The Tigers send Curtis Granderson to the Yankees. The Tigers send Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks. The Yankees send Phil Coke and Austin Jackson to the Tigers. The Yankees send Ian Kennedy to the Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks send Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth to the Tigers.

There were a lot of moving parts to this deal. Edwin Jackson threw a no-no. Austin Jackson broke out for a terrific little run in Detroit. IPK had a 17-year career. Max Scherzer … uh, is Max freaking Scherzer. For the Yanks, the deal brought Curtis Granderson to the Bronx. No. 91 all-time on our list of Top 100 Yankees, Grandy was another lefty whose swing was tailor-made for Yankee Stadium. Granderson absolutely thrived in pinstripes, especially after hitting coach Kevin Long worked with him in August 2010.

Grandy’s 2011 and 2012 seasons are ridiculous. An MLB-league leading 136 runs in 2011 along with an AL-leading 119 RBI. 41 dingers and a fourth-place finish in MVP voting. 102 runs and 106 RBI in ‘12. A career-high 43 home runs. A second straight All-Star Game appearance. Terrific stuff.

Gregorius! Makes Yankee fans ... euphorious!: December 5, 2014: As part of a 3-team trade: The Tigers send Domingo Leyba and Robbie Ray to the Diamondbacks. The Yankees send Shane Greene to the Tigers. The Diamondbacks send Didi Gregorius to the Yankees.

This deal, for the Yankees, is all about Sir Didi. The lefty-swinging shortstop played five seasons in New York, racking up 15.1 rWAR, solidifying the transition from an inner-circle Hall of Famer at short, bringing an infectious enthusiasm to the game, and swatting some clutch home runs to a right field that fit his swing perfectly.

Remember the 2017 AL Wild Card game we talked about earlier? After the Twins ambushed Luis Severino for three runs before the erstwhile ace could get a second out, it was Gregorius who rode to the rescue in the bottom of the first, tying the game and bringing the crowd back to full force. No disrespect to Shane Greene but the Yanks’ return on investment in this deal is outstanding. It’d get more consideration for Best Trade, but since Didi came from Arizona rather than Detroit, it makes more sense on that rundown.

Not-so-Dream-Weaver: July 5, 2002: As part of a 3-team trade: The Athletics send Carlos Peña, Franklyn Germán, and a player to be named later to the Tigers. The Yankees send Ted Lilly, John-Ford Griffin, and Jason Arnold to the Athletics. The Tigers send Jeff Weaver to the Yankees. The Athletics sent Jeremy Bonderman (August 22, 2002) to the Tigers to complete the trade.

The most painful part of the three-team swap involved gift-wrapping Lilly to the A’s with Weaver stinking it up in New York in his stead. But it was already discussed in the A’s Trade History, so check it out there.

Previously in the Trade Partner History series

San Diego Padres
Full list to date