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Yankees Trade Partner History: Houston Astros

Before they were fierce AL rivals, the Yankees and Astros were regular trade partners.

View of Houston Astrodome

Today, the idea of the New York Yankees making a trade with the Houston Astros seems absolutely ridiculous. Since 2015, the two teams have faced each other in the postseason on four occasions (once in the Wild Card round, three times in the ALCS), always with the Bronx Bombers watching the trash-banging spacemen celebrate as their season ended.

Once upon a time, however, the two teams came together on a semi-regularly basis. Aided by the fact that the Astros played in the National League until 2013, the two teams made 18 trades between 1962 and 2012; in the 11 years since the Astros joined the Junior Circuit, that number dropped down to just three — and since both teams became heated rivals in 2017, they’ve never come together on a deal.

Best Trade

November 17, 2016: The Yankees trade Brian McCann and cash to the Astros for Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzmán.

When I evaluate a trade, I evaluate it from two different perspectives: the process, and the results. In both categories, this trade is a win/win — but with an asterisk. It also happens to be the last transaction of any kind between these two teams.

Let’s wind the clock back to the end of the 2016 season. Gary Sánchez had been promoted from Triple-A in early August, and after being eased into the starting lineup, had seized the catcher job with a rookie campaign that made him the runner-up in the Rookie of the Year voting despite playing in just 53 games. The Yankees, however, still had Brian McCann under contract, as two years remained on the deal he had signed after the team missed the playoffs in 2013. $23 million for a backup catcher/platoon designated hitter was a bit steep for a team that expected major growing pains in 2017, so Brian Cashman flipped him to the Astros for a pair of pitching prospects. McCann helped Houston win it all that year, but it worked out well in New York too.

Described as “raw pitching prospects,” Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzmán have played integral roles for the Yankees despite minimal on-field impact. After making his MLB debut in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Abreu rode the Scranton Shuttle in 2021 before being traded for surprise 2022 All-Star Jose Trevino days before Opening Day in 2022; he would return later that year, and would spend the final half of 2022 and the first half of 2023 providing ... well, I wouldn’t call them quality innings, but innings that occasionally were quality. Guzmán, on the other hand, never threw a pitch in pinstripes; just a year after coming to the organization, he would be shipped out to Miami in the deal that brought reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the Bronx.

Worst Trade

July 31, 2010: The Astros trade Lance Berkman to the Yankees for Mark Melancon and Jimmy Paredes.

Fresh off a World Series championship the year prior, the 2010 Yankees had a bit of a different look heading into the season. Gone were the previous year’s left fielder Johnny Damon and designated hitter Hideki Matsui; in their place stood new center fielder Curtis Granderson and, to start the season, old friend Nick Johnson. While the Granderson acquisition worked wonders, Johnson floundered in his second stint in pinstripes before hitting the then-DL in early May. Marcus Thames, Jorge Posada, and Mark Teixeira rotated through the DH slot over the first half of the season, but in the midst of a tight AL East race with the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees sought an additional bat at the Trade Deadline and reeled in five-time All-Star Lance Berkman.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Once he donned the pinstripes, however, Berkman completely forgot how to hit, with only one home run and seven doubles in 37 games. While he did show up in the postseason, posting a .313/.368/.688 slash line in 19 plate appearances, it was ultimately too little, too late. After losing in the ALCS, the Yankees declined the team option for 2011; with the Cardinals, the switch-hitter rebounded, posting a career-high 164 OPS+ and receiving his final All-Star nod while winning an improbable World Series.

Compounding the awfulness of the trade was the fact that the Yankees sent away Mark Melancon, who went on to have a long and lengthy career as a relief pitcher. Spending time in Houston, Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington, San Francisco, Atlanta, San Diego, and Arizona, Melancon accrued 262 saves and was named to four All-Star Games. From 2013 to 2016, he was one of the best relief pitchers in baseball, with a 1.80 ERA. To lose all that for a guy who goes down as one of the worst Trade Deadline acquisitions in Yankees history stings more than a little bit.

Most Overlooked Trade

June 15, 1977: The Yankees trade a player to be named later, Mike Fischlin, and Randy Niemann to the Astros for Cliff Johnson. The Yankees sent Dave Bergman (November 23, 1977) to the Astros to complete the trade.

Trading for a defensively-challenged platoon player to back up Thurman Munson behind the plate and Chris Chambliss at first base who serves as the DH against lefties does not exactly seem like a major trade. Nonetheless, the acquisition of Cliff Johnson was an important part of the Yankees story in the late 1970s. Down the stretch in 1977, Johnson lengthened the Yankees lineup and bench, and that postseason, he posted a .375/.412/.688 slash line in 17 plate appearances help the Yankees bring a World Series title back to the Bronx.

Two years later, he would help turn the 1979 Yankees into a mess, getting into a fight with closer Goose Gossage; he would be traded just two months later.

Weirdest Trade

August 27, 2012: The Yankees purchase Steve Pearce from the Astros.

Baltimore Orioles vs New York Yankees Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images

We’re generally trying to avoid outright purchases in this Trade History Series because actual trades are far more compelling, but this stands out enough in its bizarre capacity that we couldn’t resist.

On its own, this transaction doesn’t look all that weird: after all, teams purchase the contracts of Quadruple-A journeyman types all the time in order to fill out their roster. What makes this trade weird in hindsight, however, is the fact that Steve Pearce would never leave the American League East for the rest of his career. While he was absolutely dreadful in his short pinstriped cameo — 4-for-30 with just one home run and eight strikeouts — Pearce was a force to be reckoned with at the plate afterwards, as he posted a 118 OPS+ from 2013 until hanging up his spikes in 2019, winning the World Series MVP in 2018 with Boston. Pearce loved hitting against the Yanks as well, posting a .280/.375/.560 slash line with 15 home runs against them — the most he hit against any team.

Other Trades of Note

September 15, 1985: The Yankees trade players to be named later and Jim Deshaies to the Astros for Joe Niekro. The Yankees sent Neder Horta (September 24, 1985) and Dody Rather (January 11, 1986) to the Astros to complete the trade.

While not as outright terrible as some of George Steinbrenner’s worst trades of the ‘80s, the Yankees lost the lefty DeShaies, who would go on to record a perfectly solid 12-year career and earn down-ballot Rookie of the Year votes for Houston in 1986. Knuckleballing legend Phil Niekro might have been good in the Bronx rotation, but brother Joe was only adequate in New York, save for a few good starts in May of ‘87 that helped him land with the Twins.

July 30, 2008: The Astros trade Matt Cusick to the Yankees for LaTroy Hawkins.

It is hard to say what exactly was the worst part about the LaTroy Hawkins, Yankees relief pitcher, experience. Was it his complete and utter inability to get anybody out and keep runs off the board? Or was it the hostility shown by the fanbase when he became the first player after Paul O’Neill to wear the now-retired 21? It’s hard to say. But the craziest part about his time in pinstripes is that, after being designated for assignment and flipped to the Astros for a prospect, Hawkins became unhittable and allowed just one run across 21 innings for Houston down the stretch.

References

Baseball-Reference

Baseball Reference Bullpen — Cliff Johnson

Chass, Murray. “Gossage Hurt in Off‐Field Scuffle.” New York Times. April 21, 1979.

Griffin, John. “The most disappointing Trade Deadline acquisitions of the Brian Cashman era.Pinstripe Alley. October 1, 2021.

Wagner, James. “Yankees Trade Brian McCann to the Astros.” New York Times. November 17, 2016.

Previously in the Trade Partner History series

Atlanta Braves
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