It probably should not surprise that the Yankees and Athletics, two franchises with long histories, have a considerable trade history with each other. Baseball Reference lists 71 unique transactions between the two clubs. The first occurred in 1903 when the New York Highlanders purchased Dave Fultz from the Philadelphia Athletics — amusingly enough, New York traded him back three years later.
It was an historical precedent to deals the clubs made about 80 years later that involved a slightly more famous player. Most recently, New York sent considerable prospect capital to Oakland to bring Frankie Montas and Lou Trivino to the Bronx at the 2022 Trade Deadline.
There are multiple complex trades between the clubs, featuring a third team, considerable numbers of players swapping jerseys, or both. The Yankees also used a cozy partnership with then-Kansas City Athletics owner Arnold Johnson to essentially treat the A’s as an extra farm team, so the deals — one-sided versions in particular — were especially rampant during Casey Stengel’s dynasty years in the 1950s.
So without further ado, “the good, the bad, the forgotten, and the Rickey” of the Yankees and Athletics.
December 11, 1959: The Yankees trade Hank Bauer, Don Larsen, Norm Siebern, and Marv Throneberry to the Kansas City Athletics for Joe DeMaestri, Kent Hadley, and Roger Maris.
Death, taxes, and the American League Home Run King being a Yankee. Aaron Judge currently holds that lofty title, but the man he took it from came to the Yanks in the winner for best trade.
In December 1959, New York sent dynasty contributors Bauer and Larsen plus two other players to Kansas City. Bauer was at the tail end of a great career when New York traded him. Larsen, of course, authored one of the most famous playoff performances in baseball history for the Yankees before lasting less than two years with the A’s and becoming a journeyman. Throneberry had a similarly forgettable Athletics tenure prior to his “Marvelous Marv” Mets days. Siebern went on to give KC four outstanding seasons between 1960 and 1963, with multiple All-Star Games and down-ballot MVP finishes.
Joe DeMaestri and Kent Hadley, neither of whom made any impact with the Yankees, headed to the Bronx. But they were not the headliners of this blockbuster. Ascendant 24-year-old outfielder Roger Maris and his picture-perfect lefty swing came to Yankee Stadium. Maris was fresh off a ’59 season that saw him put up a 123 OPS+ in Kansas City.
In pinstripes though, he put together dominant back-to-back seasons in ’60 and ’61, winning the AL MVP in each and breaking Babe Ruth’s single season American League home run record with 61 dingers in ’61. Siebern was a fine player for the Athletics, but come on. There were many contenders from infamous Kansas City/New York transaction log (Clete Boyer comes to mind); this one takes the cake.
There’s a good chance that if this series is revisited a decade from now, the most recent deal between these clubs might end up the worst. Lou Trivino pitched 21.2 (admittedly excellent) innings for the Yanks before undergoing Tommy John surgery that—as of now—has ended his career in pinstripes. I don’t want to talk about Frankie Montas, who is now a Red. Suffice it to say that if Oakland can manage to hit on just one of Luis Medina, Ken Waldichuk, and JP Sears, they’ll have picked Brian Cashman’s pocket. Don’t look now, but Sears gave an abominable Oakland team 172.1 innings at close to league average (90 ERA+) in 2023.
There is also a case that the 1989 deal that sent Rickey Henderson back to Oakland could win here, but there’s an entire section of this article dedicated to Rickey. Instead, the “winner” is a deal that looked like a good idea at the time. In one of those convoluted transactions I mentioned above, the Yankees, Athletics, and Detroit Tigers engaged in a three-way dance in early July 2002.
July 5, 2002: As part of a 3-team trade: The Oakland Athletics send Carlos Peña, Franklyn Germán, and a player to be named later to the Detroit 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.
There was a lot going on here. Oakland sent three players to Detroit, and Detroit sent cash to Oakland. But it’s the Yankees’ involvement that makes this trade interesting, and a clear loss for New York. Twenty-five-year-old starting pitcher Jeff Weaver was midway through an excellent 2002 for the Tigers, pitching to a 134 ERA+. This after his first two full seasons also finished above league average. He seemed to be on his way to fulfilling the promise that had him Baseball America’s 51st-ranked prospect entering the 1999 season. Detroit sent him to the Bronx.
To finish the deal, New York sent Arnold (who never appeared in an MLB game), the 2001 first-round pick Griffin (two cups of coffee for Toronto in 2005 and 2007), and portside slinger Ted Lilly to Oakland.
Weaver didn’t wow but pitched decently enough down the stretch for the Yanks in ’02 before becoming atrocious in what would be his final season in pinstripes. His most memorable moment was coughing up a walk-off homer in the World Series when Joe Torre decided to pitch him instead of Mariano Rivera because of arbitrary closer reasons. Anyway, you decide whether Weaver’s 5.99 ERA or 74 ERA+ over 159.1 innings is a more unpleasant stat.
Just to twist the knife, Lilly would go on to a long and distinguished 15-year career with two All-Star appearances. After leaving New York, the southpaw won 122 more games, compiled 27.4 rWAR, and threw at least 177 innings every season between 2003 and 2009.
Most Overlooked Trade
November 7, 1997: The Yankees trade Kenny Rogers and cash to the Oakland Athletics for a player to be named later. The Athletics sent Scott Brosius (November 18, 1997) to the Yankees to complete the trade.
This may not be a completely overlooked trade, but I couldn’t in good conscience name it the best trade New York made with Oakland, so it slots in here. It was overlooked at the time, that’s for sure. New York sent 32-year-old starter Kenny Rogers, fresh off a ’97 campaign that saw a 5.65 ERA (80 ERA+), to Oakland for a player to be named later. To facilitate the trade, New York also ate $5 million of Rogers’ contract.
In dealing him, the Yanks basically admitted they’d erred by signing Rogers to a $20 million deal prior to the ’96 season, as Rogers was inconsistent in New York and irked the famously impatient George Steinbrenner.
The PTBNL? Utility man Scott Brosius. The 30-year-old was coming off the worst season of his career (53 OPS+ in ’97). Interestingly, Brosius’ identity was an open secret as the player who would end up in New York. Jack Curry wrote in the November 8th New York Times that though the trade announcement did not mention Brosius, Oakland would protect him in the upcoming expansion draft (welcome to The Show, Tampa and Arizona) and send him to New York after it concluded.
Rogers went on to a great career, pitching in the big leagues for more than another decade. He’d only spend a year and a half in Oakland, however. The Athletics sent him to the Mets prior to the ’99 deadline.
Brosius meanwhile made the Yankees look like geniuses from the outset. In the ’98 regular season, he hit .300 for the juggernaut Yankees, drove in 98 runs hitting almost exclusively eighth or ninth in the lineup, and made his first All-Star Game. But the real payoff was his 1998 World Series MVP performance. Safe to say the Yanks won this trade.
December 5, 1984: The Oakland Athletics trade Rickey Henderson, Bert Bradley, and cash to the Yankees for Tim Birtsas, Jay Howell, Stan Javier, Eric Plunk, and José Rijo.
June 21, 1989: The Oakland Athletics trade Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk, and Luis Polonia to the Yankees for Rickey Henderson.
“You keep the future Hall of Famer.” “No, you.” Twice in fewer than five seasons, the Yankees and Athletics teamed up to send Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson from one coast to the other.
First, in December 1984, Oakland traded Rickey, Bert Bradley, and cash to New York for a package of five players, including Tim Birtsas and José Rijo. Three years later, Oakland sent Birtsas and Rijo to the Reds for aging slugger Dave Parker. All Rijo did in Cincy was perform. His seven-year peak from 1988-94 saw him pitch to a 147 ERA+. In the 1990 World Series, he fired 15.1 innings of one-run ball over two starts to become Fall Classic MVP as the Reds took down the team that dealt him to Cincy.
It’s a good thing that Henderson was simply spectacular in New York. Former PSA writer Cooper Halpern argued a couple of years ago that Rickey had a legitimate case for American League MVP in his first season in the Bronx. And for those of you following the ongoing Top 100 Yankees of all-time, you’ll notice that Henderson’s abbreviated tenure in New York was still good enough to slot him in at No. 40.
But by mid-1989, Rickey seemed like he was slipping and the Yankees were on the fast track to Nowheresville. So, they decided to ship him back to Oakland. Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk, and Luis Polonia headed east in return. Not exactly a king’s ransom. Trading for Rickey? Yay. Trading away Rickey? Boo.
Other Notable and Interesting Transactions
A Hall of Famer changes hands: On February 15, 1916, New York purchased Frank “Home Run” Baker from the Philadelphia Athletics for $37,500.
A Hall of Fame manager: On July 11, 1956, the Kansas City Athletics traded Tommy Lasorda to the Yankees for Wally Burnette.
Bye Bye, Billy: On June 15, 1957, Kansas City traded Ryne Duren, Jim Pisoni, and Harry Simpson to the Yankees for Billy Martin, Woodie Held, Bob Martyn, and Ralph Terry. This all happened in wake of the infamous Copacabana Incident, and Yankees management was more than happy to let Martin take the fall. (Unrelated bonus fun fact: Terry was dealt away here, but he returned two years later and went on to win 1962 World Series MVP.)
“I Can Believe Watergate But I Can’t Believe Something Like This”: On June 15, 1976. the Yankees purchased former MVP and Cy Young Award winner Vida Blue from Oakland for $1.5 million. Three days later, MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn vetoed the purchase.
World Series hero: On April 27, 1977, the Yankees acquired righty Mike Torrez from the A’s for Dock Ellis, Larry Murray, and Marty Perez. The pitcher helped fortify the New York rotation and though Reggie Jackson understandably stole the show, Torrez won two games in the Fall Classic to help the Yankees dispatch the Dodgers. He won Game 6 with a complete game.
Chass, Murray. “Yanks’ Martin: I Can Believe Watergate But I Can’t Believe Something Like This.” The New York Times. June 19, 1976.
Curry, Jack. “Baseball; Yankees Take $5 Million Hit to Deal Rogers.” The New York Times. November 8, 1997.
Halpern, Cooper. “Rickey Henderson’s lost MVP.” Pinstripe Alley. June 9, 2021.
Rivera, Esteban. “Pinstripe Alley Top 100 Yankees: #40 Rickey Henderson.” Pinstripe Alley. December 27, 2023.