Today is the seventh anniversary of one of the greatest trades in Brian Cashman's 15-year tenure as Yankees general manager. The 2006 Yankees were a solid group already on July 30, 2006; they were half a game behind the Red Sox for the AL East lead with an absolutely terrific offense that went on to score more runs than all but two post-expansion era Yankees teams (930).
They had power in 37 homers and a 148 OPS+ from DH Jason Giambi, and 35 homers and a 134 OPS+ from defending AL MVP Alex Rodriguez. They had a breakout performance from sophomore second baseman Robinson Cano, who finished third in the league in batting average with a career-high .342 to accompany a 126 OPS+. Veterans Jorge Posada and Johnny Damon somehow flew under the radar with 4.0 rWAR and 3.4 rWAR seasons, respectively, superb production from up the middle. Leading the way was AL MVP candidate Derek Jeter, who finished runner-up to the Twins' Justin Morneau with one of the finest seasons of his Hall of Fame career. The pitching staff led by Chien-Ming Wang and Mike Mussina had its holes due to a subpar season from 42-year-old Randy Johnson, Jaret Wright being Jaret Wright, and an underwhelming bullpen outside of Mariano Rivera and an overworked Scott Proctor, but they were still better than league average. However, two painful early season injuries created some holes in the Yankees' starting lineup.
Right fielder Gary Sheffield could be annoyingly outspoken at times, but there was no denying that he was a tremendously productive hitter. Since joining the Yankees in 2004, he was a two-time All-Star, hit .290/.386/.523 with 70 homers, a 139 OPS+, and 9.3 rWAR, and his '04 season earned him a runner-up finish in AL MVP voting behind the Angels' Vladimir Guerrero. Cashman had coveted Guerrero in free agency, but George Steinbrenner overruled him to sign Sheffield. Guerrero would have been better, but Sheffield was far from a bad pick. Thus, it was a painful blow to the '06 Yankees when Sheffield collided with Toronto's Shea Hillenbrand at first base on April 30. The medical staff originally ruled it a sprained wrist, but eventually, they discovered it was a dislocated tendon and torn ligaments; Sheffield underwent wrist surgery on June 13, and it was unclear whether or not he would return to the lineup.
One year before Sheffield joined the team, the Yankees recruited Japanese superstar outfielder Hideki Matsui, who might as well have been Sheffield's polar opposite. He was lefthanded, quiet, reserved, and professional; while he was a power hitter in Japan, he was more of a contact hitter in the U.S. Matsui made the All-Star team twice from 2003-05, and hit .297/.370/.484 with 121 doubles and (coincidentally) 70 homers, good for a 125 OPS+ and 11.7 rWAR. Matsui was also remarkably healthy considering his years of playing on turf in Japan. He played in an amazing 1,250 consecutive games with the Yomiuri Giants from August 22, 1993 through his final season there in '02, then played in all 487 games with the Yankees from 2003-05. He even set a Yankees record with 163 games played in '03 since the Yankees and Orioles made up an official tie during a hurricane on another day. Matsui's streak was up to 518 in a row stateside (a record to start a career) and 1,768 overall when he tried to slide for a catch on a bloop by Boston's Mark Loretta in the first inning of a game at Yankee Stadium on May 12, 2006. He gruesomely landed on his wrist, breaking it and ending his streak. He also needed surgery and would be gone until at least September.
The Yankees badly needed outfielders, and they were rumored to be connected to the Phillies' Bobby Abreu for most of the summer. However, Phillies GM Pat Gillick was asking for too high a price for Abreu, so Cashman waited him out and tried other guys in the Yankees outfield for a while, from minor acquisitions Aaron Guiel and Craig Wilson to rookie Melky Cabrera. Abreu was an OBP machine in Philly, making the Phillies' decision to trade shortstop Kevin Stocker to the expansion Devil Rays for him in November '97 look genius. Abreu was a two-time All-Star in Philly, hitting .303/.416/.513 with 254 steals, 348 doubles, 195 homers, 139 OPS+, and 47.0 rWAR in nine years. The Phillies became desperate to unload the approximate $35 million and two and a half years left on Abreu's deal though, as Gillick wanted them to get younger and unload contracts from the Ed Wade era. Gillick and Cashman finally came to an agreement on the night of July 30. The Yankees would get Abreu and back-of-the-rotation starter Cory Lidle from the Phillies in exchange for four minor leaguers: Yankees' top pick in the '05 draft (shortstop C.J. Henry), lefty reliever Matt Smith, catcher Jesus Sanchez, and righty Carlos Monasterois.
None of those four players ever amounted to much of anything for the Phillies. Henry was actually out of baseball by the time Abreu's tenure ended, as he went to college at Memphis and played college basketball. Only Smith made the majors for the Phillies, and he pitched 12 2/3 unimpressive innings. Meanwhile, Abreu crushed the ball in the second half, hitting .330/.419/.507 with a 138 OPS+ as the Yankees ended up romping to the AL East title. From the time of the deal, they played .600 ball at 36-24 and won the division by 10 games over the Blue Jays. Abreu had two more stellar seasons in '07 and '08 before moving on from the Yankees after the '08 campaign.
Cashman's deal to acquire Abreu certainly stands as one of the finest deadline deals in Yankees history. Hopefully he can pull off a similar heist at the deadline this year to improve this group.