For his sake, I hope Chuck Knoblauch leads the Yankees to the world championship. Because if he doesn't, some chowderhead like me will be writing 20 years from now about how the Knoblauch trade was the broken elevator cable that sent the Yankees crashing into the basement for the first decade of the 21st century. Lost in New York's elation over the acquisition of Knoblauch is the fact, now undeniable, that George Steinbrenner has entered into another era of mortgaging the future for an uncertain present. Since the trade for Cecil Fielder on July 31, 1996, Steinbrenner has been raiding the pumpkin patch, trading seven guys who were, or had been, on his list of top 10 prospects.
He dealt pitcher Matt Drews to the Tigers for Fielder. Less than a year later it was Ruben Rivera and pitcher Rafael Medina to the Padres for the rights to Hideki Irabu and two minor leaguers. Four months after that, pitcher Tony Armas Jr. went to the Red Sox for Mike Stanley and Randy Brown, and now lefthander Eric Milton and other potential paradises lost to the Twins for Knoblauch. These weren't even the best deals out there. Armas and Medina might have brought the Yankees Pedro Martinez (Armas and Carl Pavano got him for Boston); Armas, Medina and Rivera undoubtedly would have. Instead, they brought New York eight weeks of Stanley, too many weeks of Irabu and the Homer Bush experience.
Even the skills of Knoblauch shouldn't make Yankees fans forget that for all his heavy-handedness during the '70s and '80s, it was Steinbrenner's willingness to listen to the siren's call of today-for-tomorrow that sent the team into the wilderness. Steinbrenner dealt arguably 25 of the top 30 prospects produced by his system in the decade ending in '85, and in retrospect these swaps induce a horror similar to watching a string of hit-and-run accidents: Willie McGee for Bob Sykes, Fred McGriff for Dale Murray, Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps (at week's end McGriff and Buhner had hit 592 homers as former Yankees).
But this is just the anecdotal stuff; the cumulative numbers are even worse. Beginning on May 16, 1976, when Billy Martin demanded the unloading of spot starter Larry Gura to the Royals for backup catcher Fran Healy, Steinbrenner made 22 deals in which 27 young major leaguers or farmhands were swapped for 26...well, 26 Doyle Alexanders. Gura went on to win 111 games for Kansas City; Healy went on to get 188 at bats for New York. Then came the nine-player deal in June that cost the Yankees Scott McGregor and Tippy Martinez (190 wins, 110 saves between them) but netted them Alexander (10-5, left by free agency, returned six years later to log as many broken hands as victories-one) and Ken Holtzman (12-10). Steinbrenner would repeat the volume concept eight years later when Jay Howell, Stan Javier, Eric Plunk and Jose Rijo went to Oakland for Rickey Henderson. Henderson hit .288 in New York with 78 homers, 255 RBIs and 326 steals as the Yankees won nothing; Howell, Plunk and Rijo went on to a combined 217 wins and 183 saves, and—with Javier—made it to seven World Series.
Good luck, Chuck. Good luck, George.