C I N C I N N A T I, July 13, 2000 -- The New York Yankees wanted Denny Neagle andthey got him, giving up highly ranked prospects to fill in the gapin their rotation.
The Yankees traded minor league third baseman Drew Henson,outfielder Jackson Melian, right-hander Brian Reith and left-handerEd Yarnall on Wednesday to the Cincinnati Reds for Neagle and minorleague outfielder Mike Frank.
“We like these guys, but we’ve made the decision to go forit,” general manager Brian Cashman said.
Tale of Two Teams
The trade represented a turning point for two franchises headedin different directions as the season resumes after the All-Starbreak.
The two-time defending World Series champions are trying topatch holes in the roster that have left them in a three-waycontest for the AL East. By contrast, the Reds have gone back torebuilding only a few months after winning 96 games, trading forKen Griffey Jr. and becoming a favorite to win the NL Central.
The Neagle deal is similar to the one the Reds made in 1998,trading top starter Dave Burba to Cleveland on the eve of theseason opener, and similar to a move the Chicago White Sox made inJuly 1997.
The White Sox traded for prospects that year even though theywere 3½ games out of first, a move that has paid off in the ALCentral lead this year. Cincinnati trails St. Louis by eight gamesin the NL Central.
“I know this deal’s going to be unpopular for the present,”general manager Jim Bowden said. “The White Sox took a lot ofgrief when they made a similar trade a few years ago. But in theend, that’s how you win.”
The Yankees knew they needed another run producer and anotherstarting pitcher to elbow their way into the playoffs again. Theytried to get Juan Gonzalez—he was too expensive—and missed outon Sammy Sosa—the Cubs’ trade demands were too steep—beforegetting David Justice from Cleveland two weeks ago.
When it came time to address the rotation, they reached for thetop shelf. Neagle, a free agent after this season, is 14-2 with a3.14 ERA since last August.
He knows what late-season pressure is like. He has pitched in 10playoffs games, including two World Series starts for Atlantaagainst the Yankees in 1996.
“Denny Neagle is the guy we wanted,” Cashman said. “We feelhe was the best pitcher available on the market. He has postseasonexperience. He’s healthy. He’s been successful. And a left-handerat Yankee Stadium—all those attributes played a part in it.”
Plus, he likes New York.
‘Wildest Fans in Baseball’
“I know there’s been players throughout their careers thatdon’t necessarily like to play in New York, whether they say thefans or the media can be tough on them,” Neagle said. “You’ve gotto have fun with it. That’s right up my alley, to go there withsome of the most crazy, wildest fans in baseball.”
Neagle, 31, knew there was a good chance he would be tradedafter he turned down a below-market offer from the Reds—threeyears, $18 million—to keep free agency an option.
He was afraid that if he signed an extension before the July 31trading deadline, Bowden would trade him anyway. That’s what Bowdendid with closer Jeff Shaw in July 1998, shortly after he signed abelow-market extension.
“I didn’t want to be in a situation where I was locked into anew contract and did get traded and didn’t have any say-so where Igot to play,” Neagle said.
Looking for a New Deal
The Yankees now assume that risk, although Neagle said he wouldbe willing to sit down and listen to an offer.
“I’m definitely open-minded,” said Neagle, who makes $4.75million. “I would be foolish not to entertain offers from theYankees. Let’s put it this way: They were on my short list of teamsI would consider in free agency.”
While the Reds get back to rebuilding toward a new stadium in2003, the Yankees will try to elbow their way into the playoffswith a rotation that includes Neagle, Roger Clemens, David Cone,Andy Pettitte and Orlando Hernandez.
“I’d like to get another World Series start and be on thatmound in the ninth inning,” Neagle said. “It would be a dreamcome true for me to be able to finish out a game for the Yankees inthe World Series.”
The key to the deal was Henson, who hasn’t decided whether toplay baseball or go into the NFL. He’s expected to be the startingquarterback at Michigan this fall.
“Henson is the wild card in the deal,” Bowden said. “If inthe future he plays major league baseball, I think in the end thisis a real good deal for the Reds. If he does play football, I stillthink it’s a good deal considering the circumstances.”
Henson is hitting .287 for Double-A Norwich. Melian, 20, hit.252 with nine homers in 81 games at Norwich this season. Reith,22, went 9-4 with a 2.18 ERA for Class A Tampa. Yarnall, 24, was2-1 with a 4.56 ERA in 10 starts for the Yankees this season.
Frank, 25, played in 28 games for the Reds in 1998, hitting.225, and has been at Triple-A since.