“He may well be the best player I’ve ever traded.”
– Brian Cashman, New York Yankees GM
During his 15-year career as Yankees General Manager, Brian Cashman, armed with the deep, cavernous, Steinbrenner-filled pockets, has been no stranger to subtleties of trading away baseball players, both prospects and veterans alike. In fact, Cashman, who once dealt Eric Milton, Christian Guzman, and two other players for All-Star second baseman Chuck Knoblauch the same he day was promoted to the position, has made a total of 93 trades during his longstanding tenure, or about six trades every year.
- No one expected, not the media, not the fans, and not the analysts. No word had ever leaked of a potential deal until both sides had come to an agreement, which also included Hector Noesi and Jose Campos.
- The aforementioned quote, you know, the one about slugger Jesus Montero possibly being the best player Cashman ever dealt.
The quote, which broke the same night of the deal, opened more than a few eyes. Is Jesus Montero really the greatest player the Yankees GM ever traded away?
Well, probably not.
Remember, Cashman has dealt away one future Hall of Famer, Randy Johnson, another two players in Gary Sheffield and Kenny Lofton, who could very likely end up in the Hall, and another player, Alfonso Soriano, who is a seven-time All-Star. Needless to say, it’s quite premature to thrust Montero’s name among some of the better ballplayers of the past two decades.
So what about prospects? Is Montero the best prospect Cashman has ever traded? Or, even better, what will it take for him to become the best prospect he ever dealt?
Montero, whose name has been talked about in scouting circles for what seems like years, is still only 22-years-old, and has just 69 total big league plate appearances, fully preserving his rookie status for 2012. The catcher-turned-anything-but has been ranked among the top 40 prospects in the games three times, two of those times among the top four, according to Baseball America.
Can anyone of Cashman’s former prospects make similar claims?
Well, sort of, but not quite.
Former World Series MVP Mike Lowell was twice named among the top 75 prospects, the highest ranking being #58 prior to 1999. Christian Guzman was once ranked as the sixty-eighth best prospect. Jake Westbrook, who was previously acquired from Montreal, was still a prospect in 2000 when the team shipped him to Cleveland, but was three years removed from his only appearance among the top 100; he was number 75. Rickey Ledee, who was also part of the deal, appeared on the list twice, the highest being #46. Former NFL quarterback Drew Henson, who was dealt by New York only to be re-acquired less than one year later, made four appearances, three of them among the top 25. Other top prospects, according to Baseball America, to be dealt also include Wily Mo Pena, Brandon Claussen, Juan Rivera, Joaquin Arias, Dioner Navarro, Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy, and Arodys Vizcaino. It’s a fine list of prospects, many of whom would develop into very good big leaguers, but the closest a prospect has come to Montero’s lofty prospect ranking was oft-injured first baseman Nick Johnson.
Johnson would appear on Baseball America’s top 100 prospect lists four separate times: 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2002. His highest ranking, fifth, was prior to the 2000 season, but he ranked no lower than eighteenth.
So who was the better prospect? Well, according to Baseball America’s rankings, Montero gets the nod for despite appearing on the list one fewer time, but he twice ranked among the top four in baseball; Johnson never did.
So now that it appears that Montero was the best prospect Cashman ever dealt, what does he have to produce to become the best prospect-turned-Major-Leaguer?
Well, according to the wins above replacement as determined by baseballreference.com, Mike Lowell’s 28.8 WAR total is the highest among those former prospects. The former Gold Glove winner hit .279/.342/.464 during his 13-year big league career, with 223 homeruns and 952 RBIs.
Can Jesus Montero become the greatest player Brian Cashman has ever traded? Maybe. But first things first, he must overtake Mike Lowell as the greatest prospect Cashman has ever traded. Then the conversation can continue.