Now writing in the Pinch Hitters series is Rob Abruzzese, who found that the acquisition of Damaso Marte might have played a significant role in the Yankees moves this offseason.
After three years writing for two different blogs, Rob started Bronx Baseball Daily in November of 2008. He’s also done work for the New York Daily News and Pinstripes Plus. He’s a graduate of Brooklyn College with degrees in journalism and political science.
In 2001, the Yankees traded Damaso Marte to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Enrique Wilson and almost immediately regretted it. Wilson hit against almost nobody not named Pedro Martinez, and for the next few years, the Yankees would never have a consistent lefty out of the bullpen while repeated attempts to reacquire Marte were unsuccessful.
In 2008, the Yankees finally managed to bring Marte back, along with outfielder Xavier Nady, by sending outfielder Jose Tabata and right-handed pitchers Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, and Ross Ohlendorf to Pittsburgh. Initially, the trade was mostly well received. Tabata was the center piece of the deal and not only had he been struggling, he was also fresh off behavioral issues that caused the Yankees to question his makeup. None of the pitchers appeared too special either. McCutchen looked like the only one of the three with the potential to stick in the Bronx, and even he was a longshot.
Perception of the trade changed because the Yankees had a decision to make involving Marte. He was a Type-A free agent and there were three scenarios that could play out at the time. The first two involved offering him arbitration. If he rejected, the Yankees would still have had the opportunity to re-sign him and could accept a pair of draft picks if they didn’t. If he accepted arbitration, the Yankees would retain him on a one-year deal that would give them roster flexibility and the chance to net two draft picks again in the next offseason as it seemed realistic that he would have been a Type-A free agent again.
The third scenario was the one that happened, and it wasn’t a popular one. Before the Yankees and Marte had the chance to exchange arbitration figures, the two sides reached an agreement on a three-year, $12 million deal. To fans worried that Marte would struggle in the Bronx — he did have a 5.40 ERA in the final weeks of 2008 while pitching in Pinstripes, so there were a lot of them — this was an unacceptable risk.
Perception of the trade took a nose dive early in 2009. Marte hurt himself in the World Baseball Classic and pitched to a 15.19 ERA in seven regular season appearances. Nady was done for the season by April 14. To make things worse, it appeared that the Yankees might have prematurely given up on Tabata as he was putting up pretty good numbers for his age at both Double-A and Triple-A. Marte nearly missed the entire season and when he did come back he didn’t help the perception that the Pirates had gotten one over on the Yankees by finishing the season with a 5.62 ERA in 14 games, finishing the season with a disappointing 9.45 ERA overall.
On face value the deal was looking quite terrible, but Marte’s numbers against lefties for the season would be reason to have faith. In fact, he was masterful against them, holding lefties to a .120 average and a 0.65 WHIP. That carried over into the playoffs. When manager Joe Girardi started to lose faith in his other lefty reliever, Phil Coke, Marte stepped up. His final playoff ERA was 0.00 and he held batters to a .150 average. More importantly, he was perfect in the World Series, striking out five batters and stranding all four runners he inherited.
While Marte certainly wasn’t the MVP of the series, it could be argued that the Yankees couldn’t have won the World Series without him. As amazing as that is, his benefit to the team didn’t end there. By signing Marte to a three-year deal, general manager Brian Cashman gave up a chance to get some highly coveted prospects, but he did get something the Yankees haven’t had since the days of Mike Stanton — a solid and dependable left-handed reliever.
This offseason, because the Yankees had a dependable lefty in the pen, they were able to involve Coke in a trade for outfielder Curtis Granderson, and they were able to trade Michael Dunn for right handed pitcher Javier Vazquez. Had the Yankees never signed Marte to the three-year deal, they would have been unable to include one or both young lefties in those trades and probably would have been forced to include more highly touted prospects.
So, in a way the initial Pittsburgh deal that looked so bad at one point freed the Yankees up to make additional trades that will help the Yankees as they try to repeat in 2010. It also got them the lefty that they had been trying to trade for since they mistakenly dealt him away in 2001.