When the Seattle Mariners traded James Paxton to the New York Yankees for prospects, a segment of fans in the Pacific Northwest immediately expressed uneasiness. Their angst stems from a long-held belief the Yankees have been fleecing the Mariners in trades for decades.
To be clear, not every Mariners fan feels this way. Actually, the group I’m referring to may be relatively small. But a survey of social media commentary after the Paxton deal suggests the naysayers are out there and they can be loud.
A recurring comment among the outspoken is the Mariners are a farm system for the Yankees. A popular example of Yankee thievery is the trade sending Tino Martinez to New York. Heck, I have relatives subscribing to this line of thinking. That deal was 23 years ago!
But is it true? Have the Yankees been fleecing the Mariners in trades?
To get an answer, I researched every trade between the Mariners and Yankees documented in Baseball Reference. Since 1977, there have been 23 deals with varying degrees of relevance between the clubs. Let’s start with the major ones and work our way down.
These trades provided one or both clubs with significant value or disappointment. What may surprise some fans is the relatively low number of big-time transactions over the last 40-plus years.
Unless otherwise noted, each title mentions the players sent to the Yankees first. Afterwards, there’s a description of how the deal affected each club and my summation – the skinny.
Ruppert Jones, Jim Lewis for Rick Anderson, Jim Beattie, Juan Beníquez, Jerry Narron (Nov 1979)
Yankees: Jones was the first player selected by the Mariners in the expansion draft, an All-Star, and a fan-favorite during three seasons with Seattle. However, his lone year in New York was injury-plagued and unproductive. The following offseason, the team traded him to San Diego where he became an All-Star once again.
Lewis pitched two-thirds of an inning with the Yankees before landing with the Twins in 1982. The righty logged 25.2 innings during his MLB career.
Mariners: Beattie was the star of this deal. He played seven seasons with Seattle appearing in 163 games and tossing 30 complete games – including six shutouts.
In one season, Beníquez played 70 games hitting six home runs with a .228/.278/.346 slash. Narron spent two years with the club before his release. He would return to Seattle to close out his eight-year career in 1987.
Anderson pitched 12 MLB innings, all with the Mariners in 1979-80. He’d finish with Class-AAA Spokane in 1981. Sadly, he died eight years later at 35-years-old.
Skinny: This one favored the Mariners thanks to the success of Beattie.
Ken Phelps for Jay Buhner, Rick Balabon, Troy Evers (July 1988)
Yankees: Phelps was having a career-year when traded. But Seattle native played 153 games with just eight homers over the next two seasons with the Yankees, Indians, and A’s before retiring. Balabon and Evers never played in MLB.
Mariners: Buhner spent 14 seasons in the Emerald City hitting the third most home runs (307) in franchise history behind Ken Griffey Jr. (417) and Edgar Martinez (309). The Mariners inducted “Bone” into their Hall of Fame in 2004.
Skinny: This deal was huge for Seattle, much to the chagrin of Frank Costanza.
Tino Martinez, Jim Mecir, Jeff Nelson for Russ Davis, Sterling Hitchcock (Dec 1995)
Yankees: The Mariners were unlikely to re-sign Martinez, so they dealt him once he agreed to a five-year/$20 million contract with New York. Over the six next seasons, Tino was an All-Star and an MVP runner-up. Conversely, Mecir was unspectacular before heading to Boston two years later via trade.
Nelson was solid with his new club earning three World Series rings. The versatile reliever returned to Seattle as a free agent and a member of the 2001 crew that won a record 116 games. Two years later, the Mariners shipped him back to the Yankees for Armando Benítez.
Mariners: Hitchcock struggled and was dealt to the Padres for Scott Sanders after one season. Davis provided below average production in four seasons before leaving via free agency in 1999.
Skinny: The return for Martinez was underwhelming considering he was one of Seattle’s all-time best first basemen. Still, the team did reach the postseason three of the six seasons Tino was a Yankee.
Michael Pineda, Vicente Campos for Jesús Montero, Héctor Noesí (Jan 2012)
Yankees: Pineda didn’t pitch for the Yankees until 2014 due to a shoulder injury. Upon returning, MLB suspended him in April 2014 for using pine tar. During the suspension, he suffered a muscle strain sidelining him until August.
The following year, Pineda began delivering sustained value averaging 30 starts in 2015-16. Unfortunately, he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017. After the season, the right-hander signed with Minnesota and should debut with his new club next year.
Campos never pitched for the Yankees. The club traded him to Arizona in a 2016 deadline deal for reliever Tyler Clippard.
Mariners: Prospect publications rated Montero as a top-10 overall prospect; he never fulfilled that promise. The right-handed hitter had 15 home runs as a rookie, but his .298 on-base and .386 slugging percentages were below average, as was his defense.
Things only worsened over the next four years. Montero battled injuries and his weight, was suspended 50 games due his involvement in the Biogenesis PED scandal, and got into an altercation with a roving instructor during a minor league rehab game.
Montero spent most of 2015 with Class-AAA Tacoma and was waived the following March. The Blue Jays claimed the Venezuelan, who played well enough to be selected for the Triple-A All-Star game. Unfortunately, the 29-year-old was suspended after the season for a failed PED test.
Following the suspension, Montero briefly played in the Orioles’ farm system in 2017. Since then, he’s remained active in the Mexican and Venezuelan Winter leagues.
Noesí struggled with Seattle posting a 6.13 ERA in 36 appearances. The right-hander also had a knack for surrendering dingers on 0-2 counts, which Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish dutifully noted.
Doesn’t matter how the size of the park, Noesí could find a way to give up a homer on an 0-2 count with a fastball down the middle
— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) October 2, 2012
Divish’s tweet wasn’t hyperbole. In 2012, Noesí faced 48 batters with an 0-2 count and surrendered five home runs tying him for most bombs allowed during that pitch count during an MLB season. The Rangers purchased the 31-year-old from Seattle during the 2014 season.
Skinny: This deal was disastrous for the Mariners.
Name recognition elevates these trades to a higher level of importance for Mariners fans than the actual value accrued by either team.
Jim Blueberg for Mike Blowers (May 1991)
Yankees: Blueberg made eight Double-AA starts for the Yankees and never pitched again.
Mariners: During three stints with Seattle encompassing 464 games, Blowers posted a respectable .270/.343/.448 slash. The former Washington Husky finished his 11-year career as a Mariner in 1999.
Skinny: Seattle won the deal on and off the field. Blowers was a valuable performer, plus younger fans know him as a top-notch analyst on Mariners broadcasts.
Ichiro Suzuki for Danny Farquhar, D.J. Mitchell (July 2012)
Yankees: Ichiro was having his worst season when the Mariners fulfilled his trade request. The move to the Bronx reinvigorated the 10-time All-Star.
Ichiro hit .322 for the final two months of 2012 helping New York reach the playoffs. After the season, he signed a two-year contract with the Yankees. But his production closely resembled his diminished Seattle output.
Mariners: Farquhar was Seattle’s closer for the last two months of his rookie campaign saving 16 games. He’d spend two more years with the team in lesser roles before being traded to the Rays in 2015. Mitchell never reached the majors after the deal.
Skinny: Short-term, the deal benefited the Yankees. But it helped the Mariners avoid a potential public relations nightmare for not re-signing Ichiro – one of the greatest and most beloved players in franchise history.
Dustin Ackley for Ramón Flores, José Ramírez (July 2015)
Yankees: Shortly after this trade, Ackley missed five weeks with a lumbar strain. The next year, he suffered a separated shoulder and a torn labrum requiring surgery with the club releasing him after the season.
Mariners: Flores never played for Seattle with the club trading him to the Brewers for Luis Sardinas in November 2015. Ramírez appeared in five games before heading to the Braves that same year for pitcher Ryne Harper.
Skinny: Notable, but inconsequential for both sides.
More trades fall into this category than any other. Sometimes, the Yankees did better. In other instances, Seattle prevailed. On at least one occasion, a deal was a nothing-burger.
Larry Milbourne, PBTNL for Brad Gulden (Nov 1980)
Yankees: In his first season as a Yankee, Milbourne had the best batting average (.313) and OBP (.351) of his 11-year MLB career. However, he hit just .148 the following year before being shipped to the Twins in May.
Mariners: Gulden played a combined 23 games with Seattle and Class-AAA Spokane before heading back to the Yankees in May 1981.
Skinny: The most interesting aspect of the transaction is Gulden being the player to be named later – he was traded for himself.
Epilogue: Milbourne was involved in another deal between both teams. New York purchased his contract from Philadelphia in 1983 and sent him back to Seattle for Eric Parent and Scott Nielsen. The Rowan University alum was productive for the Mariners during 1984 – his final big league season. Parent never played in MLB; Nielsen appeared in 19 games posting a 4.83 ERA.
Shane Rawley for Bill Caudill, Gene Nelson, Bobby Brown (April 1982)
Yankees: Rawley was the Mariners’ closer, but New York converted him into a starter. He’d remain in that role for the remainder of his career with the Yankees, Twins, and Phillies.
Mariners: Caudill became Seattle’s closer finishing seventh in 1982 Cy Young Award voting. His effectiveness diminished in year-two leading the team trade him with Darrel Akerfelds to A’s for Dave Beard and Bob Kearney.
Skinny: Rawley bolstered New York’s rotation; Caudill served as the Mariners’ closer for two years. Slight edge to the Yanks.
Lee Guetterman, Clay Parker, Wade Taylor for Henry Cotto, Steve Trout (Dec 1987)
Yankees: Guetterman had a 3.73 ERA in 233 games with New York. He’d finish his career with the Mariners in 1995-96. Parker made 27 appearances in just over one season before his inclusion in a deal with Lance McCullers to the Detroit Tigers for Matt Nokes in June 1990.
Taylor’s lone year with the Yankees was 1991 when he had a 6.27 ERA in 22 starts. He’d finish his career with Class-AAA Columbus in 1993.
Mariners: In six seasons, Cotto hit .261 and stole 102 bases for Seattle. The team exchanged him and Jeff Darwin with the Marlins for Dave Magadan. Trout had a 7.40 ERA during the final two seasons of his 12-year career.
Skinny: Both clubs benefited from this deal.
Steve Balboni for Dana Ridenour (Mar 1989)
Yankees: After clobbering 21 home runs in 97 games with Seattle, Balboni produced similar numbers during his first season in the Bronx. In 1990, the slugger played sparingly batting just .192 in 116 games. The Yankees released him before the start of the 1991 season.
Mariners: Ridenour never pitched above Double-A.
Skinny: The Yankees did better, but the Mariners tallied more wins and runs scored the year after dealing Balboni. Meh.
Sean Twitty for Tim Leary (Aug 1992)
Skinny: Leary made 35 starts with a 5.02 ERA for the Mariners in 1992-93. He’d make six more MLB appearances with Texas before retiring. Twitty never reached the majors.
Shawn Kelley for Abraham Almonte (Feb 2013)
Skinny: Kelley had a 11.8 SO/9 rate during 116 appearance in 2013-14. Almonte played 52 games and had a weak .275 OBP. He was dealt to the Padres with Stephen Kohlscheen for Chris Denorfia. Edge Yankees.
Teams routinely purchase players from other clubs. These transactions delivered little-to-no impact.
Stan Thomas to Yankees (Aug 1977) -Thomas finished the year with New York; never played again in the majors.
Paul Lindblad from Yankees (Nov 1978) – Seattle released Lindblad before the 1979 season. Sadly, he passed away in 2006.
Brendan Ryan To Yankees (Sep 2013) – Ryan hit just .201 as a part-timer in 2013-15, which was worse than his Mariners average (.215).
Adam Warren from Yankees (July 2018) – Now a free agent, Warren appeared in 23 games with opponents slugging .419 against him.
Too Early To Tell
Including the Paxton deal, the Mariners and Yankees have made four trades since 2016 involving young talent. Therefore, it’s too soon to assess these transactions. That doesn’t mean we can’t quickly review the deals prior to the one sending Big Maple to the Big Apple.
Juan De Paula, Jio Orozco for Ben Gamel (Aug 2016)
Mariners: Gamel had an impressive .358 OBP in 101 games last season. He projects as the Opening Day left fielder, but that’s subject to change considering the organization’s teardown, reimagining, step back.
Zack Littell for James Pazos (Nov 2016)
Yankees: Littell was shipped to the Twins in a 2017 deadline deal for Jaime Garcia. The 23-year-old debuted with Minnesota this year appearing in eight games.
Mariners: Pazos tossed 103.2 relief innings with 110 strikeouts in two seasons. The Mariners traded the southpaw with Juan Nicasio and Jean Segura to Philadelphia for J.P. Crawford and Carlos Santana.
Santana is still with the Mariners, right?
Juan Then, J.P. Sears for Nick Rumbelow (Dec 2017)
Yankees: According to MLB Prospect Watch, Then ranks 21st in the team’s system. Sears isn’t a top-30 prospect, but had a 3.17 ERA with Class-A Charleston last season.
Mariners: Rumbelow began last season on the DL and fared poorly in limited MLB action. The righty performed better with Class-AAA Tacoma.
My takeaway from our stroll down memory lane is the Mariners and Yankees made four meaningful trades in the last 40 years. Seattle prevailed in the Beattie and Buhner deals, while New York did better when acquiring Tino and Pineda.
Not counting moves made within the last two years, Yankees held the edge more often than the Mariners did in the remaining trades. But the advantage was often small and certainly doesn’t rise to the level of “fleecing.”
Essentially, the facts don’t support the bleak picture some pessimists paint on the Twitter-verse or Facebook. The Yankees fleecing of the Mariners is a myth.
Then again, if Paxton wins the Cy Young Award next year, one of my relatives or someone on Twitter will remind me of this piece.