Five Best Yankees Offseason Acquisitions of the Last 20 Years

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The New York Yankees have not been nearly as successful as they were during the late-1990s as they won four World Series titles from 1996 through 2001. Despite not having as much success, they have still been perennial playoff contenders. Since 2001, they have been to the World Series twice, 2003 and 2009, winning it once, in 2009. In fact, New York has missed the postseason only four times since the turn of the century. The last two decades of sustained success is due in part to many significant offseason acquisitions. A successful Yankees offseason usually consists of spending money and showing off their financial might. However, they have also made a number of very impactful offseason trades as well whose lasting impacts are greater than others. These are the five best Yankees offseason moves throughout the last 20 years.

5) Hideki Matsui Comes Over From Japan

December 19, 2002

Hideki Matsui is widely considered one of the best hitters to ever make the transition from Asia to the MLB. The Yankees won his services by way of a contract worth $21 million over three years. While Matsui received MVP votes, was a two-time All-Star, and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting during this deal, his impact on the Yankees was much greater. Not only did he sign a four-year extension once this deal concluded, but he also went on to become a postseason hero. He batted .615 with three home runs and eight RBI, including two home runs and six RBI in Game 6, as he won the World Series MVP in 2009.

Matsui was a global icon and his legacy stretches beyond just what he accomplished on the field. Affectionately known as “Godzilla,” Matsui became a fan favorite right away. In all, he batted .292/.360/.462, good for an .822 OPS and 118 OPS+, while hitting 140 home runs in seven seasons with New York. This is one of the more underrated Yankees offseason moves of the last 20 years.

4) DJ LeMahieu Becomes a Yankee

January 14, 2019

DJ LeMahieu spent the first eight years of his career as a borderline league-average player. His only above-average hitting season came in 2016 and he posted a 128 OPS+ and hit .346. Playing for the Colorado Rockies, LeMahieu always hit for a good average but only hit double-digit home runs twice. It is safe to say not many Yankees fans were excited when he signed a two-year/$24 million deal after the 2018 season. He was a two-time All-Star who played Gold Glove defense at second base but not much more than that. It was a move that confused many Yankees fans who thought signing Manny Machado was still a possibility. All told, LeMahieu has become a folk hero-like figure in New York.

While this deal occurred only two years ago, the sheer brilliance that is D.J. LeMahieu is what makes him one of the best acquisitions of the last 20 years. He has vastly outperformed the $12 million AAV in each year of his deal. LeMahieu is not just an outstanding second baseman, he also plays above-average defense at third and first base. He hit a combined .336/.386/.536, good for a .922 OPS and 145 OPS+, and showing much more power than expected by his 36 home runs in 195 games. His combined 8.9 bWAR over the last two years ranks seventh in all of baseball. Along with the statistical excellence came multiple accolades as he was an All-Star appearance in 2019, a top-4 MVP finisher in both years, and won two Silver Slugger awards. LeMahieu’s production relative to his contract and expectations is what makes this a fantastic acquisition.

3) The Alex Rodriguez Trade

Trade Details: New York Yankees acquire Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers for Alfonso Soriano and a PTBNL who came to be known as Joaquin Arias.

February 16, 2004

Alex Rodriguez time in New York was filled with drama and turmoil. A-Rod was a very controversial figure, on and off the field. The talent, however, was undeniable. His worst year during his Yankees peak was 2004 yet he still hit 36 home runs and put up 7.6 bWAR. He instantly went from the best shortstop in the league to the best third baseman upon completion of this trade. A-Rod won two MVP awards, made seven all-star teams during his tenure in New York. He accumulated 54 WAR in total and is arguably the best third baseman in team history.

A-Rod always seemed to come up short in the playoffs which fans hated most about him. That all changed in 2009 as he had a postseason for the record books. He did not win ALCS MVP nor World Series MVP, yet hit six HR, put up 18 RBI, and hit .365 with a 1.308 OPS. It is entirely plausible that the Yankees do not win the 2009 World Series without this performance from A-Rod. It is the 2009 championship and his performance that cements this trade as one of these five best Yankees offseason moves.

2) The Aroldis Chapman Trade

Trade Details: New York Yankees acquire Aroldis Chapman from the Cincinnati Reds for Caleb Cotham, Eric Jagielo, Rookie Davis, and Tony Renda. 

December 28, 2015

The impact of this move goes way beyond Aroldis Chapman and his performance. Originally, the Reds had a deal in place with the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, domestic abuse suspicions led to the deal falling through. Despite being the hardest throwing pitcher in baseball history, Chapman’s value was at an all-time low because of this. The Yankees swooped in and acquired him for four relatively unknown prospects. He served a 30-game suspension to begin the season and was traded at the trade deadline in one of the most interesting weeks in Yankees history. Up until the trade, Chapman pitched 31 1/3 innings, striking out 44 batters, and posted a 2.01 ERA and 1.93 FIP. The Chicago Cubs traded their top prospect, Gleyber Torres, for Chapman in a move that altered the history of baseball. The Cubs won the World Series while the Yankees missed the playoffs in 2016.

However, Chapman was a free agent and signed a five-year deal with the Yankees. In his time in New York, he has posted a 2.54 ERA, 2.29 FIP, 14.0 K/9, and accumulated 114 saves. The Aroldis Chapman trade turned into the Gleyber Torres trade and that is what makes this Yankees offseason move one of the best in the last 20 years.

1) They Finally Get Their Ace in C.C. Sabathia

December 20, 2008

In 2008, the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994. It was a trying year as many key players struggled with injuries or poor play. Everyone knew what the team needed most, an ace. That ace came in the form of C.C. Sabathia who was by far the best starting pitcher on the market. New York made Sabathia the highest-paid pitcher in history as he signed a seven-year/$161 million deal. The move paid off almost immediately as Sabathia helped lead the Yankees to win the 2009 World Series. He won the 2009 ALCS MVP award and collectively made 5 starts in the postseason that year to the tune of a 1.98 ERA in 36.1 innings.

From 2009 through 2012, Sabathia averaged 226 innings pitched, 205 strikeouts, a 3.22 ERA, 3.28 FIP, and a 135 ERA+. He made three All-Star teams and finished top-four in Cy Young voting three times. Sabathia was one of the best pitchers in the league and very clearly what the Yankees wanted, nay, expected when they signed him. Despite struggling mightily after 2012, he remade himself as a pitcher and was very solid from 2016 through 2018 with 3.76 ERA, 115 ERA+. In all, Sabathia won 134 games in pinstripes, posting a 3.81 ERA, 3.78 FIP, and pitching nearly 2,000 innings. His impact on the field and in the clubhouse during his 11 years with the team making this signing the best of the last 20 years.

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