Trade Retrospective – Rickey Henderson to the Athletics

On June 21, 1989, the Oakland Athletics reacquired OF Rickey Henderson from the New York Yankees for pitchers Greg Cadaret, Eric Plunk, and OF Luis Polonia.

The Background

Henderson had been an elite outfielder for the Yankees, but was coming up for free agency after the 1989 season. The Yankees themselves were at a 33-35 record coming into June 21st, but were 6.5 games back in the AL East, with what appears to be little hope that they would be able to make up the ground and aim for a postseason run. The Athletics, on the other hand, were 44-27, but only 2 games up in the AL West division. They had some excellent pitching, led by staff ace Dave Stewart, but appeared to be lacking on the offense side and especially in the leadoff spot.

The Moving Pieces

In New York, Greg Cadaret was slotted into the starting rotation, Eric Plunk was put into the bullpen, and Luis Polonia was put into the lineup as the replacement for Henderson.

In Oakland, Henderson helped to stabilize the LF position for the team, taking over the spot that had been mostly manned by Luis Polonia previously during the season.

What Happened Next

Henderson provided a serious balance to the Athletics lineup, manning the leadoff spot and hitting .294/.425/.438 with 9 HR, 35 RBI and an insane 52 SB in only 85 games. In addition, he scored 72 runs while leading the Athletics to a 55-36 record from the time he arrived.

In New York, Cadaret made 13 starts out of a total 20 appearances with the Yankees, posting a 5-5 record with a 4.58 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 92 1/3 innings. Plunk started out in the bullpen before making 7 starts to end the season. He posted a 7-5 record in a total of 27 appearances, with a very solid 3.69 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings. Polonia was an extremely poor-man’s version of Henderson, as he hit .313/.359/.405 with 2 HR, 29 RBI, and 9 SB while playing left field for the Yankees.

The Net Moves

Yankees – First Level

  • Greg Cadaret posted a 22-23 record with a 4.12 ERA in 439 innings pitched for the Yankees. He posted 324 strikeouts and 235 walks in that time, leading to a poor 1.544 WHIP. On 11/6/1992, his contract was purchased by the Cincinnati Reds.
  • Eric Plunk went 5-13 with a 3.88 ERA in 260 innings pitched. He had 231 strikeouts and 157 walks during that time, and was unceremoniously released by the Yankees on 11/20/1991
  • Luis Polonia only spent part of the 1990 season with the Yankees, hitting .289 with 10 SB and 41 runs scored. He was traded to the California Angels during the 1990 season for P Rich Monteleone and OF Claudell Washington

Athletics – First Level

  • Rickey Henderson was nearly as good in his second stint with the Athletics as he had been in his first. In 562 games, he scored 450 runs, hit .298/.421/.492 with 86 HR, 240 RBI and 254 SB. He won the 1990 AL MVP, and was a part of the Athletics’ 1989 World Championship team. He was traded as a part of the rebuilding effort of 1993, where he went to Toronto for minor leaguers Steve Karsay and Jose Herrera.

Athletics – Second Level

  • Jose Herrera played in 141 games for the Athletics from 1995-1996, posting a .264/.314/.367 line with 6 HR and 9 SB. He became a free agent on 10/17/1997, and was not subject to compensation.
  • Steve Karsay threw 209 2/3 innings pitched for the Athletics, posting a 7-16 record with 140 strikeouts and 71 walks. A reasonable 4.95 ERA and 1.49 WHIP were given by Karsay prior to his trade to the Indians for RP Mike Fetters.

Yankees – Second Level

  • Claudell Washington played in 33 games in the 1990 season for the Yankees, posting a meager .163/.181/.200 line with 3 steals and 4 runs scored. He was released on 10/4/1990, and ended up retiring.
  • Rich Monteleone went 17-9 with a 4.06 ERA and 154 strikeouts in 232 2/3 innings pitched. He left via free agency on 10/15/1993.

Athletics – Third Level

  • Rich Fetters spent a part of the 1998 season with the Athletics, posting a 1-6 record in 48 appearances. He also struck out 34 batters and walked 21 in his 47 1/3 innings pitched. He was traded to the California Angels during the season for essentially nothing.

Overall Reactions

The Athletics did well on this trade in my opinion. They were hoping to bring in a player who would help them to win a championship, and he succeeded at that goal. The fact that the Yankees got essentially a minimal contribution from any of the players that they received leads me to believe that they really only gained minimal improvement over losing Henderson to free agency. In addition to the championship, the Athletics also had Henderson when he broke Lou Brock’s career stolen base record, and also went to the 1990 World Series as well.

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