In a Seinfeld episode, Frank Costanza once asked Yankee owner George Steinbrenner:
“What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for? He had 30 home runs, and over 100 RBIs last year. He’s got a rocket for an arm. You don’t know what the hell you’re doin’!”
Steinbrenner: “Well, Buhner was a good prospect, no question about it. But my baseball people loved Ken Phelps’ bat.”
The Yankees have moved a prospect or two over the years like Mike Lowell, Willie McGee, Fred McGriff, Ian Kennedy and Mark Melancon.
General manager Brian Cashman wasn’t moving any of his organization’s talent to the Cincinnati Reds for Johnny Cueto, to the Philadelphia Phillies for Cole Hamels or the Detroit Tigers for David Price.
The Yankees kept their treasure trove, some of which was on display at the Rogers Centre this week as the Blue Jays and New York attempted to settle first place.
Like Luis Severino on Tuesday night, who held the American League’s most potent offence to three hits, only one that left the park, allowing two runs in six innings.
And like first baseman Greg Bird, who hit a three-run game-winning homer in the 10th off Mark Lowe, after Brian McCann reached on a bunt single into the gaping hole of the defensive shift (why don’t we see more of that anti-shift attacks?) and Slade Heathcott reached on catcher’s interference.
It was Bird’s 10th homer in his first 137 plate appearances in the majors.
Besides that pair, you can add in outfielder Aaron Judge, 23 (.255, 20 homers, 72 RBIs, .777 OPS at double-A Trenton and triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre) and shortstop Jorge Mateo, 20 (two homers, 40 RBIs, 82 steals, .737 OPS at class-A Charleston and class-A Tampa).
Teams called. The Yankees declined to move any of the four.
The Yankees system has had 15 homegrowns in the majors this season including outfielder Peter O’Brien of the Arizona Diamondbacks and switch-pitcher Patrick Venditte with the Oakland A’s. Homegrown reliever Dellin Betances and outfielder Brett Gardner made the all-star game in Cincinnati to join Melancon of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Brian has a plan,” said scouting director Damon Oppenheimer. “Billy Eppler (assistant GM) does a great job on the anayltics along with all our people in the office.”
Time will tell whether Bird, Severino, Judge and Mateo grow into the Core Four like homegrowns Bernie Williams, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, but the Yankees have a start.
Donnie Rowland deserves the credit for Mateo signing.
There was a Colorado gold rush, when gold was discovered at Pike’s Peak in 1859. There has never been a rush amongst scouts to draft high school position players from Colorado. Pitchers? Yes. Roy Halladay and Hall of Famer Goose Gossage.
With his 10 homers, Bird already ranks 14th among home runs by a player from Colorado. The leader is Chase Headley, his teammate, with 104. There has not been a first rounder from the state since the Baltimore Orioles chose Darnell McDonald in 1997, the same year the Jays chose Vernon Wells.
“Bird is unique,” said Oppenheimer, “there are very few college or high school position players selected from the state of Colorado. Greg was a catcher, but it bothered his back to catch. We thought he had the right make up.”
Area scout Steve Kmetko “continued to push” for Bird and Oppenheimer selected him in the fifth round in 2011 and gave him a $1.1 million US signing bonus.
“Steve knew the signability and the fact Greg had a real desire to play pro ball,” said Oppenheimer.
Between Headley and Bird on the all-time Colorado home run list are the likes of Johnny Frederick, Johnny Lindell, Buster Adams, John Stearns, Jimmy Welsh, McDonald, Chuck Cottier, James Mouton, Mark Johnson, Larry Harlow, Roy Hartzell and Bert Niehoff.
The 6-foot-7 Judge was drafted from Fresno in the first round (32nd over-all) by the Yankees and scout Troy Afenir in the 2013.
Former Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who previously coached the Creighton University Bluejays, was involved in the Judge signing as well.
“With his college and pro background Jim helped make it an easier process,” said Oppenheimer, who gave Judge $1.8 million.
Now, with the Yankees, Hendry would have been a good fit to take over for the Blue Jays outgoing president Paul Beeston.
Now one knows for sure what lies down the road a few years -- or even the next two weeks -- but Cashman and Oppenheimer have put in place the building blocks to help the Yankees remain a stable force in the AL East.
Severino and Bird will have a say in who finishes first this season as well.