Yankees: Did the Jay Buhner Trade Actually Set NYY Back as Much as We Think?


Revisiting the Yankees-Mariners trade involving slugger Jay Buhner.

As far as trades are concerned, perhaps the greatest blemish on the Yankees’ historic resume came back in 1998 when they unloaded touted outfield prospect Jay Buhner to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for designated hitter/first baseman Ken Phelps.

Because the 1980s were a forgettable time for New York, a multitude of fans view this trade as the one that set the club back a few years.

Well, with Tuesday being anniversary of the infamous trade, it’s only fitting that we take stroll down memory lane and perform some analysis from both the Yankees’ and Mariners’ perspectives to see if we can prove those fans wrong.

We’ll start with Seattle.

Everybody and their mother knows that the Mariners fleeced the Pinstripes in this deal. After appearing in just 32 games for New York, Buhner went on to play the remaining 14 seasons of his MLB career in Seattle. During that span, he clobbered 307 home runs with 951 RBI and an .857 OPS. He even mashed at least 40 or more dingers for three consecutive seasons from 1995 to 1997.

While “Bone” was a certified slugger, he never really hit for average and was thereby only named to one All-Star team. The notion that unloading him set the Yankees back was likely amplified by the fact that he absolutely feasted against his former club.

In 104 games against the Bronx Bombers, he hit 28 home runs with a .957 OPS. He even came up big during the 1995 ALDS when he batted .458 versus New York.

However, as glaringly as the Mariners bamboozled the Yankees in the trade, they never won a World Series with Buhner in the middle of their lineup. The last time we checked, championships matter!

Sure, Phelps didn’t contribute much of anything to New York, but let’s not forget that the Yanks and Seattle made the playoffs the same year (1995) for the first time following the trade.

From 1989 to 1992, NYY won an average of 72 games per season. If Buhner was still around, was he really going to make that much of a difference? No way. The Yankees simply weren’t a good team back then and 30 home runs per year wasn’t going to change that, plus Buhner didn’t even break out 1991.

Unfortunately, this means that we still don’t have an answer to the late Jerry Stiller’s iconic question in one of the greatest “Seinfeld” episodes ever.

Not only that, but the Yankees won FOUR championships from 1996-2000 and didn’t need Buhner, whose best years came from 1991-1997. New York also outed Seattle from the playoffs twice in ’00 and ’01. It’s sure intriguing to think what might have been if he was still a Yankee, but it’s hard to sit here and say this deal crippled the franchise.

Just because Buhner exceeded expectations with the Mariners, doesn’t mean offloading him prevented New York from being a perennial juggernaut. That narrative doesn’t exist and it’s not worth trying to create.

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