Midway through the 2008 season Brian Cashman made a trade that looked pretty good at the time, bringing both Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte to the Bronx from the Pirates. The oddness of the trade’s outcome has seldom been put into perspective.
Nady was in the midst of a career year. He’d been a slightly better than average hitter his entire career, until the first half of 2008 when he put up an OPS+ of 143. Meanwhile, Marte was one of the most coveted left handed relievers in baseball. Dating back to 2002, Marte had never once put up an ERA+ below 100, and had at times been dominant to the tune of an ERA+ of 292 in 2003 and 182 in 2007.
Both guys regressed in pinstripes. The fans, myself included at the time, embraced Nady as a solid bottom-of-the-order bat. But he’d fallen tremendously from his heights as a Pirate. After putting up a breathtaking .330/.383/.535 with the Bucs, Nady went back to being just slightly better than average, posting a .260/.320/.474 with the Yankees. To quote Dom DeLuise from A History of the World Part 1, “Nice. Not thrilling, but nice.” The same could not be said of Marte. Damaso quickly became replacement level as a Yankee. His ERA+ fell to just 82 in 18 innings of work.
The Yankees saw something in Marte that no one else did. Despite the fact that Nady at leasy performed to big-league expectations, the Yankees offered Marte a three-year extension. (The Yankees may have hesitated on Nady due to his injury history; if that is the case then it proved prescient.) Marte turned around and thanked the team with a god-awful 2009 regular season. His ERA was 9.45. No one needs to see his ERA+ breakdown to know that’s bad.
While Nady is trapped somewhere between the Yankees (perhaps) and another team, Marte is with the Bombers for at least two more seasons. Injuries were offered as the explanation for his terrible 2009 performance — and while he did improve dramatically in the second half of the season, that didn’t make it any less terrifying to see Joe Girardi hand him the ball so often in the playoffs. That the Fox and TBS announcers insisted on explaining to the national audiences that, no, really, Marte is good when he’s healthy, and Joe Girardi is still in complete control of his faculties, added a wonderful element of hilarity to his appearances.
Marte didn’t make any friends in his appearance against Minnesota. He gave up 2 hits and recorded 0 outs — that’s bad. But Girardi stayed with him and, the most amazing thing happened. In 4 innings of high pressure work in the ALCS and World Series Marte was — wait for it — perfect. He allowed no hits. He walked no batters. In the World Series he struck out 5 (FIVE!). Most importantly, he allowed no runs. A pitcher who had previously been an opposite field line drive waiting to happen turned into a clutch, shut ‘em down performer (with a little help from Ryan Howard).
Will the real Damaso Marte please stand up? On the one hand, there is a pitcher who has been abysmal as a Yankee — bad in 2008 and execrable in 2009. On the other hand, all you need on this team is a sterling postseason resume and all is forgiven. 2009′s zero runs allowed postseason performance brings Marte’s postseason career ERA down to … well, zero. He didn’t give up any runs when he was in the postseason with the White Sox in 2005, either.
The Yankees are betting that Marte is healthy, and will return to his pre-2008 form, which was amazing. For the past two seasons the Yankees have needed to retool their bullpen as the season went on. (Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez, anyone?) This year figures to be different. Mariano Rivera is still, well, Mariano Rivera, and with either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Huges taking on 8th inning duties, the Yankees bullpen figures to be exceptional, with Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, David Robertson and Alfredo Aceves all vying for work. Marte is the only lefty specialist on the team now that Phil Coke is gone (good riddance). With his postseason brilliance etched firmly in our minds, we the fans seem to be fine with this. Hopefully Marte is as well.
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