About 22 months removed from the trade, the Giants’ theft of Mike Yastrzemski still astounds people around MLB and people around Mike Yastrzemski.
More surprising than the trade return — minor league righty Tyler Herb — is what preceded the Orioles giving up on the outfielder: never trying him at the major league level.
Yastrzemski tallied 2,789 plate appearances from 2013-18 in the Baltimore system, rising to Double-A in 2014 and Triple-A in 2016 but never getting the call. The Orioles were deep with outfield prospects, and Yastrzemski was not the power hitter he has become — the most home runs he hit in a minor league season was 15 — but still displayed the beginnings of an all-around game that has blossomed on the other side of the country.
Curt Casali, Yastrzemski’s Vanderbilt teammate and close friend, saw up close the hamster wheel Yastrzemski couldn’t escape. Casali, as a Tampa prospect beginning in 2013 after a trade from the Tigers, would see his pal in Florida spring trainings, then see him on the field when the Rays’ Triple-A Durham would play the Orioles’ Triple-A Norfolk.
Casali’s first shot came in 2014, as a 25-year-old. Yastrzemski had to wait another five years.
“I just can’t ever believe why Baltimore would ever do that,” Casali, newly signed with the Giants, said on a Zoom call Tuesday. “Just keep him hidden away.”
The Giants did not envision Yastrzemski turning into an MVP candidate, but a rebuilding club thin on depth looked for teams that were full of outfield options. The Orioles were a match — the Giants would later grab Joey Rickard, too, from a pipeline they like — and the deal was completed March 23, 2019.
Yastrzemski’s shot came May 25. He struggled and nearly was demoted before catching fire in a series in Colorado and never really cooled off.
“I don’t think there’s a really great word to describe how happy I was or am or proud of him,” said Casali of Yastrzemski, the two groomsmen in each other’s weddings. “Just because of all the crap that he had to deal with in the early stages of his career.”
Yastrzemski is now a 30-year-old building block who finished eighth in NL MVP voting in 2020. As both a leader and perhaps the best player on the club, he slashed .297/.400/.568 and played his way out of his grandfather’s shadow.
“For him to come to an organization, a city like San Francisco and be able to put that on display right away is kind of like a bunch of built-up energy, built-up excitement that just needed to come out in the form of now getting MVP votes,” said Casali, the front-runner to be Buster Posey’s backup. “To say I’m proud of him is just not enough. I can’t really put words to how happy I am for him.
“Now I get to see it firsthand.”