Yanks Trade Hitchcock For Two Minor Leaguers

The Yankees traded Sterling Hitchcock to the pitching-starved Cardinals on Friday, ending the left-hander's second stint in pinstripes. Hitchcock will finally get the opportunity to make a more significant contribution to another team with playoff hopes, as he'll slide into the Cards' rotation. In return for Hitchcock, the Yankees picked up a pair of minor league pitchers in Justin Pope and Ben Julianel.

Hitchcock was 1-3 with a 5.44 ERA in 27 games for the Yankees. He came into spring training in 2003 with an outside chance at making the Yankees' rotation, but was forced into the bullpen due to the presence of both Jeff Weaver and Jose Contreras.

In the pen, Hitchcock started off strong before faltering. At times he looked extremely hittable, and was never what most people would call "reliable".

Still, Hitchcock made his most important contribution of the season just last week by coming up big in an emergency start. When David Wells went down with a back injury, Hitchcock pitched six innings against the Kansas City Royals, allowing just three runs on five hits without walking a batter.

The return of Jose Contreras to the Yankee rotation left Hitchcock without a role. Weaver was banished to the bullpen where he will function as the Yankees' long reliever.

On the Cardinals, Hitchcock becomes an end-of-the-rotation starter for a team that has been plagued by injury. St. Louis ace Matt Morris has been out since the end of July with a broken hand and injured ankle.

The Yankees picked up a mid-to-high level prospect in Julianel, and a low-level talent in Pope. Julianel is a 23-year old southpaw currently with the single-A Peoria Chiefs. With the Chiefs, Julianel is 4-2 with a 1.05 ERA and 9 saves. He also has an eye-popping 78 strikeouts in just 51.2 innings. Julianel has been described as a hard-working and crafty pitcher with a nasty changeup. He was the Cardinals' 12th round draft pick in 2001 (374th overall).

Pope is a less exciting prospect than Julianel. The 23-year old righty went 28th overall in the 2001 draft to the Cards. He has a 4-11 record with a 4.92 ERA in single-A Palm Beach. Last season he was 8-1 with a 1.38 ERA at the same level. Pope is the son of a high school pitching coach, but has never developed dominating stuff. His greatest asset is his keen pitching mind, but without the stuff to go along with it, he doesn't have a very high ceiling at all.

Shedding Hitchcock and his contract is a good move for the Yankees as they gear up for the final weeks of the season. Not to say Hitchcock was a bad person to be on the team, he wasn't. He always did what was asked of him, he just couldn't always get the outs that the Yankees needed. Finally, the Yanks made a move that didn't just have 2003 in mind. Like in the Robin Ventura trade the Yankees brought some pretty good prospects into their minor league system, a system that could definitely use some more talent. If either Julianel or Pope ever reach the majors, this will have been a good trade for the Yanks. Even if neither of them do, it's still a good move.

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