It’s Official: Montero & Noesi for Pineda & Campos is a done deal

Ten days after we learned that an agreement was in place, the trade is finally official. The Yankees announced this afternoon that they’ve acquired Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi after all four players passed their physicals. During the conference call, Brian Cashman said Montero “may very well be the best player I’ve traded,” while Pineda said “I never thought I would become a New York Yankee so early into my career.” It’s pretty funny that he assumed it was an inevitability.

The Yankees now have an open spot on the 40-man roster, but that will be filled rather quickly. We’re still waiting on the Hiroki Kuroda signing to be finalized, but last we heard he was still in Japan enjoying the offseason. His physical might not happen for a while. Andruw Jonesnew contract still isn’t official yet either. Make sure you check out our Depth Chart to see where the team’s roster stands. So long Jesus and Hector, and welcome to the Boogie Down, Michael and Jose.

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The Montero-Pineda trade: A dissenting opinion

(Montero by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty; Pineda by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

Nearly a decade ago, in December of 2003, Brian Cashman sent Nick Johnson, a player who had not only previously been the Yankees’ number-one hitting prospect but the team’s top prospect overall for three years running (along with Juan Rivera, who at the time of the deal appeared to be the team’s top hitting prospect, and Randy Choate), to the Montreal Expos for Javier Vazquez. At that point in time, Vazquez had six Major League seasons under his belt, was coming off a 2003 campaign that saw him post a 3.23 ERA/3.31 FIP/3.41 xFIP (74 ERA-/74 FIP-/78 xFIP-), a 5th-best-in-MLB 9.40 K/9, 2.22 BB/9, and was widely considered one of the best young starters in the game (between 1998 and 2003 he was the 12th-most valuable pitcher by fWAR in all of MLB).

The 2004 Yankees had a severe starting rotation problem, in that three of their five rotation stalwarts from the 103-win 2003 squad — Roger Clemens (4.9 FWAR), Andy Pettitte (5.5 fWAR) and David Wells (4.1 fWAR) — weren’t returning. Prior to the Vazquez deal the projected Yankee rotation for ’04 was ace Mike Mussina, a coming-back-from-missing-the-entire-2003-season Jon Lieber, the recently-acquired-for-Jeff-Weaver Kevin Brown, Jose Contreras and I guess Jorge De Paula. The team pretty clearly needed to make a move for a starting pitcher, especially after missing out on Curt Schilling, and I remember thinking at the time (as did, from what I recall, seemingly everyone else) that Vazquez — as a young, dominating, strikeout-heavy righty who could front the team’s rotation for years to come — fit the team’s needs perfectly. I know I was sad to see longtime fanboy-crush Nick Johnson go, especially after all the talk that he was supposed to be the second coming of Don Mattingly, but with Jason Giambi continuing to block The Stick at first, he (and Rivera, who I didn’t think twice about losing) seemed like a reasonable cost of doing business.

Unfortunately, despite Brian Cashman’s best-laid plans in rebuilding a starting rotation that led all of MLB with a ridiculous 25.4 fWAR (for comparison’s sake, the 2011 Phillies amassed 25.8 fWAR), the 2004 Yankees got 14.5 fWAR out of the rotation, and Vazquez found himself run out of town after one tough season, though he’d eventually get a second chance to redeem himself six years later. At the end of the day, the trade worked out pretty horrendously for the Yanks, who got 2.1 total fWAR out of Javy in the two seasons he wore pinstripes, while Stick and Rivera have combined for 22.7 fWAR since 2004, though the former has of course been arguably the most injury-prone player in baseball, while I doubt think anyone thinks the latter would have been much of a difference-maker for the late-aughts teams.

I revisit this particular moment in Yankee history because it’s the closest thing I have to a benchmark for processing the blockbuster Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade (not to mention the stealth Hiroki Kuroda signing) that unfortunately broke on the Friday evening of a holiday weekend (in the midst of my watching “Moneyball” of all things), preventing me from fully fleshing my thoughts out about it until now.

To say this came out of nowhere would be a massive understatement. I’ve been operating under the assumption that the Yankees’ too-quiet offseason was in preparation for an all-out blitz next winter in which the potential free-agent pitcher crop includes the drool-worthy likes of Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and Zack Greinke, among others, and at no point was I expecting that Jesus Montero’s bat would not be in the 2012 Yankee lineup as the starting designated hitter.

Not only that, but being that I was in the middle of watching a movie my dad was the one who broke the news to me via a phone call, and no discredit to my dad, but as I’m generally plugged-in to what’s going on in the world of the Yankees pretty much all day every day, I was even more shocked that I hadn’t heard the news prior to his knowledge of the deal. When he first uttered the phrase “Mariners pitcher” I hoped for the best and thought the Yankees finally somehow acquired Felix Hernandez.

However, I quickly learned that the crown jewel of the Yankee farm system, a player that, similar to Nick Johnson, has been both the Yankees’ best hitting and overall prospect for multiple seasons, was instead dealt for Pineda, a hulking, fireballing rookie who had an excellent inaugural season (and who, in yet another parallel to Vazquez circa 2003, is also coming off a 9.0-plus K/9 that ranked among the top 10 in all of MLB in 2011), but didn’t immediately strike me as appropriate compensation for a hitter whose absolute best-case scenario could be Miguel Cabrera. To put it gently, my initial reaction to the deal was less-than-favorable.

Adding another layer of strangeness to the gut-wrenching I experienced in the immediate aftermath of learning about this deal is the fact that I’ve made no secret of my endorsement of the majority of the major moves Cash has made over the years. I loved the Curtis Granderson deal and liked the Home Run Javy trade both times, but this feeling of disagreement with a significant trade is rather foreign to me. It’s going to be weird to tweet “should of kept Montero” with utter sincerity the first time he hits a home run off the Yankees.

Now, we all know comping anyone to Cabrera is the epitome of an overzealous expectation, but even though Montero is unlikely to reach that particular historically-good level of hitting, his bat has been near-universally regarded as an impact, middle-of-the-order force, one that doesn’t seem outrageous to expect possible .300/.400/.500 lines from in the future. I realize both the opportunity cost and scarcity of acquiring a young, cost-controlled starter in Pineda, especially when compared to adding an offensive-oriented player, but more than four days in and I’m still not entirely sold on this being the right move.

For one, if the Yankees were going to move a premier hitting piece for a pitcher, I’d have preferred it have been for more of a sure thing. There’s no question Pineda had a great 2011, and while the oft-cited supposed “second-half decline” has been debunked, and I’m aware of the fact that were he still a prospect, he’d be at the top of the Yankees’ top ten list, the fact that he is primarily a righthanded two-pitch pitcher with a bit of a flyball problem coming to Yankee Stadium concerns me. I understand that many feel that Pineda has #1 starter upside, but that upside can only be realized if he is able to develop a functional changeup to help him combat lefties, and as we’ve seen from several of the Yankees’ own starters, the change is one of the hardest pitches to learn.

In Pineda’s favor, his two primary weapons — one of the fastest heaters in the game along with one of the nastiest sliders — are most definitely for real, and pairing the high-strikeout righthanded Pineda with the high-strikeout lefthanded CC Sabathia at the top of the rotation should form one of the nastier 1-2 punches in the game today. As our own Mike wisely noted via e-mail during the weekend, “I don’t love the trade, but I don’t think they got hosed or anything. Much easier to find a high-end bat than an arm. The first time Pineda throws seven shutout innings with double digit strikeouts, we’ll be cool.” I couldn’t agree more, and I’m sure I’ll forget all about Montero once I see Pineda start throwing.

However, the primary issue I’m having with accepting this deal is that it subtracts what was supposed to be a major source of offense from the lineup for a pitcher who has but one strong year under his belt, whereas Vazquez circa 2003 had well established himself as one of the game’s elite pitchers. Many have noted that the Yankee offense got through last season just fine without Montero’s bat for most of the year, and I certainly can’t dispute that. Still, we got a taste of what Montero might be able to do in 69 scorching-hot September plate appearances, and though he hit well above his head, he appeared to be every bit as good as advertised. For those looking to discount a September cup of coffee due to supposed lessened competition between roster expansion and teams playing out the string, the majority of Montero’s appearances came against clubs with playoff aspirations, not to mention the fact that the Yankees didn’t exactly hammer the competition during the season’s last month, posting their lowest monthly team wOBA in a decade.

The 2012 Yankees should again be a compelling offensive force, but depending on which projection system you prefer, Montero might have been anywhere from the 2nd to 5th-best hitter on next year’s team. Robinson Cano, the team’s current best player and a prospect no one saw coming (career .278/.331/.425 in the minors), hit .297/.320/.458 during his debut season in pinstripes. Of the five currently available projection systems, Montero’s (career minor league line of .308/.366/.501) average projected line for next season is .279/.344/.489, .360 wOBA. Now, not everyone becomes as good as Robinson Cano, but there’s a decent chance Montero eclipses Cano’s career line of .308/.347/.496, .359 wOBA in his first full season. Who knows, maybe Montero turns into the next Ruben Rivera and not Robbie Cano. The underlying point of all of this is to say that Montero may be the best hitter Brian Cashman has ever traded, and while there are no sure things in baseball, Pineda is as much of a risk as Montero if not moreso, due to the highly volatile nature of developing young pitchers.

Now the team is forced to scramble to fill the DH role with the remains of the offseason, and while Carlos Pena is clearly the most ideal fit, it sounds as though he may be too expensive, and so the Yankees sift through the carcasses of old friends Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and others, while also telling people they might consider using strikeout-machine Jorge Vazquez in the DH role. One of the numerous points in favor of acquiring Pineda was that acquiring hitting is always easier than acquiring pitching, which is true in a vacuum; but the new 2012 austerity Yankees may now in fact be tapped out for something as simple as a reasonable DH upgrade. I’d expect a lot of my hesitation regarding giving up Montero would fade in the event they acquired a real designated hitter, but if not I’m having a hard time accepting what currently looks to be a slightly diminished offensive attack on paper, no offense to Andruw Jones.

Moving on, many have pointed out that this deal was probably a clear win for the Yanks if Seattle can’t use Montero as a catcher, as they will have traded a #2 starter with five years of team control for a player without a position. If Montero is ultimately indeed primarily deployed as a DH, that will no doubt hurt his overall value, but if the bat becomes what many hope it can become, I think he’ll mitigate his lack of fielding value. No one in Boston is complaining about David Ortiz’s contributions to the Red Sox despite not donning a glove with any regularity since 2004. I’ve also read that there are still folks in the Yankee organization that view Montero as a catcher, to which I call BS on — there’s no way the team would have traded a potential catcher with Montero’s bat for anything other than an absolute number-one starter. But I’m sure the Yankees saying so publicly helped Seattle rationalize this deal internally.

I’ve seen others note that this is the ultimate “win-now” move for the Yankees, especially given that the window to win a championship with the current core of offensive players is likely closing. There’s probably some validity to this, given that the Yankee offense is primarily composed of hitters on the wrong side of 30, although Cashman’s done a rather commendable job of finding relatively younger players to replace aging ones — particularly in the outfield — and I’m not sure I’m sold on the idea that this particular group of Yankees only has so many more championship runs in it and that the Pineda move puts them over the edge. Does the Pineda move make them more scary right now? Absolutely. Does it make them that much better in a short playoff series? 100%. Would the team’s chances of future glory be compromised if they had waited until next offseason to reap the benefits of what could be a bumper crop of a free-agent pitching market instead of having to surrender one of the best hitting prospects they’ve ever had? I doubt it (though TYA’s Eric Schultz astutely notes that having Pineda in hand theoretically lessens the pressure of having to find a #1/#2-type next offseason, especially if some of the presumptive prize pitchers wind up signing extensions).

No one can argue that the prospective Yankee rotation for 2012 wasn’t full of question marks prior to Friday night, not too dis-similarly from the 2004 iteration’s predicament. Additionally, the team knows it got lucky to not only get through the 2011 season but secure the best record in the American League with the rotation it featured. I can’t blame Brian Cashman for wanting to upgrade what had been the team’s biggest weakness. But maybe the signing of Hiroki Kuroda would have been enough. All offseason we’ve been talking about adding Kuroda, and while a rotation of Sabathia-Kuroda-Nova-Garcia-Hughes/Burnett doesn’t look quite as good as Sabathia-Pineda-Kuroda-Nova-whoever, I still think the former would’ve been plenty competitive.

The Yankees now have a ton of starting pitching depth, although the Pineda trade certainly reveals the team’s true feelings regarding Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett, either of whom many now expect to be dealt; and it also reveals to a lesser extent the team’s feelings about the myriad fourth-starter-upside types they’ve been stockpiling at AAA, including Hector Noesi, who was of course part of this big trade. I know no one’s shedding any tears over Noesi, but I was looking forward to seeing what he had to offer as a starter. And I haven’t even gotten to discuss Jose Campos, whose upside seems to excite many prospect-watchers but who at this point simply remains a lottery ticket.

My judgment regarding this deal remains clouded by emotion; I imagine this is similar to how I’d have felt had Phil Hughes been traded during the 2007-2008 offseason. Still, many of the top analysts in the business have mostly been on board with the transaction being a net positive for the Yankees, while my blogging cohorts seem to be slightly more mixed, though some feel more positively about it than others.

As I noted earlier I know I’ll fall in love with Pineda soon enough and I’m very excited to start delving into the PITCHf/x data, which I’m sure will uncover even more reasons to be excited about his acquisition. However, I’ll do it with a heavy heart for Jesus, and will hold out hope that the deal — even though I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger on it — ends up working out as favorably as possible for the Yankees.

The Morning After: Pineda & Kuroda

(Pineda via AP, Kuroda via Getty)

After a winter of all talk and no action, Brian Cashman made his two biggest moves in roughly two years in the span of an hour or so last night. First he acquired Michael Pineda and Jose Campos from the Mariners for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi, then he agreed to sign Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal worth $10M. Just like that, the rotation went from question mark to strength. Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes went from the three, four, and five starters to fighting  for one rotation spot. It’s pretty awesome.

We’re going to analyze these moves from every freakin’ angle in the coming days, I’m sure of it, but for now let’s start with a collection of thoughts and links…

  • Cashman said over and over again that he didn’t like the pitching prices this offseason, and sure enough his patience was rewarded. After four years of Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez were each traded for a package of four young players earlier this winter, Cashman got five years of Pineda for just two young players, and he got the Mariners to kick in another prospect as well. Pineda was a steal compared to Latos and Gio.
  • My prospect game is slipping with age, and frankly I had never heard of Campos until the trade. Baseball America provided a full scouting report on the right-hander in their trade analysis, which I recommend reading to familiarize yourself with him. It’s free, you don’t need a subscription. Both Kevin Goldstein and John Sickels considered him the fifth best prospect in the M’s system.
  • There are a lot of great trade recaps out there, but I highly recommend Lookout Landing’s. Jeff Sullivan killed it when he wrote about the emotional disappointment involved with trading young players. We’re all going to miss Montero, but the fans in Seattle feel the same way about Pineda.
  • Assuming he throws a substantial amount of innings, I bet Noesi has a really good year in that division and in that ballpark with that defense next season. Don’t be surprised if he outpitches Pineda in terms of ERA and people are declaring him the “real loss” in the trade by the end of the year.
  • I honestly have no idea what they’re going to do with that last rotation spot, assuming CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Pineda, and Kuroda are locks for the first four spots (in some order). Chances are the Yankees don’t even know what they’re going to do either, and I bet my opinion about what they will/should do will change by the day. Is there a right answer? I’m not sure.
  • I also don’t know what the Yankees will do about their now vacant DH spot, but I highly doubt they’ll sign Prince Fielder. I mean, maybe if he’s willing to do a one-year, $20M “pillow” contract, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. I think they’re more likely to start the year with a rotating DH than they are to sign or trade for a new one.
  • The ESPN Stats & Info Blog put together a great statistical look (with heat maps!) at Pineda, Kuroda, and Montero. It’s relatively short and painless, but informative.

I’ll close with this: it never ceases to amaze me how the Yankees — in the biggest media market in the sport — manage to pull off these deals with no leaks. Pretty much everything they do is a surprise. We heard nothing about their interest in Pineda until after the trade was made, and although we knew they liked Kuroda, we never heard they were close to a deal. The quiet weeks earlier in the offseason were frustrating, but the surprise sure is fun.

Yankees trade Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

According to multiple reports, the Yankees have traded Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. Jon Heyman, Greg Johns, Larry Stone, and Jerry Crasnick all deserve some level of credit. Heyman says the Yankees asked about Felix Hernandez before pulling off this deal, but were told he is off limits. That’s not a surprise.

I wrote this mailbag about Pineda back in November, so you can check that out if you’re unfamiliar with the young right-hander. He turns 23 next week and finished fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last year thanks to his 9.11 K/9 (24.9 K%) and 2.89 BB/9 (7.9 BB%) in 171 IP. He is a fly ball pitcher (36.3% grounders last year) and kinda homer prone (0.95 HR/9), so that is a concern. As a fastball-slider pitcher with a show-me changeup, Pineda also has a bit of a platoon split. Plenty of time to work on that though, the guy’s got exactly the kind of power stuff that can play in the AL East. He is under team control for another five years, the next two for the league minimum. Here’s some video.

Campos is a 19-year-old right-hander with enormous upside according to Ben Badler and Kevin Goldstein. Apparently he’s related to the Escobars (Kelvim and Alcides), so he has baseball bloodlines. He checks in at a healthy 6-foot-4 and 195 lbs., and was considered Seattle’s fifth best prospect according to Goldstein (subs. req’d). “Campos had one of the best fastballs in the short-season leagues in 2011,” said KG in his write-up. “It’s plus and more in terms of velocity, sitting in the low 90s with plenty of 95-96 readings every time out. Campos also throws the pitch with the kind of command usually found only in big-leaguers; he works both sides of the plate, paints the corners, and comes at hitters with a strong downward angle.”

In 14 starts and 81.1 IP in the short season Northwest League, Campos struck out 85 and walked just 13. Just dominated the level. Goldstein does caution that he can become a one-pitch pitcher at times, as his changeup and slurvy breaking ball need work. At his age, that’s not much of a surprise. It sure sounds like the fastball is elite though, and that’s a good thing. Here is some video. It’s worth noting that the Yankees and Mariners are the two biggest spenders in Latin America year after year, and all four players involved in this trade were acquired as international free agents.

Losing Montero obviously hurts, especially since the regular lineup isn’t getting any younger. Despite all their work to help him over the years, it was pretty clear that the Yankees didn’t consider him a long-term catcher based on how they used him in September. A few years ago they were willing to trade him for three months of Cliff Lee, and now they got five years of Pineda. They certainly ended up getting better value in return for one of the best position player prospects in baseball, even if it cost them a shot at the 2010 World Series.

I liked Noesi more than most, but he was just a notch above the Adam Warren/David Phelps level in terms of long-term value. He can miss bats and can step right into a big league rotation, but the Yankees have the depth to cover the loss. Noesi’s inclusion in the trade is essentially the cost of doing business. The Yankees will end up with an open 40-man roster spot as a result of the trade, but that will eventually go to Andruw Jones. It hurts to lose Montero, no doubt, but Pineda fits the team’s needs better. This could easily end up another Josh Beckett-Hanley Ramirez situation, where both sides are happy with their return.

What Went Right: Noesi, Wade, and Ayala

(AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

We’ve seen it every year of the Joe Girardi era. The Yankees finish the season with a bullpen that looks a whole lot different than the one they started the year with, and 2011 was no exception. Injuries and poor performance always play a part in that, but it’s also a two-way street. The guys that do the replacing have to perform well enough to stick around. Let’s look at three surprise contributors to the team’s bullpen this past season…

Hector Noesi

The Yankees rotation was a bit of a mess early in the season, leaving the bullpen to pick up a lot of slack. Guys like Amaury Sanit and Buddy Carlyle came and went, but when the Yankees first called up Noesi on April 13th, he didn’t pitch. He sat around in the bullpen until being sent back down nine days later. Noesi re-emerged from the minors on May 13th, and this time he got his chance. His first appearance came five days later,and he responded by throwing four scoreless frames in extra innings against the Orioles to earn his first big league win.

Noesi continued to get looks in long relief, including a six inning, two-run outing against the Red Sox on June 7th, and he even worked some one inning, higher leveraged spots from time to time. Two late season starts while the Yankees were lining up their playoff rotation didn’t go so well, but he made a strong impression by posting a 4.09 FIP in 56.1 IP overall. His swing and miss rate (9.4%) was strong enough to forecast improvement to his 7.19 K/9 going forward, no matter what role he’s given. The Yankees have Noesi on a strict pitch count in winter ball as he makes up for all the innings he lost while pitching out of the bullpen.

Cory Wade

(Elsa/Getty Images)

Signed to a minor league pact after being released by the Rays in mid-June, Wade made just a single appearance for the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate before being summoned to the big leagues. He made a great first impression by retiring the first 12 men he faced in pinstripes, and with both Joba Chamberlain and Rafael Soriano on the shelf with elbow injuries, Wade quickly stepped into the seventh inning role.

All told, Wade pitched to a 2.04 ERA with a 3.76 FIP in 39.2 IP for the Yankees. He was true to form with a low strikeout rate (6.81 K/9), low walk rate (1.82 BB/9), a high homerun rate (1.13 HR/9), getting by with dead fish changeups and lazy fly balls. Wade had a rough finish to the season, allowing back-to-back walk off hits to the Mariners and Blue Jays in mid-September before surrendering Dan Johnson’s game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth inning of a final game of the season, but that’s not enough to erase all the good. Wade is still under team control for another four years, including at the league minimum in 2012, so the Yankees did a fine job of plucking a solid middle relief option off the scrap heap.

Luis Ayala

One of many players the Yankees brought to camp on minor league contracts, Ayala had a strong showing in Spring Training (one run, nine strikeouts, zero walks in 11.1 IP) and earned one of the last Opening Day roster spots. A mid-April lat strain sent him to the DL, but Ayala returned in early-May and was arguably the best last-guy-in-the-bullpen in baseball. He racked up a 2.09 ERA (4.19 FIP) in 56 IP, relying on his 50% ground ball rate to survive.

We joked all year about how Ayala was the worst sub-2.00 ERA pitcher in history (he had a sub-2.00 ERA until the last game of the season), but he truly was a solid pitcher given how he was used. His 0.89 gmLI (Leverage Index when entering games) ranked 117th out of the 134 qualified relievers, meaning he did most of his work in low-leverage, blowout situations. Someone has to throw those innings though, and Ayala did a fine job when called upon. It would be a surprise if he returned next season (this is exactly the kind of guy you get rid of a year too soon rather than a year too late), but Ayala was a positive contributor to the 2011 Yankees.