Happy 10th signing anniversary, Jesus Montero!


It’s July 2, 2016. Guess what happened ten years ago today? The Yankees signed a highly-touted catching prospect Jesus Montero out of Guaraca, Venezuela. Montero, the former future cleanup hitter and present what-could-have-been, pretty much hit his way up to the top of the system and excited the fans with a solid ML showing late in the 2011 season. But as you know, he was dealt to Seattle in January 2012 in a trade that brought Michael Pineda and Vicente Campos to the Yanks.

Montero had been hyped as the very top commodity for the 2006 IFA signing class. The excitement stemmed from his hitting prowess. Here’s PinstripePlus.com’s assessment of his bat before the Yankees signed him”

The right-handed power hitting catcher drew immediate attention from Yankee officials in Spring Training in a two-day tryout where he participated in intrasquad games this past March … He not only held his own against much older competition, but he drew glazed and impressed looks from all the Yankees’ prospects that day.

“He’s ‘the’ top International free agent this year,” (then international scouting director) Carlos Rios told PinstripesPlus.com on March 17th. “He can really hit and he plays a prime position.”

So yes, it wasn’t a secret that Montero could hit. I was never involved in scouting so I have no idea how they evaluate players beyond their stats but it seems like just about everyone that looked at him loved the intangibles.

The major knock on Montero — which followed him for a long, long while — was that scouts didn’t like his chances of him remaining at catcher. Here’s a quote from Baseball America:

While his bat and power potential made Montero a hot commodity, his future behind the plate may be in doubt, according to scouts with other clubs. One scout said Montero was already 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and disparagingly compared his body to that of Henry Blanco; another said he was too stiff and lacked the athleticism to catch at the big league level.

“He has above-average raw power, a lot of power, but where do you put him?” the scout said. “I don’t think he’ll catch. He’s a big-hipped kid and he’s going to get bigger; he may have to end up at first base.”

The BA article also had a nice quote from a scout, who compared Montero to Travis Hafner. We’re not talking about the Hafner that briefly played for the Yanks in 2013. The 2006 version of Travis Hafner terrorized ML pitching by hitting .308/.439/.659 with 42 HR. So yes, it was an extremely attractive comparison that had Yankee fans salivating for future.

(The Crowley Collection)

The Yankee system at the time was on the upswing. They had an exciting young position player in Low-A named Jose Tabata, and their 2004 first-rounder Phil Hughes was tearing up the low minors en route to Double-A. Another Double-A pitcher named Tyler Clippard was having a solid season in which he tossed a no-no. Guys like Austin Jackson and Brett Gardner were trying to climb out of the low minors.

Around that time, Melky Cabrera (only 21 then) had just come up to majors and made some impact replacing the injured Gary Sheffield. It had been awhile since the Yankees had organizational talents come up to bigs and be regulars, and in 2006, fans were excited about the possibility of building yet another Core Four.

The Yankees signed Montero at dawn of the July 2nd signing day. The reported bonus was $2 million, a record amount at the time. An initial report called it $2.2 million, but Yankees disputed it, saying that it was $2 million. As you may have guessed, Montero took the No. 1 spot on ESPN’s top IFA list in 2006. Following him are plethora of names that you may or may not have heard. Here are a few:

1. Jesus Montero: You know how it went.

2. Engel Beltre: Signed with the Red Sox. Sent to the Rangers in July 2007 trade that brought Eric Gagne to Boston. He had 22-game cup of coffee with the Texas Rangers in 2013 but never made a mark in the bigs. He’s currently playing in Mexican league, hitting .354/.394/.446 for Campeche.

3. Angel Villalona: Signed with the Giants. He was a big kid who was projected to hit for power. After some decent seasons, he was charged for murder in September 2009. Whoa. Villalona was ordered to house arrest for two years and the charges were dropped after he reached a settlement with victim’s family. He came back to U.S. in 2012 to resume pro career and still hasn’t reached to Triple-A yet, let alone majors. At age 25, Villalona is with the Giants’ Double-A affiliate and hitting for a measly .336 OPS in 31 PA. Safe to say this was probably one of the worst big money IFA signings ever.

4. Oscar Tejeda: Another young toolsy guy signed by the Red Sox. And again, another guy who hasn’t made the majors. He bounced around the Boston, Pittsburgh and Washington organizations but never got past Triple-A. There is no record of him playing baseball in 2016.

5. Larry Suarez: The highest pitcher in the list. Signed with the Cubs. Never got to the majors and pitched only one Triple-A game in his seven-year MiLB career. He had a 5.09 ERA in 272.1 career IP.

6. Euclides Viloria: ESPN’s brief report described him as “Sort of like Johan Santana, but with less power.” He signed with the Padres and apparently had only one pro season. He pitched to a 5.63 ERA in 54.1 but struck out 73. It seems he suffered an injury and never pitched in the pros again. Shame.

7. Esmailyn Gonzalez: Signed with the Nationals. This one was a doozy. In 2009, MLB found out Gonzalez was named Carlos Lugo, and he was four years older than listed. The scandal forced Nationals then-GM Jim Bowden to resign. Prior to being busted, Lugo was on a roll, hitting .343 with a .906 OPS in GCL in 2008 when he was supposedly 18-year old Esmailyn Gonzalez. Lugo never got past High-A and he’s been out of professional baseball since 2014.

8. Carlos Triunfel: Signed with the Mariners. Ho-hum, another ML cup of coffee guy. He actually hit decently in the low minors but couldn’t figure out Double-A pitching for awhile. He got to majors in 2012 and had 24 very forgettable PA (.579 OPS). In 87 career ML PA, Triunfel has a .423 OPS. He’s still in MiLB, with the Reds Triple-A affiliate.

None of these guys reached their potential. I assume guys like Montero can make it as a late-bloomer and get a shot at being a ML regular, but the chances of that are pretty slim.

(Icon SMI)

Montero hit consistently throughout the minors. He got up to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in 2010, his age 20 season. He earned a call to the majors in 2011 and hit for a .996 OPS in 69 PA. It seemed as if Montero was going to remain in the bigs and be groomed as the next cleanup hitter for the Bronx Bombers, at least until the Yankees and Mariners pulled the trigger on the Pineda trade. The idea back then was that Pineda would go on to be a No. 1 or 2 starter for New York while Montero grew into a complete hitter in Seattle.

Oh how funny things work out. Pineda is still in the Yankees rotation. He’s had flashes of brilliance but overall has been quite inconsistent (though I’m encouraged by his recent hot stretch). Montero, on the other hand, is no longer with the Mariners organization. After series of weight and attitude issues, Montero lost out on a roster spot in Spring Training this year (it went to Dae-Ho Lee) and he landed in the Blue Jays system on waivers. He’s currently with their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo, hitting .312 with a .808 OPS.

From a personal standpoint, I was just starting to follow the Yankees more in-depth back when they signed Montero. The 2006 season was when I started to follow the system, draft and signings closely, and the hype leading to his signing was something that I thought a lot about. I was as happy about Yankees inking Montero as I was when they signed Johnny Damon. And sure, I was aware of Yankees’ spotty record with position player prospects (Jon Poterson, C.J. Henry, Eric Duncan, Estee Harris, Tim Battle, etc.), so I was cautiously optimistic about Montero when he was playing in GCL and Low-A. Once he destroyed High-A and Double-A, I really thought he was going to be a foolproof ML hitting talent, the future king of the Bronx.

Yet, here we are. Montero is in a different organization, struggling to get out of the minors. I still have a soft spot for him. I used to endlessly watch his swings, believing that he’d deliver so many HR in the Yankee Stadium. Maybe he could have a some sort of revival and be serviceable for someone else. It’s not impossible!

Scouting The Trade Market: Jesus Montero

The Yankees have done most of their offseason heavy lifting and are now left with a very specific set of needs: second or third baseman, starting pitcher, and a reliever or two. Those are the most pressing items and rightfully so. The Yankees also need to improve their overall depth — we saw how important that is this past season thanks to all the injuries — and they’ve started doing that with the recent Dean Anna, Russ Canzler, Yamaico Navarro, and Brian Gordon pickups.

Late last night, Bob Nightengale reported the Mariners have made both Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero available in trades following their two first base/DH additions (Corey Hart and Logan Morrison). Smoak has been pretty awful in parts of four seasons now, with almost 500 games and 2,000 plate appearances telling us he’s a replacement level first baseman. Montero has been awful in the show as well, but the sample size is way smaller (182 games and 732 plate appearances) and he’s three years younger than Smoak. Does a reunion make sense? Let’s look, starting with the negatives.

The Cons

  • Montero, who turned 24 last month, just hasn’t hit these last two years with Seattle. He put up a .260/.298/.386 (90 wRC+) line with 15 homers in 553 plate appearances last season and a .208/.264/.327 (62 wRC+) line with three homers in 110 plate appearances this year. The Mariners sent back to Triple-A this summer, where he hit .247/.317/.425 (93 wRC+) in 19 games. His batted ball distance plot isn’t encouraging and he doesn’t draw walks (6.0%) or lay off pitches out of the zone (36.7% chase rate).
  • Big league righties have eaten Montero up. He hit just .227/.263/.347 (68 wRC+) with a 19.9% strikeout rate and a 44.4% ground ball rate against same-side pitchers with the Mariners these last two seasons. That’s terrible.
  • Montero is not a catcher, as we heard time and time again over the years. He threw out only 13 of 94 (13.8%) base-stealers from 2012-2013 and rated as a terrible pitch-framer. Montero ranked as one of the game’s overall worst defensive catchers in 2012 and 2013.
  • Montero can’t run at all. He has never stolen a base in the big leagues (been caught in all three attempts) and he’s taken the extra-base just 20% of the time. That’s basically half the league average. Molina-esque speed.
  • Injuries have been a problem. He missed close to two months this year after tearing the meniscus in his left knee, and back during his minor league days he missed time with a broken finger (2009) and an ankle debridement (2010).
  • Montero was suspended 50 games for his ties to Biogenesis back in August and performance-enhancing drugs raise questions. The Yankees always had concerns about his makeup and work ethic, benching him several times for lack of hustle and insubordination throughout his minor league career.

The Pros

  • Montero, a right-handed batter, has done very well against big league lefties. Over the last two seasons with Seattle, he hit .300/.351/.435 (119 wRC+) against southpaws with a 14.7% strikeout rate. Montero doesn’t strike out a ton in general, just 18.7%, slightly better than the league average rate.
  • He still has the opposite field swing that was seemingly made for Yankee Stadium (spray chart). Almost three-quarters (73.0% to be exact) of Montero’s balls in play over the last two years have been hit to center and right field. That’ll play in the Bronx.
  • The Mariners shifted Montero to first base when they sent him to Triple-A at midseason and he has played the position on occasion in the past, mostly during winter ball workouts. He can’t catch but the transition to first is underway.
  • Montero has at least one and likely two minor league options remaining, so sending him down to Triple-A won’t be an issue. He will not be arbitration-eligible until after 2015 and a free agent until after 2018 at the earliest.
  • Montero made it no secret he wanted to play for the Yankees and was reportedly pretty torn up when he was traded away. I guess wanting to wear pinstripes is a positive.

The trade has been a disaster for both the Yankees and Mariners so far, and let’s not kid ourselves here, there isn’t much to like about Montero at this point. He hasn’t hit since September 2011 and he doesn’t really have a position, plus there are long-standing questions about his work ethic. And he just got popped for PEDs. You’ve really gotta squint your eyes to find some positives. If it wasn’t for the “he’s Jesus Montero and he used to be an awesome prospect for my favorite team” aspect, we probably wouldn’t think twice about him.

The Yankees don’t have a first base prospect at Triple-A (or Double-A, for that matter) and Montero is basically a reclamation project. Maybe getting him away from the Mariners — they’ve seen nearly all of their top position player prospects fall short of expectations (Kyle Seager is the obvious exception) in recent years — and back with the minor league coaches and instructors who helped make him one of the game’s very best prospects back in the day can get his career back on track. It’s a long shot obviously, and remember, we’re talking about a guy who is likely nothing more than a part-time first baseman, part-time DH if it comes together.

I don’t know what it would take to acquire Montero, but it’s clear the Mariners have soured on him. How could they not? The Yankees know him as well as anyone and that may not necessarily lead to the trade, in fact it could lead to the exact opposite. They might steer clear entirely. The fanboy in me says hell yes, go get him and let’s rock. The rest of me says if he comes cheap enough, maybe for a similar post-hype broken prospect (Eduardo Nunez? Austin Romine?), then sure, go for it. I couldn’t give up much more than that, not for a guy with so many red flags and no real position. The Yankees would have the flexibility to send Montero to minors to work on things, but he simply might not be salvageable at this point.

The Yankees and productive September call-ups

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)

Like April, September is a fun month if you want to dream. Guys get off to hot starts in April and we hope it’s a sign he’s breaking out when no, usually it’s not. Just a small sample size thing. September is fun in a different way because prospects are involved and everyone loves prospects. Their potential is limitless and every single one will be the next great Yankee. At least that’s what we hope. Very rarely are we actually right though. It’s the nature of the beast.

Shane Spencer, who whacked eight homers in 14 September games in 1998, remains the patron saint of September call-ups. Very, very rarely does someone come up when rosters expand and actually have an impact like that. Few get the opportunity, really. They have to produce right away to get a long enough look to make a difference. Spencer was a one of a kind, just like the entire 1998 team.

The Yankees have had a few notable call-ups in recent years, notable in terms of production and not necessarily their name. Guys who performed well in their limited opportunity. Let’s take a look at how they helped the club.

2011: Jesus Montero
Despite getting subpar DH production all season, the Yankees waited until September to call up their top prospect. Montero, then just 21, hit .328/.406/.590 (167 wRC+) with four homers in 69 plate appearances that month, giving the lineup a shot in the arm. He actually made the postseason roster that year and singled in his only two October trips to the plate. Those 71 total plate appearances are all Montero has contributed to the Yankees to date given the amazingly unproductive trade with the Mariners the following offseason.

2010: Greg Golson
Golson was actually up with the Yankees for a few games earlier in the 2010 season, but he got the majority of his playing time as a pinch-runner/defensive specialist in September. He only received 18 plate appearances that month, but Golson will always be remembered for his game-ending throw to cut Carl Crawford down at third base in an important series against the Rays. The Yankees actually carried Golson on their playoff roster and regularly used him as a late-inning defensive replacement. He didn’t make an impact with his bat, he did it with his glove and (especially) his arm.


2008: Phil Coke
Prior to the 2008 season, Coke was nothing more than a fringe prospect who was in danger of being released should a roster spot be needed. He pitched well with Double-A Trenton that summer (3.01 FIP) and forced the Yankees to add him to the 40-man roster in September. Coke very quickly emerged as a bullpen force for Joe Girardi, pitching to a 0.61 ERA (1.63 FIP) in 14.2 innings while holding same-side hitters to a .227 wOBA. He didn’t make the playoff roster because there was no playoff roster to make in 2008, but Coke came to Spring Training the next year with a bullpen spot that was his to lose.

* * *

The Yankees have had some veteran players come up late in the season and make an impact — 2006 Brian Bruney and even 2008 Cody Ransom come to mind — but they weren’t September call-ups. They were brought up a few weeks earlier to patch holes created by injuries. As far as actual call-ups go, those three guys above are the only ones who made any sort of difference in the last decade or so. Montero was the golden child and the plan was to give him regular playing time right out of the chute, but Golson and especially Coke had to earn it. When they performed well, they earned a longer look.

I think New York has one call-up with a chance to play his way into something of a regular role both this month and potentially next year: Cesar Cabral. He made an impressive big league debut yesterday, most notably striking out both lefties he faced on six total pitches in a scoreless innings. It’ll be rather easy for Girardi to find spots to use Cabral in the coming weeks. Dellin Betances has too many quality right-handed relievers ahead of him — at best, he’s behind David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Preston Claiborne on the righty setup depth chart — to think he’ll get a real shot this month. David Adams got a look earlier this year and Brett Marshall probably won’t pitch much, plus J.R. Murphy figures to play third fiddle to Austin Romine and Chris Stewart as long as the Yankees are in the race.

September call-ups are more about adding bodies to soak up innings and at-bats in blowouts or in case of injury. Few players are actually called up and given an opportunity to legitimately help the club. The Monteros are few and far between. As long as the Yankees remain in the hunt for a playoff spot — they come into today three games back of the Rays for the second wildcard spot in the loss column with a 11.0% chance to make the postseason according to Baseball Prospectus — expect them to ride their regular players as long as possible. As usual, the call-ups are just along for the ride.

Mailbag: Cano, Mo, Overbay, Joba, Montero

Rapid fire mailbag this week, so ten questions and ten answers. Please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up anything throughout the week, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Max asks: At what point should we worry about Robinson Cano‘s bad lefty splits going forward? He’s hitting .254/.299/.476 against lefties this year and had a .239/.309/.337 line last year. Sure, he still mashes righties but I’m really not comfortable with the idea of giving a potential platoon player a megadeal. Thanks.

Oh it’s definitely a red flag right. Cano hit lefties nearly as well as he hit righties until last season, when his performance fell off a cliff. I looked at the data as part of our season review and didn’t find any significant red flags. This year though, both his ground ball (56.3%) and strikeout (22.4%) rates are way up against southpaws. That could change in a hurry since it’s so early in the season. If that continues into the summer, I’d be very worried. Giving a super-long contract to a middle infielder is risky enough, and it would be even worse if he’s morphed into a platoon bat. Not worried yet, but I will be watching this.

Steve asks: Single-season saves record is Francisco Rodriguez at 62. Mariano Rivera is on pace for 66. What are the odds he does it?

This isn’t really a Mo thing, right? The other 24 players on the team have to create those save opportunities for him. They’d have to give him like, 67 save chances over the full season to get to 62 saves, which means another 51 save chances in the final 121 games of the year. It’s doable, the Yankees play a ton of close games because their pitching is good and their offense mostly stinks (94 wRC+!), but only twice has someone saved more than 55 games in one year. I think the odds are very small, maybe 5% on the high-end.

Vinny asks: Assuming Travis Hafner gets and stays healthy (big assumption), what will the Yankees do with Lyle Overbay whenever Mark Teixeira comes back? His performance against righties has been excellent.

His performance against righties has been excellent (160 wRC+), but so has Hafner’s (151 wRC+). Pronk also does a much better job of holding his own against southpaws (98 wRC+, where Overbay has been basically useless (-21 wRC+). Their overall hitting numbers aren’t particularly close either (106 vs. 139 wRC+). The Yankees will have to decide if Overbay’s advantages on defense and durability make up the difference in offensive production. Considering he’s a first baseman and first baseman only, I think the answer is clearly no.

The rarely seen Cesar Cabral. (Star-Ledger)
The rarely seen Cesar Cabral. (Star-Ledger)

Brad asks: Do you see the Yankees shopping for another LOOGY? Or do you believe Brian Cashman will wait to see what Clay Rapada and/or Cesar Cabral can contribute?

I definitely think they will see what they have internally first. That means Vidal Nuno and maybe even Josh Spence in addition to Rapada and Cabral. If those guys all manage to flop — or if Boone Logan gets hurt — in the coming weeks, yeah I could see them looking for lefty relief help at the deadline. It definitely isn’t a pressing need right now.

KG asks: Would the Yankees have the interest/package to trade for Nick Franklin? He may not end up a bonafide major league shortstop, but the Mariners have Dustin Ackley at second and Brad Miller just behind Franklin. Pipe dream?

I’m sure there would be some interest on New York’s part, but I don’t see why the Mariners would move him right now. He’s tearing up the Triple-A level (159 wRC+) and even though he’s unlikely to be a shortstop long-term, he’s much better than their big league shortstops. Ackley is awful but they won’t give up on him yet, but Miller is far from a sure thing. I think the Mariners will call Franklin up in the coming weeks and give him a chance. The only thing the Yankees have to offer are a bunch High-A and Double-A outfielders, none of whom is performing particularly well this year. I don’t really see a trade fit.

Anonymous asks: With Seattle having uber-catching prospect Mike Zunino just about ready for the show — any chance Seattle will take offers for Jesus Montero? What would the Yankees have to give to reacquire Jesus?

Teams usually aren’t quick to admit failure after a trade of that magnitude, so I don’t think Seattle would be open to moving Montero so soon without getting a big piece in return. They’re not going to sell-low and take two Grade-C prospects despite his dismal big league performance. The Yankees could stick him at DH, teach him first base, catch him on rare occasions … basically everything they could have done when he was with the organization. I don’t see this happening at all.

Anonymous asks: Do you believe the Yankees are planning to trade Joba Chamberlain for pieces around the deadline, considering the Yankees’ surplus of middle relief options? Joba could bring back a cost-controlled piece.

He’s an injury-prone middle reliever who will be a free agent after the season. You don’t get “pieces” in return for that, and the only cost-controlled piece he’ll bring back in a mid-level prospect. Joba’s value to the Yankees as a seventh inning reliever is much greater than anything they’ll realistically get in return. Teams aren’t giving up anything worthwhile for him, I know I wouldn’t.


Mike asks: Sort of a two-part David Aardsma question now that the Marlins released him. Firstly, why are teams not giving him a shot in the Majors, and secondly, would it make sense for the Yanks to go pick him up again?

I don’t know why he hasn’t been given a big league shot yet, but I don’t believe it’s because he’s been overlooked. Teams know Aardsma, and anytime a former standout closer becomes a free agent, he gets looked into. They must not like what they’ve seen, either in his stuff or command — he did walk eight in 14 innings before the release, which he requested — or whatever. If Aardsma wants to come back to the organization and pitch in Triple-A for a few weeks, great. I wouldn’t give him a big league job over Shawn Kelley or Preston Claiborne (or Joba) right now though.

Tuckers asks: I know it’s too soon to predict, but what do you think about the Yankees signing Tim Lincecum after the season? I think there’s a good argument to be made either way.

My answer at this exact moment is no. That is subject to change between now and the offseason, but his velocity continues to hover around 90 mph and his offspeed stuff isn’t as devastating as it was when he was 93-95. His walk (4.25 BB/9 and 11.0 BB%) and homer (0.92 HR/FB and 15.6% HR/FB) rates are career-worsts, and that’s in a big park in the NL. The Yankees do a wonderful job of squeezing production from seemingly cooked veterans, but I don’t think Lincecum is coming on a cheap one-year deal. So yeah, right now my answer is no. If he adds some velocity this summer, my opinion will change.

Brad asks: So the Yankees seem to have a glut of serviceable, young starting pitchers. Is there a deal out there for them to turn some quantity of these into an impact bat?

I don’t think so. I don’t see any team giving up an impact back for guys like Ivan Nova and David Phelps, Adam Warren and Vidal Nuno. Two or three projected fifth starters doesn’t get you one really good bat. Maybe they could get a David Adams type, but that wouldn’t qualify as an impact bat in my opinion.

Mailbag: Michael Pineda and 2014

(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

JW asks: Given that the Yankees truly appear committed to 2014 payroll plan, does the Michael Pineda trade look even worse in hindsight? In other words, it always seems like there are starters who can be had on one-year deals, but as we can see, even guys like Torii Hunter look to be in a position to command multi-year deals. In other words, for payroll management, the Yankees would have been better off with the relatively low-cost hitter under control instead of a pitcher.

I disagree with that, I think the exact opposite it is true. It seems to be much easier to find position players willing to take a one-year contracts than starting pitchers, or at least starting pitchers who can have a real impact. Let’s not go off memory though. With some help from the MLBTR Transaction Tracker, here’s a breakdown of one-year contracts by position over the last three years…

  • Catchers: 31
  • Corner Infielders: 29
  • Middle Infielders: 32
  • Outfielders/DHs: 63
  • Starters: 50
  • Relievers: 69

These are guaranteed contracts only, so no minor league deals. If you click the link and dig through the data, you’ll see that nearly all of the catchers were backups and that the vast majority of the starting pitchers were reclamation projects, guys like Erik Bedard (three one-year deals), Chien-Ming Wang (three), Ben Sheets (two), Bartolo Colon (two), Scott Olsen (two), Rich Harden, Justin Duchscherer, so on and so forth. In fact, the best one-year deals given to starters these last three years went to Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte. It’s not all that close either. Feel free to look for yourself.

I didn’t like the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade because a) I (foolishly?) held out some hope that Montero could catch for at least two or three years before moving out from behind the plate, and b) I thought the Yankees needed the young bat. That said, it was easy to see why they made the trade. Ivan Nova was the team’s only other established starter aside from CC Sabathia, and he had one full season under his belt. Compared to what other young guys like Trevor Cahill and Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez were fetching in trades, the Yankees actually got a steal. That sounds hilarious in retrospect, but it was true at the time of the trade. Things have just gone horribly wrong since.

The Yankees need to add some offensive pieces at the moment, but their top four prospects are all position players. With Phil Hughes due to become a free agent after next season, Nova and David Phelps represent the team’s only two young and cost-controlled starters at the big league level, and Nova just had a terrible year while Phelps has eleven career starts to his credit. Pineda has been a non-factor at this point and I’ll continue to consider him one going forward until he actually gets on a mound. Outside of Kuroda and Pettitte, there are no starters available on one-year deals who are slam dunks to upgrade the rotation. There are plenty of hitters who could help on one-year pacts, however.

Missing Montero

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

For the first time since January’s trade, the Yankees will get a look at Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariner tonight. The deal already looks like a disaster on New York’s end with Michael Pineda out of the season (torn labrum) and Jose Campos out indefinitely (elbow inflammation), but luckily for the Yankees, you can’t pass final judgment on a trade of this magnitude after four months. The early returns are horrible, however.

Montero has settled in as a middle of the order bat for Seattle. That has more to do with the state of the team than his actual production though, because a .268/.282/.420 batting line (.298 wOBA and 91 wRC+) is hardly deserving of a primo lineup spot. I am surprised Montero is off to such a relatively slow start but not entirely. I mean, he is only 22. We all knew a slow start was possible just because rookies tend to suck. Add in a pitcher-friendly home park and offensively incompetent teammates, and you have a recipe for a slow start. It happens and I’m sure he’ll be more than fine in the long run.

On a personal level, I’ve already accepted the trade and said my goodbyes to Montero. That sounds incredibly lame and cheesy, but it’s hard not to get attached to these guys as you follow their progress through the minors. Heck, here’s the DotF from his pro debut in 2007. We know when these kids sign, when they hit, when they struggle, when they do anything in the minors before reaching the big leagues these days. If you read RAB regularly, they become as much a part of the Yankees experience as Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia and Yankee Stadium. You get attached to them and when they get traded, it bums you out. It’s only natural.

Regardless of what they said publicly, the Yankees didn’t believe Montero was a big league catcher defensively. Actions speak louder than words and when Frankie Cervelli went down with a concussion last September, it was Austin Romine who took over behind the plate. That’s why he was traded. If he was a corner outfielder or something, chances are he’d still be in pinstripes. And that’s fine, when the pieces don’t fit you adjust. I thought Montero could be serviceable enough behind the plate in my completely amateur opinion, enough to catch 50-80 games a year for the next few seasons. He didn’t have to catch forever, but a few years back there seemed doable. The Yankees didn’t agree so they made the move.

Like everyone else, I have favorite players around baseball and Montero is one of them. I disliked the trade at the time and am pretty annoyed at how it’s played out so far, but at the end of the day I root for the laundry. I hope Montero does well this weekend (and going forward) but I hope the Yankees do even better. I miss Jesus and really wish he was the regular DH/backup catcher this year, but he’s not and that’s just the way it is. I enjoyed his short time in pinstripes but as usual, the players change. The Yankees are the constant and that’s where my allegiance lies.

Yankee designated hitter production of recent vintage, and a look at 2012

One of the bitterest pills to swallow in the aftermath of the Michael PinedaJesus Montero trade was the fact that the Yankees were removing what many expected to be a substantial cog in the offensive machine, not only in 2012 but for years to come. Prior to being traded, Montero’s average projected wOBA for 2012 was .360 (his revised projections as a Mariner average out to a .347 wOBA, or .272/.334/.461), which was the fifth-best projected wOBA of the projected starting Yankee nine.

Interestingly, for all of Brian Cashman‘s skill at building an incredibly talented roster on the offensive side of the equation, getting robust production out of the DH slot in the lineup has never really seemed to be a primary interest. To wit (as always, click to embiggen):

Of the 14 Yankee teams Cash has presided over, they have received below-league average production (sOPS+) out of the DH slot five times. That may not seem like a lot, but it is a tad eyebrow-raising given how robust the Yankee offense has been with Cash at the helm. Only four times has the team received DH production 10% better than league average in the last 14 seasons, which seems like a fairly large waste of resources when considering we’re talking about a lineup slot solely extant to produce offense.

Cashman’s high-water mark DH season was 2009, the year in which Hideki Matsui had primary designated hitter duties and responded with a DH campaign 19% better than the league. The Yankees also got a surprising amount of production out of the 2008 DH, which was mostly filled by Jason Giambi, along with Matsui and Johnny Damon. The only other really standout year for DH production above was 1998, which saw Darryl Strawberry, Rock Raines and Chili Davis collaborate on a .276/.378/.493 line.

That .360 projected wOBA for a Montero as a Yankee worked out to roughly a .270/.360/.470 triple slash, mighty fine production out of a 21-year-old, not to mention a line that would’ve been among the better performances the Yankees received from the DH during the last 14 seasons. However, for all the hullabaloo about the Yankees wanting to fill Montero’s vacated production, it appears they’ll have a pretty good shot at doing just that with the platoon of Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez.

In 2011, Andruw Jones put up the following slash against LHP  in 146 PAs: .286/.384/.540, .400 wOBA.
In 2011, Raul Ibanez put up the following slash against RHP in 437 PAs: .256/.307/.440, .322 wOBA.

If you average those lines (and obviously this is exceptionally rough math, as the PAs are not even close to comparable), you get a .271/.346/.490, .361 wOBA hitter. Docking for the fact that PAs against RHP are roughly double those against LHP and you’re probably close to a .340 wOBA hitter, which is right around the average of SG’s 2012 CAIRO-projected platoon splits for Jones (.337 vs. LHP) and Ibanez (.349 vs. RHP).

While Jones probably won’t produce a .400 wOBA against LHP again, on the flip side Ibanez seems like a fairly reasonable bet to outdo a .322 wOBA against RHP with 81 games at Yankee Stadium, and taken together I don’t think it’s terribly unrealistic to expect the duo to combine for somewhere in the neighborhood of a .350 wOBA. While that may not quite be Jesus Montero territory, it should be enough for the Yankee offense to not miss much of a beat, especially when considering the ~.309 wOBA received from Jorge Posada in the majority of DH plate appearances in 2011.