Archive for 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.

Categories : Hot Stove League
Comments (110)
(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.

(Getty)

(Getty)

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.

Categories : Players
Comments (32)

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.

(Presswire)

(Presswire)

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.

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Nov
11

Mailbag: Michael Pineda and 2014

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(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.

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May
11

Missing Montero

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(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.

Categories : Musings
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One of the bitterest pills to swallow in the aftermath of the Michael Pineda-Jesus 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.

Categories : Analysis
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Just five questions this week, and the answers aren’t even that long. So yeah, pretty straight-forward mailbag. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us anything, including mailbag questions.

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Dan asks: Let’s say Raul Ibanez gives the Yankees a good reason to release him, thus giving Russell Branyan, Bill Hall, etc. a shot of making the team. What would the Yankees have to pay Ibanez?

Assuming it’s a guaranteed big league contract, which is probably is, the Yankees would have to pay Ibanez the full $1.1M no matter when they cut him. If it’s not a guaranteed deal, they could release him by March 19th and only pay him 30 days termination pay (~$191,860), or 45 days termination pay (~$287,790) if they release him between March 20th and Opening Day. If it’s non-guaranteed and they released him after Opening Day, they’re on the hook for the full $1.1M. Like I said, chances are it is a guaranteed contract (Eric Chavez‘s is) and they owe him everything regardless.

Arnold asks: Why do I get the feeling that the Yanks never intended to keep Jesus Montero? Supposedly, they were concerned about keeping the DH slot open for the senior citizens, but now that Montero’s gone, they sign every octogenarian in sight (see Ibanez) to clog up the DH slot. Will the youngsters ever get a chance in this organization?

I can understand why you feel that way, but I don’t necessarily agree with it. I do think the Yankees have been overly cautious promoting youngsters to the big leagues over the last two or three years after being overly aggressive in the past, almost like they’re overcompensation by going from one extreme to the other. It’s not like they gave Montero away though, the only time his name popped up in (legitimate) trade rumors was when there was a bonafide ace (Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee) or a young hurler with that kind of upside (Michael Pineda) on the table.

It’s not easy integrating young players into the ultra-competitive AL East though, especially with this ham-fisted “win the World Series or the season is a failure” mentality embedded in the fanbase. Growing pains and are tough to stomach when you’re trying to win the World Series.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Daniel asks: If this is indeed Mariano Rivera‘s last season, next season the Yankees have Rafael Soriano, David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, and now David Aardsma as well as various minor leaguers vying for the closer position. None of them are Rivera and no one ever will be, but as far as closer options go, the Yankees wont be in too bad a position will they?

No, I don’t think so. Not only do they have plenty of quality in-house closer candidates, but they also have the means to go out and get an established closer (Ryan Madson? Joakim Soria?) if they want (I’d rather see them exhaust the in-house options first). Replacing Rivera’s production will be hard but not impossible, at least in terms of save percentage and actually recording that 27th out for the wclosing out games for the win. No one will be as utterly dominant and flawless as Mo, of course.

The one thing no one will ever be able to replace is the sense of security Rivera provides. No matter how chaotic the situation or big the game, there is never a sense of unease when Mo’s on the mound. I can’t imagine anyone will ever make us feel that way again. I hope he doesn’t retire after the season, but if he does, the team is well-prepared to replace him. It just won’t be as pretty.

Alec asks: With recent news about Russell Martin’s extension talks and Yadier Molina’s talks of extension with the Cardinals, I hope neither signs so the options are open for the Yankees in 2013. I know you value Miguel Montero a bit better than Martin since he is a better hitter, but what do you think about Yadi? I prefer him over Martin, Montero, and Mike Napoli in the 2013 FA crew. Cash must think otherwise since he is trying to extend Martin. Your take?

I’d rank those four guys: Napoli (moderate gap) Montero (small gap) Molina (small gap) Martin. I do value catcher defense but I also don’t think it’s the most important thing in the world, so the two defense-first guys lag behind the big bats for me. Yadi would be an upgrade over Martin especially if he shows that last year’s offensive spike (.349 wOBA) is a real thing during his peak years, but the big question is money. I have a feeling Molina’s going to get huge bucks only because the Cardinals won’t want to lose him after losing Albert Pujols.

Martin’s not the best catcher in the league, but he’s better than the average catcher offensively and is a strong defender. The Yankees also value makeup, and Russ does come across as a tough dude. I’ve thrown out that three-year, $25-30M deal for Martin with these rumors in recent weeks, and that’s pretty much my limit. Joe Torre ran him into the ground earlier in his career and I worry that a big crash is coming in his early-30′s. Ideally, Martin would mentor Austin Romine for a few years then hand over the reigns. Molina’s a great catcher, but I think I’d rather have Martin at his price than Yadi at his, especially if the Cardinals get desperate.

Mike asks: Where would Rafael DePaula have ranked in your top 30 prospects if he had obtained his visa?

If he’d have gotten the visa this offseason, I probably would have had him in the 20-25 range somewhere, likely behind Nik Turley. If he’d gotten the visa last offseason and spent the entire 2011 season in the farm system throwing real innings, he probably would have ranked even higher barring injury, 11-15 possibly. The kid’s got a fantastic arm, but he’s losing a lot of precious development time.

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Jan
24

Jesus Montero And Maturity

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What the deuce are you staring at? (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Ten days after the agreement was reported, the trade sending Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners in exchange for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos was made official yesterday. The Yankees dealt away their best position player prospect since Derek Jeter, a guy most of us thought was pretty close to untouchable over the last four years or so. That wasn’t the case though, it never is. Brian Cashman is fond of saying that “no one is untouchable, but some are more touchable than others.” That continues to be true.

For starters, the Yankees have dangled Montero in trade talks several times in the past. They weren’t going to give him away, but he was out there if someone was serious about swinging a deal. The Yankees offered him to the Blue Jays for Roy Halladay during the 2009-2010 offseason, and of course there was the Cliff Lee non-trade fiasco. Other teams have asked for him over the years — the White Sox for John Danks, the Athletics for Gio Gonzalez, the Rockies for Ubaldo Jimenez — and that’s just the stuff we know about. As much as we maybe didn’t want to believe it, Montero was very available.

We all know about the long-term position and defensive questions Montero carried, but chances are the team had some other concerns that contributed to their willingness to trade him. Allow me to excerpt The Star-Ledger’s Jeff Bradley

“A big-time talent,” [VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman] said of Montero. “There’s no one questioning his talent. But he hasn’t had a great year with the bat this year. We expected more, honestly.”

Newman went on to say, “The biggest deal for him is maturity. I’ve been doing this a while and I don’t know how you significantly accelerate the maturation process. You can put him around mature people, but he’s got a ways to go in figuring out how this game works and how this world works. He’s bright. I think he’ll eventually get it. The discipline and turmoil that he’s had to deal with is part of the process. You’ve got to deal with stuff. You’ve got to take the training wheels off. That’s what he’s going through.”

When asked if Montero had allowed his hopes of making the Yankees roster out of spring training last year get too high, Newman nodded. “He thought he had a chance to make the team in spring training. He thought he was the best player here at Triple-A last year. Now, he sees (Eduardo) Nunez is up there doing well. He thinks, ‘I was better than him.’ He sees Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, and he thinks, ‘I was better than all of them, and they’re up there and I’m down here.’ I had a zillion conversations with him about that. But his case is not unique. These guys are down here reading the blogs about themselves, where even a few years ago, players moved through development stages in anonymity.”

Now, just to be 100% clear, these comments are not recent. They were made back around the trade deadline according to Bradley. It’s not like Newman is throwing Montero under the bus on his way out the door Red Sox-style, he voiced these concerns when the kid was still in the organization and six months before he was traded away.

The idea that Montero was “bored” in Triple-A this past summer is nothing new, but that’s not the only incident (if you can actually call that an incident) that involved a lack of maturity on his part. Remember, the Yankees did bench him for a few games in 2010 because he didn’t run out a ground ball, and they benched him again in 2011 because his play lacked “energy.” During yesterday’s trade announcement conference call, Montero admitted that Alex Rodriguez stepped in and threatened to fine him $100 a day last September because he wasn’t spending enough time in the batting cage. There’s the whole “boys will be boys” mindset, especially when you’re talking about kids this young after they were handed a boatload of money. I have no doubt a sense of entitlement comes into play.

The Yankees know way more about Montero and his maturity level — both as a person and as a player — than we ever will, and we really can’t say that they had legitimate long-term concerns about him with any certainty. I’ve always been of the belief that talents reigns supreme, and I’ll live with the occasional bad apple or grumpy player as long as he’s productive on the field. The Yankees seem to have placed a renewed emphasis on strong work ethic and makeup, and in recent years they’ve sought out players with those traits in free agency, trades, and even the draft. Maybe they felt Montero didn’t fit the mold despite his ability to hit baseballs a long way.

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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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Farewell Jesus, greetings Michael (Yahoo.com)

Like some of you (and some of us here at RAB), my head is still swirling from last Friday’s trade escapades. Cashman, in vintage ninja-like fashion, redefined the Yankees landscape in what seemed like a matter of hours when he elected to ship Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi off to Seattle in return for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.  Not only could the trade drastically influence the 2012 season, but it may reverberate for years to come on a number of different levels.

Frankly, I have not completely sorted out my thoughts on the trade yet; although, my initial response was some combination of bewilderment and panic. On the surface, the deal seems to make a great deal of sense for both teams though – the Mariners obtained a potential middle-of-the-lineup threat to aid their otherwise meager offense, while the Yankees theoretically acquired another potent arm to complement a rotation comprised of CC Sabathia and a bunch of question marks. Incidentally, both organizations received players that are very young and cost-controlled to boot.

While Hector Noesi and Jose Campos are certainly not the feature pieces of the deal, both offer some honest upside as well. Noesi will probably slot into the Mariners rotation and should deliver some decent production, especially in spacious Safeco Field. Similarly, Campos, a 19-year-old right-handed pitcher with a dazzling fastball, will likely qualify as a top ten prospect within the Yankees organization upon arrival. High-end bullpen pitching depth is never a bad thing, right?

Yet, general consensus here in Yankeeland seems to be that the deal was “good but not great” despite the fact that it clearly addressed some of the franchise’s obvious concerns. Some of the luster of the move was certainly dulled by the fact that we, as fans, have been captivated by Montero for quite some time now. He was supposed to be the next homegrown superstar after all, who would grow up donning pinstripes and ultimately retire to the Hall of Fame as a True Yankee™.  So as great as Pineda could potentially be, the loss of Montero is still bittersweet.

As if sentiments weren’t hazy enough already, Brian Cashman did his part to complicate the discussion further as he went on the record stating, “I gave up a ton [for Pineda]. To me, Montero is Mike Piazza. He’s Miguel Cabrera.”  Assuming for a moment that Montero does have that kind of ceiling at the MLB level (and boy that is a lofty assumption), what’s that worth to a team exactly?  I suppose it depends on the team’s needs first and foremost.  For what it’s worth, WAR tells us that Miggy has been been an outstanding player (only once in the past seven seasons has he delivered a fWAR value below five).   There’s only a handful of players in all of baseball who can deliver similar production consistently.

Even if Montero was relegated to designated hitter role early on in his career, at that level of production, he’d still contribute some serious value going forward. Consider David Ortiz; in 2011, he was valued at 4.2 WAR according to FanGraphs.  Also keep in mind that in 2011, there were only 24 pitchers total who could claim a WAR above four, and only 16 topped five.  Last season, Cabrera eclipsed the seven fWAR plateau –  a feat only pitchers Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia, and Justin Verlander could claim.  So in the spirit of gross over-simplification, our hearts and eyes told us Montero carried huge clout, a point which Cashman reiterated right after trading him to the Mariners for some kid not named Felix.

Now, I generally tend to value very good pitching beyond very good hitting simply because of supply and demand, a philosophy which makes it easier for me to accept Cashman’s decision to pull the trigger (not that he needs my official endorsement). However, I also contend that elite talent (regardless of the role) should hold trump. The reason why elite talent is so tantalizing is because, by very definition, it’s a rarity.  If Cashman was serious about Montero becoming a generational talent, I sure hope he has similar aplomb in Pineda’s future as well.  Trading future Miguel Cabrera away for, say, Ricky Romero just doesn’t satisfy me.*

Realistically speaking, at this point, Montero’s a highly touted prospect who is still in the process of transitioning into the bigs. Although he had an exciting September, it’s probably unfair to label him the next big deal until he showcases some consistency. As for Pineda, his strengths are obvious but he’s also not without his flaws. We’ve all heard by now about his gaudy strikeout ratio.  We’ve also heard about his fly ball tendencies and the changeup that needs to develop. Nevertheless, he is definitely a very talented kid, and the Yankees were not likely to obtain that caliber of a player without giving up something comparable in return. Considering the value of other young cost-controlled quality arms, it would appear Cashman gave up a reasonable amount relative to the haul.

Cashman said that the trade will likely be a bust for the Yankees if Pineda doesn’t develop a viable changeup and become a number one starter. Those are some hefty expectations (that we all probably feel in the pit of our stomach to some extent or another). Then again, I’m sure Seattle is saying the same thing. Montero needs to live up to the hype in order to justify the loss of a pitcher who could become a bonafide ace; moreover, he’ll likely need to do it behind the plate for some folks to be truly content.  The uncertainty is the rub.  It’s the reason I flinched at the trade initially, and it’s also the reason I completely support the reasoning behind it now.

I know I wasn’t alone in wondering whether the Yanks could have had the proverbial cake and been able to eat it too. It’s plausible that the Yankees would still be dubbed the AL East favorite at this juncture if they had just signed Hiroki Kuroda and not made the trade additionally. Although the rotation would not have been as appealing in 2012 without Pineda’s services, perhaps the differential in run support would have made up for it.  I think we were all prepared to face that reality with open arms.

In the long run, hopefully we’ll wind up thanking Cashman for his foresight. Unfortunately, because baseball isn’t played in a vacuum, such hypotheticals are not only abstract but at times haunting. Only Cashman truly knows the true game plan, and he gets to make the tough decisions while only we get the benefit of being able to scrutinize his moves without the torments of accountability.

In any event, the wheels are in motion and there is no real option other than to embrace the future. Hopefully, the team does not lose interest in some of the other quality arms on the free agent market come next season **. There’s nothing more we can do but wait and see how this will pan out for the Yankees. For now, I’ll trust in Cashman’s judgment with optimism, say a fond farewell to the superstar-in-the-making we barely knew, and welcome with open arms the future face of the rotation.

* Please know that I’m not comparing Michael Pineda to Ricky Romero here.  The example was simply the first name that popped into mind for the sake of discussion.

** Just for the record, I do not expect the Yankees to skip out on elite pitchers next offseason should they be made available.

*** Apologies for my hiatus the past two months. Between work and wedding planning, my life has been rather chaotic. That said, I hope to regain normalcy in my daily routine soon and get back to posting at my typical frequency.  Cheers!

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