Archive for Jesus Montero
We goofed with the scheduling last night, and this was quickly buried by Larry’s post on the big trade. Just so nobody misses it, we’re bumping it back up top this afternoon.
Once upon a time, charting prospects took a lot of work. In the days before instant access to last night’s Charleston stats, Gameday at every Minor League park and Down on the Farm, devoted fanatics could subscribe to Baseball America and receive stats two weeks stale. The Yankees featured an “On The Way Up” section in their annual yearbook, but the names would come and go. Dave Silvestri, anyone?
Today, prospect hugging is a national pastime for better or worse. We can follow a player from the day he signs as an international free agent to the day his Visa clears to the day he makes his states-side debut. We chart the ins and outs and ups and downs of our favorite youngsters. We latch onto players we know only through reputation, a line in the box score, some scouting reports and, lately, Twitter feeds. Most, as a glimpse as one of our early DOTFs shows, do not pan out. Yet, we hug and hug and hug anyway.
Jesus Montero had been one of those players Yankee fans loved to hug. From a system fairly barren of impact bats over the past 15 years, Montero had been heralded as the Next Big Thing since he arrived from Venezuela as a 16-year-old. He couldn’t catch then, and he likely can’t catch now. But he was a big boy and could he hit. With a solid core and quick, strong hands, he can flick balls the opposite way and pull them deep into the night. If he clicks right, he’ll be great.
When Montero arrived in the Bronx this past summer, he put on a show. At a game I had the privilege of attending, he lasered two balls into the right field seats against the Orioles, and it seemed to be a glimpse of things to come. Until a few days ago, we had grown accustomed to the idea of having Montero as the everyday designated hitter in a lineup filled with guys otherwise nearing the tail end of their 20s. Maybe some even believed he could catch.
He’s gone now, though. In the brief span of a few minutes on Friday evening, as rumors of a trade swirled, the Mariners landed a player they had wanted for a while, and the Yanks, in turn, spun Montero into a cost-controlled young starting pitcher with a stellar Minor League pedigree and an impressive first year under his belt. At first, I didn’t embrace the deal. I didn’t like the idea of trading Montero for anything other than a sure thing. I wanted to hug him.
But as I parried back and forth with other fans, I came to view the trade through the lens of the game. It was the cost of doing business. Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman took a risk, as he reportedly admitted to ESPN’s Jim Bowden. He traded a highly touted bat for a highly touted arm. Both players are works in progress. Both could flame out; both could reach their potential. He may have gambled that Montero won’t develop into a player with much defensive value, and he may have been, rightly so, seduced by the promise of Michael Pineda‘s low price tag for the foreseeable future.
It’s tough to let go, especially when we’ve followed a player from Step One of a promising big league career. The jury will long be out on this deal (and if the Yanks want Montero back, well, he’s projected to hit free agency at the start of his offensive peak). But there will be other players to hug, to chart, to track, and the risk of this trade just might be the biggest gamble the Yanks have made under Brian Cashman. Embrace that for now, and hold your breath.
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.
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.
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.
Comparisons have been a part of baseball since long before the internet showed up and made everyone an expert. Players are routinely compared to one another, and this happens with prospects more than anyone else. Fans like to see comps because they want to know how good their favorite minor leaguers will be in the future, but comps often distort the truth more than anything. I used to think Austin Jackson had some Mike Cameron in him, but holy crap was I wrong with that one. Cameron hit 28 homers in Double-A one year, which is two fewer than Jackson hit in his entire minor league career. Comps need to go more than position and skin deep, if you catch my drift.
The most common comps you’ll see are the lazy ones, like my Jackson-Cameron laugher. Lefties from New England get dubbed a Tom Glavine type, soft-tossing righties are the next Greg Maddux, short-ish players that lack tools but play hard are a David Eckstein clone, so on and so forth. Some comps are forced, meaning the two players have one or two things in common — one of them is almost always appearance — but nothing else. I gave up on comps a while ago because ultimately it’s a disservice to both fans and the players, as we end up disappointed when Jesus Montero turns into a really good player but not the historically great Miguel Cabrera.
That said, comps are unavoidable and we see them every day. The Yankees top three prospects have each had a comp tag applied in recent years that’s stuck around, but none of the three are all that accurate. The players may look the same, but that’s not enough to make a comparison valid in my opinion. Let’s dig in…
Comp: Carlos Lee
Why It Fits: Handedness and body type
Why It Doesn’t: The big thing here is that Lee is a dead pull hitter, with just 16.0% of his career balls in play going to right field. Here’s his spray chart from the last three seasons (via Texas Leaguers), which really drives home the point. Montero, as you know, is more of an opposite field hitter. Lee also walked (5.3%) and struck out (11.0%) less in the minors that Montero has (7.8 BB% and 16.5 K%). It would be a success if Montero winds up having a career as long (13 seasons) and productive (.355 wOBA and 114 wRC+) as Lee has, but they’d go about it in very different ways.
Comp: Johan Santana
Why It Fits: Smallish lefties, best pitch is changeup
Why It Doesn’t: Banuelos is primarily a fastball-changeup guy like Johan was once upon a time, but his third pitch is a curveball while Santana’s was a slider. Sliders are more effective against same side hitters while curves are a bit more universal, typically used against both righties and lefties regardless of the pitcher’s handedness. Secondly, Banuelos’ changeup isn’t as good as Johan’s. It just isn’t. Santana’s changeup is one of the best ever, and it’s a stretch to use that as a basis of comparison for anyone.
Comp: Daniel Cabrera
Why It Fits: Super-tall hard throwers with big stuff and walk problems
Why It Doesn’t: This comp is the most accurate of the three in this post, but again we’re talking about a slider pitcher (Cabrera) versus a curveball pitcher (Betances). Unlike Banuelos and Johan, that is their second pitch, not third. Cabrera was also injury-free in the minors, which Dellin most certainly hasn’t been. There’s also the makeup issue, as Cabrera was a notorious hot-head that had run-ins with coaches and teammates and intentionally threw at batters when things didn’t go his way. Betances has never had that problem, not that we know of anyway.
* * *
Maybe I’m just being nitpicky, but I feel comps should go a little deeper than typically do. In case you haven’t noticed, no one has ever become the next anyone. Every player is unique and they should be treated as such.
You may have missed them over the holiday weekend, but Josh Norris published a series of short posts with quotes from scouts about various Yankees’ prospects. Among the players covered are system headliners Jesus Montero (“He might be Miguel Cabrera”), Manny Banuelos (“I think he’s the real deal”), Mason Williams (“an above-average major league center field profile”), and Dellin Betances (“he’s going to be a bullpen guy”). Corban Joseph, Angelo Gumbs, Cito Culver, Branden Pinder, and personal fave Bryan Mitchell were covered as well, and Norris also posted an interview with Adam Warren. They’re all quick reads and get RAB’s highest level of recommendation, so check ‘em out.
Via Andy Martino, the Athletics asked the Yankees for Jesus Montero and “top pitching prospects” when they inquired about left-baller Gio Gonzalez earlier this winter. A few weeks ago we heard that the A’s wanted young, high-end outfielders in return for the 26-year-old, but the Yankees don’t have any of those to offer and it was before Oakland got Collin Cowgill in the Trevor Cahill deal. Considering that Mat Latos just got traded for something less than Montero plus “top pitching prospects,” this was probably an easy no for the braintrust.
Seven questions this week, but the answers are pretty short so it’s kinda like a rapid fire mailbag. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.
Larry asks: If the plan is to use the Montero as a DH a good amount of the time, should/will the Yankees carry three catchers? If they do, do they carry Cervelli or Romine? Does it make more sense to carry Cervelli since he can play second or third in an emergency?
This situation really is no different that last year, when Jorge Posada was the regular DH. Russell Martin is the starting catcher, Montero is the starting DH, Frankie Cervelli is the backup catcher, and Austin Romine is in Triple-A. They can still let Montero catch say, 25-30 games with that roster, they’ll just have two catcher on the bench that day. Not ideal, but it’s not the end of the world if they do it once or twice a week.
Tucker asks: What’s the real danger in locking up Martin for a 2 or 3-year deal? If one of their catching prospects develops, couldn’t they always just trade him?
There is no real risk, at least not in terms of additional risk compared to the usual risk associated with multi-year contracts. Yeah, he is a catcher, so he is theoretically more of an injury risk than other position players, but nothing insane. It should be relatively ease to move him unless he completely craters, and even if he does, Martin’s unlikely to get paid so much that eating the contract (by designated him for assignment) is out of the question. I wouldn’t go anymore than three years though, his offense is still a question even if his defense is as good as advertised.
Patrick asks: Rich Hill. Second lefty and possibly the long man out of the pen?
Yes as a second lefty but no as a long man. Hill remade himself as a sidearmer this past season in hopes of becoming an effectively left specialist, and he was pretty good for the Red Sox until he blew out his elbow and needed Tommy John surgery last summer. He was non-tendered and will be out until sometime midseason. He’s a minor league contract guy, obviously, but not the worst candidate for a roll of the dice.
Arad asks: If baseball were to have an amnesty clause where each team could get rid of one player without paying the contract, like basketball has, who would you do it to? I can’t see myself getting rid of Arod. I guess Burnett would be my choice.
Easily Alex Rodriguez, it’s not even a question in my mind. The final two years of A.J. Burnett‘s contract will be a walk in the park compared to the final six of A-Rod‘s deal. Alex is one of my all-time favorite players, but good gravy is that contract ugly. Amnesty the hell out of thing and never look back.
Daniel asks: If the Marlins have a hypothetical fire sale at this time next year, and gave each team the opportunity to make ONE offer for Mike Stanton, what would you offer?
Man, I’d offer pretty much everything. Jesus Montero, Brett Gardner, and Ivan Nova? Maybe substitute in Manny Banuelos for Nova, but the point is I’d offer a lot. The kid’s a star, a homer mashing star. Dude just turned 22 years old, and he’s got 56 homers and a .264 ISO in 250 games while playing half his games in a huge park in Florida. We can only dream that Montero turns into that guy that quickly.
Travis asks: Is there any chance Jorge Vazquez gets a shot at being a righty off the bench for the Yankees or is he stuck in AAA until they trade him?
There was an unconfirmed rumor floating around a few days ago that JoVa was headed to Japan, which would be a good move for him. He’d definitely make more money there than he would sitting in Triple-A. And no, he won’t get a chance to be a bench player for the Yankees. The guy has big power but also big holes in his swing, hence the 220 strikeouts in 700 plate appearances between the regular season and winter ball this year. He also doesn’t offer much on defense. Don’t worry, someone else just like him will be along in a year or two.
Chip asks: In light of the Matt Moore contract, would you offer the same contract to Banuelos if he put up something like 9 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9 in AAA and forces himself into the major league rotation? Maybe even Montero would take something like that.
I’d offer it to Montero before I offered it to Banuelos (position players are safer than pitchers, yadda yadda yadda), but the Yankees have no reason to rush into a long-term deal with either player. Tampa has to do it because they won’t be able to afford these guys in three or four years, but the Yankees don’t have that problem. They can be patient, see how these guys develop, then make an offer if one is warranted. Just imagine if they’d signed Phil Hughes long-term in 2007, or Nick Johnson in 2003. It’s very risky business when you’re talking about guy with less than two years of service time, just look back at how many Rookie of the Year Award winners were total duds a few seasons later.
Over the last few years, we’ve heard quite a bit about Jesus Montero‘s power to right, the opposite field for him. We caught a glimpse of that opposite field power in September, when three of Montero’s four homeruns were hit out to right. For some perspective, Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp tied for the league lead in opposite field homers hit by right-handed batters in 2011. They each had nine, or three times as many as Montero in roughly ten times as many plate appearances.
Opposite field power is generally more impressive than pull power because for one, it takes a ton of raw strength. Making contact with a pitch that is essentially behind you and still driving it 350-feet isn’t something most baseball players can do with regularity. Secondly, it supposedly indicates a better approach and the willingness to wait on a pitch, letting it travel deep in the zone before swinging. That part is more up for debate that the raw strength part, but I certainly think it passes the sniff test.
Over the last three seasons, Nelson Cruz leads all right-handed hitters with a .417 wOBA to the opposite field. Miguel Cabrera is second at .409, and Derek Jeter of all people is third at .398. I only say “of all people” because we don’t think of Jeter as a power guy, but he certainly does a ton of damage the other way. That’s a good reminder that having opposite field power doesn’t necessarily have to mean just homers, it could also means doubles and triples. I don’t expect to see many three-baggers out of Montero, though. Over the last three seasons, righty hitters have averaged a .274 wOBA on balls hit the other way. Clearly, opposite field pop for a righty bat is a pretty scarce and valuable commodity.
Not to rain on the parade, but we have to remember that Montero still has a long way to go before proving that his opposite field pop is a sustainable thing in the big leagues. He had 69 plate appearances and put 44 balls in play in September, which is nothing. Five of Travis Snider’s first eleven homers in the show were hit to the opposite field, and none of the 17 he’s hit since them have gone the other way. This could vanish quick. It was fun to see Montero launch some bombs the other way late last year, and the scouting report indicates that this could be something more than a fluke. The kid sure does seem to have a swing geared for the small part of Yankee Stadium, and that’s pretty exciting.
Tucker asks: One of my Mariners friends suggested a possible trade that sounded crazy to me at first, but the more I thought about it the more it made sense: Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero. M’s need offense, Yanks need pitching.
Well, this isn’t really a question, so I guess it’s just a statement I will expand on. I think it is a very interesting swap, and certainly more realistic than the Felix Hernandez-for-random stuff proposals we see
from time to time all the time. The framework makes a ton of sense, a team with pitching to spare and in need of offense gets six years of a young, high-end hitter while the team with offense to spare and in need of pitching gets five years of the young, high-end pitcher. It’s a match made in trade heaven.
Pineda, 23 in January, finished right behind Ivan Nova in the AL Rookie of the Year voting thanks to a 3.74 ERA and 3.42 FIP in 171 innings. Blame that on his 9-10 record and Seattle’s offense. He struck out 173 batters and walked just 54 unintentionally, good for 9.11 K/9 (24.9% of batters faced) and 2.89 BB/9 (7.9%). With a big frame (6-foot-5, 245 lbs.) and a high-octane fastball that averaged 94.2 mph this past season, it’s easy to see why Pineda should be considered among the game’s best young hurlers. He’s not perfect though.
For one, Pineda is an extreme fly ball pitcher, getting a ground ball just 36.3% of the time this past summer with uninspiring minor league grounder rates to match. He gave up 18 homers (0.95 HR/9) playing in spacious Safeco Field, a number that would almost certainly climb in Yankee Stadium. Secondly, he’s almost exclusively a two-pitch pitcher, using that big fastball roughly 65% of the time and his sharp slider roughly 32% of the time this summer. The other 3% is a flimsy little changeup and the reason why lefties hit him harder than righties, a pattern he also displayed in the minors. That isn’t to say Pineda isn’t a good pitcher, he certainly is, but he has some flaws that could be really exposed in the AL East and in Yankee Stadium.
There’s a very weird dynamic here because Montero was almost a Mariner in 2010, before Jack Zduriencik reneged on the Cliff Lee trade. I don’t know if there’s any “bad blood” between the two clubs because of that, but we know the Yankees weren’t happy with the way things went down and I have to think they hold a little bit of a grudge. I know I would. I’m sure they’re enjoying the fact that Montero out-fWAR’d Justin Smoak (0.6 to 0.5) this season, I know I am. I don’t think that “bad blood” would stand in the way of a potential Felix trade, but it might for lesser players, even someone like Pineda.
Objectively, I do think Montero-for-Pineda is a pretty fair trade. The one fewer year of team control is kinda mitigated by the fact that Pineda has shown he can handle a full season in the big leagues and be an above-average contributor. As good as Montero looked in September, we have no idea if he can produce 600 plate appearances at a time. On the other hand, the Yankees homer in my says no way to this trade; Pineda’s a two-pitch guy with fly ball problems and if the Yankees trade Montero, I’d like to see them trade him for someone more established.