The Morning After: Pineda & Kuroda

(Pineda via AP, Kuroda via Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mailbag: Michael Pineda

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

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.