Vetting out some thoughts on ‘the big trade’

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!

PINEDAf/x (and some projections)

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr./Getty)

There has been no lack of Michael Pineda PITCHf/x analysis in the aftermath of the Big Trade, and if you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out Lucas Apostoleris here, Whelk at DRays Bay here and our pal Matt Imbrogno here. With these fine fellows having already done some of the legwork I was planning on doing, I thought I’d shift my focus to a compelling comp:

Feel free to guess in the comments, or find out what we’re looking at after the jump.

[Read more…]

Mailbag: Manny, Burnett, Andruw, Pineda, Joba

As you can imagine, we got approximately ten million mailbag questions this week following the Michael PinedaJesus Montero trade. Oddly enough, no one really wanted to talk about Hiroki Kuroda. Poor guy. Anyway, I tried to answer as many as possible this week, which is why the answers are shorter than usual. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in sidebar.

(REUTERS/Brian Blanco)

Ben asks: I can’t believe I’m even writing this, but would you take a flier on Manny Ramirez now that Montero has vacated the DH spot? Or is the baggage not even worth a minor league deal at this point?

I wouldn’t even bother. That’s a lot of baggage, plus he still has to serve his 50-game suspension for last year’s failed drug test. Jon Morosi confirmed that he has to sign a contract before he can begin to serve a suspension, so he wouldn’t even be available until late-May or so. Maybe he can still hit, but I don’t think it’s worth the trouble to find out.

Den asks: Do you think the probability of A.J. Burnett being traded increased significantly after the deals with Kuroda and Seattle?

I do not, at least not significantly. It’s not a matter of the Yankees and their willingness to move Burnett, we know they want to, it’s whether or not another team is open to taking him while assuming some portion of his contract. So far all we’ve heard is that other clubs want the Yankees to pay basically everything, and if you’re going to do that you might as well keep him. The Pineda and Kuroda stuff won’t make A.J. any more desirable to other teams, unfortunately.

J.R. asks: How did Andruw Jones fair against RHP in the second half in 2011 (after the widened stance)? Did he do well enough that he could be the full time DH (or at least 400 AB)? Do injury concerns prevent this?

To the statcave!

Jones vs. RHP pre-ASG: .091/.167/.091 in 24 PA
Jones vs. RHP post-ASG: .214/.365/.571 in 52 PA

That works out to a .172/.303/.406 overall line in 76 PA, but the sample size is so small that we shouldn’t take it seriously. For what it’s worth, Andruw hit .215/.310/.477 in  403 PA vs. RHP with the Rangers and White Sox in 2009-2010. I don’t know of any injury concerns that would prevent Jones from playing regularly against right-handers (though he did have his knee scoped at the end of the season), but there are obvious performance concerns. I think using him as the full-time DH would be a last resort, or at least a second-to-last resort behind Jorge Vazquez. Also, statcave is totally going to be a thing now.

No LoMo for the Yankees. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Daniel asks: Due to the pitching depth that the recent moves create for the Yankees, could we see a move to get a young cost-controlled bat that could DH and play other positions (i.e. LoMo, Dominic Brown)? I would include Billy Butler, but he would keep the Yankees from using the DH for veterans needing a half-day.

I would love to see it, but I’m not counting on it. The Yankees have pitching depth but it’s not like they have a rotation full of aces and a few to spare; their depth is Burnett, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia, and a bunch of MLB-ready back-end types in Triple-A. That won’t net a whole lot in a trade, certainly not a Brown or Logan Morrison type. Look at what it took to get Montero, it’ll take a similar package to get someone like those two. Unless they plan on turning around and trading Pineda, I don’t see it.

Greg asks: Everybody is focused on Pineda’s extreme fly-ball tendencies, but we’re all thinking about it in a vacuum.  How many of those fly balls at Safeco would have been out at NYS?

You can toy around with Katron, which SG already did. Click the link and you’ll see that none of the fly balls Pineda gave up in Safeco would have been homers in Yankee Stadium except for the ones that were homers in Safeco. There aren’t even many balls hit to the warning track. Obviously this isn’t a perfect analysis because it doesn’t take into account things like different wind directions and altitude and all that, but the point is that just because a pitcher gives up a lot of fly balls doesn’t mean they’re all hit deep.

Kevin asks: Outside of the box idea: if David Adams or Corban Joseph can prove to be a decent enough prospect this year, any chance of moving Robinson Cano to third and sending Alex Rodriguez to DH? Second basemen tend to age horribly, so it could preserve his career a little longer.

I do think that’s a possibility, but obviously it won’t happen anytime soon. I think Adams has a chance to be an above-average second baseman in the big leagues, or at least moreso than CoJo, but he lost so much development time over the last two years due to the ankle problems. His probability nosedived.

I’m really curious to see what the Yankees are going to do with Cano long-term, because second baseman do tend to age horribly as you said, and his contract will be up in two years at age 31. That’s a year or two before you’d expect him to fall off a cliff, but unfortunately he’ll be in line for a massive contract if he keeps doing what he’s been doing. I’ve been saying it for months, give him a six-year deal right now and knock out the first half of the contract before he enters the danger zone for middle infielders.

Brian asks: Would it be fair (in a general sense) to say that if Jesus Montero was a pitching prospect, he’d be Michael Pineda?

That’s interesting, and I do agree. The primary tools are huge, meaning Montero’s bat and Pineda’s fastball/slider/control. The secondary tools are a big question mark however, specifically Pineda’s changeup and Montero’s defense/long-term position. They’re both physically huge — though that’s good for one and potentially bad for the other — and approximately the same age (Pineda’s ten months older). Position players are less risky though, just due to general attrition rates and pitching being such an unnatural thing. They are similar to a certain extent though, at least as far as pitchers and position players can be similar anyway.

Nik asks: When Joba is healed and ready to pitch again, where does he fit in? And what would you guess the bullpen sequence to look like?

I expect the Yankees and Joe Girardi to ease him back into things at first, meaning a low-leverage inning here and there for the first few weeks. Once he’s settled in and back in the swing of things, I have to assume he’ll be right in the seventh and eighth inning mix with Rafael Soriano and David Robertson. Those guys aren’t available every day, so adding Joba will provide some depth and allow him to fill the gaps every so often.

The emotion of a big trade

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.

The Montero-Pineda trade: A dissenting opinion

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

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

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

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

I revisit this particular moment in Yankee history because it’s the closest thing I have to a benchmark for processing the blockbuster Jesus MonteroMichael 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.

Introducing Michael Pineda

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The dust is still settling from Friday’s blockbuster trade, which will send Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners in exchange for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. All four players must still take their physicals, a bit of a formality required to make the trade official, and that should happen within a week or so. While all that is going on behind the scenes, let’s take a few minutes to get to know Pineda, the soon-to-be newest member of the Yankees’ starting rotation.

Pineda, who turns 23 tomorrow, grew up in the Dominican Republic and signed with the Mariners in December of 2005 for a measly $35k . He spent the 2006 and 2007 seasons in the Dominican Summer League before coming stateside in 2008. Seattle sent Pineda to Low-A as a 19-year-old that year, and he struck out 128 (8.3 K/9 and 23.2 K%) and walked just 35 (2.3 BB/9 and 6.4 BB%) in 138.1 IP across 21 starts and five relief appearances. After the season, Baseball America dubbed him the team’s tenth best prospect.

Sent to High-A to open 2009, Pineda made just six starts before a sore elbow popped up and the team shut him down for close to three months. He ended up throwing just 47.1 IP that season, striking out 52 (9.9 K/9 and 29.2 K%) while walking just six (1.1 BB/9 and 3.4 BB%). Baseball America still considered him the Mariners’ sixth best prospect that offseason. The 2010 season was Pineda’s coming out party, as he utterly dominated the competition in 139.1 IP split almost evenly between Double and Triple-A. With his now healthy elbow, he whiffed 154 (9.9 K/9 and 26.7 K%) while walking just 34 (2.2 BB/9 and 5.9 BB%), then was ranked as Seattle’s second best prospect and the 16th best prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. The only pitchers ahead of Pineda on the top 100 list were Julio Teheran, Jeremy Hellickson, Aroldis Chapman, Jameson Taillon, Shelby Miller, and Matt Moore.

Pineda made the Mariners’ Opening Day rotation last year thanks to his strong showing in Spring Training (16 K and 5 BB in 15 IP), and he made the team look really smart. After pitching to a 3.03 ERA with 9.0 K/9 (25.0 K%) and 2.9 BB/9 (8.0 BB%) in 113 IP during the first half, Pineda was named to the AL All-Star Team and threw a perfect third inning with two strikeouts in the actual game. His ERA came back to Earth in the second half (5.12), though his strikeout (9.3 K/9 and 24.6 K%) and walk (2.9 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) numbers didn’t suffer at all in the 58 IP sample. Pineda’s BABIP did correct a bit in the second half (.247 pre-ASG and .286 post-ASG), and the Mariners limited his workload by having him skip a start in early-August and two more in September.

He makes scary faces when pitching. This is a plus. (AP Photo/Lori Shepler)

The numbers sure look great, and the scouting report backs them up. Before the season, Baseball America (subs. req’d) said he throws “a crisp fastball that sits at 93-97 mph and gets as high as 101 with explosive life and occasional heavy sink” and a “quality slider.” They also said he “did a better job of selling his upper-80s changeup with the same arm speed as his fastball, keeping it down and getting hitters to chase it.” The PitchFX data from last season backs up that scouting report, and it’s worth noting that he threw that changeup just 2% of the time to righties and 11% of the time to lefties. That’s the pitch he needs to focus on to reach his substantial ceiling.

Speaking of enormous, that’s the best way to describe Pineda. The kid is listed at 6-foot-7 and 260 lbs. on Seattle’s official site, which is probably how big CC Sabathia was at that age. You can’t help but look at a frame like that and think 230 IP a year, every year. I have to imagine he’s an uncomfortable at-bat as well, this gigantic long-levered guy on the mound unleashing mid-90’s heat. There’s bound to be an intimidation factor in play here. Given his results — held hitters to a .211/.279/.342 batting line last year, righties to .184/.261/.326 — I’m guessing opposing batters were a little antsy in the box.

A few weeks ago Keith Law ranked Pineda as the 20th best player in baseball under the age of 25, the fifth pitcher on the list behind Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, and Brett Anderson. “He has the size and stuff to continue to pitch as he did in 2011,” said KLaw in the write-up, “but improving his changeup, really a show-me offering with virtually no action on it right now, would help him get to ace level.” You’ll hear quite a bit about the changeup in the coming weeks and months, I imagine. It’s the great equalizer, and in fact Brian Cashman told Jim Bowden that he’ll consider the trade a failure if he doesn’t improve the pitch and develop into a top-flight starter.

The Yankees gambled on upside by acquiring Pineda, just like the Mariners gambled on upside by acquiring Montero. Pineda’s power stuff is well suited for the rugged AL East, as is his knack for strikeouts and uncanny ability to limit walks at such a young age despite the huge fastball. We’ve been saying the Yankees should only trade Montero for a young, high-end starter with several years of team control remaining for quite some time now, and that’s exactly what they got in Pineda. He’s not a finished product, but he sure is starting from a high baseline with that electric fastball-slider combo and monstrous build.

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.