Saturday, January 14, 2012

Baseball Digest | Friday Night Flights: Montero, Pineda Swap Coasts

Shortly before 8 p.m. EST Friday night, you may have heard a blood curdling scream in the New York/Metropolitan area. It came from the lungs (and fingers for those who scream in type) of Yankees fans who had just learned of the trade of the team’s number one prospect, Jesus Montero.

Similar reactions may have been heard on the left coast when Seattle Mariners fans found out their young stud pitcher Michael Pineda was headed east. The Yankees and Mariners have reportedly completed a four player exchange with their young studs as the centerpieces.

As first reported by the Seattle Times’ Larry Stone, the Yankees sent Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Pineda and pitcher Jose Campos. Noesi was one of the Yankees promising young starters on the rise, and showed some of his mettle as a reliever at the Major League level last season. Campos is a 19-yr old right-hander with potential (Evaluator John Sickels rated him as the #5 M’s prospect for 2012 and had this to say, “Grade B: We need to see him at higher levels and his secondary stuff needs refinement, but his upside is very high, he throws hard, and already throws strikes.”), but will not have an impact for quite some time.

Clearly this deal was about the Yankees need to boost their starting rotation and the Mariners need for a big bat. After being rebuffed in their attempt to acquire Felix Hernandez, the Yankees went after his young teammate (Pineda will be 23 next week).

Pineda’s rookie season of 2011 saw him finish 9-10, 3.74 with a 1.10 WHIP and 173 strikeouts in 171 innings. The 6’7″, 260 pound native of the Dominican Republic limited AL hitters to a .211 batting average and gave up just 133 hits. He also held right-handed hitters to a .587 OPS with a torrid fastball and nasty slider. According to, Pineda averaged 94.7 mph on his fastball, the fourth best mark in the AL.

>Pineda dominated in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field (2.92 ERA in 12 starts) and was much better in the first half before tiring down the stretch. In fact, the Mariners limited his innings per start over the final two months of the season.

With the Yankees lacking pop from the right side, Montero got the call to the bigs in August and produced a .996 OPS in 69 plate appearances. Among Montero’s 17 hits were four home runs and four doubles, and he drove in 17 runs. Montero has good power to the opposite field and averaged 18 home runs in his first four full seasons in the minor leagues. He was nearly dealt to the Mariners at the 2010 trade deadline for Cliff Lee, but Seattle opted to obtain Justin Smoak from Texas instead.

In Montero, the Mariners get a player with 30 home run potential, even if their ballpark is not suited to a hitter’s needs. There were mixed feelings within the Yankees organization as to whether or not the 6’4″ Montero could make it in the Major Leagues as a catcher and that certainly played into the decision to deal him. With 1st base occupied (Mark Teixeira) and the DH slot needed to give the Yankees aging stars (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, etc.) a rest, there wasn’t much room for Montero to flourish. With Seattle, he’ll get that chance.

Brian Cashman told the Bergen Record’s Bob Klapisch that he believes he took a big gamble. ”I gave up a ton (for Pineda). To me, Montero is Mike Piazza. He’s Miguel Cabrera.” He may have taken a risk, but this deal appears to be a “win-win”, with both teams profiting. It also puts the Yankees back on top as the favorite in the AL East.

Cashman wasn’t done dealing on Friday night though. A short time after the trade was reported, word came that the Yankees and free agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda had agreed to a one year contract, pending a physical, worth $10-11MM. Kuroda was thought to be seeking a $13MM deal.

Kuroda, who turns 36 in February, came over from Japan in 2008 and was 41-46 in four seasons with the LA Dodgers, despite a 3.46 ERA. He’s coming off a 13-16 season with a career low 3.07 ERA and a 3.7 WAR, also tops in his four seasons.

With the two acquisitions, the landscape of the Yankees’ starting rotation changed drastically. Prior to Friday evening, the Yankees five man squad was made up of ace CC Sabathia, 2nd year man Ivan Nova, the erratic A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, and surprise 2011 stand out, Freddy Garcia. Hughes’ immediate future is now up in the air and he could be used as trade bait to bring back a bat. The Yankees would most certainly rather trade Burnett, but the $33MM owed to him is an albatross around Cashman’s neck.

The Yankees would be looking for a short term, low salaried player. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported tonight that Carlos Pena was among the bats that were piquing the Yankees interest.

Yankees sign Hiroki Kuroda too.

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