After being quiet during Winter Meetings, the New York Yankees started and completed their off-season all in one night. The Yankees turned their biggest weakness into a relative strength by dealing top catching prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for top pitching prospect Michael Pineda. Also heading to New York is 19-year old pitching prospect Jorge Campos while pitcher Hector Noesi heads to Seattle.
You don’t often see teams trade their top young talents as the majority of trades involve established players being swapped for prospects. But this deal is a straight up swap up top tier youth that works out perfectly for both ballclubs.
Pineda has more major league experience than Montero at this point, as he started 28 games for the Mariners last season. His pedestrian 9-10 record is another example of why you shouldn’t trust win-loss records in baseball. Pineda looked very good last season and blew folks away with his power fastball. That’s Pineda’s bread and butter. He is a pure power pitcher that can hit 95 on the gun for seven innings a night. He’ll need to work on adding a third, effective pitch to his arsenal as right now his split is 62% fastball/31.5% slider. He used a change-up a couple of times on the season, but it wasn’t effective.
But that won’t matter too much this season because his fastball is good enough to make him the second best pitcher in the Yankees’ rotation and a perfect complement for the lefty C.C. Sabathia. Last season, once you got past CC’s start in a series, you were happy with your match-up, but now teams will be faced with a great second option in Pineda. Pineda struck out 9.11 batters per nine innings last season, which was the seventh best mark in baseball.
Hit the jump for the rest of Mark’s analysis of this blockbuster deal…
The only issue with Pineda is that he’ll be leaving the pitcher friendly confines of Safeco Field. He posted a 3.74 ERA there last season, which is good, but he also had a very low groundball rate of 36.3%. Of pitchers that threw at least 170 innings last year, that was the seventh lowest rate in the league. As he heads to the AL East, which has more powerful offensive competition than the AL West, and into Yankees Stadium, which has developed into the ultimate hitter’s park, especially for lefties, Pineda may have a rough go of things initially. Hopefully, though, as good as he is, he’ll settle in and adapt.
The Yankees compounded the trade for Pineda by signing Hiroki Kuroda, an established veteran who uses craftiness and not flash to get hitters out. Kuroda is nearly 15 years older than Pineda but he’s still effective, especially because, unlike Pineda, he is a very good groundball pitcher. Kuroda has a career ground ball rate of 48.6% and if he comes close to that number again this season, he’ll should the transition to Yankees Stadium relatively smoothly. He may not be dazzling but Kuroda can be penciled in for 15 or so quality starts and a sub 3.50 ERA. And for the Yankees, that’s a vast improvement over some of the pitchers they’ve trotted out there over the past few seasons.
With that always powerful line-up, Mariano Rivera still going strong at the end of games and a rotation that features CC Sabathia, Pineda and Kuroda at the top, the Yankees are the favorites in the AL East as they enter the season and they have potential to be even better, depending on a couple of factors: 1) How their DH situation plays out with Montero gone and Jorge Posada now retired and 2) If Ivan Nova manages not to regress after his breakout year last season the Yankees will have one of the strongest four-man rotations in baseball and suddenly A.J. Burnett is not going to be asked to start any big games in the post-season, which is a plus.
[Speaking of Burnett, I think he can make a bit of a comeback this season. I'm not saying he's going to contend for the Cy Young or anything but if he's your fourth or fifth starter, that's not so bad. The guy still has some talent and this season figures to be the first time that he won't be relied upon. Taking that media pressure off him should help him out, because it seems like that really got to him over the past couple of seasons.]
Seattle has been looking for an impact bat for a few seasons and they’ve finally found their man in Montero. The Yankees took a big risk trading Montero because he’s just such a great hitter. He didn’t get much time in the majors last year but in 69 at-bats with the Yankees he hit .328/.406/.590 with four homers and four doubles. The only issue with Montero, from the Yankees’ perspective, is that he almost certainly headed for a career as a lifelong DH. New York can just go out and sign a slugger to hit for them but there are rarely arms like Pineda available, so they decided to bite on the pitcher.
For Seattle, though, it doesn’t matter whether or not Montero will be able to play catcher for most of his career. They just needed a bat and as it became unlikely that they’d sign Prince Fielder, they went out and made the move for Montero. Seattle will be building their future around a batting core of Montero, Dustin Ackley, who I love, especially at second base, Justin Smoak, Mike Carp and Trayvon Robinson. Montero and Ackley are the only sure things, it seems, in that group, but it has some potential.
The Mariners won’t be competitive this season. Not with the Rangers and Angels in the AL West, but they shouldn’t be the worst team in the division, either (Thanks for moving Houston to the Al West, Bud!). They have a long way to go before they are competing with the best teams in their division but they’ve been willing to spend money in the past and an improvement this season could attract some marquee free agents next year. Of course, if things don’t get any better this year in Seattle, they always have the option of trading away Felix Hernadez. And as good as Montero is, Felix will likely demand a package even more valuable than him.
Photo Credits: Jeff Zelevansky/Icon SMI and John Cordes/Icon SMI