“How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them” –Benjamin Franklin
Unfortunately for Major League General Managers, you’re often fired well before you have a chance to fix your own mistakes. That’s why you can’t help but tip your cap to both Yankees GM Brian Cashman and Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik for collaborating on the ballsiest trade we’ve seen in a long time. I’m referring, of course, to the trade that sent Michael Pineda and Jorge Campos from Seattle to the Bronx in exchange for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. With apologies to Noesi and Campos, who certainly aren’t chumps, I’ll be focusing exclusively on Montero and Pineda in this two-part piece.
Now before I talk at length about one of the principles in this trade, let’s stop for a second and make sure we’re aware of what each team gave up here. Both teams traded an excellent player, an excellent young player, an excellent young player who still has room to improve. On top of that, both players are under team control for the next handful of years, and mostly on the cheap if the front office plays their cards right. This trade also means each GM is walking the public relations tightrope for the next half dozen years. Both teams’ fan bases know damn well what they’ve given up. Yankees fans have been anticipating Montero’s stardom for years and Mariners fans tasted Pineda’s potential first hand last season. There’s a lot at stake here.
Most conjecture immediately following the trade was abnormally optimistic. “Oh boy! What a great trade for both teams!” Don’t think for a second that this couldn’t possibly come back to bite either organization in the ass. The last trade of this ilk sent Matt Garza from Minnesota to Tampa for Delmon Young. Young was once Baseball America’s top prospect. Now, he’s a replacement level hitter. So while both Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda could become world beating All Stars, they might each turn out to be mediocre as well. What can be done to optimize both players’ potential? What potential stumbling blocks need to be identified and avoided so neither of these guys flames out? These are questions both organizations need to ask themselves and ones that I am here to answer in this two part piece. Up first?
Pineda exceeded my expectations in 2011. I didn’t think the change-up was ready to get left-handed hitters out. Neither did he, evidently, as he only threw that changeup six percent of the time. Instead, he survived almost exclusively on his mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slider, which he worked back door to lefties. It worked just fine. Pineda held lefties to a .234 batting average in 2011. But if Pineda is going to fulfill his potential and become a frontline starter, that changeup will need to develop. Hitters got hip to the two-pitch mix as the 2011 season went on and Pineda’s numbers became much more pedestrian later in the summer. Undoubtedly, the Yankees are aware of the importance of the changeup’s development. He’ll be throwing a ton of them this spring. The best case scenario for Pineda is the changeup develops into an average or better pitch and he becomes at least a #2 starter.
The worst case scenario involves Pineda having an epic psychological meltdown when he inevitably struggles this season. Believe me when I say that a statistical regression is coming in 2012. Not only is Pineda moving from a pitcher friendly ballpark in Seattle to a drool inducing slugger’s paradise in the Bronx, but the advanced metrics show he was a tad lucky in 2011. Pineda gave up a .258 batting average on balls in play last year, well below the league average of .300. Think about everything working against the lofty expectations Yankee faithful surely have for Pineda this season: A full season’s worth of tape opposing hitters have on him, a move to a hitter friendly park, a move to a division where Pineda will now face three solid offenses instead of two, and a statistical regression to the mean. All that likely adds to up an ERA north of the 3.74 Pineda posted last year. How he handles failure and the vitriol sent his way from the fans and media of the Big Apple when they perceive him to be doing so will be interesting to see. It could make him stronger and more resilient. It could also break him.
Best Case Scenario: The changeup develops and he becomes a bona fide ace.
Worst Case Scenario: He struggles and becomes a basket case because he can’t handle the adversity.
Most Likely Scenario: The changeup comes along a bit but not all the way and Pineda is a nice #2/#3 starter for the next several years.