Pitching, Pitching, Pitching in deed! In the span of a couple of hours, the Yankees went from having a rotation full of question marks to one that very well could be one of the best in the American League.
By trading for the Mariners’ young fire baller Michael Pineda and then signing veteran Hiroki Kuroda, the Yankees have completely transformed the outlook for 2012, but do these moves necessarily make the team better in the long run?
At one-year and approximately $11 million, the Kuroda signing is a low risk rotation upgrade, so the only question regarding that move is whether Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt may have been better. However, the acquisition of Pineda comes at a much higher price. In exchange for the 23-year old righty and class A prospect Jose Campos, the Yankees traded Jesus Montero, their top blue chip, and Hector Noesi, a pitcher who proved serviceable out of the bullpen in 2011.
Like many Yankees’ fans, my initial reaction to the trade of Montero was negative. After getting a chance to watch him for 70 plate appearances in September, it was hard not to come away impressed by his patient approach, quick hands, and opposite field power. It might seem blasphemous, but in his brief stint, Montero looked a little bit like Mike Piazza or Manny Ramirez, so the first obstacle to accepting the trade is dispelling those very optimistic expectations.
Following a more careful review, however, the logic used by Brian Cashman seems to line up. Although the Yankees have much more pitching depth in the minors, the one offensive position at which they have promising options is catcher. So, even if Montero wasn’t viewed around the game as a Billy Butler type DH/1B, the organization would still have promising catchers like Gary Sanchez, Austin Romine, and J.R. Murphy upon which to fall back.
What ultimately made Montero expendable was the widespread belief that he would be a defensive liability anywhere but in the batter’s box. Considering the increasing age and declining health of some key cogs in the Yankees’ lineup, having a healthy 23-year old occupy the DH slot probably wasn’t the best plan all along. Also, instead of letting Montero either become type cast as a DH, or, worse, prove he can’t play defense, Cashman may have been eager to make a trade before that realization lessened his trade value. Either way, Montero may not have been the best fit on the current Yankees’ roster.
In Michael Pineda, the Yankees are receiving one of the most exciting young pitchers in the game. However, it should be noted that despite his 95 mph fastball, the righty still only had an ERA+ of 103. For someone so young, that’s still a significant accomplishment, but it’s worth noting that in 2010, another young right hander named Phil Hughes also had an ERA+ of 103, and now it seems like he could be ticketed for either the bullpen or another team. The comparison isn’t completely apt, but it does serve as a red flag. Young pitchers can be extremely volatile, at least more so than hitters. So, just because Pineda had an impressive rookie season doesn’t mean the Yankees have a sure thing in the rotation.
One of the main justifications for liking this deal from the Yankees’ standpoint is the general consensus that the team needed pitching much more than hitting, which seems undeniable. However, in 2011, the Yankees’ offense started to show some cracks, and Montero was expected to help sure up the foundation. Now that he is gone, the Yankees are without a DH, or at least a viable offensive utility player who can fill in when Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter get a half day off. Presumably, the Yankees will not enter 2012 with Andruw Jones as the starting DH, so perhaps Cashman has another deal in the works?
Veterans like Vladimir Guerrero, Carlos Pena and Johnny Damon are still available, and there’s always the specter of Manny Ramirez, but now that the Yankees seem to have a glut of young pitchers, including the aforementioned 19-year old Campos, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Cashman pulls off another deal that brings back a versatile young position player. Martin Prado seems like an ideal candidate, but just as the Pineda deal came out of the blue, it’s hard to know exactly what else the Yankees’ GM might be working on.
If simply looked at as Montero for Pineda, the trade is hard to swallow, not because the talent isn’t equivalent, but because Yankees’ fans have been given a taste of another home grown offensive player who exudes potential. However, if looked at in a greater context, both the one that exists now and what the roster could look like with another move or two, the pieces seem to fall in place.
Just about every trade of equal talent involves great risk, but when the players involved are unproven, the gamble is exponential. If Pineda does blossom into an ace, Brian Cashman will come away looking like a genius. On the other hand, if Montero fulfills his potential, this trade could reverberate negatively for years to come. Make no mistake about it: this trade is a big gamble for both teams. Never one to shy away from an aggressive move, Cashman seems as if he is going all-in. Now, it’s up to Joe Girardi to play the cards he has been dealt. Only time will tell just how many aces he is holding.