Because of Michael Pineda’s shoulder tendinitis, not to mention the corresponding decline in velocity that was either a manifestation or cause of the injury, two questions have become popular: have the Mariners already won the trade and, if allowed to take a mulligan, would/should the Yankees still pull the trigger?
Before answering the latter question, it’s important to consider the proliferation of long-term contracts being signed before free agency. Just this afternoon, it was reported that Joey Votto and Matt Cain were close to signing extensions, continuing a trend that has seen many of the games best players locked-up in advance of hitting the open market. As a result, the quality of future free agent classes continues to dwindle, which places a greater emphasis on internal player development. In other words, the Yankees shouldn’t expect another offseason like 2009, when the team was able to fill two giant holes by signing a top pitcher (CC Sabathia) and position player (Mark Teixeira) at once.
How is this relevant to the Yankees’ trade of Jesus Montero for Pineda? Although both players are certainly capable of making positive contributions in 2012, the fact of the matter is the Yankees don’t need either one. However, pro-active development of young players is becoming increasingly essential for any team that wants to remain a perennial World Series contender. So, by trading an up-and-coming position player for a young pitcher, Brian Cashman was basically betting that, in the future, offense will be more plentiful (and perhaps cheaper) on the open market.
Because the Yankees currently have a great offense, it’s easy to argue that the trade of Montero was done from a position of strength. However, that’s an immediate-term reaction. Looking forward paints a different picture. Not only do the Yankees’ currently have two young starters in their rotation, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, but two of their top prospects, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, are also pitchers. What’s more, over the next three years, the potential crop of free agent pitchers is much stronger than their position player counterparts. Therefore, it seems as if the Yankees are in a better position to supply their future pitching needs, both from within and via free agency.
Although 20-year old catcher Gary Sanchez and 19-year old outfielder Mason Williams are both considered top prospects, the Yankees’ farm systems is widely believed to be barren in terms of near-ready offensive players. Considering the relatively weak class of position player free agents on the horizon (and the fact that some of the stronger ones happen to be Yankees already), Brian Cashman may have a tough time replacing some of the team’s aging vets. If that proves to be the case, Montero’s bat could winding up being more valuable, regardless of how well Pineda is pitching at the time.
At this stage, it’s impossible to compare Pineda and Montero head-to-head. However, it might not be too early to pass judgment on the underlying logic supporting the deal. Of course, a lot depends on variables like the development of the Yankees’ current stable of young pitchers, the likelihood that Montero will become an adequate defensive catcher, the team’s willingness to maintain a high payroll, and the continuation of the trend toward pre-free agency extensions. In general, however, if pitching will be at a greater premium in the future, then the trade for Pineda still makes sense. On the other hand, if offense becomes more difficult to obtain, holding onto Montero would have been wiser. If judgment must be passed at this early stage, that should be the basis for the discussion.