The Yankees’ lineup looks a little like Swiss cheese, but the team has some depth in its starting rotation. Meanwhile, the Seattle Mariners have more than their fair share of DH types, but are reportedly in the market for a starting pitcher. It’s time to play let’s make a deal.
The Mariners find themselves a little thin in the rotation because the team traded lefty starter Jason Vargas to the Angels for DH/1B Kendrys Morales. During his four seasons in Seattle, Vargas’ performance wasn’t particularly impressive, but the 29-year old did establish himself as a solid, back-of-the-rotation innings eater, which, in this era of inflated salaries for pitchers, certainly has value. So, in order to fill that void, Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik has reportedly been kicking the tires on free agents Kyle Lohse and Joe Saunders, but hasn’t been enamored with the asking price.
While searching for a starter, Seattle is also pursuing another offensive player, with recent reports suggesting the team is strongly interested in Justin Upton. After years of having one of the most futile offenses in the game, the Mariners have apparently decided to distill their Opening Day lineup from an acquired mash of available hitters, which, in addition to Morales, has so far included the likes of Jason Bay, Mike Jacobs, and Raul Ibanez. With Jesus Montero, Casper Wells, and Justin Smoak also on the roster, Eric Wedge will have his hands full making out a daily lineup, regardless of whether Zduriencik dumps another hitter in his lap.
Across the country in the Bronx, the Yankees have the opposite problem. What has been the most potent offense in baseball for the last decade now looks vulnerable. The Bronx Bombers have experienced a massive power drain this offseason, and currently have unfilled holes at catcher, backup infielder, and DH, while also lacking an outfielder who hits from the right side. Whereas the team’s focus in past winters has been “pitching, pitching, and more pitching”, this year, offense has been the priority. However, aside from the signing of Kevin Youkilis, GM Brian Cashman has come up empty.
Cashman and Zduriencik are no strangers to talking trade. Last year, the general managers pulled off two significant deals, including the Yankees’ deadline acquisition of Ichiro Suzuki. However, the swap both men likely think about most is the pre-season trade of Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero. Needless to say, Zduriencik probably looks back upon the deal more fondly.
It’s bad enough for the Yankees that Pineda missed all of last season, and probably won’t be much of a contributor this year either. However, the salt in the wound stems from the loss of Montero, who fits the profile of what the team now needs most: a young right handed hitter who can get behind the plate on occasion. Granted, last season, Montero did little to impress scouts with his catching, and his .685 OPS wasn’t exactly the break-out campaign many had envisioned, but the 23-year old remains a legitimate prospect. He’s also cheap, which, to the suddenly cost conscious Yankees, is no small consideration. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, even at his depressed levels of production, Montero would represent a significant upgrade over the Yankees’ current options at catcher for 2013.
By now, you can probably see where I am going. It might be a little embarrassing for Cashman to re-acquire a player he traded one year earlier, especially considering it involved a deal that blew up in his face, but maybe it’s time to give his old friend Jack another call? It was around this time last year when the two executives pulled off their initial trade, so what would be more fitting than an encore to celebrate the anniversary?
Re-acquiring Montero makes sense for the Yankees, but at what cost? How about Ivan Nova? At first glance, Nova’s ERA above 5.00 wouldn’t seem to make him an attractive trade chip, but his peripheral numbers are more encouraging, particularly his K/9 rate of 8.1. Another favorable indicator, ironically, is the number of home runs Nova allowed in 2012. Last year, the righty surrendered an alarming 1.48 homers per nine innings, which ranked sixth worst in the majors. However, a disproportionate number were allowed at Yankee Stadium (1.8 per nine innings at home versus 1.3 per nine innings on the road), which would bode well for a pitcher moving to the more spacious Safeco Field. It’s also worth noting that from 2010-2011, Nova allowed only 0.74 homers per nine innings, which was the 30th best mark among all pitchers with at least 200 innings. So, if Seattle buys into the more rosy sabermetric analysis of Nova, and believes his home run problem was a one-year phenomenon, perhaps inflated by the short porch at Yankee Stadium, he just might pique their interest.
Would Nova be enough to return Montero to the Bronx? That depends on what the Mariners currently think about Nova, a pitcher in whom they have shown interest dating back to 2010. However, even if Seattle has soured on the right hander, at the very least, he would still represent the status quo in relation to Vargas. Also, compared to potential replacements like Saunders, Nova would be cheaper option with much higher upside. So, if Cashman picked up the phone, Zduriencik would likely take the offer seriously.
Whether it’s Montero for Nova straight-up, or the Yankees have to sweeten the pot with a mid-level prospect, Cashman and Zduriencik are once again in a position to fulfill the other’s needs. The Yankees could right a wrong and re-acquire a player who fits many holes in their porous lineup, while the Mariners could round out their rotation cheaply, leaving more resources to acquire an impact offensive player. Such a trade makes too much sense not to be discussed. All it takes is phone call.