Right Field

Brian Cashman Awakes, Trades for Pineda, Signs Kuroda

And, just like that, the Yankees starting rotation went from “meh” to “OMG.” Pending physicals, general manager Brian Cashman agreed to deal his young slugger Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi to the Mariners for phenom hurler Michael Pineda and pitching prospect Jose Campos. Separately, he reached agreement with free agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda on a $10 million, one-year deal.

Dave Cameron of USS Mariner explains the trade from Seattle’s perspective:

In swapping Pineda for Montero, the team has decided to move strength for weakness. The organization has a lot of talent on the mound and not much talent at the plate, so the appeal of this kind of deal is fairly obvious. . . .

In Montero, the Mariners get a player who is a bit of a safer proposition. His bat has been beloved by scouts since signing for nearly $2 million as a 16-year-old, and he’s hit fairly well at most levels of the minors despite being very young relative to the competition. Scouts who really love his bat have projected him as a Miguel Cabrera type of hitter, and even if that might be a bit optimistic, guys like this generally turn out to be at least good Major League hitters. There are certainly fewer injury risks with Montero than with Pineda (or any young pitcher), and even assuming Pineda stays healthy, pitchers can just veer off course and regress significantly, so the organization has absolved itself of some of the variance that the roster had previously.

Steven Goldman of the Pinstriped Piple explains who the Yankees will receive in return:

In adding the 6’7”, 260 pound Michael Pineda, 23 in four days, to slot in behind CC Sabathia, the Yankees have achieved an aggregation of pitching mass likely unequaled in the history of baseball. More importantly, they acquired one of the best young pitching talents in baseball, a right-hander who a year ago was listed as the #16 prospect (and #7 pitching prospect) in all of baseball. Since that ranking, Pineda pitched a full season in the big leagues, posting a 3.74 ERA, striking out 173 batters (9.1 per nine) while walking only 55 (2.9 per nine), and limited batters to 133 hits in 171 innings. He represented the Mariners at the All-Star Game and finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

Pineda’s fastball sits around 95 and goes higher, and he has a swing-and-miss slider to go with it. . . .

As for the other players involved, Noesi may be viewed as a back-of-the-rotation starter whereas Campos is an unpolished prospect but with considerable upside. Cameron is less than thrilled about giving up the 19-year-old:

I don’t love that the organization had to put Campos in this deal, on top of giving up Pineda, to get Montero, especially when we see the prices other teams have been paying for pitchers this winter. To me, this haul is less than what the Padres got for Mat Latos, a similar pitcher with one fewer year of team control, and not that much better than what the A’s got for Gio Gonzalez, a vastly inferior pitcher who was super-two eligible and about to start making real money.

But . . .

Essentially, what it comes down to is a question of whether the Mariners are better off with Michael Pineda and whatever offensive improvement they could have gotten at LF/DH, or are they better off with Montero filling the DH role and shopping for a pitcher to replace Pineda? Given the availability of quality pitchers at depressed salaries right now and the dearth of quality hitters on the market, I think they very well may be better off with Montero and the pitcher to be named later.

Meanwhile, Goldman has calming words for unhappy Yankee fans, down on Pineda and/or sad to see Montero go:

Montero may hit very well, but he doesn’t have a position, and that is always going to put pressure on him to hit extremely well. Getting a fully developed pitcher who has ace-level stuff for a bat-only player is a no-brainer. . . .

Glass half full: [Pineda] got tired, having never pitched so many innings before. Glass half empty: the league figured him out and he couldn’t adjust. Either way, a year of experience should help mitigate the problem.

You know me: I would like to see the Yankees go with youth whenever possible, and in dealing Montero they lose the one ready hitter they had at the upper levels. However, Pineda is a kid also, of a better quality than any of last year’s Triple-A stalwarts, and battletested.

As for Kuroda, who turns 37 next month, he threw 202 innings for the Dodgers last season, posting a solid 121 ERA+, 3.56 xFIP, and 3.29 K/BB ratio.

In short, when A. J. Burnett or Freddie Garcia will be your team’s No. 5 starter — Ivan Nova presumably occupying the fourth spot while Phil Hughes gets consigned to bullpen duty — that’s the sign of a top-shelf rotation.

As for the designated hitter slot, hmmm, I see that Johnny Damon is available. . . .

Jason Epstein is the president of Southfive Strategies, LLC. He was a public-relations consultant for the Turkish embassy in Washington from 2002 to 2007.


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