Yankees Assume Upper Hand
By now, it is no secret that the Yankees’ front office put together quite a nice Friday evening. Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi were shipped from the Bronx in exchange for Seattle’s Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. John Heyman first reported the deal when it went official. Less than sixty minutes later, ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted that the Bombers had also inked free agent Hiroki Kuroda to a one year deal worth $10MM. And I thought dinner and a movie was a solid Friday night.
It is rare for two teams to come together to make a deal that involve young studs like Montero and Pineda, both of whom have proven that they are primed to succeed in the big leagues.
Montero just turned 22 in November. He is a catcher who hits an absolute ton. Scouts have questioned Montero’s defensive abilities. Given the fact that teams often to choose to protect offensive assets, like Montero, from the rigors of being an everyday catcher, it is likely that the former Yankee finds himself at DH more often than not. Before making his Major League debut against the Red Sox towards the end of 2011, Montero was the coveted prospect in the Yankees’ system. It did not take long to see why the boys from the Bronx liked him so much. In only 69 at bats, Montero collected four homeruns and posted an OPS of .996. Not bad for a 21 year old kid in limited action. The success of the trade for the Mariners may hinge on Montero’s ability to develop defensively and their willingness to put him behind the dish. Catchers who hit are a precious commodity around baseball, while designated hitters are far less valuable.
Pineda is a young right handed flame thrower. He possesses an intimidating presence on the mound. The former Mariner is 6’7″ tall and has a body that looks it is built to sustain a 30+ start season. Pineda’s big league sample size is larger than Montero. As a rookie, he made 28 starts, notched a 3.74 ERA, and struck out 173 batters. He undoubtedly wore down in the latter half of 2011, but that is to be expected. Pineda’s only start against the Red Sox was not a good one for the young righty. He went 4.1 innings and gave up seven earned runs in a late July outing. Nevertheless, Pineda is flat out good, and the best part for New York is his contract situation. He is under team control through 2016.
From Seattle’s perspective, the deal made sense. The Mariners organization churns out quality starting pitching as a hobby to pass the time, and Montero looks like he is a stone cold middle of the order lock for years to come. It should be fun to watch both he and Dustin Ackley team up in the Seattle lineup.
The Yankees have a group of mashers. They’re not going to miss Montero’s bat too much this year. Although it’s not a reason to pursue a deal, Montero’s departure opens up the DH spot which will allow Joe Girardi to provide his aging players a respite from time to time. The acquisition of Pineda is just plain solid. He struck out 9.1 batters per nine frames in his rookie season. Getting consistent swings and misses is absolutely vital to maintaining consistent success in the AL East. Anytime a team is able to add a young quality starting pitcher who is under control for several years, it is usually a win.
The Kuroda signing will probably get more attention than it deserves. He will turn 37 next month, and has spent his four year Major League career pitching in the NL West. It will be at least a point of interest to see how he adjusts to hitter-friendly ballparks, the designated hitter, and the east coast–a place he did not want to go as recent as the 2011 trade deadline. However, the Yankees are not going to ask him to be more than a middle of the rotation guy in a suddenly stacked staff.
I do not believe that Friday’s moves by the Yankees will have much of an effect on how the Red Sox approach the remainder of the offseason. According to Mark Polishuk of mlbtraderumors.com, the Kuroda signing was approved by ownership. In other words, GM Brian Cashman will not need to find a way to move a player or two to accommodate Kuroda’s salary. If the Red Sox were to make a run at a pitcher like Roy Oswalt, Ben Cherington would likely need to same approval from John Henry.
The Red Sox apprehension to pull the trigger on a one year deal for a pitcher like Oswalt or Kuroda is a bit troubling. It did not seem like it was very long ago when the Sox would have leaped at an opportunity to sign a one year deal for a relatively quality starting pitcher. I loathe multiyear deals just like the Red Sox, but a one year pact carries little risk.
This is coming from the guy who didn’t think the Red Sox were going to do anything big last offseason, so take it for what it is worth, but I can’t see Cherington relinquishing the load of top tier prospects that Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will likely demand for Matt Garza. The Cubs certainly do not need to trade the right handed starter. Consequently, they have all of the leverage in a potential deal.
The addition of Kuroda to the Yankees’ staff shrinks the market for Edwin Jackson. Could Scott Boras cut his losses this offseason and allow Jackson to sign a one year deal (a la Ryan Madson, Adrian Beltre)? Time will tell. If the Red Sox brass chooses to open their wallet a bit wider, it will be because the asking price for available starting pitching decreases and patience by Cherington pays off, not because the Yankees had a productive Friday night in mid-January.
Thank you to baseballreference.com for providing the statistics used in this entry.