Strategy Or Desperation?

** With hindsight as 20/20, did either team really win on this trade?  It’s hard seeing Pineda falter, he has the talent, but mentally looks fragile.  Montero has talent too, but does he have the discipline to be successful?  Time will tell. **

Originally published January 15th, 2012

I think my last blog post had been up an entire two hours on Friday when the Seattle Mariners made their stunning Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero trade.  The move is controversial for a number of reasons, but controversy isn’t always bad.  The Mariners traded a pitcher in Pineda who was an All Star in his rookie season.  You’re looking at a 6’7″ 260lb pitcher with an above average fastball and a nasty slider.  Pineda was popular with fans early, he had a mound presence and demeanor that’s probably as intimidating as the Mariners have seen since Randy Johnson.  Some critics will say that Pineda faltered and was figured out at the stretch.  His second half numbers certainly weren’t what he’d put up heading into the All Star break, and Pineda was already slated to be shut down by mid-September.  I saw Pineda fade down the stretch in Tacoma the year before too, but it looked like more of a conditioning issue than an effectiveness issue.  The issue from Friday’s trade really starts with “What were they thinking?!”

It’s easy to get emotional when your team trades away a player that had an immediate impact at the Major Leagues.  Pineda is a fun guy to watch, and the thought of him in pinstripes makes me shudder.  At the same time, we need to get down to why the Mariners made the move for Jesus Montero.

The argument from Friday’s trade will come down to one of two things.  Was the Mariners trade made out of Strategy or Desperation?  You can look at Pineda and say that this was a player that was at the height of his popularity and value — Trading him now could net the team an immediate hitting presence in exchange for an area that the Mariners have depth in:  Pitching.  The other side of the coin, and unfortunately probably more legitimate, is that the Mariners cannot attract offensive-minded Free Agents.  If you look at the Mariners FA focus since Jack Z has been on board, it’s been focussed mostly towards hit producers, not run producers.  (Although even those haven’t necessarily worked out.)  Jack Z has had to focus on light hitting players because at the end of the day, the Seattle Mariners can’t attract heavy hitting talent.  The Mariners have signed high dollar players in the past that saw immediate dips in production.  I don’t think you’ll find many 30HR+ guys (sad that 30HR is a lot now, isn’t it…) that are going to want to come to Safeco to hit 20.  I think that’s at the heart of why Prince Fielder has taken so long to sign w/a team.  Do I think the Mariners want him?  Absolutely.  I would even speculate they’ve made a fair and generous contract offer.  So why hasn’t he signed?  I’d bet he’s looking at the landscape and saying “Maybe if I wait a little longer…”  I’ve come to the realization that if Prince Fielder comes here, it will be a strictly money thing.  If he wanted to be here — he’d be here already.

Once you get past the Strategy vs Desperation basis for the trade, you have to get down to whether we made the right trade.  Keep in mind, Montero has a month of time with the Yankees.  Until then he was a minor league upstart, the kind of kid that was going to be the “next somebody”.  You can look at Friday’s trade and ask why we didn’t make the move for Cliff Lee the year before, but then we wouldn’t have Smoak, which is a similar situation to what we have now with Montero.  Jesus Montero has upside.  You can look at his average and power in the Minor Leagues and see potential.  But, there are some clear and glaring questions about Montero:

– Montero hit .328 w/4 HR in a month with the Yankees.  He was considered their top prospect and an heir apparent to Posada.  So the Yankees feel better about Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli than their #1 prospect?!  Neither guy is Yogi Berra.  The Yankees feel better about Russell Martin hitting .237 w/18HR and Cervellio hitting .266 w/4 HR than a kid that was their future?  Is that a red flag to anyone else?

– He’s hit .308 w/76 HR over his Minor League career, but failed to hit .300 the last two years.  His max power year was 21 HR in 2010.  For a guy that is supposed to be a power hitter, he’s fairly average compared to even the Tacoma Rainiers current roster.  The Rainiers had 5 players hit more than 21 HR in 2011, and would have had more in Peguero and Halman if they hadn’t been limited by either injury or callup time w/the Mariners.  If you’re looking for another near .300 hitting catcher w/76 HR at the Minor League level, I give you Jeff Clement.  You remember Clement, right?  The Mariners passed on guys like Troy Tulowitzki, Jacoby Ellsbury and Ryan Brahn to take him.

– Injury history.  The Mariners already nixed a move for Montero once because of injury.  Sure, it was a ticky-tack thing so they could get Smoak, but at the end of the day, Jack Z felt better about Justin Smoak’s upside than Jesus Montero’s.  Another red flag for me.

There’s a lot of emotion out there, and for good reason.  I think the trade will be a mistake for 2 specifc reasons1) Pineda has established himself as a potential force in the AL on two pitches.  What happens to this kid if he gets even 3?  Yowza!  2) Montero hasn’t shown the kind of power or average that I’d expect out of a “Miguel Cabrera” hyped style of player.  If Montero had hit 30HR+ in AAA w/a .320 average I’d feel a lot better about the deal.  I hope I’m wrong.  (Please, let me be wrong.)

Time will be the determining factor on this one. Will Pineda get to NY and struggle? Will Montero come up and be the next Jay Buhner?  Where will Jose Campos and his 2.32 ERA w/85 SO factor in for the Yankees in the future (or did you forget that he was part of the deal too?)   5yrs from now there will be a lot of “I knew this guy would —–“, but mine’s in writing.  Where do you come in on the Mariners deal from Friday?


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