The Somewhat Shocking Pineda Trade

Maybe this is finally the deal that convinces the national media that the Mariners will not trade Felix Hernandez.

Michael Pineda and Jose Campos are both gone, to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. The deal involves lots of young, talented blood, which makes it the kind of deal that stings for both teams.

The upside for the Yankees is clear. They already had offense, but coupled that with a shaky rotation. If Pineda has any sort of legitimate encore to his rookie campaign, the Yankees are in good shape to contend for a world championship. I wrote a post on Pineda back in May, when he was emerging as a force. I stand by my words I wrote back then.

Campos is a loss that could make the Mariners look bad. He's still young, and a young pitcher to boot, but he looks like he is going to be quite good. The Yankees might have just acquired a decade worth of talent in the front end of their rotation.

The Mariners definitely got some talent in return though.


Hector Noesi feels like a throw-in, but Dave Cameron wrote up an intriguing (or maybe calming is a better word?) profile on why he might be more than that. I am curious to see how he does, and I'm certainly pulling for him. As much as I like Campos, there is something to be said for certainty. Campos is still at least a couple years away from the majors, if not farther. He is still all potential, while Noesi has already tasted some success in the majors. History suggests that there is a real chance that Noesi turns out to be a more productive pitcher than Campos ever is. One of my general rules of thumb is that the more certain/immediate asset is the more valuable one, so Campos's ceiling has to be higher to be worth as much in a trade. If Noesi really is a solid fourth or fifth starter, that means Campos has to project as a front-line starter to make this part of the deal even. That's a high bar. It's not a gimme.

With that said, the centerpiece of the deal is clearly Jesus Montero. The Mariners finally got a big bat, and it's one that could be a legitimate long-term solution to boot. Montero comes with his liabilities though, mostly on the defensive end. I personally see him as a designated hitter, who can play first base if necessary. The consensus is that his defense at catcher leaves much to be desired, and the toll catching takes on a body wears down hitting skills. Why keep Montero at a position he's not that good at, especially when it will erode his best skills more quickly? One reason catcher is a "premium position" is because guys with big-time tools like Montero are moved to positions where those tools will last. The pain of keeping him at catcher is not worth the gain.

One way or another, the acquisition of Montero seems to officially take the Mariners out of the Prince Fielder sweepstakes (though faithful readers of the Musings already knew the M's wouldn't sign Fielder). In my eyes, Fielder and Montero even have similar skillsets - both of them have all their value tied up in their bats, even to the point that their bats have to compensate for defensive shortcomings.

Presumably, 2012 will be Montero's first full year in the majors, and he will be 22 years old. That happens to be the same age when Fielder broke through. He wasn't Prince Fielder quite yet as a rookie, but still pretty good. His OPS was over .800, and in his second season it went over 1.000.

Could Montero follow a similar track to Fielder? You be the judge, based on their cumulative minor league track records:

Prince Fielder  Jesus Montero
Plate Appearances
1,929
2,058
Walks
237
159
Strikeouts
320
337
Home Runs
91
76
AVG
.297
.308
OBP
.398
.366
SLG
.524
.501
SB-CS
24-17
2-1

One significant thing worth noting is that Montero spent an additional year in AAA than Fielder. In general, Montero was pushed through the minors quicker than Fielder, and so it is fair to say that Montero's numbers might look better if he had been brought along at Fielder's pace.

Still, even without considering Montero's more aggressive path through the minors, his numbers do not look terribly different than Fielder's. There are some concerns over his contact rate, but I don't see them. What I do see is a relative lack of walks. However, hitters young for their league tend to walk less and strikeout more. As Montero figures out MLB pitching, he might develop a bit better eye.

I would argue that Montero is a better pure hitter than Prince Fielder, but shockingly enough, I'd also say that Fielder is the better athlete.

The biggest difference in Montero and Fielder's minor league careers is in stolen bases. Prince Fielder attempted a surprising number of steals. It's a good thing he has knocked that off in the majors, but steals are an underrated way to measure athleticism and/or baseball instincts. Decent athletes with good baseball IQs tend to steal bases, and it's only at the highest levels where that's no longer enough to keep swiping bags (that takes tremendous athleticism, and/or a terrific baseball IQ).

Even though Jesus Montero looks like a better athlete than Prince Fielder, he isn't. Montero's lack of steals is why he's a designated hitter for me. Not only should he be moved off of catcher to preserve his best talents, but I wonder if he has the athleticism to be a quality defender anywhere.

Overall, this trade stings. How couldn't it? The Mariners gave up some home-grown talent. Losing Pineda is particularly tough, because he was no longer a prospect. His dominance was a reality. We saw it, and it was awesome.

However, it takes talent to get talent in a trade. If Pineda does not develop his off-speed offerings, he could have a pretty short prime. Most pitchers do not maintain velocity at his level for a long period of time. Campos is still a teenager. While the Mariners traded talent, they traded volatile talent.

In return, the Mariners acquired in many ways safer bets. While it is true that Jesus Montero does not have the MLB experience that Pineda does, he's still a bat, and bats are stabler commodities than arms. They just are. On top of that, Noesi is a surer arm than Campos, simply because Noesi already is in the majors, and was at least decent in his first year in the majors.

My gut reaction was that the Yankees got the better end of this trade, and truth be told, I still think that. I've trended more towards the middle though. The Yankees clearly got more upside, but that's not the whole story. The Mariners clearly got more certainty. They also got a bat, and maybe the best young bat in the game. James Paxton, Danny Hultzen, and Taijuan Walker should make it easier to move on without Pineda sooner rather than later too. If this wasn't the trade to make, then what was the trade worth making?*

*Meant to be a rhetorical question, but I do have an answer: the Reds package for Mat Latos would have been that deal for me. It's one reason I still think the Yankees are the winners of the Pineda trade. Pineda should be worth more than Latos in my book, and I do not think the Mariners got more from the Yankees than what the Padres got from the Reds.

The trade the M's and Yankees pulled off is not a feel-good trade. No trade is going to feel good when it involves losing Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. However, it was a necessary trade. The Mariners desperately needed some hitting, and now they have some semblance of balance on their roster for the first time in years. I still do not like the trade, but I probably disliked even more the thought of going into 2012 with the same bunch of hitters from 2011. Something had to be done, and something was done.