Only four short days ago, I wrote an article about the Yankees’ quiet off-season. Funny how quickly things can change. In a blockbuster trade, the Yankees sent their top prospect, catcher/DH Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi to Seattle for pitchers
Felix Hernandez Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. Everyone is very familiar with Montero’s body of work and lack of position, but may not know much about Pineda. Pineda, 22, struck out 173 hitters in 171 innings as a rookie, the highest rookie strikeout total since Kerry Wood struck out 223 in 1998.
In a ‘lesser’ move, the Yankees signed veteran pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million deal. Kuroda, a pure control pitcher, posted the ninth-best ERA in the NL last year (3.07) and has given the Dodgers at least 195 innings in the last two seasons.
To put it simply, the Yankees got the better end of the Montero-Pineda deal and signed a rock solid #3 pitcher for virtually no risk. Brian Cashman’s patience once again paid off and the Yanks will reap the benefits in 2012 and beyond…
The Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade definitely shook the baseball universe. Montero, the crown jewel of Yankee prospects, has shown flashes of greatness in the minors and came on strong during September. In just 61 at-bats, Montero mashed four home runs and collected twenty hits. Montero demonstrated his raw power, hitting three of his four home runs over the right center field fence.
While Montero’s bat is a huge asset, his defense behind the plate has been called into question. Montero only appeared behind the plate twice for the Yanks and it was clear that Cashman did not want to diminish his trade value by sticking him out there. The Yankees and (most Yankee fans) knew Montero was not the long-term catching answer. Unfortunately, there just isn’t another place to play him. With Mark Teixeira occupying first base and a revolving DH spot needed for older players, Montero just didn’t have a spot and Cashman picked his spot and landed a young arm that has limitless upside.
Enter the newest Yankee pitcher, Michael Pineda. Last season, it was the tale of two halves for Pineda’s rookie season. Prior to the All-Star break, Pineda went 8-3 with a 3.03 ERA, but just 1-4 with a 5.12 ERA after the Break. But can we reasonably expect a Cy Young season from a rookie pitcher? Pineda, only 22-years old, averaged 9.33 strikeouts per nine innings, throwing an average fastball of 95.1 MPH. Pineda is essentially a two-pitch, pitcher featuring a fastball and a slider.
Pineda finished fifth in hits per nine innings and eighth in WHIP. Finally, Pineda goes from playing on a team that scored 556 last season to one that scored 867. Don’t let the win-loss record fool you. This kid is young, strong, and has the makeup to be the Yankees’ #2 starter. Don’t let his high fly ball rate (34.3 percent) fool you. Power pitchers play in the AL East and the Yankees have one that has a ton of upside. Oh yeah, Pineda is under team control for five more years. Talk about a talented, cost effective solution.
The other two pieces of this trade, Hector Noesi and Jose Campos, complement this package. Campos is the Mariners’ fifth best prospect and struck out 95 hitters in 91 innings in High A ball. Campos has a plus fastball, sitting around 96 MPH, so he’s worth watching.
While the Seattle trade stole the show, the Yankees made a low-risk, safe move by inking Kuroda to a one-year deal. Kuroda is the definition of solid, control pitcher. Kuroda went 14-16 for the Dodgers last year, striking out 7.24 batters per nine innings and only walking two hitters per nine. Kuroda is a little older (37), but Kuroda has a 3.37 ERA over his last four seasons with the Dodgers. In addition, the Dodgers scored two runs or fewer for him in twelve of his starts! He should receive plenty of run support in New York.
I know that people have an emotional attachment to Montero and it’s very sad to see him go. However, baseball is a business and the Yankees vastly improved today. The questions about pitching depth and quality of pitchers should be erased as the Yankees now have a surplus of pitchers. CC-Nova-Pineda-Kuroda are virtual locks for the rotation with Phil Hughes, AJ Burnett, and Freddy Garcia ready to duke it out for the fifth spot. In a few hours, the Yankee rotation went from having question marks to having more upside and stability.
Personally, I don’t think the Yankees are done dealing. Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain have become virtual after thoughts and some teams want Brett Gardner and/or Nick Swisher. As we’ve seen time after time from Cashman, his patience is invaluable. He didn’t bite on CJ Wilson, Yu Darvish, Mark Buerhle, Ubaldo Jimenez, Mat Latos, or Gio Gonzalez. He didn’t have to surrender any of his valuable young arms to get one of the game’s best young arms. He always waits for the market to dry up before extracting value. Pineda and Kuroda are clear examples of Cashman’s patience.
Brian was Brian tonight and he made his team better. While I’m sad to see Montero go, I can’t wait to watch Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda suit up for the Bombers. Premium arms are always valued higher than bats, so this was a no-brainer move for the Bombers.
It’s the start of a new era in the Bronx–an era that relies on patience and precision.