Saturday, January 14, 2012

Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda: a terrible trade by the Yankees

On Jan 13, 2012, the New York Yankees traded Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.  The main players are Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda.

NYY hasn't had any success with pitcher trades for a long time.  Think: Jeff Weaver.  Reactions to the trade are mostly positive, especially "officially", by the so-called reporters and analysts.  I can't help but think many people mindlessly follow the flow, assuming that Cashman or whoever from the great NYY organization must know what he is doing.  The same people said the same thing about the Jeff and other NYY pitcher trades as well, and they have been so wrong for so many years.

As a Yankees fan since mid-1990s, it is sad to see JM gone.  We have been hearing his name for years, and when he finally arrived in late 2011, he did not disappoint, hitting .328/.406/.590 in one month.  He is clearly the most exciting hitter from the Yankees farm system since Cano, and was expected to significantly contribute to the Yankees' offense in 2012 and beyond.  While MP went 9-10, 171 IP, 3.74 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 3.53 xFIP, and 3.4 WAR in 2011, he is by no means a lock in AL East.  Besides, hitting ability is more a sure thing than pitching.  You can't predict how a young arm like MP will turn out years after years.  The trade became more perplexing as NYY also acquired Hiroki Kuroda the same day, a pitcher tested only in NL West. 

It is fine if JM was traded for a real ace, like Cliff Lee or Felix Hernandez, but MP is not.  The main knock on JM is that some people think he can't catch, and if he DH, it will block Jeter, ARod, or Tex having a rest once in while.  But the thinking has many faults and fails to see a real problem in the Yankees for the past few years and likely ahead.

Firstly, the catching problem.  Posada was never a great catcher, but he did just fine at least early in his career.  It is hard to imagine Russel Martin or others to catch so brilliantly to offset their hitting woes, unless Martin shows he can hit consistently in averages and power.  Secondly, JM blocking DH being even an issue is comical.  Jeter, ARod, or Tex needs outright rest, not DH, if they can't play the field.  When they do need a rest, nobody is significantly better a hitter than a regular JM, who can rest once in a while to clear the spot as well.  JM can also catch, although we will never know now.

The most pressing issue, which is quite apparent yet few people like to acknowledge, is that the Yankees offense is facing a decline that has proved fatal in the playoffs.

Jeter hasn't been the good old playoff hitter since 2005.  ARod is hot in one year and then ice cold for many years.  Tex and Swisher have never hit in the playoffs.  Cano is consistent but has never had the same, big, game changing hits like others did.  Gardner has potential getting on base but definitely no power.  That leaves Granderson, who is unlikely to repeat his 2011 early, regular season performance.

So the Yankees can still get into the playoffs, but they have been having big trouble there.  In 2009 they needed ARod to bail them out late multiple times and then Matsui's 6 RBI Game 6.  But in 2010 and 2011 they were shut down in many close games.  They would get on base, but the big hits just didn't come frequently enough.  The current class of players can't be counted to reverse this trend, neither can the "newer" players like Nunez and Andruw Jones. 

Teams need a standout hitter in the playoffs, like Bernie Williams and Jim Leyritz in 1996, Scott Brosius in 1998, Mike Napoli and David Freese in 2011.  Without a fresh big bat like JM, I predict that Yankees will not have any success in October, one day after this trade announcement. 

Interesting to see if the prediciton pans out in October 2012 and 5 years later.

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