Pineda for Montero: Yankees Taking a Huge Risk

As you probably already know, last week, the Yankees and Mariners engaged in a trade which sent highly coveted prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle in exchange for Michael Pineda.  The trade sent shock waves through the baseball world for two reasons; it went against the assumed perception that Montero was off limits in any and all trade talks (he was reportedly off-limits when Roy Halladay was being shopped) and it broke the number one rule that GM's learn in GM school, which says that you don't trade a young starting pitcher who is under control for any reason.  So determining who "wins" in this trade is very hard but I'll give you some of my thoughts on why I think the Yankees might have bought a little too high for Pineda (and given up Montero, too soon).

Here and now... the upside for the Yankees

On the surface, it seems like this will be a great trade for the Yankees as they will get a pitcher that can have an immediate impact.  Pineda will have the opportunity to propel the Yankees rotation to a place that it hasn't been in quite a few years.  Pineda burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2011 and took the MLB world by storm.  Over the first half of his 2011 rookie season, he boasted a 3.03 ERA to go along with 113 strikeouts in 113 innings and a WHIP of 1.035.  Those numbers would be impressive for any pitcher, let alone a 22 year-old rookie.  The 6'7" right hander kept hitters at bay with a brilliant mid to upper 90's fastball (he boasted the highest average fastball in the big leagues in 2011) and a solid slider.

The Yankees are getting a big pitcher with great upside who will have the opportunity to learn from another big pitcher with tremendous talent and a Cy  under his belt (CC Sabathia, of course).  If Michael Pineda doesn't get any better than he was in 2011, they're almost surely getting a decent middle of the rotation pitcher who is capable of beating anyone on any given day.  But the true value in this deal is the fact that Pineda's upside rivals that of any other pitcher in baseball.

The But... cause for concern

Pineda's fastball/slider combination proved to be very effective over the first half of the season but as the season wore on and the scouting report got thicker, his numbers normalized, a bit.  His second half ERA was 5.12 with a WHIP of 1.224.  Maybe the decline was due to fatigue or maybe it was the fact that teams had learned how to catch up with his fastball; whatever it was, it's clear that Pineda was not as dominant in the second half as he fell out of the Rookie of the Year race.  

There are three things that should concern the Yankees.  First, Pineda doesn't change speeds as well as he should (doesn't have confidence throwing his change up and his slider has proven to be a bit "hard" at times).  The result thus far has been a lot of fly balls.  In fact, he ranked 87th among 94 qualifying starting pitchers in groundball percentage (only 36.3% of balls hit were ground balls).  He also ranked 85th in BABIP, which indicates that he may have been the recipient of some good luck (or a pitcher friendly ballpark), which brings me to my next point.

Pineda surely benefited from playing his home games at Safeco, a notorious "pitcher friendly" ballpark and it's not a stretch to say that the move to the new homer-friendly Yankee Stadium might be a tough one for the young right hander.  You don't need to look much further than Pineda's home and away splits - his ERA at home was 2.92 compared to 4.40 on the road.  The power alley in right field at Yankee Stadium is one of the friendliest in the game for left handed hitters (lefties hit .237 off of Pineda, compared to .184 by righties) so you can bet the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles will be lefty heavy when Pineda is on the mound.

And lastly, Pineda's velocity decreased as the season went on and he showed some inconsistency with his slider.  Early in the season, his average fastball was right around 94 MPH.  By the end of his season, it was sitting around 91.  That coupled with the fact that Pineda only pitched 47 innings in 2009 due to elbow soreness, leads me to wonder how durable the big man will be.

Sellers Remorse... Jesus Montero appears to be the real deal

Montero was rated among the top 5 prospects in all of baseball by Baseball America in each of the past two seasons.  He has boasted a triple slash line of .308/.366/.501 over five minor league seasons and his home run totals have been trending up since the Venezuelan prospect joined the Yankees organization in 2006.  Montero appears to be an immediate impact "can't miss" hitting prospect.  It still remains to be seen whether he has what it takes to be an every day catcher at the big league level but given Jesus' tremendous hitting ability, it's safe to say that he'll be an impact player no matter where he winds up (whether it's at 1B or C).  In a short stint with the big league club at the end of the 2011 season, Montero was absolutely tremendous.  He posted a .996 OPS in 69 plate appearances.  In his two postseason at bats, Montero collected two hits, scored a run and drove in a run.  Small sample size, for sure, but that raw hitting ability is the main reason why the Yankees were so hesitant to give up Jesus Montero for anything in previous discussions and why they could be faced with some seller's remorse a few years down the road when this kid is raking.


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