Sabtu, 14 Januari 2012

Trade Analysis: Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda

Late Friday night, I was well into a pint of Canadian Club, when my brother, a Red Sox fan, texted me one four-letter, highly unprintable word. Since my brother generally only texts me for sports reasons and since I don't particularly like the people with whom I was drinking, I got up and checked to see what went down. Sure enough, the Yankees had acquired 22-year-old ace Michael Pineda from the Seattle Mariners.

The trade was only slightly unexpected: the Yankees were reportedly closing in on Hiroki Kuroda (whom they would later sign that same day), and the Mariners were not believed to be shopping Pineda, though like any good GM, Seattle's Jack Zduriencik was listening to offers on everybody.

At the same time, the acquisition did not come cheaply for the Yankees -- they had to move stud prospect Jesus Montero, and MLB-ready Hector Noesi, while Seattle included the young but high-ceiling'd Jose Campos.

Noesi provides Seattle with a young, cheap, talented pitcher who should pitch well in Safeco, with solid strikeout and fly balls numbers. Campos, who should be examined later by another blogger, provides the Yankees with a potential, albeit far-off, frontline starting pitcher. For the sake of simplicity (and because this portion of the deal will be examined later), I will simply look at the Pineda and Montero aspects of the deal.

What Does Seattle Get?

I'd say Jesus Montero can hit, but it's a bit misleading. Jimmy Rollins can hit. Montero rakes. He's spent the last two years at Triple-A Scranton, compiling a .289/.351/.493 line in 967 PAs. He has great hitters' tools across the board, bat speed, control, discipline, leverage, you name it. He was called up toward the end of the season, and didn't stop hitting, slashing .328/.406/.590 with 4 home runs in 69 PAs. Montero was brought up a catcher, but is really below average at the position, lacking in both arm strength and agility behind the plate. He turned 22 in November.

A lot of Montero's value to the Mariners is attached to him as a catcher. At the MLB level, he should be well-below average, but if he can stick at the position, it will really help his value. The Yankees all but gave up on him as a catcher, letting him catch just 3 of his 17 starts in the majors, and for all intents and purposes, Montero is a DH with the potential to be a backup catcher, catching perhaps 30-40 games a year. The Mariners got no production out of their catchers in 2011, but they would be much better served finding someone to catch and letting Montero DH or be the backup catcher.

What is is bat worth, though? Quite a bit. According to the MLE calculator I often use on here, his 2010 season works out to .250/.301/.430, or roughly average for the AL in 2011. 'Average' in 2011 meant that every plate appearance was worth 0.0428 runs above replacement. What is important to note, though, is that Montero was 20 in 2010 -- he will be 22 in 2012. If you apply a standard aging curve to that, it calls for a 9% increase, which makes him worth 0.0467 runs per plate appearance. This means that as long as he is a full-time player, getting 600 PAs this year, his bat will be worth 28 runs above replacement, or almost 3 wins by itself. This of course will be offset by either his position (DH) or bad defense at catcher, but he should definitely be a positive value in the years to come.

Perhaps most importantly, the Mariners get an extra year of control here. Pineda would have had five more years of service time before being eligible for free agency, while Montero has the full six years left.

What Does New York Get?

We don't really have to do any extrapolating or converting for Pineda, because in 2011 he stopped being an elite prospect and became a full-fledged ace. In 28 starts he pitched 171 innings, struck out 171, walked 55, and gave up 18 home runs. This was good for a 3.74 ERA, a 3.42 FIP, and a 3.36 SIERA, culminating in a 3.4 WAR. He was 22.

Pitcher aging is a very tricky business, but we can only assume that Pineda will only continue to improve. There was nothing fluky about his 2011 season, he strikes guys out with a high-90s fastball and a wipeout slider, and he throws strikes. His home runs allowed will be something of an issue, as he had a mediocre 0.9 HR/9 in Safeco, and that should only rise in Yankee Stadium, but keep in mind that home runs are less valuable when a pitcher strikes batters out and limits walks, and Pineda does both. He should continue to be an ace for years to come.

The Winner

I have to think that New York (based only on these two players; remember that two other pitchers were exchanged, with Seattle getting the more MLB-ready prospect) wins here. In the next five years alone, Pineda could accumulate as much as 25-30 wins of value, depending on how much development he has left. They did sacrifice a year of team control by acquiring Pineda, but it doesn't really matter: it's the Yankees. If Pineda turns into Pedro Martinez and warrants a $35 MM AAV when he files in 2016, the Yankees could afford to give it to him. On the level of these two players alone, it's hard to see how New York does not come out on top here.

The Loser

Seattle. The team needed offense, and they did get it, but at what cost? Montero is a fine bat, sure, but his value is impacted severely if he has to DH, and if he ends up behind the dish, he will be a serious inhibitor to the team's existing strength, run prevention. If Montero turns into a .280/.375/.550 hitter -- and he very well could -- he would still only be worth 3-4 wins as a DH. They could put him at first base, but this would displace Justin Smoak, one of the team's few bright spots on offense.

Montero also brings his own baggage: he came into spring training 2011 unmotivated, according to some members of the media, and while a lot of these accusations may simply be based on the fact that he did not hit for the first several weeks of 2011, these question marks will follow him to Seattle. Montero, between 2012 and 2017, could accumulate anywhere from 15-25 wins, a fine value, but I don't see how it is worth the cost.

The Bottom Line

The Yankees filled a big hole in their roster with not only a potential ace, but a very young one at that. What they gave up could end up being an All-Star, but it is much, much cheaper to replace a good DH (they are reportedly now in discussions with Carlos Pena) than a #2 or #1 starting pitcher. It seems that the Mariners made something of a lateral move, trading in Pineda's few wins for Montero's (in Seattle's run-depressed environment, Montero's value gets a boost while Pineda's is depreciated), but Pineda certainly has more upside, and it appears that Montero will be bringing some real headaches, either from his lack of a position or his personality. Chalk this one up to those damn Yankees.

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