The Yankees and Mariners surprised the baseball world by agreeing to the rare exchange of a young blue chip hitter for a highly touted rookie pitcher. Because of the great potential many see in both Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda, it's hard to get an immediate handle on which team came away with the better end of the deal, especially when you consider the other components involved. In addition to Pineda, the Yankees also received 19-year old righty Jose Campos, whom many talent evaluators believe has the potential to be a top of the rotation pitcher. Meanwhile, the Mariners acquired a major league ready arm in Hector Noesi. Although his ceiling is not as high as the others involved in the deal, Noesi could very well step right in to the backend of the Seattle rotation. In other words, there's a lot to like from each team's perspective. So, instead of getting hung up on who "won the trade", it's much more relevant to evaluate the deal within the context of the Yankees' and Mariners' current roster.
As Brian Cashman so often repeated throughout the offseason, the Yankees' most pressing concern was pitching, pitching, and pitching. Even with the almost simultaneous free agent acquisition of veteran Hiroki Kuroda, the Bronx Bombers would have been thin in the rotation, so the acquisition of Pineda fills an obvious need. Although its probably premature to expect Pineda to immediately fall in line behind C.C. Sabathia as a second ace, there's good reason to be optimistic. Among all rookie starters age-22 or younger since 1961, Pineda's 2011 campaign ranked sixth in OPS against, fourth in strikeouts per nine innings, and fourth in WHIP. Based on these peripheral measures, Pineda seems to have substantial room for improvement over his already impressive rookie season. Of course, there are also many examples on each list of young pitchers who flamed out early, so the acquisition doesn't come without risk.
Now that Pineda and Kuroda have been added, the Yankees' rotation is suddenly bursting at the seams. With Sabathia and Ivan Nova already entrenched in the rotation, that leaves three pitchers for one spot. In a perfect world, the Yankees would be able to unload A.J. Burnett's contract, allowing Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia to battle for the fifth slot during Spring Training. Both pitchers would not only be more than adequate in that role, but the odd man out could also prove to be an invaluable sixth man. However, getting rid of Burnett is probably wishful thinking, so it seems more likely that he will open the season as the fifth starter. And, who knows, maybe a lightened burden will translate into more success for Burnett?
If Hughes does wind up in the bullpen, the Yankees' already strong relief corps would look even more impressive on paper. Adding Hughes, who has had more success as a reliever, to the likes of Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Rafael Soriano, not to mention Job Chamberlain when he returns from Tommy John surgery, would give the Yankees five power right handed pitchers, all of whom are capable of shortening the game. Meanwhile, Garcia would still be of use as a swing man. If anything, the Yankees' may have too many talented relievers, but considering Joe Girardi's proven ability to manage his bullpen, that's a good problem to have.
By acquiring Pineda and Kuroda, all of the dominoes on the pitching staff have fallen into place. However, the absence of Montero now leaves a big hole at DH. To address that need, the Yankees have reportedly expressed interest in Carlos Pena, who would form a nice lefty/right DH platoon with Andruw Jones, while also strengthening the bench. There are a myriad of other options too, ranging from veteran free agents like Vlad Guerrero and Johnny Damon to potential value buys like Kendrys Morales. Also, the Yankees could instead target a more versatile player (someone like Martin Prado), which would allow Joe Girardi to use the DH slot as a resting place for his aging veterans. All of these options are viable, which is probably another reason why Cashman decided Montero's bat was expendable.
Unlike the Yankees, who entered the offseason in search of pitching, the Mariners have been desperate for a bat. Unfortunately for Seattle, the price of acquiring one has been too costly. So, faced with that reality, GM Jack Zduriencik did the next best thing. He acquired one of best offensive prospects in the game.
This is not the first time the Mariners have expressed interest in Montero. In 2010, the young catcher was one of the players headed to Seattle in the Cliff Lee trade before an injury to David Adams, another player in the deal, caused Zduriencik to get cold feet. The Mariners eventually decided to trade Lee to the Texas Rangers' for Justin Smoak, and now, they have both young hitters in the fold.
Along with Smoak and Montero, Dustin Ackley and Mike Carp give the Mariners a young core of position players around which to build. Meanwhile, the organization's farm system is chock full of talented young arms. Although the loss of Pineda will leave a short-term hole in the rotation, prospects like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton may soon be able to fill the void. Until then, the Mariners could also kick the tires on free agents like Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson, each of whom would slot in very nicely behind Felix Hernandez. Now that the team has a legitimate hitting prospect in the fold, it should be easier for the Mariners to make a short-term pitching move on the margins, which is exactly the position the Yankees find themselves in, but in reverse.
One interesting side note about the trade is the Yankees were reportedly targeting King Felix before turning their attention to Pineda. According to that report, Cashman was willing to back up the truck for Hernandez by sending Seattle a package that included Montero, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, among others. Although trading Hernandez would have been a discouraging message to send to the team's fan base, the addition of two highly touted pitching prospects, as well as the ability to keep Campos, would have left the Mariners' with a farm system overflowing with top flight arms. Unless the Mariners can quickly return to being a contender, keeping Pineda, shedding payroll, and stockpiling blue chip pitchers might have been the better option.
Considering the realities facing each team, it's easy to see why this trade was made. Not only was the talent involved equally distributed on both sides, but each team successfully addressed their greatness weakness by dealing from strength. Assuming other complimentary moves are made, the Yankees and Mariners should both be significantly better in 2012. It was a long time coming, but it appears as if Cashman and Zduriencik have finally made a perfect match.