The Yankees emerge from the All-Star break with an MVP in their midst, ready to attack the second-half with the same ferocity that led them to the best record in baseball to this point. They got there thanks to a deep, talented roster with few glaring holes that need to be addressed. That being said, you can never have too much talent, especially when it comes to starting pitching. Enter Frankie Montas.
2022 Stats: 17 games, 96.2 IP, 3.26 ERA (113 ERA+), 3.30 FIP, 25.8% K%, 6.2 % BB%, 1.9 fWAR
2022 Contract Status: Earning $5.025 million in second year of arbitration-eligibility. Free agent after 2023 season.
Prior to the All-Star break, I implored the Yankees to pursue Luis Castillo in earnest. He is exactly the co-ace that would form a lethal one-two punch paired next to Gerrit Cole. Should they miss out on those sweepstakes, Montas represents a very attractive consolation prize.
I actually feel that Montas and Castillo profile very similarly with Montas’ 1B to Castillo’s 1A. Both throw high-velocity four-seamers, with Montas placing three spots below Castillo for the tenth-fastest average fastball velocity (96.2 mph) among starters with at least 70 IP. Both pitchers throw their four-seamers with almost identical spin rates, however I like the raw pitch characteristics of Montas’ more. His gets a good deal more rise on his four-seamer thanks to a more over-the-top delivery. That being said, Montas would benefit from locating it more consistently at the top of the zone — one of the reasons why Castillo’s fastball has performed better from a results-oriented viewpoint.
The pair also feature devastating armside-breaking offspeed pitches — Castillo the changeup and Montas the splitter — alongside decent sliders that generate healthy whiff rates and sinkers used to create a different fastball look off the four-seamer. The offspeed is where either pitcher makes their money, though it’s interesting to note that both have seen a drop-off in whiff rate against the respective offerings this year. Montas got hitters to swing and miss on half of their swings against the splitter last year, but that’s down to one in three this season.
As for the slider, Montas’ mirrors Castillo’s — a traditional gyro-spin variety with short, sharp break unlike the whirly sliders thrown by many on the Yankees staff. The pair leverage the depth and run on their sinkers to generate groundballs and get hitters off the plane of their four-seamers. In this way, I feel Montas would benefit from a reshaping of his slider to create similar separation in movement profile off the sinker/splitter.
Much as Castillo did with his seven inning, two hit, eight strikeout gem on July 14th, Montas passed his Yankee Stadium audition with flying colors, allowing two runs on four hits against seven strikeouts in six innings. It may not have been the same dominant display as the Reds ace, but I’m sure the Yankees would be happy to receive a starting pitching performance such as the one Montas gave against them every day of the week.
Interestingly, both have dealt with minor shoulder injuries this year, Castillo missing the first month due to the ailment while Montas has been sidelined after exiting his July 3rd start with shoulder tightness. Castillo’s shoulder issues never returned since making his season debut, while it remains to be seen how much Montas’ effectiveness and trade value become diminished by the lingering injury question mark.
I think Oakland surprised a lot of people around the industry when they held onto Montas over the winter after trading practically everyone else (Matt Olson and Matt Chapman for two) in the later stages of arbitration-eligibility. With Montas’ escalating arb costs, the second-worst record in baseball and no clear vision to improve in the remaining period of his team control, it’s hard to come up with a justification for the A’s to not trade him this time around.
Montas’ trade candidacy is intriguing due to a confluence of factors that may work in the acquiring team’s favor. Obviously, teams are wary of the shoulder injury and will be eager to see how he performs in his Thursday start against the Tigers. There’s also the matter of his 80-game suspension in 2019 after testing positive for a banned substance, though to his credit Montas has not run afoul of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program since.
Finally, it must be said that Montas cannot boast the same track record as Castillo. He has only one full season as a top full-time starter in the league. That was last year, when he led the AL with 32 starts, going 13-9 with a 3.37 ERA (121 ERA+), 3.37 FIP, and 207 strikeouts in 187 innings. He was on his way to a breakout six-win campaign in the season derailed by the PED suspension, casting some doubt over the legitimacy of that performance, and never quite found his footing in the COVID-shortened 2020 season.
It is for all these reasons that Montas may be the more gettable pitcher at the deadline vis-à-vis Castillo. His lesser track record and injury concerns will likely reduce the prospect cost needed to acquire him — something which may tempt a Yankees front office loath to part with their three top prospects. That’s not to say they’d be getting a necessarily inferior pitcher. I feel there is still untapped potential in Montas that could push him into or above the tier of starting pitcher that Castillo occupies, and I have the utmost confidence in the Yankees pitching development staff to help him reach that point.