When the staff sign-ups go out for series like the season previews, I like to try to snag the more interesting, season-defining storylines — Aaron Judge’s follow-up to 2022, for example. I signed up to preview Frankie Montas before he was announced to be missing almost the entire year, and so while that’s become a season-defining storyline, I’m not quite sure how to preview the concept of nothingness.
2022 Statistics: 27 GS, 144.2 IP, 4.05 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 23.4 K%, 7.1 BB%, 2.0 fWAR
2023 ZiPS Projections: 5 GS, 31.0 IP, 3.84 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 24.4 K%, 7.0 BB%, 0.4 fWAR
As I often do, let’s say that Montas hits this projection exactly. That would mean, in a season and a half, after being the Yankees’ premier trade deadline acquisition in 2022, Montas will have started 13 games in pinstripes, thrown 70 odd innings, and if he returns to the rotation September 1st, will have spent 2.5 days on the IL for every inning thrown.
To call this trade a disaster is probably approaching understatement territory. The prospects who the Yankees sent to Oakland—JP Sears, Cooper Bowman, Luis Medina, and Ken Waldichuk—combine to project for 3.4 fWAR by ZiPS, and even though that amount divvied up between four guys isn’t that tremendous, the opportunity cost is the big issue. Take Waldichuk — if the Yankees had kept him, could he have been part of a different package? And if they decided to keep him, well, he’s pegged for 1.5 fWAR in Oakland, and perhaps the Yankees could use that in a rotation that doesn’t have much depth right now. That’s a full win more than you can expect from Montas, too.
The toughest part of this is somewhat outside of Montas’ control, and that’s been the continued degradation of the rotation depth in spring training. Carlos Rodón will start the year on the IL, Nestor Cortes is working through a leg issue, and we don’t know what the Yankees have planned for Luis Severino’s campaign. Getting less than a middle reliever’s inning count out of Montas re-jigs the way we have to think about this rotation, opening up slots for Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt, neither of whom boast the supposed ceiling of an arm like Montas.
I don’t really buy into the idea that Oakland “screwed” the Yankees, or that the Yankee staff was negligent. You don’t get to conduct a physical before trading for a player — you get, essentially, the existing medical records. When Montas underwent surgery last month, it was exploratory; they didn’t know what was wrong with his shoulder, so I’m not sure how that could have been flagged back in July. Yes, there was existing risk in acquiring a guy with an existing yellow flag, but that risk is priced in to the prospect cost.
This deep into spring training, can any of us question the Yankees’ dedication to keeping Anthony Volpe and Jasson Domínguez? The decision to make those two prospects untouchable largely forced the Yankees into the secondary tier of starting pitching at last year’s deadline, where either the risk of injury or lower performance is greater than the more stable guys like Luis Castillo.
Still, this was a bad trade. We can accept that the Yankees were never going to get Castillo and still wonder if the rest of that second tier of pitchers — Tyler Mahle, Noah Syndergaard — would have done better, been more productive, in half a season than Montas will likely be in three times as much team control. Whatever the Yankees get out of Montas will have to do in 2023, but his acquisition should be a warning to everyone about the risks inherent in the second tier of available players.