On January 23, 2012, the Yankees traded Jesús Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. While Noesi and Campos were also part of that trade, they're not the ones I want to focus on. It was a little less than two weeks ago that marked the four-year anniversary of this trade; 2016 will be the fifth season since the memorable deal. Coincidentally enough, a few days later, D-Rays Bay editor Danny Russell found and shared a Reddit thread that posed the following question:
What's a trade or signing your team made that made you go "Why the hell did we do that?" but ended up working for you in the long run?
Now a few scenarios come to mind when posing just the "why the hell did we do that?" part of the question (Kevin Youkilis), but when the second part is added it gets a little bit more interesting and that's why this particular trade stands out the most. The Didi Gregorius trade, which Jason looked back on not too long ago, could serve as an answer to the question, but one year hardly qualifies as "the long run." Five seasons though? That might just be enough time to truly answer the question.
If most Yankee fans went back and remembered his or her reaction to the trade it was probably profanity-laced and included a whole lot of confusion. (If memory can't be trusted just go ahead and check out the comments section in this thread.) And of course people reacted that way; finally the Yankees had a good, young, and exciting prospect to follow and watch develop into a special player and the evil team that we all root for here just traded him away. But looking back on the trade, I'm pretty sure many of these same fans find those reactions hilarious and very different from the current opinion on the trade.
Montero was called up by the Yankees on September 1st, 2011 and played in 18 games, but only played in three as a catcher. The rest of the games he played as a designated hitter. Montero's bat was very well regarded and most scouts agreed he would be able to hit Major League pitching with no problems, but the problems were with his defense. Many were worried that he wouldn't be able to stick at catcher, or really any other position and he was destined to a life as a full-time DH. Montero ended that 2011 season with a .328/.406/.590 line with four HRs in 69 (nice) plate appearances. Montero had no clear position, and even though Jorge Posada was no longer the catcher, the team had Russell Martin signed on to be the team's catcher so the Yankees used his promising MLB debut to leverage a trade with the Mariners.
Montero made the Mariners 2012 Opening Day roster and played in 135 games splitting time between catcher (56 G) and designated hitter (78 G). However, despite being a hyped up prospect, Montero only hit .260/.298/.398 with 15 HRs and 62 RBI. The 2013 season began disastrously for Montero as he hit 208/264/327 with three HRs and nine RBI through 29 games, after which he was sent down to AAA Tacoma. It was there that the Mariners' realized the Montero isn't working at catcher so he was given the opportunity to learn first base and see if he could find a home there. Even with Tacoma he continued to struggle at the plate before a torn meniscus sidelined him, and then he accepted a 50 game suspension for his involvement in the Biogensis scandal which effectively ended his season.
In 2014, Montero showed up to camp weighing 275 lbs, 40 pounds (!) overweight, and a shell of his former self. Prior to the season, he was playing winter ball in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League before a car injury ended that season for him as well. "After winter ball, all I did was eat," Montero would say about his weight. He played 97 games for Tacoma before he suffered an oblique strain which sidelined him again. During a rehab assignment, Montero famously got in an altercation with one a scout who was sitting in the stands.
Montero, a 24-year-old first baseman with Triple-A Tacoma who was rehabbing an oblique strain with short-season Everett, was coaching first base while an inning came to a close at Memorial Stadium in the Idaho city, which serves as the home for the Hawks, an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Boise official scorer Liza Safford told MiLB.com that Baccala, an intermediate scout known as a cross-checker, began yelling at Montero to hustle off the field, and then had an ice cream sandwich delivered to Montero in the dugout.
The ice cream sandwich-in-the-dugout stunt set Montero off, according to Safford. The first baseman located Baccala in the stadium stands, and, while holding a bat and screaming obscenities, threw the sandwich at the scout. Safford told MiLB.com that Montero had to be restrained by Everett pitching coach Nasusel Cabrera.
Montero's involvement and actions in the ice cream sandwich incident led the Mariners to ban him from playing for the rest of the season. Basically he was given a time-out and had to think about what he did. In 2015, Montero showed up to camp at 230 lbs and wanted to prove he was serious about continuing his baseball career. While splitting the season between Triple-A and MLB, his coaches complemented how well he had improved at first base defensively, but the bat failed to live up to its once-great promise.
Pineda, on the other hand, also made his debut in 2011, but instead of being a September call-up, he made the Mariners' rotation out of camp. He pitched to a 3.74 ERA (101 ERA+, 3.42 FIP) in 28 GS with 173 K's in 171 IP. Needing pitching help behind C.C. Sabathia, the Yankees felt very comfortable making this move and trading Montero for a promising young starter. Unfortunately during Spring Training of 2012, Pineda went down with a right shoulder injury that started his season on the disabled list. During his rehab, Pineda suffered a tear in that same shoulder and that ended his 2012 season.
Pineda started the 2013 season on the disabled list, still recovering from his shoulder injury, and once he recovered the Yankees chose to keep him in the minor leagues. In 10 minor league games that season (including his rehab), Pineda pitched to 3.32 ERA in 40.2 IP. In spring training of 2014, Pineda competed for and won the fifth spot in the starting rotation (thus completing the "A-Team" starting rotation that season). During his second start of the season, Pineda was pitching against the Red Sox when Boston broadcasters noticed a foreign substance on Pineda's pitching hand, only to see it move from his hand to his wrist as the game went on. Nothing came of the incident then, but later that month on April 23rd, Red Sox manager, John Farrell, noticed a substance on Pineda's neck that ended up being pine tar. He was ejected from the game, and consequently suspended for 10 games.
While pitching a simulated game during the suspension, Pineda strained a muscle near his rotator cuff, which was supposed to side line him for only 3-4 weeks, but ended up keeping him out of action until August. Prior to the suspension, Pineda had a 1.83 ERA in 19.2 IP (4 GS), and looked exactly like the stud the Yankees traded for a few years prior. After returning to the team in August, Pineda finished the season with a 5-5 record and a 1.89 ERA in 13 GS.
2015 was supposed to be the year Pineda finally put it together for the Yankees and pitched a full season. There were talks before the season of him being a dark horse Cy Young candidate, some even saying he could emerge as the best pitcher in New York, a conversation that included names like Masahiro Tanaka, Matt Harvey, and Jacob deGrom. Pineda showed so much potential, and pitched like the ace of the Yankees' staff. However, as the season went on, Pineda struggled to find consistency, and for every game where he looked like a Cy Young, it seemed like there was a game where he looked like a
Cy None Sergio Mitre. He finished the 2015 season with a 4.37 ERA (90 ERA+, 3.34 FIP) in 27 GS.
It's hard to find a sure fire winner of this trade because of the way both players' careers have progressed. However, while Pineda has yet to pitch a full season for the Yankees, it sure does seem like the Yankees are the winners of this trade. Montero is struggling to find a position where he fits and the bat that was supposed to make him a great player has seemingly disappeared. While Pineda hasn't put a Cy Young caliber season yet, if he can find a way to be consistent and healthy in 2016, he has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in baseball. Don't believe me? That's fine, let Pineda's pitching do the talking.
*Season statistics provided by Baseball-Reference