Looking at Montero through rose-colored glasses

For one, if the Yankees were going to move a premier hitting piece for a pitcher, I’d have preferred it have been for more of a sure thing. There’s no question Pineda had a great 2011, and while the oft-cited supposed “second-half decline” has been debunked, and I’m aware of the fact that were he still a prospect, he’d be at the top of the Yankees’ top ten list, the fact that he is primarily a righthanded two-pitch pitcher with a bit of a flyball problem coming to Yankee Stadium concerns me. I understand that many feel that Pineda has #1 starter upside, but that upside can only be realized if he is able to develop a functional changeup to help him combat lefties, and as we’ve seen from several of the Yankees’ own starters, the change is one of the hardest pitches to learn.

It’s not I think the substance is wrong here, but I think there’s a double standard being applied to the two players here. Does Montero have the potential to become the second-coming of Edgar Martinez? Sure he does. But as Dave Cameron wrote at Fangraphs yesterday, that’s not a sure thing by any means, and in order to do that Montero will likely need to improve his plate discipline and command of the strikezone. To an extent, Montero is very much the hitting equivalent of…Michael Pineda. Both have the sort of tools that should allow them to be good players in the big leagues for some time and the potential to be great players, but both players need to continue to develop certain skills in order to become great major league players.

On this level, what the Yankees are doing is basically just swapping hitting for pitching, a strategy that makes a lot of sense. Not only do the Yankees need pitching in the short term, over the long term the problem of scarcity makes the pitcher more valuable than the hitter, especially given the Yankees’ financial resources. If the Yankees truly want to add a hitter, they will rarely, if ever, have trouble doing so because hitters are always in comparatively high supply compared to pitchers.

I guess this is also as good a time as any to say that I think some people are really ignoring the issues posed over the next 2-4 years by a non-catching Montero. Yes, a heavy hitting DH is still a valuable thing to have in a lineup, especially when they’re not making very much money, but what was going to happen in, say, 2014 when the Yankees decide Alex Rodriguez needs to be made a primary DH? So even beyond from the relative value of the two assets in a general sense, the Yankees’ particular roster issues even further marginalized Montero’s marginal value to them in the interim, assuming he won’t be able to remain a catcher in the majors.

And frankly, it’s probably time to admit that that’s not going to happen. I was willing to give Montero the benefit of the doubt as long as anyone, but you can’t keep doing that forever. I haven’t seen a single independent talent evaluator voice even the slightest amount of belief that Montero is a future catcher since the trade, and the only people who have claimed to believe Montero can catch are the Yankees themselves. However, this begs a pretty obvious question: if the Yankees thought Montero could catch, why did they have him slated to be their primary DH in 2012, rather than they’re starting catcher? Actions speak louder than words, as it were, and at no point in the last year have the Yankees shown any inclination to put action behind their protestations that Montero can-so be a big league catcher.

So that’s what we’re left with; a young 1B/DH with tremendous upside and a high floor on a team with preexisting commitments at those positions, and another team offering a young starting pitcher with tremendous upside and a high floor in exchange for that player. This is a no-brainer from the standpoint of resource allocation.

About Brien Jackson

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

25 thoughts on “Looking at Montero through rose-colored glasses

  1. Nice post. The Koestler piece had other problems, but I mostly want to underscore something you said. You said, "if the Yankees thought Montero could catch, why did they have him slated to be their primary DH in 2012, rather than they’re starting catcher?" I add to that, "if the Yankees thought Montero could catch, why did they have him slated to be their primary DH in 2012, and not even trust him to spend part of the time as BACKUP catcher?" After all, it appears to have been the plan to have Cervelli on the 25-man roster, even had they not traded Montero.

  2. Great post, Brien. It's been a lot of fun to read everyone's reactions on what's been the biggest trade in Yankeeland since the Granderson deal and the most surprising trade since, well, ever.

    One of the things I didn't get a chance to note in my piece (which is bloated enough as it is) is that a lot of my apprehension regarding dealing Montero is due to the uncertainty surrounding both Tex and A-Rod, who turned in disappointing performances last season, though for very different reasons. As I've written several times this winter, I think Alex will be fine if healthy, but many of Tex's numbers are on an ugly three-season decline. If Alex and Tex hit the way they should, then my concern re: losing Montero will most likely be moot.

    • It's a fair point, but at the same time those are sunk costs. You can't just replace Alex with someone better down the road, unless you're willing to release him and eat the salary, which isn't going to happen. To that extent trading Montero for pitching is arguably even more helpful. The ideal scenario would involve moving Alex to DH and finding someone else to provide decent value at third, and then you're adding value from the pitching staff on top of that.

      As for Tex, well, I'm hoping his problems are mechanical ones from the left side and that K-Long can fix them. If not, it's going to be a long four years for him.

  3. Also, I'm certainly aware of the double standard in expressing dismay regarding Pineda being "less than a sure thing" considering he's being acquired for just as much of a non-sure thing; I just tend to focus my worry on the offense more than the pitching, which is one of the reasons why this deal stung for me moreso than others.

    • I meant "double standard" more as a statement of fact that as an accusation. It's certainly not unfair or unreasonable, now that the deal is done, to worry about that outcome, especially since pitching is more volatile than offense. It's certainly possible, maybe even likely, that Montero hits his ceiling while Pineda doesn't.

  4. One thing I also want to mention, and it's not original with me, although I forgot where I first read it, but Pineda needs a functional third pitch. It doesn't have to be a change-up. People have focused on change-up, I guess, because he's worked on one already. However, cutters and split-fingers and other pitches could also work. And we all know that nearby in the club house are many great teachers — first in Rothschild, whom many credit as a masterful pitching coach, and then some amazing veteran teammates. I think the kid will get his third pitch.

  5. A very civil and rational response from Mr. Koestler. Well done. Great post too. Put me in the wistful category. Not against the deal, just a bit sad around the edges.

  6. Here's my question: is it really the case that good/great hitting is easier to find than good/great pitching?

    The Mariners have been awful the last few years because they have no hitting. Teams that are consistently bad – Royals, Pirates, Nationals and (now) A's – have bad lineups. The two teams – Yankees and Red Sox – that have dominated baseball (in terms of consistency of contention and success) over the last decade have done so based on the strength and depth of their lineups. Of course, you need both to compete and win, but it seems that the availability/scarcity of pitching and hitting is comparable.

    I think the aging Yankees lineup needed Montero's bat. I'm not sure this deal gets done without the burden of the Texeira, ARod contracts.

    • A big reason the Mariners are so lousy in terms of hitting is SafeCo Field. It's a serious hitters park, which when coupled with the impression that Seattle is at the end of the earth, makes it very difficult to attract elite hitting free agents. The Yanks will never have this problem. Big time hitters love Yankee Stadium and stars, generally, love the NY limelight. Every year there are several solid hitters on the market. No doubt the Yanks can get one when they need it.

      • Also, Jack Z made something of a conscious choice to try to rebuild the team around the edges by playing a sort of modern Moneyball and deliberately going after players for their defense on the theory that it was undervalued. It worked somewhat well in 2009, but it's been a disaster since.

    • "Here's my question: is it really the case that good/great hitting is easier to find than good/great pitching?"

      When you have the amount of money available that the Yankees do? Yes.

  7. Thanks for joining the convo Larry!

    As an aside, has anyone done the legwork to find the likelihood of a pitcher adding a 3rd pitch successfully? I feel like this is a topic of frequent exploration and yet for the life of me I can't remember anyone doing it with sustained success before they are well in the midst of their decline phase. If the question is "Has there ever been a major league starter under 26 that has added a pitch to his repertoire, thrown it with a frequency of greater than 15% and had it be at least average" I am hard pressed to think of a pitcher from memory. Maybe someone with quick access to the pitchfx data could query this subject?

    • I know this is supposed to be a Montero post, but Pineda's 3rd pitch has crept in here again, just like in every other article about the trade…

    • I'm not sure if you could really control for all of the variables in that sort of study. Remember, it's hard to develop a good changeup in the minor leagues when your fastball-slider combo is as good as Pineda's. Aside from the fact that he could overpower opponents with just those pitches, even a bad changeup becomes better with that kind of 1-2 combo against inferior caliber hitters.

      • I imagine it would be even harder developing one in the majors, since every pitch you left floating back over the plate will likely turn into something other than an out. I didn't mean to single out a changeup either, I just imagine it very hard to add a new pitch when you are being judged on results instead of potential. Your point is well taken that it becomes even harder when you can be successful in the short term with 2 pitches, but in forming my opinion if that is better for long term success I am tempered by the development of Mr. Hughes.

        • I don’t know. I mean, everything is harder in the major leagues. The hitters make more adjustments to you, and you pay a lot harder for missing your location with a fastball or slightly hanging your breaking ball than you will in the minors. Is refining your secondary arsenal so much harder than learning how to approach big league hitters or refining your mechanics and location?

          • Maybe I'm being naive, but I would say yes. It may not be the favorite topic to chat about for minor league managers but player development is more important than results, and if the brass wanted a prospect to throw 20 changeups a game, you could do so. Even if you gave up 5 runs in the 3rd you wouldn't be pulled because management would want you to complete your 100+ pitches, 20 changeups, and if you got 50% of them for strikes it could still be considered a moral victory whereas you would never get that chance in the bigs. Maybe this is just a lack of understanding on my part, but I have always assumed that's the way things were done.

          • Well throwing the pitch X number of times isn’t the same thing as refining it. My point was that Pineda would be able to be effective in the minors with even a bad changeup (and to be clear, the problem isn’t really that Pienda doesn’t throw the pitch much, he threw it more than Clayton Kershaw last year, but that it’s not very good at the MLB level) simply because his stuff is too good for that level of hitter. To that end, lots of pitchers have had to refine their third pitches at the big league level. Sometimes that’s working out the pitch they’ve been throwing, sometimes they scrap it and learn a new pitch altogether. Like I said the other day, Pineda could learn a sinker or cutter or something to throw at lefties and be just fine without a changeup, if that’s what happens.

            And Phil Hughes really isn’t a very good comparison, IMO, because he never displayed even a second pitch nearly as good as Pineda’s slider in the big leagues. Hughes is a fastball guy in search of, basically, an entire arsenal of secondary pitchers. Pineda is a very good fastball-slider pitcher who’s already set a baseline as a very good major league pitcher who just needs to refine a third offering that’s more viable against opposite hand hitters than a slider.

  8. 1 – It seems to me that if we're counting on A-Rod to be our DH in 2014 and beyond, we're really in big trouble. I doubt he'll have more than two more reasonably productive years as a hitter. Who knows – Maybe we'll have to release him. That's just how bad that contract is Even at his price, we may not be able to afford keeping him on the roster and that's where Montero would've fit in.
    2 – It's a little sad that part of the rationale/justification for the trade is really based on the fact that the Yankees were somewhat uniquely positioned to NOT be able to benefit from Montero because they already have players with declining skills at the two positions he might be able to fill – DH and 1B (he can't pitch, right?). This means that while the deal may have made sense for the Yankees, they weren't able to get equal value for him. I don't think this has been emphasized enough.

    I'm not necessarily against the deal but I think these things need to be said

    • Perhaps, but see Gershwind's post at TYA today. If Montero is a DH, he pretty much *has* to be great to approach the value of a #2 starter. So if both Montero and Pineda wind up being good but not great players, Pineda will easily be the more valuable of the two.

  9. One more thing – Larry could have mentioned a better example in relatively recent Yankee history where the Yankees gave up a hitting prospect for a pitching prospect. Didn't we trade away Mike Lowell for one Ed Yarnall?