At the end of the day, I put most of the blame for this on Brian Cashman. It was Cashman who threw down the gauntlet in the immediate aftermath of the trade that brought Pineda to town, declaring that trading away a 22 year old with 69 career plate appearances who will probably wind up being a pure DH sooner rather than later for a 23 year old big-bodied pitcher who struck out over a batter per inning in 171 innings as a rookie would be an outright mistake if said pitcher didn’t add another pitch to the electric fastball-slider combination that had already established him as a legitimate top of the rotation starter in the big leagues. Then, of course, Joe Girardi compounded that by pointedly declaring that only C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, who could well be the team’s fourth best starter, had guaranteed rotation spots, pointedly implying that Pineda might not be ticketed to the major league rotation despite his accomplishments last season. And while I can understand what appears to have been a desire to manage expectations for what to expect their new pitcher, in retrospect it’s pretty clear that the Yankees’ brain trust went too far in selling their message, and instead put Pineda in the epitome of a no-win situation.
After all, if Pineda’s impressive 2011 season wasn’t enough to earn him a regular spot in the big leagues, what would be? What could Pineda realistically do this spring that would be more impressive than what he did with Seattle last year, especially in the early weeks of the exhibition schedule? The answer, of course, is nothing, especially as most big leaguers are using this time to get their legs under them, and doubly so given that the message Pineda got coming into camp was that he needed to work on developing a new pitch, not bring his best stuff and compete for a starting job. Perhaps the Yankees were more clear in private communications with Pineda, but their public statements had been nothing but contradictory and, frankly, denigrating of Pineda, and set the media up for creating a spring narrative that has morphed to the point that some people have actually decided that Ivan Nova has been a more successful major league pitcher than Pineda has been.
For his part, Cashman appears to be dialing it back now, noting on Sunday that Pineda’s arsenal of pitches is plenty good enough for him to survive, and even thrive, with somewhat reduced velocity on his fastball. But those comments got very little notice outside of that bit of ESPN cross promotion, because media narratives are incredibly hard to reverse once they set, and right now the narrative is that Pineda is competing for a job in spring and didn’t bring his best stuff. That’s not all Cashman’s fault by any means, but he deserves a hefty portion of the blame, as his quixotic desire to manage the story the New York press tells has blown up in his face. Big time.