Looking at the Pineda/Montero Deal In Light of Trend Toward Long-Term Extensions

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog; follow me on Twitter at@williamnyy23).

Because of Michael Pineda’s shoulder tendinitis, not to mention the corresponding decline in velocity that was either a manifestation or cause of the injury, two questions have become popular: have the Mariners already won the trade and, if allowed to take a mulligan, would/should the Yankees still pull the trigger?

Joey Votto is about to become the latest young star to sign a long-term extension. (Photo: Getty Images)

Before answering the latter question, it’s important to consider the proliferation of long-term contracts being signed before free agency. Just this afternoon, it was reported that Joey Votto and Matt Cain were close to signing extensions, continuing a trend that has seen many of the games best players locked-up in advance of hitting the open market. As a result, the quality of future free agent classes continues to dwindle, which places a greater emphasis on internal player development. In other words, the Yankees shouldn’t expect another offseason like 2009, when the team was able to fill two giant holes by signing a top pitcher (CC Sabathia) and position player (Mark Teixeira) at once.

How is this relevant to the Yankees’ trade of Jesus Montero for Pineda? Although both players are certainly capable of making positive contributions in 2012, the fact of the matter is the Yankees don’t need either one. However, pro-active development of young players is becoming increasingly essential for any team that wants to remain a perennial World Series contender. So, by trading an up-and-coming position player for a young pitcher, Brian Cashman was basically betting that, in the future, offense will be more plentiful (and perhaps cheaper) on the open market.

Because the Yankees currently have a great offense, it’s easy to argue that the trade of Montero was done from a position of strength. However, that’s an immediate-term reaction. Looking forward paints a different picture. Not only do the Yankees’ currently have two young starters in their rotation, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova, but two of their top prospects, Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos, are also pitchers. What’s more, over the next three years, the potential crop of free agent pitchers is much stronger than their position player counterparts.  Therefore, it seems as if the Yankees are in a better position to supply their future pitching needs, both from within and via free agency.

Although 20-year old catcher Gary Sanchez and 19-year old outfielder Mason Williams are both considered top prospects, the Yankees’ farm systems is widely believed to be barren in terms of near-ready offensive players. Considering the relatively weak class of position player free agents on the horizon (and the fact that some of the stronger ones happen to be Yankees already), Brian Cashman may have a tough time replacing some of the team’s aging vets. If that proves to be the case, Montero’s bat could winding up being more valuable, regardless of how well Pineda is pitching at the time.

At this stage, it’s impossible to compare Pineda and Montero head-to-head. However, it might not be too early to pass judgment on the underlying logic supporting the deal. Of course, a lot depends on variables like the development of the Yankees’ current stable of young pitchers, the likelihood that Montero will become an adequate defensive catcher, the team’s willingness to maintain a high payroll, and the continuation of the trend toward pre-free agency extensions. In general, however, if pitching will be at a greater premium in the future, then the trade for Pineda still makes sense. On the other hand, if offense becomes more difficult to obtain, holding onto Montero would have been wiser. If judgment must be passed at this early stage, that should be the basis for the discussion.

10 thoughts on “Looking at the Pineda/Montero Deal In Light of Trend Toward Long-Term Extensions

  1. The beginning sounds like you want to dismiss the fact the Yankees have those two (Sanchez and Williams) coming up, in order to make your point about not having much offense in the minors look better. Which is wrong. But even if you didn’t mean to do that, do the Yankees need more than those two?

    Here’s what I think the offense looks in the future –
    1B-Teixeira (signed through 2016)
    2B-Cano (I’m almost 100% sure he’ll be brought back)
    SS-Bichette Jr (not a certainty, but here or 3B is very possible)
    CF-Granderson (not as sure as Cano, but I can see him or Swish back)

    So the Yankees will be thinking about 3B and/or SS within the next few years. Montero doesn’t fit that. I can see the Yankees spending big on a 3B, although I admit the question of “who” is a good one.

    And minor league depth does not equal MLB stability. Banuelos may be close, but nobody else comes close to Pineda’s ceiling as a top of the rotation starter in MLB.

    • They weren’t dismissed at all. However, they are both very young and have only played in the very low minors. Bichette is in the same boat. I admire your optimism, but if the Yankees hit on just one of these, let alone three, they’ll be lucky.

      Also, I am not sure where I suggested minor league depth equaled stability, but I would contest your notion that no one comes close to Pineda’s ceiling. Some project Banuelos as a #1. How can you get higher than that. Who knows, if Hughes maintains his improvement, even he could rekindle his former number one status.

      • So apparently my optimism about Williams, Sanchez, and Bichette doing “it” in MLB is merely worth your admiration. But yours, and other’s, optimism about Manny Banuelos, as well as the other pitching prospects, is perfectly okay?

        Double standard, much?

        BTW, yes, when you mentioned the pitching depth in the minors as a reason it didn’t make sense to deal for Pineda, then I assume you see them as stability of some sort.

        • You’re joking, right? Your optimism comes from penciling in three 19/20 year olds with A-ball experience into the lineup. Meanwhile, Banuelos is 21 with AA/AAA experience.

          Also, at no point did I pencil him into the rotation. What I stated was he, Betances, Hughes, Nova and the superior list of 2012-14 FA pitchers provide the Yankees will a deeper list of future options than exists for position players.

          There is no double standard…and definitely no mention of pitching depth in the minors as a knock against the trade (in fact, there was no mention of pitching depth in the minors at all).

          Finally, I didn’t argue that the deal doesn’t make sense. Rather, I contradicted the conventional wisdom and created a framework for making the opposite argument.

          • No, my optimism about the offense is based on the fact that they’ve had one of, if not the best offense, for well over a decade. And by having many cost controlled options for the rotation, thus making their chances of failing in that area small, makes it possible to pay for hitting.

            BTW, I trust big-time FA hitters way more than big-time FA pitchers.

            Having players in the minors that could take over for a few players merely helps that optimism.

            Forgive me for confusing your article with others I’ve read recently that continue to tout minor league pitching depth. Seriously. That argument is really getting to me, though, as so many are saying that as if it guarantees future MLB success in that area.

    • Bichette SS??? I thought the consensus was that he might be able to stick at 3B but was probably ticketed for a corner OF spot.

      Having Williams, Sanchez and Bichette all pan out is just a little short of drawing to an inside straight. However, there are other guys who might well come into play (Zoilo Almonte, Ravel Santana) but all of these guys are so far away that it’s hard to count on any of them panning out.

      That said, Montero could only have made Sanchez expendable so he’s not a cure for Williams or Bichette not making it. So I would still have made the trade because Montero had no obvious place to play.

      One other point – I wouldn’t count on Gardner lasting much longer than another 2-3 years. The league has really caught up with him and I think he will probably regress further at the plate this season. So if either Williams or Bichette make the team it might well be as Gardner’s replacement rather than his complement.

      • The Bichette to SS thing was a mistake… good catch.

        I wasn’t trying to say that the Yankees can lean on those guys to come up in the future. My point was that they have as much reason to lean on them, as the team does to lean on all those arms. Because the offense is not going to need those other guys for 3 or so years anyway.

  2. In other words, the Yankees shouldn’t expect another offseason like 2009, when the team was able to fill two giant holes by signing a top pitcher (CC Sabathia) and position player (Mark Teixeira) at once.

    LOL….yeah, because it’s not like two free agents like pujols and wilson were signed this offseason. Oh wait….on second thought.

  3. I don’t think the trend to lock up ace pitchers before they get to free agency is a new trend. That’s been happening for a long time. Other than Cliff Lee and CC, how many true aces have hit the open market recently? The Yankees were so desperate for CC because there had been no great pitchers available for a long time. I think it could be a bit misleading to look at the crop of free agent pitchers compared to hitters over the next 3 years and draw any conclusions. I have not confirmed this by any kind of thorough analysis but I think it makes some logical sense that teams would wait longer to re-up with their pitchers because the injury risk is much greater than with position players.

    Secondly, I think you overstate the importance of the Yankees having more upper level pitching depth in their system. Don’t get me wrong – I love the depth of the system now and it is a new phenomenon for this team. However, being realistic, Phelps, Mitchell and Warren are back end starters or relievers for the Yankees at best. These are not guys that are valuable because they fill a need that can’t be filled by the free agent market. Betances has Ace ceiling but most don’t expect him to approach that ceiling. While some as you point out would say Banuelos has Ace ceiling, I think most project him more as a potential #2 or #3 starter with a higher degree of probability of reaching his potential. These prospects all have value whether they are retained or traded (and perhaps for help anywhere on the field), especially when the Yankees are trying to lower payroll. That said, it is really #1’s and #2’s that are hard to obtain on the free agent market and I don’t think many if any of these guys will reach that level. I think Pineda will.