Revisiting the blockbuster trade that wasn’t

In January before the 2012 season the Yankees went all-in on their rotation. They announced the signing of free-agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, a move that was largely expected, and, in bigger news, they announced they had acquired Michael Pineda in exchange for Jesus Montero. Yankee fans knew Montero well. For several seasons he was heralded as the middle of the order bat waiting in the farm system for his chance to impact the Yankees. All of baseball knew Pineda, who had just come off a successful, if uneven, rookie season. The trade was controversial. Montero had raked in his cup of coffee the year prior, but it was clear the Yankees wanted to improve the team through the rotation.

Of course the trade had exactly zero impact on the Yankee season. Pineda suffered a career threatening injury in spring training and will be back in the beginning of the 2013 season at the earliest. Montero, meanwhile, struggled in Seattle. After hitting .328/.406/.590 over an exciting 69 plate appearances with the Yankees in 2011, Montero managed a measly .260/.298/.386 over a full season with the Mariners. His power fell off a cliff, managing just a .126 ISO and only 15 homers. Net total, if fWAR is a reliable estimate, the Yankees got the better half of the deal. Pineda gave the Bombers zero fWAR, but Montero measures as a drag on the 2012 M’s, giving them -0.2 fWAR.

No one knows if Montero would have put together such a bad season if he’d stayed in Pinstripes. The Yankee lineup certainly would have offered him more protection and perhaps a better opportunity to develop further as a hitter. Then again, it was also possible that a full season in the big leagues would have exposed him as needing more development no matter what uniform he wore. The net result was that the Yankees got a pass on trading the team’s best offensive prospect since Derek Jeter, for at least one season. Neither team got what it wanted. Pineda’s injury is such that there is a legitimate risk he won’t have much of an impact on the Yankees in 2013 either. If Montero turns into an average hitter at least then the assessment of the trade will suddenly favor the Mariners.

8 thoughts on “Revisiting the blockbuster trade that wasn’t

  1. Montero had a good rookie season BA, HR, and RBI-wise as I’ll take .260 BA, 15 HR, and 62 RBI from a rookie making the minimum salary any day of the week. I think he could’ve posted 20 HR or one more HR than 2012 Ibanez posted with 80 RBI (18 more RBI than 2012 Ibanez) had he played for the 2012 Yanks. Montero needs to get on base more and hit 5-8 more HR than he did last season in 2013. If he could post the same BA with a .350 OBP (.052 improvement), 20 HR (5 HR improvement), and 80 RBI (18 RBI improvement), he’d be an ideal #8 slot hitting DH at a bargain-basement price. He’d basically be 2012 Ibanez with better BA and OBP, one more HR, and 18 more RBI for less than Ibanez’s 2012 salary.

    His 2012 is something for him to build on. If he can’t build on it, he’ll be demoted to AAA or traded as all he can do at this time is DH as he’s blocked at catcher by John Jaso and Jaso’s awesome .394 OBP in 2012. I’ve read Seattle press talking about possibly moving Montero to firstbase, but Justin Smoak is the firstbaseman, has experience there unlike Montero, is only 25 thus like Montero too young to be a full-time DH, too, and while he had a dreadful 2012 slashline, he smacked 19 HR so he is malleable. I doubt the Ms want to risk putting Montero at 1B and him sucking there defensively and it affecting him at the plate and Smoak struggling because he’s not playing the field. Both guys had rough 2012s outside of hitting homeruns (35 HR combined) and the last thing they need is to play where they shouldn’t to further compound their hittng woes.

    Also remember the Mariners gave up prime Cliff Lee to acquire Smoak, a far greater amount to give up than who they gave up to get Montero (Pineda and Campos), so they have a big interest in getting Smoak going.

    • First of all, .260/.298/.386 is bloody terrible. There’s not enough lipstick in the world to slap on that pig: It’s a lousy season, especially after such a promising 2011. And I’m not precisely sure how he’s supposed to “post the same BA with a .350 OBP (.052 improvement), 20 HR (5 HR improvement)” – hitting doesn’t work that way – but it hardly matters. GM’s don’t trade a young, cost-controlled power pitcher for an “ideal #8 hitter.” At least not if they don’t want to get fired. A sub-300 OBP and a WAR less than replacement level is awful. In fact, Montero was the 7th WORST player by WAR in the majors last year. (Incidentally, Smoak was the 6th worst.)

      Comparing the Montero trade to the Smoak trade is equally inane. Pineda was a significantly more valuable asset than Cliff Lee because Pineda had more years of team control. Lee was under team control for only a half-season left on his deal when he was traded. Though the truth is I don’t see how Smoak sucking (and oh yes, he’s sucked – he’s got a cumulative WAR of exactly ZERO over the past three years) impacts Montero at all.

  2. In Montero’s defense, the Mariners have as bad a reputation in helping young hitters as the Yankees have at helping young starting pitchers. I feel comfortable in saying that Montero would have had a better year for three main reasons:

    Reason 1: Montero would be in a park that favors his opposite field hitting style, instead of being in one that causes far more problems

    Reason 2: Montero would be under the tutelage of an entire roster of players who at one time or another, have been considered elite and/or the best hitters at their positions.

    Reason 3: Yankees MO has always been patience, they would have drilled that into his head like they did Robbie (and Considering Montero wasn’t as big a hacker as robbie was coming up it probably would have helped keep him in check)

  3. Pineda was possibly damaged goods when sent to the Yankees. The team did not procure a contrast MRI, before the trade, the most accurate image to detect small labrum tears. His drop off during the second half of the 2011 season, his quick collapse during early spring training and lack of velocity early on should make us all wonder if the Yankees did in fact receive damaged goods.

  4. From what I’ve seen, park adjustments are usually well short of what the actual park effect is–all too often OPS+, etc. show hitters having better seasons in hitter’s parks and pitchers doing better in pitcher’s parks.
    The fact that he would have been hitting in Yankee stadium with his power being to right field instead of one of the better pitcher’s parks in baseball would have made a huge difference in things like ISO and total HRs. Does the OP really believe he had negative value, and that even if Pineda never pitches for the Yankees that they got the better of the deal?
    I don’t think the Yankees ‘get a pass’ for making the trade. It’s very likely Montero is going to be a great hitter. It’s also very likely Pineda’s value never comes close. A lot of us called it a stupid trade at the time, and nothing has happened since to change that assessment.

  5. Would anyone say Montero is done improving? Doubtful. Meanwhile, Pineda still may turn out to be a solid pitcher for many years to come. Both can flop…only time will tell.

  6. It was a sound trade for both teams.

    Seattle really needed a hitter as good as Montero will soon prove himself to be, particularly a right-handed batter with power to right-center..

    …and the Yankees weren’t going to have a spot for a guy who fields well enough to start only at DH. There was no way that the Yankees could expect to receive max utility from him while having Rodriquez and Jeter.

    Pineda was a great return in trade…..

  7. I think the Yankees always intended to trade Montero for pitching – they actually did trade him for Cliff Lee before that deal fell apart and they offered him to the Jays for Roy Halladay. Pineda looked to be the kind of young pitcher the Yankees rarely get a shot to draft (yes, I know Pineda was an international free agent) so it’s not too hard to see how the deal appealed to them. I think it’s just bad luck that Pineda got injured although I am sympathetic to the viewpoint that the Yankees mishandled him after the trade by not getting him off Seattle’s lax post-season conditioning program and then putting pressure on him early in spring training.