Much to the chagrin of their fans, the New York Yankees had done relatively little so far this offseason. Despite a glaring need to improve their starting rotation, GM Brian Cashman had stood pat to this point; his only semi-major move re-signing Freddy Garcia. Frustration grew within rabid New York fans as they watched C.J. Wilson sign in Anaheim and groaned as the team refused to pay the steep price for Oakland starters Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill and seemed unlikely to meet the inordinately high asking price for Cubs starter Matt Garza. Questions started to be asked; who, outside of ace C.C. Sabathia, was going to win games for the Yankees in 2012? Surely a rotation that included Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, and Freddy Garcia wasn’t going to be enough.

Then comes last night.

First, the Yankees made a blockbuster trade sending uber hitting prospect Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners along with righthander Hector Noesi for young phenom pitcher Michael Pineda and fellow righthander Jose Campos. It’s not often that two of the game’s most promising young players are traded, let alone for one another. This is, without a doubt, the biggest trade so far this winter.

Not long after that trade was announced (hell, before it was even finalized), Cashman dropped another bomb on the quiet, unassuming baseball world by signing veteran Japanese righthander and former Dodger Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10-million deal.

In about an hour, at a time when nobody in the media traditionally pays any attention (Friday after 5pm is the one time you break news to the press when you don’t want much reaction), the New York Yankees added a tremendous amount of rotation depth for 2012 and beyond.

The trade makes a lot of sense on both sides.  The Mariners needed a middle-of-the-order bat and they seemed an odd fit for free agent first baseman Prince Fielder despite their apparent interest in him. So, instead of spending $150-million or more on a 27-year-old, they acquired a 22-year-old with six years of cheap control and seemingly endless offensive potential in Montero for the one thing they do have organizationally: young starting pitching. They also acquire a useful pitcher who projects in either the rotation or the bullpen immediately in Noesi.

The price was certainly steep. Pineda is, simply put, one of the best young pitchers in the game. Last year as a rookie, he struck out almost a quarter of the batters he faced while walking less than a third of that. He was better than AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, but lack of run support from the anemic Mariners led to a mediocre 9-10 record, more than likely costing him the award in the eyes of arcane voters.

Certainly the switch from pitcher-haven Safeco Field to Yankee Stadium (and to the powerhouse AL East) will be an adjustment, but it’s one that Pineda has more than enough talent to make with ease.

Many among fans and the media are quick to point out that Brian Cashman has the easiest job in baseball. After all, his team spends over $200-million on the Major League payroll alone; far more than any other franchise in baseball. That kind of money certainly allows one to hide expensive mistakes. But, in my opinion, Cashman is one of the very best GMs in the game. Not only do the Yankees consistently have one of the better farm systems in baseball, but Cashman always seems to pull the right strings. Lots of teams have money, few of them spend it with such success as the Yankees.

Yesterday was a prime example of the brilliance of Cashman. Yes, he gave up one of the most talented offensive young players in baseball, but a player who does not have a defensive position. He certainly has enough bat to be a career DH, but the Yankees are littered with aging stars from Alex Rodriguez to Derek Jeter to Mark Teixeira; and they need the DH spot relatively open to rotate those players in and out and keep them fresh.

Offense is not a problem in New York, the Yankees will score plenty of runs even without Montero. Run prevention on the other hand, was an increasing concern. Pineda and Kuroda address that concern and set the Yankees up for some interesting moves down the line. Pineda, four days from his 23rd birthday, has five more years of cheap service to give the Yankees; Kuroda comes in on an efficient one-year deal that gives the Yankees (yes, even they have a budget) the financial flexibility to go after Matt Cain, Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels who could all hit the free agent market next November.

The other player involved in the deal, Jose Campos, is just 19 and put up stellar numbers in Low-A last season as an 18-year-old in the Mariners’ system. He posted a ridiculous 6.54 K/BB ratio and allowed just four home runs in 81 innings. I’m no scout and would never claim to be, but it seems like there’s some potential there too, even if it is a long way off.

Another interesting angle this trade opens up that, to my knowledge, has not yet been talked about, is the Prince Fielder angle. The Mariners appear out on him now with the acquisition of Montero and the Yankees now have an opening in their lineup and the cash to splurge on Fielder. Is it possible that this trade has made the Yankees a player for the not-so-diminutive first baseman? Cashman, and his new-found ninja status, might just have thrown his hat into the ring.

Comments (11)

  1. I wish you were home last night. I was muttering shit under my breathe the whole time I was shoveling.

    “Pineda in the fucking East”
    “Fucking Cashman”
    “Where were you on that AA?”

    Stuff like that. I imagine it would have been scary and entertaining to watch.

  2. I imagine AA was very much in on that if the Mariners made it at all known Pineda was available. They don’t really have a Jesus Montero kicking around to get him though.

  3. Can you go into more detail into why you hold Cashman as a very good GM? I’m not disagreeing with you – or agreeing, for that matter. But how are you teasing out excellence on his part in a manner that is independent from the luxurious position that he sits in. Yes, the Yankees have long had a strong farm system, but they’re also a team that doesn’t need to worry about paying significantly above slot in drafts, so even with a #22 pick they can grab a player that would have gone much earlier if the earlier teams were willing to go 1M above slot.

    They’re also relatively able to keep their farm system in-tact because, given their nearly endless money supply, more often than most teams they don’t have to choose between the present and the future – they’ don’t have to trade big prospects to get a big boost for the coming season, as they can afford to just buy that player and keep their prospect.

    In terms of high-risk, high-cost signings that just appears to have been irresponsible, AJ Burnett. And there’s no way that a less crazy rich team could have afforded to sign Soriano as their set-up guy. Talk about an expensive luxury.

    And then there are the massive contracts, especially A-Rod. Biggest contracts of all time. Was that second contract a smart move for them, or simply one that didn’t have to be particularly smart/economical, because money was nearly endlessly available? I figure that it does make sense for the Yanks to spend more than other teams would spend as they’ve got a massive market. But still…

    I know this comment is one-sided. Even with lots of money and my selecting out a few questionable signings, it takes solid baseball acumen to pick out which prospects are the ones to pick and pay above slot, etc.. But if you could go into a bit of detail – a whole post on it might even be worthwhile and a good source of hits – on how Brian Cashman has demonstrated top-level GM skills, I’d be very interested in reading it.

    Love the blog, btw.

    -Ron

  4. not really clear on why you say in one breath the yanks didn’t need montero because they need to rotate a-rod, tex and jeter through the dh spot, and then in the next breath that they now have an opening that they could fill with prince fielder for the next 6-8 years?

    • The ability to rotate Fielder in at 1B gives them some flexibility. Montero’s ability to play 1B was pure speculation. That, and Teixeira’s contract is done in three years; I could’ve made that clearer, I suppose

  5. How can you say that Pineda is better than Hellickson?

    You suggest that Hellickson won ROY over Pineda because of W’s, but have you looked at their splits? Hellickson was much better for much longer against much tougher lineups. Pineda was a great pickup for the Yankees, but he doesn’t seem to be that great away from Safeco.

    If Pineda can get better and pitch stronger throughout a whole year, this could be huge for the Yankees, but right now his splits suggest that he’s going to struggle in the AL East and I suspect he may find Yankee Stadium to not be nearly as friendly as Safeco.

    This year Pineda will win games and strike batters out, but there’s no way his ERA is staying south of 4. If he keeps it under 4.5 it will be a big year for him. Hellickson should be a full run better per 9.

    • As it happens, Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs ,just wrote about his ERA splits and how they are probably overblown. You can’t just look at ERA and deduce that he’s going to be way worse at Yankee Stadium. Also, keep in mind that he’s just 23. He’s probably going to get better.

      Hellickson, meanwhile is two years older and posted MUCH worse peripheral and advanced numbers than Pineda. Look beyond wins and ERA…

      Hellickson:
      5.57 K/9, 3.43 BB/9, 1.00 HR/9, 4.72 xFIP, 4.78 SIERA, 4.49 tERA

      Pineda:
      9.11 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 0.95 HR/9, 3.53 xFIP, 3.36 SIERA, 3.42 tERA

      By almost every account that matters Pineda was much better. I will (and did) acknowledge that the move to the AL East would be an adjustment for him, but I think that move is being overstated a little by butt-hurt New York beat writers who just want to complain about anything.

      • ERA+ tells a completely different story. Which is why Hellckson deserved to win the ROY imo. Pineda had an ERA+ of 103. Barely above average when all was said and done. Hellickson had an ERA+ of 126. ERA+ is a much better reflection of what was actually produced on the field. Pineda fell off a cliff in the 2nd half while Hellickson got stronger

        FIP is a great predictor and that`s about all it`s good for since it`s clearly biased towards strikeout pitchers and home run rates. It doesn`t reward what actually takes place on the field with regards to how many home runs were allowed. It rewards what would have happened in an hypothetical situation. It`s nice to say lets remove the defense but the fact is, the defense is there and smart pitchers use it to their advantage. It`s no different than a hitter getting lucky on a some bloop hits or being lucky enough to take advantage of a poor outfield defense and stretch a single into a double. Hitters aren`t penalized like pitchers are when it comes to hypothetical situations.

        A perfect example of the huge flaws in FIP and to fWAR which is based largely on FIP is the 2011 seasons of RIcky Romero (2.9 fWAR) and Brandon Morrow (3.4 fWAR). If you never watched a game all season and just looked at the advanced metrics you`d say Morrow clearly had the better season and fWAR rewarded him accordingly. Those stats hardly measure up to what actually happened by a long shot. rWAR on the other hand had Romero at 5.9 and Morrow at 1.4. ERA+ had an equally large gap with Romero at 146 and Morrow at a below average 90.

        Don`t get me wrong I do like and appreciate stats like FIP and SIERA but they all have various flaws but are useful for limited situations. At the end of the day the results are the results. Defense and luck are all components of the game.

        Às for who is better or might get better in the future, I`d agree and say Pineda definitely has more upside but again that doesn`t change the fact that Hellickson had the better season.

  6. Once again, the Yankees remind the wannabe’s that you have to pay to play. Jays just fell a little farther off the pace.

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