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.