Joel Sherman wrote an interesting blog post about Jesus Montero yesterday that I thought was worthy of some dissection. There are some interesting points made, but I find myself disagreeing with the conclusion overall.
Sherman begins by referring to recent reports from scouts who have seen Montero catch in spring training, and have been less than impressed
I asked four scouts independently about Montero’s defense the past few days, and none was enthused about his chances to stay a catcher long term.
One scout went this far: “No matter how many different ways you ask, I don’t see a catcher. Just because you have shin guards and a mask, that doesn’t make you a catcher.”
Sherman then argues that these negative scouting reports are negatively affecting trade value of Jesus Montero, and by keeping him at catcher longer, the Yankees are only hurting his value further. Sherman sees this situation as somewhat analogous to the saga of Joba Chamberlain, who regressed from an untouchable future ace to maybe the 3rd or 4th best relief pitcher on his own team.
I don’t quite see the two as analogous situations, and I’m not sure the trade value argument is really relevant here. For one, reports on Montero’s defense were pretty bad already, and the only people consistently saying that he would be able to catch in the big leagues were the Yankee organization and a few scouts/writers (Frank Piliere and John Manuel most notably). However, the mainstream scouting community seemed to be pretty decided that Montero was not a future catcher, and I would imagine that this perception has been with Montero for years, and already affected his trade value (as Sherman points out, this perception likely cost the Yankees Cliff Lee in the non-trade with Seattle). I really don’t think that anyone has changed their mind on Montero’s defensive capabilities during spring training.
As for the Joba comparison, they are almost opposites rather than comparable situations. Joba is being used as a reliever even though many people outside the Yankee organization believe he has a chance to become a good starter (much more valuable than a lockdown reliever). By contrast, the Yankees are using Montero in the position that would provide the most value (catcher) while outside observers are insisting that he will not be able to handle the position.
With Joba , his valuation by other teams seems to exceed the Yankees’ valuation of him, while with Montero, the Yankees’ valuation seems to be higher than that of other teams. It is for this reason that I would argue that trading Montero is not a good idea if the organization truly believes that he is going to be able to catch long-term. His perceived value to other teams is largely as a future 1b/DH, but if the Yankees trust him to fill the catcher position, he will be more valuable to them than any return he could bring back in a trade.
For the Yankees, I don’t think maximizing trade value is as important as finding impact bats who can fill premium defensive positions. If they hurt Montero’s trade value by trying him out at a position that will be more valuable to the major league club, then it is worth the risk. And besides, even if Montero does ultimately fail to stick behind the plate, he’ll be a cost-controlled DH option for years to come who should put up very valuable production.
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