This is something of a response to Mike’s piece on Monday, so if you haven’t read it already I encourage you to do so. This is an area that I’ve written about in the past, and in my view I think he and some of my fellow TYA writers miss the big picture on this topic. This is an off season where some top flight pitching should be available, and you’ll have to give something good in order to get something good. Montero as a DH simply means he doesn’t have as much value to the Yankees as he does to another team that could play him everyday at Catcher or (more likely) his eventual home at 1B. Let’s put a few things on the table. We all know the Yanks love Russell Martin and Tex isn’t going anywhere. So the only long term place for him to get regular ABs is at DH.
Now lets look at the 2011 leaders in WAR at DH
Next the 2011 leaders in WAR at 1B
A top flight DH is worth 3-4 WAR annually. A top flight 1B is worth 5-7 WAR. If Jesus can be just average defensively at either Catcher (unlikely) or 1B (more likely) then his bat could make him a very solid asset. If he’s another Victor Martinez and can play a little of both, albeit not that well, he’s still valuable. V-Mart has been a 3-5 win player for most of his career.
Now let’s say a team has a 5+ WAR pitcher who’s contract is expiring that they can’t re-sign. The Yanks have a desperate need for that asset, and will be better off as a team having that pitcher on their roster as opposed to Montero. Montero’s a square peg on the Yankee roster, so if you use him to fill a need it maximizes his value to the Yankees and the team who trades for him in the deal. That’s what trades are all about in an ideal sense. By contrast, he would be wasting away at DH, losing anywhere from 2-3 WAR per year in value even if he was among the best in the game, which frankly is a big assumption.
Now let’s look at next year’s FA list. It’s loaded with top flight pitchers. As we saw with Johan Santana, Zach Grienke and others the trend in baseball is to deal a pitcher that you think you can’t sign a year before their deal expires to maximize their trade value. Some notable names are that could become available this offseason are Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Shaun Marcum, Zach Grienke, John Danks, Dan Haren, James Shields and Jonathan Sanchez. What’s more, all are between the ages of 27 and 31 this coming season. I’m sure we all like some more than others for varying reasons and may or may not be willing to include Jesus for some and not others. But understand there will be plenty of competition for good pitching if/when one becomes available. The Royals have stated they will be shopping for a starter and their farm system is considered to be among the best in the game. If the Ranger lose Wilson, they’ll be shopping for a starter as well and have a farm system on par with the Royals.
One counter argument I’ve heard is that with Alex and Derek aging the Yanks need a young, middle of the order type bat to replace their declining production. As the 2011 season showed, the Yanks already have that in Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. Cano is already the best pure hitter on the team. Grandy would be a #3 or #5 anywhere but on the Yanks. A 3-4-5 of Grandy-Cano-Tex is one of the best in the game, and more than enough to supply the team with plenty of production going forward. The transition away from Alex has already happened. I suppose one could argue you never have enough hitting. But if you value hitting over pitching, which is the case presented here, then you’re ignoring the biggest need on the team. The 2012 Yankees need a #1 or 2 starter more than they need a DH, especially since it appears Alex will be spending more time there going forward.
As Mike pointed out in his Monday piece, don’t be seduced by Montero’s September numbers. He was used very carefully in situations where they knew he could be successful. When playing everyday, facing tough righties on a nightly basis he’s not going to wOBA .421. I’m not saying he won’t hit, most scouts and the Yanks think he will. But he will come down to Earth. I suspect that had he played everyday with the Yanks, his warts would have shown and the prospect of dealing him would go down more smoothly. I also think we should tread very carefully on assuming Montero will be an elite bat. He’s had a grand total of 68 carefully selected PAs in his young career. He struggled at times in the minors, bored or not. He hasn’t even had enough time in the majors to lose his prospect status. Assuming elite production from Mr Montero is a leap that in my view displays a gross lack of perspective. Look at what happened to Jason Heyward this year. Jack Z (who has an extensive background in player development) chose Justin Smoak over Montero, and Smoak has been anything but elite thus far. Never forget that even the top 1-20 prospects have a bust rate of roughly 1 in 3, and most who do pan out are just average producers at the MLB level. Odds are 2-1 against being elite. I’ll take proven MLB production over those odds any day of the week, and so will any smart GM. That’s why it will cost more than just Montero to land a high end starter.
I know this is going to come across as harsh to many fans who have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the best prospect the Yanks have had in years. But putting myself in the shoes of the Yankee GM, I think this is one of the easier decisions I’d have to make this off season. There should be numerous high end starters available this winter, and Jesus Montero should, and I think will, be on the table.
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