The Yankee fan reaction to the big Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade has been somewhat mixed, both for emotional and analytical reasons. The instinctive response to trading a top prospect that you have been following for years (in my case, since he signed at age 16) are understandable. From the analytical side, there is hesitance given the huge risk (from the most pessimistic viewpoint) that the Yankees are taking by dealing their top positional prospect for a 2-pitch flyball pitcher who slowed down in the second half of the season, is coming from a pitcher-friendly ballpark, and is not yet through the injury nexus. And by dealing Montero, the Yankees are losing a cost-controlled bat with middle-of-the-order potential, a much-needed infusion of youth into an aging lineup, and a chance of providing additional value as a catcher.
Of course, there is plenty to like about the deal from the Yankees’ perspective. As discussed previously, Pineda is a rare and valuable commodity: a hard-throwing strikeout pitcher with good fastball command who will be under control for the next 5 years. Montero, for all his prodigious hitting talent, is still unproven at the major league level short of a small (and very successful) debut, and his ability to hold down a position other than DH (for the Yankees) long-term was in doubt. The Hector Noesi for Jose Campos swap is very intriguing as well, with the Yankees giving up some short-term certainty for some long-term upside.
However, there is another aspect of the trade that has been less discussed, which may become more important with some recent rumors. Namely, by finding what they hope to be a bona fide #2 starter (with ace potential) to go behind CC Sabathia, the Yankees lessened the need to spend big on a starter next offseason. After sitting out the underwhelming free agent market this offseason, many Yankee fans were looking forward to the 2012 free agent class, which is projected to include top tier arms such as Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, and Zack Greinke.
However, as we learned from Jered Weaver‘s extension with the Angels, more and more frontline starters seem to be content to re-up with their current teams, getting their life-changing money and security and eschewing the chaos of free agency. Hamels was considered the top target for next reason, and for good reason. However, there is a good chance that Hamels may never hit the market at all. Philly beat writer Bob Brookover recently tweeted (h/t Ben Kabak) that the Phillies will discuss a long-term extension with Hamels and his agent during spring training.
There is no guarantee that a deal gets done, but it at least indicates a willingness for Hamels to take an extension rather than hitting the market. There is also belief that the Giants will attempt to lock up Cain as well, leaving Zack Greinke (and the questions about handling NY pressure) as the top target. The Yankee front office has reportedly been mixed on Greinke, so if he were the top guy on the market, there is no guarantee the Yankees would be interested.
By acquiring Pineda, the Yankees have 2 legitimate top of the rotation starters anchoring the rotation for the next 5 years, giving the Yankees the opportunity to allocate their resources to other areas of need. This doesn’t necessarily rule out the pursuit of Hamels or Cain next offseason (particularly if they decide to stop caring about 2014 austerity), but it does eliminate some of the desperation that would add on an extra 2 years and $3 million annually to an already monster offer. In addition, it also protects the Yankees in case none of the desired options end up hitting the market, and forcing them to either go without a good rotation or get bent over on the trade market. Losing Montero is certainly a blow, but offense (particularly from the DH spot) is easier and less expensive to replace. In Pineda, the Yankees have a (future) ace in hand (to pair with CC Sabathia) rather than the two in the metaphorical bush of free agency.
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