Let me preface this article by introducing yet another Guest Poster, my good friend Phil Smeraldo. Phil is the most educated Mariners fan I know and I gave him full reigns to decide the merit of the Pineda trade. Read it and weep.
On Friday January 13th the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees agreed to a trade in principle that shocked the baseball world. The Seattle Mariners sent All-Star and soon to be second year pitcher Michael Pineda and 19 year old Jose Campos to the New York Yankees for highly touted prospect Jesus Montero and 24 year old Hector Noesi. From everything I have been reading typical fan reaction to this trade from the Mariners perspective has by and large been negative. Many who just casually follow the Mariners see this as just another trade in a long line of trading upper tier talent for unproven prospects that generally do not pan out. These fans will point to trades such as moving Cliff Lee, Erik Bedard, Doug Fister, JJ Putz, and many more. My goal in this post is to break down not only why this is a good, if not great trade for the Mariners, but also the process of analytically examining a trade, taking emotions out of the mix, and boiling it down to just pure numbers and why the Mariners come out ahead in this trade.
So without further ado, lets take a look at what is flying into the Emerald city and what is leaving.
What are we losing?
The big departure from Seattle in this trade is clearly the dominating stature of the 6 foot 7 inch mammoth of a man that is Big Mike Pineda, or as Mariner legend Dave Niehaus so eloquently named him “Diabolical!” Checking in at an imposing 260 pounds, the young Dominican was signed as an amateur free agent by the Seattle Mariners in 2005. Pineda’s development through the minor leagues was nothing short of scary (in more than one way). In 3 out of Pineda’s 4 Minor league seasons he posted Strike Out Rates of over 9 per 9 innings, the true sign of a dominant pitcher. Although ERA is not a great indicator of pitching success he also checked in with a very respectable career ERA in the minors, never having one over 4 in any complete minor league season.
Unlike other power pitchers, Michael Pineda is regarded so highly not because of his ability to blow batters away, many pitchers are able to do this, but instead because of his ability to command the strike zone so well, and show so much polish so young in his career. Pineda walked only 55 batters in 171 innings pitched in his rookie campaign. This is almost unheard of for a rookie pitcher of any caliber, much less one that can clock it up to 98 MPH. There is no doubt that Michael Pineda is a special talent, and at this point in his career he can already be considered a good #3 starter on a playoff caliber team, and he still has a lot of room to grow, if everything breaks right for Michael Pineda, he could be mentioned as a Cy Young caliber pitcher at the peak of his career, however this is a huge if. As I said before, Michael Pineda’s minor league career was not only scary good, but also just plain scary. Michael had a couple instances where he could not pitch due to elbow pain, and one big instance where he was shelved for almost the whole 2009 season with two separate stints on the DL with elbow tightness. Pitchers with Pineda’s skill set are the by and far the riskiest and most likely never to pan out due to injury. (See Champman, Aroldis) Pitchers are much more volatile than hitters, and Pineda staying healthy is no sure thing by any stretch. This is not Pineda’s only bugaboo either. There is no question Pineda has an upper tier major league fastball, and a slider that keeps hitters awake at night. This would be wonderful if Pineda were to be a closer (which we know is much less valuable than a starting pitcher), however if Pineda wants to reach maximum value, he is going to need to develop a third pitch, there is just no way around this fact. Starting pitchers cannot succeed in this league with only 2 pitches, it will not happen. Pineda spent his rookie year trying to develop some semblance of a respectable changeup, however he flashed that change-up in just 3 out of every 100 pitches. I am sorry for those who think Michael Pineda is an ace right now, but an ace does not only throw a change-up 3 out of every 100 pitches. Michael Pineda has a boatload of potential, but do not fool yourself into thinking by any means, Michael Pineda is a polished pitcher, or anything even close. Pineda had an ERA of 2.92 in the Pitcher Friendly park of Safeco, and 4.40 ERA away, and now he is moving to the tin can that is New Yankee Stadium, expect a mixed bag from Young Michael. Michael Pineda’s stats were inflated by Safeco much the way Jarrod Washburn’s were, the only reason Pineda got more notoriety was the fact he could nearly hit triple digits. Guys with skillsets like Pineda tend to get vastly overrated.
Ill give a shorter review on Jose Campos because odds are, most of you don’t care because “OHH MY GAHD MICHAEL PINEDA IS A YANKEEE”
Campos however deserves a little respect and attention, in my estimation Campos was slated to be the 6th best prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization ranking behind Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Nick Franklin, and Vinnie Catricala. Jose Campos is a big Right Hander, measuring at 6 feet 4 and 195 pounds. Campos pumps his fastball in the low to mid 90s with pretty decent control at only 19 years of age. He shows pretty decent secondary stuff and has considerable polish for only being 19 years of age. He doesn’t have the upside or massive frame that Pineda did at his age, but if everything breaks right for Mr. Campos he could reach a ceiling of a very serviceable number 2 pitcher. But again, he is only 19 years old and at least 3 to 4 years away from the majors, and as I have said before and will say a million more times, with the volatility in pitching success coming through the minors, it is just as likely we never see Jose Campos in a major league uniform. I am high on Campos; he has a smooth repeatable delivery, which will lead to consistency in his off-speed stuff and his control. He could end up being just as valuable a loss to the Mariners as Michael Pineda, or his arm could fall off tomorrow, who knows? That is the nature of Prospects.
Now the Fun Stuff: The New Toys The Mariners Will be Playing With
Jesus Montero (Pronounced Hey-Zeus, but you might as well call him Jesus, because he will be the Messiah of this lackluster Mariner offense)
Montero is clearly the headliner in the 4-player deal. Mariner’s fans throughout the last couple of years have clamored for offense, and now it seems the Mariners have just traded for the best hitter under 23 years old not named Bryce Harper and the fans still find a reason to bitch. Montero is an absolute stud at the plate, he has power to all fields, has an extremely polished approach at the plate, can hit for contact and for power. It would not be unbelievable to believe at his peak, Montero could hit 40 Homeruns and bat .330. No scout has ever questioned Montero’s ability to hit the hell out of a baseball, he will do that without a doubt, and he will do it with the frequency of an All-Star. This is the reason he was ranked as Baseballs 6th best prospect just last year by Baseball Prospectus, and he would have been ranked higher if it hadn’t been for his… DEFENSE. This is Montero’s greatest flaw as a baseball player. Jesus Montero is a catcher, and a catcher who can hit at even a league average level is something you do not see every day. Montero has the bat that could play at any position on the field, and could play there very well. Buster Olney has compared Montero to the likes of Miguel Cabrera or an Edgar Martinez with more power. However if Montero were able to stick at catcher, it is by far where his bat will be the most valuable. Can you remember a catcher in recent history that has slugged 40 homeruns? Maybe just Mike Piazza. The only question is if he sticks as a backstop. He has had some trouble blocking balls, and his big frame and lethargic pop times are the reason he has an atrocious 23% Caught Stealing rate. Many scouts say he will eventually have to move from Catcher, which will hurt his value. However the Mariners see the 22-year-old Venezuelan behind the dish for years to come. Being cost controlled for the next six years under club control is a wondrous thing. The Mariners haven’t had an average catcher since Dan Wilson, and really with the exception of a fringy prospect in Tyler Marlette there is nothing of note in the pipeline. Jesus Montero needs to catch 100 games a season, he just needs to. IF and that’s a huge IF, then this trade goes from average to great. If the Mariners found both a catcher, and a middle of the order power bat for the next 6 years you cannot deny that is worth giving up Pineda. This was a great fit for the Mariners, and the boys in blue had eyed Montero ever since the Cliff Lee trade that never was.
Easily the most underrated aspect of this whole trade, and where I believe the Mariners got the most value was in the vastly underrated Hector Noesi. Noesi has never been on Baseball Prospectus top 100 lists and his fastball is not extraordinary clocking in at 92.6 MPH (although reports are saying in his winter leagues he has significantly improved his velocity,) his off-speed stuff is decent, but by no means dominant. What makes me so high on Hector Noesi? 3 Things
- He looks like Kermit from the Muppets
- Control, Control, Control
- His ability to miss Bats
Lets look at some other pitchers who have similar contact rates to Hector Noesi
Jered Weaver: 79.5
Scott Baker: 79.7%
Philip Humber: 79.8%
C.J. Wilson: 79.8%
Felix Hernandez: 80.1%
Jon Lester: 80.1%
Edwin Jackson: 80.4%
Trevor Cahill: 80.5%
(Thank you to Dave Cameron at USSM)
Now I am not saying this alone is going to make Noesi turn into one of the guys on this list, but Noesi’s skill set is one that is constantly overlooked and underrated. Noesi has great command of his pitches. In six seasons in the minor leagues he averaged a tick under 2 batters walked through nine innings. That’s just cray! While he never struck out a ton of guys either, his K/BB ratio was still very good. You know who else that sounds like? Doug Fister! And I love me some Fister. While Noesi may not make up for Michael Pineda, he is going to be much more of an asset to this team than many people think, Noesi was not just some throw in scrub, by the end of the season we could see him as this teams #3 starter. He doesn’t have the upside of Michael Pineda or Jose Campos but he does have a much higher floor, Noesi is going to be a serviceable if not great addition to this team. And putting him in Safeco field it would be realistic to assume he posts an ERA under 3.50, much more than what Pineda will do in New York. This does not mean I am saying Noesi has more potential or will be better than Michael Pineda, saying that would be completely asinine. All I am saying is we might have gotten Doug Fister 2.0 in Hector Noesi, and that sounds like some sweet gravy to me. Noesi had a strong minor league track record, and he has backed this up with his short stint in the majors. There are numerous pitchers in the majors who have had All Star seasons with the same skills Noesi has, add that all up, and just putting the “Back end starter” label on him does him absolutely no justice.
Conclusion On Why This Trade Was Great For The Mariners
It seems all too often that I hear Mariners fans clamoring that we need a huge power bat. Listen to all these morons clamoring for Prince Fielder. Blissfully unaware that he will break down after three years and more than likely stuck with 300 pounds of waste for the next 5. Open your eyes guys! We just got our Middle of The Order Bat, and one that’s going to be a monster for the next 10 years. We traded from a surplus of young pitching talent (Paxton, Walker, Hultzen, Ramirez) in order to aquire this. And guess what? We still have loads of money to fill other holes such as third base. This is the kind of move winning organizations make, you trade from your surplus to add to your weakness. I love Pineda just as much as anybody else and it hurts to see a young great homegrown talent leave, but what we are getting in return is a great package. As always this is a gamble, Pineda could end up being a perennial Cy Young contender and Montero could flame out of the league. However more than likely, this ends up being a trade the Mariners end up loving, so no matter what the result ends up being, I loved the process.