Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Yankees are the AL East Favorites

In one day the Yankees turned a very quiet offseason into one that addressed their biggest weakness, by trading for Mariners starting pitcher Michael Pineda and signing Hiroki Kuroda.  While the Yankees got by last year with major contributions from Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and Ivan Nova, and at least a lot of innings from AJ Burnett, if nothing else, none of those three could really be considered a real #2 or #3 starter behind Sabathia.

There have already been many reactions to the deal, but I thought I'd weigh in.  The Yankees rotation goes from Sabathia and a lot of question marks to a very solid top three with Sabathia, Kuroda, and Pineda.  Those last two spots are up for grabs, with 2011 starters Nova and Garcia in the fold and Hughes trying to bounce back from an injury plagued 2011.  AJ Burnett is much more palatable as a 4th or 5th starter, as well, but it wouldn't shock me to have the Yankees pay his way out of town just to get him out of town now.  At only 23 and having put up a season where he struck out better than a batter per inning, good for second in the AL.  On top of that, Pineda is under team control for a full five years, most of which he'll be underpaid relative to his performance.  Expect Pineda's ERA to bump up though; he is switching from having half his starts in Safeco to Yankee stadium.  Especially as a right hander who has a low ground ball percentage (35% in 2011), we can expect Pineda to give up a lot more home runs - the Yankee Stadium park factor for left handed home runs was 143 (normalized to 100, or 43% higher than normal) where Safeco is fairly neutral 95.   The Yankees managed to add a young, cost controlled starter who has ace potential, which is nearly impossible to do.  They even received an interesting prospect in the hard throwing Jose Campos.  John Sickels had Campos pegged as the Mariners' #5 prospect, writing "We need to see him at higher levels and his secondary stuff needs refinement, but his upside is very high, he throws hard, and already throws strikes."  It isn't common to see the team getting the established player get the lottery ticket, so that is a very nice addition for the Yankees.

The cost was substantial - the Yankees' #1 prospect Jesus Montero and their most MLB ready pitching prospect Hector Noesi.  The value on the Mariners' end hinges on whether or not Montero can stick at catcher. If he can stay behind the plate, Montero's bat is truly special.  There seems to be a swing back towards tolerating mediocre to poor defense behind the plate again, especially given how successful the Rangers were with Mike Napoli last year.  If he ends up at DH, Montero's ceiling is probably Edgar Martinez-light.  Given his swing and approach, Montero seemed like a player who could hit .300/.400/.500 forever, just as Martinez did.  Hector Noesi has put up excellent minor league numbers, but he's always been a polished pitcher who doesn't have spectacular stuff.  That may very well play out well in Seattle, but he doesn't have much in terms of upside and is limited to being a second division starter.

From the Mariners' perspective, they finally get the player they nearly traded for at the deadline in 2010 for Cliff Lee.  Given how much Smoak has struggled to produce at the major league level (but he's in the best shape of his life!), you have to wonder where the Mariners would be with Pineda, Felix Hernandez, and Montero, but that is with the benefit of hindsight.  Assuming that Montero can stick at catcher, the Mariners have a nice core of players in Montero, Ackley, and Smoak, if you still believe in his pedigree. For the Yankees, it means they get an excellent cost controlled pitcher for five full years. At first glance, it seems like the Yankees have decided to avoid the big name free agent pitchers for awhile. While CC Sabathia has worked out, any list of the worst contracts in baseball is littered with long term commitments to starting pitchers.

No comments:

Post a Comment