January 16, 2012
Jesus the Mariner
Is it fair to write that Brian Cashman’s abstinence from the free-agent market looks worthwhile? When you consider that Pineda’s stuff is reported to serves as an aphrodisiac, it might be. A mid-to-upper 90s fastball and biting slider led to more than a strikeout per inning and a 3.15 strikeout-to-walk ratio, leading to an All-Star appearance as a 22-year-old.
Still, Pineda will turn 23 within the week and there are some warts on him. The most obvious blemish is the lack of a changeup, as Pineda spent last season as a fastball-slider pitcher. Next up is how Pineda will take to the Bronx as a fly-ball pitcher. There should be some relief in knowing that Pineda’s second-half woes were not evident in his component-based measures, although his earned run average did jump as he allowed more hits on balls in play.
Can earned run average underrate a pitcher whose home park and defense were pitcher-friendly? Pineda racked up 3.1 Win Above Replacement Player due to strong peripherals despite an average-looking 103-adjusted earned run average. Under team control for the next five seasons, Pineda will have to adapt to the Bronx and further develop his tertiary pitch. Should he do those things, he could form arguably the nastiest one-two punch in the majors with C.C. Sabathia.
Kuroda will turn 37 in February, making him the graybeard of the two newest additions to the Yankees’ rotation. Over the past three seasons, Kuroda averaged more than 170 innings while accumulating a 3.36 strikeout-to-walk ratio, 115 adjusted-earned run average, and quality start status in 63 percent of his outings. Besides pitching well, Kuroda has completed more than 180 innings in three of his previous four seasons—having not gone to the disabled list since 2009.
Like Pineda, Kuroda is moving from a pitcher-friendly environment, and that means adjusting expectations. Further, Kuroda’s opponents compiled an aggregate 744 OPS last season, whereas the Yankee with 100-plus innings and the weakest opponents saw his opponents post a 755 OPS. Even if Kuroda’s game fails to translate to the American League, a one-year, $10 million deal is worth the experiment.
Ostensibly, the Yankees will open the season with Sabathia, Pineda, and Kuroda as their top-three. Ivan Nova is the most desirable of the other four starters—a group that includes Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett, and Phil Hughes—which should lead the Yankees to keep Nova in the rotation, thus jettisoning two of Burnett, Hughes, and Garcia out of New York or to the bullpen. None of them should feel too comfortable right now, nor should the rest of the AL. —R.J. Anderson
Campos is a right-hander who provides plenty to dream on and ranked fifth on the Seattle Mariners prospect list. Just 19 years old, Campos is a big-bodied power pitcher who already can get into the mid-90s with his fastball, and unlike many high-ceiling prospects with his kind of size and arm strength, he has no issues with repeating his delivery and throwing strikes. He's still a long way from a finished product, though, as both his breaking ball and changeup lag well behind the heater, he'll only be making his full-season debut in 2012 for Low-A Charleston, and he’s at least three years away from the Bronx, so patience will be required in order to reap the rewards. —Kevin Goldstein
Acquired Hitter-R Jesus Montero and RHP Hector Noesi from the Yankees for RHP Michael Pineda and RHP Jose Campos. [1/13]
While the Mariners paid a hefty price, they needed runs. This is a squad that hit .233/.292/.348 as a team last year, and Montero could be their best hitter for the next six years, including 2012. This is a player who will rank in the single digits on my upcoming Top 101 prospects despite being a man without a position. While his power is exciting, he's not a power hitter; he's a hitter with power, and there is a distinct and important difference there. It's the plus-plus hit tools that trump all others, but as a pure hitter who is also in the neighborhood of 235 pounds, the power just comes naturally, giving him the ability to hit for a .300 average with 20-30 home runs annually, depending on just how much Safeco robs him of long balls and how well he adjusts.
As for the his defense, it will be interesting to see if the Mariners replace the Yankees as the only team that believes in his ability to catch in the big leagues. While the Yankees said all the right things during Montero's development about his work at catcher, there was plenty of evidence that they didn't believe what they were saying. When injuries affected the team in September, yet still left them with two “catchers” in Jorge Posada and (presumably) Montero, the Yankees scrambled to find Austin Romine in a Kentucky Wal-Mart so they wouldn’t have to put Montero behind the plate, while at manager Joe Girardi's winter meeting presser in Dallas, he made it clear that the only scenarios in which Montero was going to catch for the Yankees in 2012 involved things like nuclear winter and flying pigs. He's immobile behind the plate and has significant difficulty catching pitches with life, often reverting back to old habits that include stabbing as opposed to receiving balls. He has above-average arm strength, but it's mitigated by the amount of time in takes his hefty frame to go from crouch to throwing position. Between his deficiencies and the physical toll catching takes on the body, the Mariners should tell Montero that the only glove he'll wear from now on is those of the batting variety, sit back, and enjoy.
Montero is not the only player who could play a significant role for the 2012 Mariners, however, as right-hander Hector Noesi, who was relegated to the bullpen in New York, will earn an opportunity to take Pineda's spot in the rotation and has a chance to beat out others like Blake Beavan for the right to stay there once 2011 first-round pick Danny Hultzen cruises through the minors. Noesi has average stuff, as his fastball sits at 90-91 mph, but he can reach back for 94 when he needs it, and the pitch has some movement. A changeup is his best secondary pitch—he's yet to find a consistent breaking ball between his curveball and slider—but everything about him plays up due to his ability to not only throw strikes, but to throw good ones, as he uses both sides of the plate and knows how to exploit hitter weaknesses. His ceiling is just a number-four starter, but he's already there. —Kevin Goldstein
R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @r_j_anderson