Amid ongoing speculation whether Seattle would land free-agent Prince Fielder, general manager Jack Zduriencik went a different route to address the club's glaring need for run production.
In a deal fraught with risk but teeming with potential reward, the Mariners are trading All-Star pitcher Michael Pineda to the Yankees in a package that will bring them power-hitting catcher Jesus Montero.
Amidst ongoing speculation whether Seattle would land free-agent Prince Fielder, general manager Jack Zduriencik went a different route to address the club’s glaring need for run production. The Mariners have had the worst offense in the majors the past two years.
The deal, which still requires physicals from the participants to become official, also involves two right-handed pitchers. The Mariners will send highly regarded 19-year-old prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees. Seattle will receive 24-year-old Hector Noesi, who appeared in 30 games for the Yankees last year (all but two in relief) with a 4.47 earned-run average.
The Mariners are declining comment on the deal until it becomes official.
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Montero has been frequently compared to Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, but he has been nagged by questions about his defense behind the plate. Some scouts believe he will eventually wind up as a first baseman/designated hitter.
In a tweet Friday night, Bergen Record columnist Bob Klapisch quoted Yankees general manager Brian Cashman saying, “To me, Montero is Mike Piazza. He’s Miguel Cabrera.”
Both key players are 22, though Pineda turns 23 next week, and Montero’s 23rd birthday isn’t until November. Pineda has a full season in the majors, which resulted in a 9-10 record in 2011, a 3.74 ERA and 173 strikeouts, more than any other American League rookie. In July, Pineda became just the second rookie pitcher in Mariners history to make the All-Star team, pitching a scoreless inning in Phoenix.
Montero’s major-league experience is limited to 18 games with the Yankees this past September, but he showed flashes of the potent bat that caused Baseball America to rank him as the No. 3 prospect in MLB heading into last season. Montero hit .328 with four homers, 12 runs batted in, a .406 on-base percentage and .590 slugging percentage in that brief showcase.
Noesi, a starter throughout the minors who won 14 games in 2010, could compete for a job in Seattle’s starting rotation. But the centerpiece of the deal from the Mariners’ standpoint is clearly Montero, who they hope will become a fixture in the middle of their order.
In five minor-league seasons in the Yankees’ system, Montero had a .308 average with a .366 on-base percentage and .501 slugging percentage. He had 76 home runs in 1,852 at-bats, with a high of 21 homers at Class AAA in 2010.
Pineda, meanwhile, seemed to wear down as last season progressed. He was 8-6 with a 3.03 ERA in 18 starts before the All-Star break, striking out 113 in 113 innings. In 10 starts after the break, he was 1-4 with a 5.12 ERA, but still struck out 60 in 58 innings.
The Mariners — who steadfastly refused the Yankees’ continuing overtures for Felix Hernandez — believe they are operating from a position of strength when it comes to pitching in their farm system.
They believe that potential top-of-the-rotation replacements for Pineda are brewing in the form of Danny Hultzen, last year’s No. 2 overall draft pick, and 2010 first-rounder Taijuan Walker, along with lefty James Paxton, a former first-round pick by Toronto.
But their farm system was far more barren when it came to hitting prospects, and Montero has long intrigued them. Zduriencik nearly consummated a deal for Montero in July 2010 that would have sent Cliff Lee to New York.
The two sides had agreed on the players, with Montero, second-base prospect David Adams and pitcher Zach McAllister set to come to Seattle for Lee. But the Mariners didn’t like the medical reports on Adams, who was having ankle issues. They reportedly asked for the trade to be reworked, with infielder Eduardo Nunez or pitcher Ivan Nova replacing Adams. The Yankees said no.
“Oh, I had him,” Cashman told The Times last February, referring to Lee. “The medicals didn’t work out, so they (the Mariners) jumped off, and Texas jumped in.”
The Mariners instead ended up consummating a trade that sent Lee and reliever Mark Lowe to the Rangers for first baseman Justin Smoak, pitchers Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke, and infielder Matt Lawson. Lueke has since been traded to Tampa Bay, and Lawson retired after being dealt to Cleveland for since-departed reliever Aaron Laffey.
Beavan will compete for a spot in Seattle’s rotation this spring, while the Mariners hope to reap the benefits of having both Smoak and Montero in the lineup.
It is not known what the ramifications of this deal will be for Seattle’s pursuit of Fielder. But they didn’t add any payroll in acquiring Montero and Noesi, both making close to the minimum salary — as is Pineda.