Last night saw the rare exchange of top young players, when the New York Yankees traded catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. So far the reaction seems to be focused on what a terrific deal this was for the Yankees, and how it has catapulted them back into the discussion for top team in 2012. As it turns out, it was a pretty good deal for the Mariners too.
In Montero, the Mariners have gotten back as good a hitting prospect who exists in baseball. For the offensively moribund Mariners, he can be the first step towards rebuilding a lineup that has finished last in runs scored in the American League for the past three seasons, and second to last the year before that. While Montero has all of 61 major league at bats, he has the ability to become Edgar Martinez 2.0 if he develops as expected. His ability to hit, hit for power, and the approach he already displays as a 22 year old, all point positively towards a bright future.
Much has been made about the belief that Montero, who came up through the minors as a catcher, will not be able to play there in the majors. That may be true, but it really doesn’t matter to the Mariners. If Montero works out at catcher for them, then great. But he is just as valuable to them if his bat produces at first base or designated hitter. Now that the aging Ichiro has finally started to decline, the Mariners are starting to rebuild their lineup around young hitters. Montero and Dustin Ackley gives them an inexperienced, yet potential-laden one-two punch for years to come.
Surprisingly, there seems to be a great deal of wailing coming from Mariner fans about having to give up Pineda and Campos to obtain Montero. It is true that Pineda is one of the best young pitchers in baseball and that the 19 year old Campos could turn out to be just as good a prospect. However, in baseball, teams who want to acquire a young hitter of Montero’s pedigree are going to give up top notch pitching. That’s just a reality of the market. The Mariners have no hitting prospects that even come close to comparing to Montero, and any free agent signing of consequence will cost big bucks, so this trade made the most sense. They will get six years of team control to figure out if Montero is the hitter that so many think he is, and while Pineda had an excellent rookie season last year, neither he or Campos come with any guarantees.
Mariner fans should also be careful to not overlook Noesi. He is the definition of a sleeper prospect. He has the ability to be a good number three of four major league starter, which isn’t the ceiling of Pineda or Campos, but is still pretty darn valuable in today’s game. The right-handed Noesi cut his major league teeth in 30 games with the Yankees in 2011, showing he could hang; sporting a 4.47 ERA and 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings. The Mariners should be able to slide him into the back of their rotation in 2012 and see what he can do.
The Mariners wisely held on to proven ace Felix Hernandez and have 2010 first round right-hander Taijuan Walker quickly marching through their minor league system. Their pitching staff will be fine, and while they gave up a pretty penny to get him, in Montero they now have a centerpiece to rebuild their lineup around. The Yankees are being lauded as the big winners of this trade because of how it positions them right now, but the Mariners didn’t do too shabby in how they have set themselves up for down the road.
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