About three-and-a-half years ago, the Mariners and the Yankees consummated a fascinating trade. It wasn’t a “challenge” trade as we usually think of one: trading a player of a position for a player of the same position. Those are exceptionally rare, largely because the general manager who “loses” that trade looks exceptionally foolish. But it was a sort of challenge trade, as the M’s and Yankees both gave up highly regarded young players. So what does that deal look like now?
We start, of course, with Jesús Montero and Michael Pineda. Especially Michael Pineda. We’re probably going to end with Pineda, too. But in the interest of accuracy, we should mention the two other players, both pitchers, in the deal. Along with Montero, the Yankees sent Hector Noesi to the M’s. And here’s the last component, along with a bit of contemporary analysis:
The fourth player in the deal, minor-league pitcher Jose Campos, has been impressive … but he pitched in the short-season Northwest League last summer, at the tender age of 18. His tender age makes his performance – 2.32 ERA, brilliant strikeout-to-walk ratio – all the more impressive, but his tender age also means that he’s at least two or three years from pitching in the majors, and a lot of terrible things might happen in those two or three years.
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If you were to score the players on a scale of 1 to 10 – sorry, no culinary analogs this time – I think you would give Pineda a 9, Campos a 4, Montero an 8 and Noesi a 6.
So the Mariners win!
Or not. Your numbers might differ. This just looks like a pretty even trade, fresh out of the oven.
I think that was the general agreement at the time. Pineda was coming off a fine major-league season, and Montero was not; but we often think better of young hitters than young pitchers, because of the injury risks, and we thought Noesi was more likely than Campos to become a good major-league pitcher.
In the event, neither Noesi nor Campos has done much in the majors. Campos hasn’t even reached the majors, actually, and is now recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s still only 22, though, and … well, stranger things have happened. And it’s not like Noesi’s lighting things up with the White Sox. He’s now 28 and is essentially the No. 6 starter on a fourth-place team.
Bottom line: The Yankees have received zero value from Campos, and the Mariners got less than zero from Noesi, who went 2-14 with a 6.13 ERA before getting sold to the Rangers (for what must have been a pittance).
In the end, then, it probably comes down to Montero and Pineda. Remember, this was three years ago. In those three years?
In 2012, Montero (and the Mariners) took the lead when … well, when Montero played. He didn’t play well as the Mariners’ semi-regular DH and part-time catcher. But he played, while Pineda missed the whole season with a shoulder injury.
In 2013, things held steady when Montero spent most of the season in the minors but Pineda was again on the shelf with an injury.
In 2014, Pineda (and the Yankees) took the lead when he went 5-5 with a 1.89 ERA in 13 starts, his performance including a stunningly good walk rate, while Montero a) showed up at spring training weighing 275 pounds, b) spent nearly the entire season in the minors, and c) was suspended after throwing an ice cream sandwich at a Mariners scout. Granted, Montero had every reason to be upset. But at the moment, that ice cream sandwich serves as his organizational legacy.
And in 2015? Montero’s back in the minors, hitting exactly as he’s always hit in Triple-A: decently, but not enough for a guy with zero defensive value (since, as the Yankees seem to have figured three years ago, Montero can’t catch).
Meanwhile, Pineda might be the best pitcher in the American League. I mean, it’s not likely in a league that also includes Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, Dallas Keuchel, Chris Archer and other fine moundsmen. But then again, it’s not crazy, either. In 46 innings this season, Pineda’s got 54 strikeouts and THREE WALKS. Which is, of course, an unsustainable ratio – just last season, Phil Hughes set a strikeout-to-walk ratio record: 11.6 to 1 – but Pineda’s ratio certainly says some lovely things about both his abilities and his future. And you know Brian Kenny loves Pineda’s 5-0 record.
Too often, we try to pick the “winner” of a trade immediately after it’s happened. Our chances of being “right” are usually around 50/50. Three years on, though, things do become less opaque. And while we can’t say with great confidence what Pineda and Montero would have done if they’d not been traded, at some point you have to just go with what did actually happen.
At this point, Jesús Montero actually looks like a complete bust and Michael Pineda actually looks like one of the very best young pitchers around.