Saturday, January 14, 2012

Yankees get busy

The Yankees had a quiet off-season... until last night.

It's easy to forget that they had re-signed C.C. Sabathia to a five-year contract expansion on October 31. But other than that... the highlight was getting Don Mattingly's kid, and apologies to Donnie, but that's not exactly a highlight.

But now... wow. Jesus Montero (and Hector Noesi) for Michael Pineda (and Jose Campos).

Then a few minutes later, they announce the signing of Hiroki Kuroda.

So now the Yankee rotation is: Sabathia, Pineda, Kuroda, Nova, and Phil Hughes/Freddy Garcia/A.J. Burnett. Assuming they don't just release Burnett and eat the $33 million (yes, $33 million) they owe him for 2012 and 2013.

So... good deal, bad deal?

Jesus MonteroMontero is one of the top hitting prospects of the game, even if he couldn't be an every day catcher (and he couldn't). I have no doubt he'll go on to have a very good career as a power-hitting 1B/DH. He's a lot to give up. But his path to first base is blocked by Mark Teixeira, and they need the DH slot as a way to give guys like Alex Rodriguez "half a day off." It wasn't an ideal situation.

Noesi is a pretty good arm as well... 4.47 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 22 BB, 45 K in 56.1 IP for his MLB debut last year, but a career 3.17 ERA, 1.10 WHIP with 71 BB, 365 K in 377.2 IP in six years in the minors.

Michael PinedaI have mixed feelings about Pineda. First, the pros: He had an outstanding rookie year (3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 55 BB, 173 K in 171.0 IP). He's big (6 foot 7), he has a legit MLB stuff (mid-90s fastball that can touch 98 and what Dave Niehaus called a "nasty, diabolical slider"), and he hasn't been worked too hard by the Mariners -- he pitched 171 innings in the majors last year, up from 139.1 (in the minors) the year before.

But there are some things to worry about. He had a 3.03 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 0.8 HR/9 in the first half... 5.12 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 1.2 HR/9 in the second half. Was he hiding an injury? Was it a case of batters figuring him out the second time around the league? Was he fatigued? (There's been a lot of talk already that he's not the best conditioned athlete in the majors. Good thing we have C.C. to talk to him about that.)

And he posted a 1.95 ERA, 0.916 WHIP, .519 OPS allowed against teams with losing records... but 5.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .711 OPS allowed against teams that were .500 or better. That's... troubling.

To that end, in his one career start against the Red Sox: 7 ER, 8 H, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR in 4.1 IP. It's just one start, but still -- I'd rather be comforted by success in a small sample size and be able to magnamiously dismiss it, than allow my superstitious side to claim it's a harbinger of things to come. (For what it's worth, the Yankees touched him up for 3 runs on 3 hits and 5 walks in 5 innings the only time they faced him.)

I'd feel a lot better if they got back Felix Hernandez. Actually, I'm surprised the Mariners dealt Pineda (who won't even be arbitration eligible until 2014) instead of King Felix (who has $49 M and three years left on his contract). Surely they could have gotten another prospect or two from the Yankees (or somebody else) if they'd traded Hernandez instead of Pineda.

What about Campos? He's not exactly a throw-in, coming off an outstanding low-A season (2.32 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 13 BB, 85 K in 81.1 IP). He's supposedly 19 years old (born in Venezuela). He was ranked as one of the Mariners' top prospects, so what the heck. Impossible to tell what will happen with a guy this young, but his career is off to a good start.

Oh yeah... and Kuroda.

Hiroki KurodaFor some reason when people talk about all the Japanese League disasters (Irabu, Igawa, Matsuzaka), they forget about Kuroda, who has quietly had a good career for the Dodgers (3.45 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 163 BB, 523 K in 699.0 IP over four seasons). Of course, he's about to turn 37 and he's only pitched in the National League (and Dodger Stadium at that).

However, I will point out that his career home/road splits are very close (3.43 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .661 OPS at home; .3.48, 1.21 WHIP, .687 OPS on the road)., and he hasn't been demolished in interleague play (4.33 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 11 BB, 55 K in 68.2 IP). Like Pineda, he's faced the Red Sox just once, but at least he did a good job (7.0 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 0 HR, 1 BB, 9 K).

So, bottom line. In the space of an hour, did the Yankees suddenly have a good off-season?

Kuroda is a no-brainer. Let's assume he comes to the A.L. and pitches at a league-average level for about 200 innings. No matter what, at $10 million for one year, and as a #4 starter, it's a low-risk signing. If he turns into Burnett, at least we're not stuck with him for the next five years.

As for the other deal... Of course you trade a 23-year-old DH for an 23-year-old ace -- you make that deal every day of the week. On the other hand, remember Edinson Volquez for Josh Hamilton? Pitchers are a tricky business. Five years ago, the top pitching prospects in baseball were Hughes, Homer Bailey and Andrew Miller. Of course, the #4 guy worked out -- Tim Lincecum.

There are reasons to worry about Pineda, and there's always a chance that in 30 years Pineda is remembered only as the answer to a trivia question ("who was traded for Hall of Famer Jesus Montero in 2012?"). But let's face it: If the Red Sox traded their top prospect for Pineda, I'd be pissed. It must be a good deal.