How I will choose to remember him
The first thing to note is that the Michael Pineda, Jose Campos, Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. But all the players still have to pass their physicals before anything's official, and you never know if something might turn up. Pineda could have tuberculosis, or Montero could have a catcher lodged in his elbow. The Mariners have gotten really close to a trade with the Yankees before that fell apart at the last moment due to injury concerns. I'm not saying that I think anything weird is going to happen - just that Montero doesn't yet have his name on a jersey.and have not yet completed a trade. They have, by all reports, agreed to a trade, and the trade, by all reports, includes
The rest of this post will operate under the assumption that the trade goes through. The second thing to note is that it doesn't really matter whether or not you like it, or I like it, or anyone likes it. Just for the record, I neither like it nor hate it, but this isn't about our opinions. It's going to happen regardless. It's time to adjust to that reality.
I've written at length about Felix Hernandez trade rumors before. My longest posts were written a few years ago. There's always been an emotional side to things, and an objective side to things. Objectively, there's always been an argument that the Mariners should consider trading Felix Hernandez. Emotionally, no. No argument. Emotionally, Felix was and forever will be untouchable.
But think about what it would be like if Felix were traded. Emotionally, it would be devastating. A not insignificant fraction of us would swear off the Mariners for good. Then we'd come around. Slowly, perhaps, but I'm guessing our bond with the Mariners is stronger than our bond with Felix. We'd look at the trade and we'd rationalize it. We'd do so objectively. We'd have to do so objectively, because doing so objectively would be the only way for us to accept it. "Well, Felix is gone, but this is what Felix was worth, and this is what the players the Mariners got in return are worth, and..."
We never formed the same bond with Pineda that we have with Felix. Maybe some people did, but generally speaking, Pineda was a tier below. But he was still beloved. He was still a prize. He was adorable, he was talented, he was young, he was homegrown...Pineda was an easy Mariner to fall in love with. So that component, that emotional component, plays a role here.
But keep in mind that Yankees fans felt the same way about Montero. Maybe to an even greater degree. Yankees fans fuckin loved Jesus Montero. They'll miss the things they loved about Montero, and gain most of the things we loved about Pineda. We'll miss the things we loved about Pineda, and gain most of the things they loved about Montero.
This trade has to be looked at objectively. It doesn't only have to be looked at objectively, but it can't only be looked at emotionally, either, because emotionally, it sucks. Objectively, it sucks less. Allow me to try my best.
We're going to go player-by-player. We'll begin with Michael Pineda, because why not begin with Michael Pineda? Pineda's 22 years old. He's 23 next Wednesday. He has five remaining years of team control - six, if the Yankees send him to the minors, which they are not going to do. His selling points are that he's enormous, with a hard fastball and a biting slider. Last year, as a rookie, he posted baseball's sixth-best strikeout rate. He also posted a good-but-not-outstanding xFIP of 3.53. Same as Mat Latos, Brandon Morrow and Ricky Nolasco.
Pineda is good now. He also has room to grow. He could improve his command. He could develop his changeup. With a strong changeup, Pineda would be something else. He'd probably be an ace. But here's the thing: an important principle to keep in mind is that pitchers usually don't follow the same development path as hitters. They don't break in and then improve until a peak. Pitchers frequently break in and stay where they are or slowly get worse.
If Pineda stays more or less as what he is, well, okay, he's very good. He cannot be evaluated by his ceiling, because it is unlikely - possible, but unlikely - that he achieves it. He allows a ton of fly balls. His fastball isn't going to get faster. He could get hurt. Young pitchers get hurt. Pitchers get hurt.
You look at Michael Pineda and you think "flame-throwing ace," even though he's not yet a flame-throwing ace. Maybe he'll improve like Clayton Kershaw improved. Then he'd be spectacular. But for the time being, he is a good, young, cheap starting pitcher.
The major piece coming back is Jesus Montero. It would have been funny if I said the major piece coming back were Hector Noesi. That wouldn't make any sense! For those of you who are somehow completely unfamiliar with Jesus Montero, he's a 22-year-old righty-hitting catcher/DH. Catcher/DH seems like an odd pair of positions to mash together. There's a reason why, with Montero, they're mashed together.
The big big question with Montero is whether or not he can stick behind the plate. Consensus seems to be that, no, he cannot. He's caught his whole career, but he's not been very good at it, and he hasn't made long enough strides. I don't know this personally, but I'm assuming it to be true, and you should, too.
If Montero isn't a catcher, that reduces his stock. Thankfully, his stock has been exceptionally high, so reduction isn't crippling. Scouts have always loved Montero for his bat. Just loved him for it. He carved up the low minors, he carved up double-A, and he's hit pretty well in triple-A despite being young. Statistically, his numbers in 2011 were a little worse than his numbers in 2010, but there was talk that he was "bored" still being in the minors, and he performed much better in the second half. Over the first three months, he hit six homers. Over the last three months, including his time in the Majors, he hit 16 homers.
Montero's a pure hitter, with enormous power potential. He has drawn those Miguel Cabrera comparisons. Let's not focus on that too much. And while he's a righty, he's a righty with a demonstrated ability to hit the ball out the other way. That's how a righty succeeds in Safeco Field. Montero shouldn't get eaten up the way Mike Cameron got eaten up.
I don't want to sound like Montero is a guarantee. There's no denying that his triple-A numbers aren't exceptional. He hasn't walked a lot. He does have some trouble making consistent contact. He's proven a hell of a lot less than Pineda has. But when it comes to hitting prospects, Montero's near the top of the list. Everybody wanted the Mariners to find a bat, right?
Moving on, there's Jose Campos. Campos is actually a big reason why this trade leaves me a bit underwhelmed. Campos is just 19, and he's never pitched above Everett, but both his stuff and performance record are terrific, and he would've fared well on prospect lists. I know, I know, young pitching prospects. Campos is a ways away. But one way to think of a prospect is where he might have been selected in the next draft were he available. Campos would be selected early. Losing him hurts the system, no matter how much pitching depth the Mariners say they have.
Finally, Hector Noesi. I don't know if that's "noisy", "nosy" or "no-essy", and I don't care to find out. If you don't know much about Hector Noesi, it's because you shouldn't. He's a 24-year-old righty who threw about 56 mediocre innings for the Yankees last year, mainly out of the bullpen. He was a rookie, and an unspectacular rookie.
However, he can't just be written off as a middle reliever. He has a track record of throwing strikes in the minors. He rolled through double-A. He has a four-pitch repertoire including a fastball that reaches the 90s, so it's not like he got by with finesse. Noesi has talent, and he could start in the big leagues. The Mariners apparently want to use him as a starter for now. I don't know if that means as a starter in Seattle or Tacoma, but Noesi is not being shoved into the bullpen for good.
Those are the four players. If I had to rate this trade on a scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is fresh homemade lasagna and 1 is lasagna that's been sitting in a Tupperware container in the fridge for four months and you can't tell if that's mold or cotton, I'd probably give it a...5? I was originally going to say a 4 or a 5, but I've learned more about Noesi over the past several minutes. I like him more than I used to.
An important consideration is that the Mariners have clearly had trouble finding good hitters. They have had no trouble finding good pitchers. There are pitchers in the system who could conceivably replace Pineda soon. But the offense needed help, and there wasn't much help on the way. Montero could be a force. He isn't an established force now, but he could be. He has strong odds.
I can't get over the fact that the Mariners now have Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero. I didn't think that was allowed. Smoak, Montero and Dustin Ackley could potentially - potentially - form a dynamite offensive core. Not long ago that trio would've made baseball people lose their shit. Before the 2010 season - the last time Smoak was rated - Baseball America had Smoak as baseball's #13 prospect, Ackley as baseball's #12 prospect, and Montero as baseball's #4 prospect.
An interesting question is where the Mariners go from here. I don't mean in the big picture; I mean immediately. Assuming the Mariners have money left, on whom do they spend that money? Prince Fielder almost certainly isn't an option anymore. Hiroki Kuroda just got snapped up, right as I started to like him. Do the Mariners try for Edwin Jackson? Do they somehow convince Roy Oswalt to play in the Pacific Northwest for a year? Do they trim payroll and piss everybody off? Do they trim payroll but then put those savings towards next year's payroll, pissing everybody off and then making everybody feel ashamed for getting pissed off?
We'll see. More to do. For now, this trade. It happened. It's a big one. I think the Yankees "won". Certainly, based on the Mat Latos example, they did. But the Mariners added two very interesting young players, one of whom is capable of doing some very interesting and very different things. I'll miss you, Michael Pineda. We all will. But welcome to Seattle, Jesus Montero. That's Felix Hernandez over there. I bet you never thought you'd end up on his side.