Pineda gripping the changeup he must develop (used via creative commons license)
By now, the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade has been dissected from every angle. But lost in the aftermath of Friday’s atom-bomb dropped by Brian Cashman is the effect this deal will have on the Yankees future beyond the upcoming 2012 season and the change in philosophy it signifies. The popular belief prior to the deal was that the team would try to get through this season with the pitching they had, maybe adding a veteran on a 1-year deal, then try to play their hand in the big 2013 market for Free Agent Pitching. Is that still a viable strategy?
I believe the trade of Montero for Pineda denotes a change in Cashman’s philosophy of paying top dollar for FA pitchers. He sees the trend in MLB with teams locking up their good young starters – and he knows his own track record of signing FA pitchers has been dubious with the one exception being the $161M deal for CC Sabathia. But Cash knows he doesn’t have the long-term flexibility to risk $100M+ deals on pitchers even if they do reach the open market.
Whether Pineda instantly becomes a formidable pitcher or struggles in his sophomore year, the Yankees are invested in him for the long haul. The nucleus of CC, Nova & Pineda will be what they build around with Banuelos & Betances ready to contribute in 2013. Barring trades, they will also have 1 more year of AJ Burnett & Phil Hughes next season so unless there is a major breakdown, I don’t see the Yankees allocating their resources on a high-priced Free Agent starter.
With the emphasis on pitching and the search for a viable frontline starter for the last 2 years, the future of the offense has been neglected. The core of the team is aging and they will have to endure some lean years with an old ARod & Jeter in the lineup. Jesus Montero was supposed to be the one to equalize that. We all saw him as an eventual middle of the order bat that would hit for average and power. With virtually no potential impact bats in the system above A-ball, there is little help from within coming in the next 2-3 years. That is where Cashman will spend his money in the coming years.
So where will the Yankees have openings and what will be on the market? After 2012, Swisher and Russell Martin will be Free Agents, so there will likely be openings at C, RF & DH. There is also the possibility that ARod takes over a good chunk of the DH duties so the team may look at potential 3B.
With Austin Romine MLB-ready and JR Murphy & Gary Sanchez right behind him, I doubt the Yanks will be in the market for a Catcher. Martin could be brought back but if Romine shows he’s ready, I think they’ll go with him and let Martin walk. There will be one very attractive FA Catcher available in lefty swinging , 28-yr old Miquel Montero. Miquel hit .282/.351/.469/.820 in 2011 and led an impressive Arizona pitching staff.
There is also an older version of Jesus Montero on the market. Mike Napoli crushed the AL in 2011 to the tune of a .320/.414/.631/1.045 clip while catching 65 games and playing 1B/DH for 50 games. He’ll only be 30 in 2013 and could play the role that Jesus was going to play as back-up Catcher, primary DH and middle of the order run producer. This would leave the DH spot open for 50-65 games for ARod while Napoli caught and might be the perfect way to break in a young Austin Romine at Catcher in 2013. We’ll soon find out whether Texas will add Yu Darvish and/or Prince Fielder to the mix but even if they don’t they have the FA of Josh Hamilton in 2013 so they may not attempt to re-sign Napoli. It’s difficult to determine what he’d cost in FA without seeing if he’ll repeat his dominating 2011 but I’d say he best profiles with Victor Martinez who signed a 4yr-$50M deal prior to 2011. If Napoli has a another big year and can show some durability, he may be a player for the Yanks to consider.
The options in RF include Josh Hamilton (32), Andre Ethier (31), Carlos Quentin (30), Delmon Young (27), Melky Cabrera (28), Nick Swisher (32) & Ichiro Suzuki (39). While Hamilton is the elite player of the group, I don’t think the Yanks will lay out the big money needed for a 32-yr old that has played more than 133 games only once (2008). I like Ethier as a lefty hitter who hits for average and power and a 4 year deal would only put him at 34 in the final year. He’d be looking at similar money as Swisher (3-4 yrs @$11-12M)
However, with the goal to get under the Luxury Tax threshold in 2014, I don’t see Cashman giving out a long-term deal unless he really likes a player and he has a lot of prime years left. The DH possibilities are plentiful every year and it’s easy to find all types of DH’s on 1-yr deals. David Ortiz will be on the market again next year at age 38 so maybe the Yanks put in a big 1-yr offer to steal him.
Next years FA third base crop has absolutely nothing to offer so if ARod needs to DH they will have to find a 3B from within (Laird or Nunez?) or trade for one. I like lefty hitters Chase Headley & Daniel Murphy. Both are young players in their primes who hit for average and would be a good compliment to the rest of the lineup. They have both also been discussed in trade rumors this Winter. Headley will be in his final arbitration year in 2013 so it’s likely SD will look to move his salary with several promising young 3B behind him. The Mets have David Wright at 3B and have Murphy playing out of position at 2B. Both players also offer the flexibility to play other positions, 1B, corner OF and in Murphy’s case 2B.
It’s futile to look at who is available beyond 2013 since so many teams sign their young players to extensions nowadays. But one thing is clear, with the impressive young pitching the Yanks have assembled behind CC, they no longer have to lay down huge chunks of money on risky FA pitching. More often than not, big money FA contracts for pitchers do not work out. By Cashman trading his big young offensive chip for a big young pitcher, he is electing to spend his future money on offense – which is generally far less risky and easier to project. When I first heard of the trade I didn’t like it. Montero is going to be a big hitter but it will be easier to find a bat of his caliber on the FA/trade market than it will be to find a pitcher of Pineda’s ilk. The last 2-3 years of searching for pitching has taught him that.
So going into 2013, Cashman should have room for one significant contract. Anymore than that and there’d be no chance to stay under $189M with Cano & Granderson as FAs in 2014. Who would you look to sign for the offense in 2013?