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Trade Retrospective: The infamous trade of Jesús Montero for Michael Pineda

What might be the most memorable trade of this series will go down in history for all the wrong reasons.

New York Yankees v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

For the second straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here.

We have a heck of a trade this week! In January 2012, the Yankees traded Jesús Montero and Héctor Noesí to the Mariners in exchange for Michael Pineda and Vicente Campos.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will still be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades because anybody can get lucky. Process over results. That being said, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

The Mariners were coming off a terrible 2011 where they won only 67 games, second-fewest in the AL and ahead of only the Twins. The team had a good starting rotation with Félix Hernández, Doug Fister, Jason Vargas, and of course, Michael Pineda. Unfortunately, the offense was abysmal. They ranked dead last in the league in runs scored and wRC+. To say that they needed offensive help badly is an understatement.

Jesús Montero came up through the Yankees system as a catcher, but scouts had little confidence that he would stay there. In fact, there was concern that he was too big and slow to even handle first base. Generally, hitters without a position are not exactly highly sought after. The thing with Montero, though, was that scouts believed so strongly in his bat that he was thought to still forecast as an impactful player, even as a poor defensive first baseman or DH.

It is rare to see a hitter that will eventually move to first base as a top-10 prospect. That requires a strong belief in the prospect’s outstanding hitting ability. Hitting, if you haven’t heard, is extremely difficult, and scouts are therefore justifiably hesitant to do so. The belief in Montero’s ability to hit was so strong that the Mariners were willing to part with Pineda and risk the positional questions.

There are those out there who disagreed with the Mariners on the trade, believing that they were parting with a proven commodity in Michael Pineda for a bigger question mark in Montero. He did have an excellent debut, hitting .328/.406/.590, albeit in only 69 PA and with a .400 BABIP. Pineda pitched well in his rookie year, but he was hardly a star. He had a 4.00 RA9 and 3.42 FIP in 2011, which is an average to above-average starter. Montero, on the other hand, was believed to have tremendous upside with his bat. It was a reasonable decision to trade from a position of strength, the starting rotation, in order to address the team’s putrid offense.

This is what the Mariners were working with at positions that Montero could potentially impact.

wRC+ WAR
wRC+ WAR
Catcher 74 0.4
First Base 99 1.5
DH 94 -0.2
WAR values are from FanGraphs.

The Mariners had nothing at catcher or DH, and Justin Smoakwho was acquired for Cliff Lee the year prior and was once a highly touted prospect himself — had a disappointing first year in Seattle at first base, having hit .234/.323/.396. If Montero’s bat were to reach anywhere near his ceiling, he could be at least a two-win upgrade at 1B or DH. It might be hard to believe now, but the deal really did make sense for the Mariners.

On the other side of the deal, the Yankees rotation needed some help after 2011. C.C. Sabathia was still an ace, but the team did not have anything better than an average pitcher behind him. A.J. Burnett was supposed to be the number two pitcher, but he was anything but, having been a replacement level pitcher over the two seasons prior with a 5.56 RA9. Bartolo Colón left in free agency to Oakland, so the Yankees really needed another starter.

As I mentioned before, Pineda had a good but unremarkable 2011. Deserved Run Average liked him a lot that year, at a 3.03 DRA. However, Pineda has always been somewhat of an anomaly with respect to DRA. It has always indicated that he is much better than his runs allowed would indicate. I can’t speak for his time on the Yankees, but I do believe that his DRA overrated him in 2011. The main reason for his favorable DRA is that that the metric concluded that he gave up a high number of runs given how hard he was hit. In other words, when he got hit, he got hit abnormally hard.

Here’s the thing: if we check Brooks Baseball, batters slugged .400 against his fourseamer with a .163 ISO. His Zone Profile paints the picture even clearer.

Pineda’s fastball had been described by scouts as straight and lacking life. If such a fastball is mislocated down the middle, even at 95 MPH, hitter are going to crush it. That is not bad luck, that is just bad pitching. He barely got away with that at Safeco Field. At Yankees Stadium he would have been screwed. It is most likely why Pineda scrapped it for a cutter when he joined the Yankees.

Without knowing that Pineda was going to develop the cutter, I actually liked this deal more for the Mariners than the Yankees. Montero looked like he was going to rake, and Pineda in Yankee Stadium, facing stronger AL East competition no less, seemed awfully risky. Furthermore, the Yankees signed Hiroki Kuroda anyway, and they had nobody to play DH, a role that would have suited Montero perfectly. I would not have made this deal if I were Brian Cashman. It’s a good thing that I’m not Brian Cashman.

The Results

As I am sure you are well aware, you would have a hard time finding a trade that worked out more poorly for both sides involved, at least during the first two years after the deal.

To say that Jesús Montero was a bust is being kind. A prospect who was once compared to Frank Thomas and Albert Pujols ended up being a well below-average hitter. In his first year in Seattle, Montero hit a disappointing .260/.298/.386. He could not get on base or hit for much power, and his lauded plate discipline turned into only a 5.2 percent walk rate. The Mariners actually tried him at catcher, and he was just as bad as scouts feared he would be. According to Baseball Prospectus’s advanced catcher metrics, he was worth a terrible -15.3 FRAA. That combined with his sub-par offense, and Montero was worth -1.2 WARP in 2012.

For some reason, the Mariners decided to continue the catching thing with Montero in 2013. I don’t know what the team expected, but Montero got even worse. After hitting .208/.264/.327 through the first 29 games of the season, the Mariners had had enough. The demoted him to AAA to learn first base and how to hit again.

That did not work either. He tore his meniscus after one week and missed a month. After another month of struggling in the minors, he got hit with a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal. It ended his season, giving him a line of .250/.327/.396 in the minors.

In 2014, Monetro took showing up to spring training out of shape to a whole new level. He showed up weighing 275 lbs! Montero reportedly got into a car accident that ended his season in winter ball and ended up spending the rest of his offseason eating. He played 97 games in AAA and then went down with an oblique injury. While rehabbing it, the infamous ice cream sandwich incident occurred. The Mariners then suspended him for the rest of the 2014 season.

Montero showed up to camp in 2015 in better shape and with a renewed commitment to improving. Unfortunately, it just did not work out. He hit only .223/.250/.411 over 116 PA, struck out a ton, and barely walked. He was placed on waivers in March of last year and was picked up by the Blue Jays. He spent all of 2016 in AAA despite hitting well, with a line of .317/.349/.438. Sadly, Montero screwed up again and received another 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned stimulant at the end of the season.

The Orioles signed Montero to a minor league deal last month. He will have to serve his suspension at the start of the season. With Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo on the roster, I am not sure what the team plans to do with him. He would likely just be a bench bat.

Héctor Noesí, the throw-in in the deal, did not work out any better for the Mariners. He had a 6.18 RA9 during his time with the team. He was designated for assignment in April 2014, eventually getting traded to the Rangers. He continued to pitch poorly and his baseball career ended after 2015.

Apologies to Mariners fans, but this is one of the ugliest looking tables that I will make in this series.

Mariners Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Jesús Montero 6 -0.8 $0.99
Héctor Noesí 5 -1.5 $0.49
Total 11 -2.3 $1.48
All data are just from time spent on the Mariners.

Initially, the trade looked just as bad for the Yankees. As a result of shoulder injuries, Michael Pineda missed all of 2012 and pitched only 40.2 innings in the minors in 2013.

A combination of a suspension for pine tar and a strained muscle near his rotator cuff cost Pineda three months in 2014. He only pitched 56 23 innings when he returned in August, but he was outstanding. He had a 2.24 RA9, 2.71 FIP, and walked less than two percent of batters faced. Yes, that came with a .217 BABIP, but the results were promising.

Through the following two seasons, Pineda had a disappointing 4.84 RA9. DRA and FIP rated him very favorably, but it never turned up in the results. He is a strange pitcher, honestly, and it is hard figure out what to make of him. It will be very interesting to see how he does in 2017.

Vicente Campos was the lottery ticket in the deal, and like most lottery tickets he didn’t end up paying off. He never even made it to the majors until last season, and even then it was for a cup of coffee with the Diamondbacks.

Yankees Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Michael Pineda 5 5.6 $6.94
Vicente Campos 6 0 $0.00
Total 11 5.6 $6.94
All data are just from times spent on the Yankees.

You can never tell how a prospect would have turned out on another team. That being said, it is hard to believe that the Yankees did not dodge a bullet with Montero. You can argue that Pineda has been disappointing, but he has returned good value for a Yankees team that needed the rotation help. What a weird and fascinating trade.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.