The Pineda-Montero trade is fascinating on so many levels. Baseball just doesn’t see many trades of elite young players for each other. If a Pineda or Montero gets traded, it’s for a more established star or, less often, for a package of younger prospects. The failed Cliff Lee-Montero deal aspect just adds another layer.
When I first heard about the trade, my thought was that it was so obvious that I couldn’t believe it happened. I remember even asking Dan and Andrew back in the summer whether they would make this trade straight-up. To me, it seems like both teams are trading from a position of strength to fill a weakness.
Most trade analyses you’ll read have a different focus. You can literally read for hours about whether Montero or Pineda is more valuable, whether Jose Campos or Hector Noesi is more valuable, about who did better in this deal. All of those issues are interesting and highly debateable, which makes them fun and worth writing. I think they occasionally miss the point, however.
The goal of a baseball team is not to add the most valuable pieces, or to win the value war in a trade or signing. The goal is to build the best team. Typically, the two go hand in hand. The more value a team can get in a deal, the better. If given the choice between Adam Dunn for $14 million a year or an outfield of Michael Stanton, Andrew McCutcheon and Jacoby Ellsbury for roughly a third of that amount, the choice is obvious. You want the most bang for your buck. You don’t want to spend huge money on guys who will underperform and you ideally want to underpay guys who are good and getting better. That’s why building up an elite farm system is so important.
What is obvious in the macro view becomes highly nuanced in practice. It’s not enough to just say that starting pitcher is a more valuable position than designated hitter, or that Pineda has more value than Montero because he’s had a year of major league experience. Both of those statements are true and yet, they don’t matter too much for the Mariners. The Mariners strength is their rotation. They will miss Pineda, especially if he turns into a Cy Young candidate. The difference between Pineda and Danny Hultzen, James Paxton or Taijuan Walker is potentially tiny, however. That is compounded by the Safeco Field effect and the way it can turn mediocre pitchers into average ones. In Safeco, pitching is nowhere near as valuable as hitting, and adding hitting is much more valuable for the current Mariners because they have so little of it.
Speaking of hitting, it’s not crazy to think that Montero could be the most productive guy in the Mariners line-up in 2012. It’s not certain, of course, which is why there’s some risk here. Still, where the gap between Pineda and Hultzen is small to non-existent, the gap from Montero to the Mariners best hitting prospect, be it Nick Franklin or Vinnie Catricala or whomever, is huge. It’s debateable whether Montero or Pineda is more valuable in a vacuum, but I think it’s clear that Montero is much more valuable to the Mariners.
This offense is suddenly sort of interesting. It will still likely struggle in 2012 as all of the young guys (hopefully) come of age, but with Ackley and Montero and Smoak and possibly Carp, they now have a heart of the order that could turn into something scary. Now Franklin and Catricala and Wells and everyone else only have to be supporting players rather than stars. The other fun aspect of this trade is what it allows them to do in the future, as Dave Cameron and others have pointed out. It’s possible but highly unlikely they still sign Prince Fielder, but assuming they don’t, that potentially leaves them with a lot of money to spend in the near future. Maybe they add a pitcher for a year or two, or maybe they wait until next year to find an offensive guy at a position of need like third base or outfield. This deal potentially improves the Mariners immediately and sets them up to more easily improve in the future as well.
As with any trade, this one will not be determined good or bad until we see what Montero and Noesi, to a lesser degree, make themselves into. It’s tough to see Pineda go. I’ll never forget those early fastballs that looked like they were thrown at about 150 miles per hour. This deal potentially gives the Mariners tremendous value, however, whether Montero is more valuable than Pineda or not.