Passing Judgment – Goodbye Posada, Hello Pineda
Until now, it has been a conspicuously quiet offseason for the New York Yankees. They didn’t make a splash with any big name free agents. In fact, they weren’t even involved in any rumors surrounding big name free agents. There weren’t even any rumors about them making any trades outside of potentially trying to find someone to take A.J. Burnett off their hands. The biggest news out of the Yankees camp was the retirement of veteran catcher Jorge Posada. After 17 years with the Yankees, Posada leaves a true Yankee having donned the pinstripes and no other uniform. His Hall of Fame credentials are questionable, but he is certainly a Yankee legend that had his share of ups and downs in his final season.
But, in terms of making additions to their roster, the Yankees bided their time and made a big splash today with two acquisitions. Their greatest need was starting pitching, which, to their credit, they managed to piece together in 2011 and had great success from everyone not named Burnett. C.C. Sabathia signed a contract extension to avoid becoming a free agent. Veteran Freddy Garcia was brought back on a one-year deal. And Phil Hughes is expected to return to the rotation. But the Yankees still had too many question marks in their rotation with the albatross that is A.J. Burnett and wondering whether Ivan Nova could repeat or improve off of his tremendous rookie season that saw him ascend to their number two starter.
So after a relatively quiet winter, the Yankees have pulled the trigger on a trade with the Seattle Mariners. No, they did not acquire Felix Hernandez. Instead, they got Seattle’s number two starter coming off an All-Star year in his rookie season. Right-hander Michael Pineda was acquired in exchange for Jesus Montero. It should come as no surprise that Montero was traded because it is apparent that he does not possess the requisite skills to be an everyday starting catcher. He clearly has a big league bat, but the Yankees didn’t have a position for him. Rather than let him rot on the bench or in the minors, the Yankees capitalized on his current value and acquired a solid, young starting pitcher.
Pineda will turn 23 next week and is coming off a great rookie season that included an All-Star selection. He finished with a 9-10 record and a 3.74 ERA in 28 starts. Those numbers don’t seem overwhelming, but he clearly faded in the second half as he pitched more than he ever had before. It didn’t help that he played for a terrible team as the Mariners were the worst offensive team in the league last year. What should excite Yankees fans is the fact that he struck out 173 batters in 171 innings and only walked 55. His WHIP of 1.09 clearly showed that he has the potential to be a very good pitcher assuming he can stay healthy. He will also have the benefit of having run support which should increase the number of wins he gets. Granted, moving from the AL West to the AL East will not do wonders for his ERA. But he has pitching guru Larry Rothschild to learn from as well as the leadership of Sabathia.
The Yankees also signed free agent pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year deal worth $10,000,000. Ideally, Edwin Jackson would have been a better option for them. But Jackson was allegedly looking for over $15,000,000 per year in a long-term deal and that was something the Yankees didn’t want to dabble in with an erratic but talented pitcher like Jackson. Kuroda is a veteran who was also the victim of poor run support. However, he is no spring chicken and moving from the offensively-starved NL West into the AL East will be a shell-shock for him. But it does give the Yankees increased depth in the rotation and allows them the flexibility of trading Burnett (if they can).
Coming into today, no one would have been excited about the Yankees projected rotation of Sabathia, Nova, Hughes, Burnett, and Garcia. Now with the acquisitions of Pineda and Kuroda, the Yankees have many more options – including putting Hughes back in the bullpen. With the impending arrival of the Killer B’s (Betances and Banuelos) at some point in 2012 or 2013, the Yankees have several young starters who should nicely complement Sabathia in a rotation that will lead them the rest of the decade.