SEATTLE - Starting pitcher Michael Pineda #36 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Kansas City Royals at Safeco Field. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
The Mariners stunned the baseball world by trading a young pitching phenom for a single prospect, when other teams received several players back for their young pitchers. What were they thinking?
Michael Pineda, Gio Gonzalez, and Mat Latos are all young, good, and cheap. There was absolutely no urgency for their former teams to trade them. It makes sense to compare the three trades that sent them elsewhere.
Latos was traded for Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal. There were other players in the deal, but those two were the main pieces. After figuring out that Alonso couldn't even pretend he was a Raul Ibanez-level clomper in left, and with Devin Mesoraco already in the system, the Reds knew they probably had to trade both of them. It was unexpected, though, that they'd go in the same deal to the same team. The Padres will miss Latos, but they're right to be a little excited about their haul.
Gonzalez was traded for a chunk of the Nationals' farm system. That's the kind of trade description that can be thrown around lightly, but it was a legitimate chunk -- the Nationals traded four out of the top ten prospects in their system to get Gonzalez. The A's didn't have to trade the left-hander, but considering what they got in return, it was a deal that would have been almost impossible to pass up.
The Mariners traded Michael Pineda for one prospect*. There wasn't a pairing of highly regarded prospects, like the Alonso/Grandal deal. There wasn't a gaggle of B+ to B- prospects, like in the Gio Gonzalez deal. When considering service time and ceiling, Seattle almost certainly had the most valuable asset to trade, yet they received the fewest rebuilding pieces back in the deal.
* Well, there was a teenaged pitcher that went to the Yankees in the deal, and there was a MLB-ready pitcher who came back to the Mariners, but whittled down to its core, the trade was Pineda for Jesus Montero.
The Mariners got one player in return. One lonely prospect. The A's can use their bounty of prospects to light cigars. Well, the half-smoked nubby cigar that someone left in an ashtray, at least. That's the new market inefficiency for cigars. The Mariners got a guy.
So in that sense, the Mariners didn't do nearly as well as the Padres or A's. The Mariners have a lot of long-term holes that need fixing. They got a guy. They created another hole to get him. It's worthwhile to compare the three trades, tally up the prospects, and declare that the Mariners didn't do nearly as well.
But in another sense, the trades aren't comparable. The Mariners don't think they got a guy. They think they got a guy. That is, a future star. A once-in-a-generation player. Of all the players who switched sides in the three trades, the Mariners almost certainly feel that they received the most talented one. They have minor league pitchers advancing through the ranks to replace Pineda, but they didn't have any middle-of-the-order types who were close to graduation. So they made a swap and got a guy. It was a totally different strategy than what the A's or Padres were going for.
This doesn't have a lot to do with what you think about Montero -- you might think he's overrated, and that he'll never stick at catcher -- but rather what the Mariners think of Montero. All of the prospects in all three deals have their warts. Grandal doesn't project to be a slugger. Not one of the Nats' four prospects got anything above a B+ from Sickels. And Yonder Alonso's .870 OPS in AAA came when he repeated the level in his age-24 season. Montero outdid Alonso in the International League when he was 20.
And the Mariners think Montero can stay at catcher. The Yankees sure did:
Butch Wynegar, a former major-league catcher who has worked extensively with Montero as a Yankees instructor, dismisses the comparison to Piazza.
"Monty is not Mike Piazza," he told the New York Post last spring. "He is not going to be a hitter-only as a catcher. He is going to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues who can handle the catching. I truly believe that."
To put the entire trade frenzy in terms of Baseball America's top-100 prospect list from 1994, they think they got a Carlos Delgado who can remain at catcher. They weren't interested in sifting out the Shawn Greens and Johnny Damons from the legions of Marc Newfelds, Tyler Greens, or Arquimedez Pozos in the middle of the list. If the Mariners were going to trade Michael Pineda, they were going to trade him for what they think is going to be a future star, not a bunch of raffle tickets.
The Padres and A's could say, "Look at all this stuff!" after their trades. The Mariners could say, "Check out this guy." You might not agree with their excitement when it comes to Montero, but it sure makes it hard to compare the deal with any of the other trades made this winter. Different trades, with different returns, that followed completely different strategies.