By Mike Salk
Nothing has been confirmed yet, but all reports indicate that the Mariners have pulled off a major deal. There will be other pieces (many of whom matter but are not on the average fan’s radar screen), but the deal comes down to right-handed pitcher Michael Pineda for catcher/first baseman/designated hitter Jesus Montero.
There are some pluses and minuses for the Mariners and there will be many that hate this deal, but I’m not in that group.
I love it. Here’s why:
• The Mariners dealt from a position of strength (starting pitching) and added to a position of need (power-hitting everyday players). Montero is a superb prospect with the genuine power potential to hit well at Safeco Field, even from the right side. The team has three excellent young arms on the way (Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker) which they add to Felix Hernandez and a slew of major league caliber starters (Jason Vargas, Blake Beavan, etc.).
Jesus Montero gives the Mariners a player with much-needed power potential. (AP)
• I believe you win in the American League with a strong middle of the order first, and then worry about everything else. While Montero doesn’t guarantee dominance in the middle, he offers a partnership with Dustin Ackley and/or Justin Smoak that has the potential for greatness.
No, Smoak has not lived up to his billing yet, but he was also asked to carry the water as a cleanup hitter for a team that had no protection for him. Then he hurt his thumb. I’m not making excuses for him so much as speaking to the baseball theory that guys hit best when they are in the right spot for themselves. The team asked much of Smoak as he was adjusting to both the big leagues and life without his father. Hopefully, adding a young partner will help.
• Ackley, Montero and Smoak offer a young nucleus that is cheap, controllable and not going anywhere for years. The Mariners may not be built to win the the AL West in 2012, but if a few of their young guns live up to billing, they can give the team a chance to win multiple times over the next few years as the Angels age and the Rangers watch their best players rise in cost.
• Jack Zduriencik made his team more powerful and possibly better without spending any additional cash. If they truly only have some $3-4 million to spend, he found a way to add what he needed (middle of the order power) without exceeding budget. Would I have preferred them to simply keep Pineda, sign Prince Fielder and raise the budget? OF COURSE! But Zduriencik doesn’t control the budget and this sounds like a reasonable facsimile within his constraints.
• Speaking of the budget, if there is a little extra there, the M’s can now spend that to get better elsewhere. Maybe it’s finding a third baseman to provide a little pop (Eric Chavez?). Maybe it’s a veteran to platoon with Mike Carp in left field (Jonny Gomes? Ryan Spilborghs?). Maybe it’s adding another veteran starter to replace Pineda while the youngsters are taking their lumps. Heck, maybe they actually have the money and add Fielder while moving Montero to catcher. But this allows them some flexibility.
• I know there are those that say Montero can’t catch. That’s not what I’ve heard. One scout who monitors the AL East tells me he “absolutely” can catch. I believe the Mariners will give him every opportunity to catch before moving him to DH full time. He couldn’t be worse defensively than Miguel Olivo, right? That would allow Carp to DH and open up a spot in left field, or vice versa. Maybe Johnny Damon as a short-term designated hitter?
• The Mariners looked at their current roster, realized it wasn’t good enough (and wasn’t going to be good enough) and acted on it. Montero may turn into a great player. If he does, this will be a win. If he allows Ackley and Smoak to slot into more productive spots in the lineup, it will be even better.
Are there concerns? Yes. Like many others, I have some doubts about a right handed power threat dying at Safeco, though I understand he is not the dead pull, wild hitter that Adrian Beltre was. And any time you trade someone with a year of successful experience for one who is largely unproven, there is enormous risk.
But credit Zduriencik for recognizing it was a risk worth taking.