Mariners should consider trading Michael Pineda

Jun 30, 2011, 9:36 AM | Updated: 12:57 pm

Mariners pitcher Michael Pineda is the leading candidate for American League Rookie of the Year. (AP photo)

By Dave Cameron

Over the last month or so, there has been a decent amount of talk about whether the Mariners should trade a pitcher for a position player, moving a piece from an area of strength to an area of weakness. Most of the focus has been on Erik Bedard due to his impending free agency, but there have also been discussions of whether the Mariners should make Jason Vargas or Doug Fister available in an effort to improve the offense.

The problem is that none of these guys would command a huge return — Bedard has a long history of injury problems, and as mentioned, he would only be a summer rental for whoever acquired him. Vargas and Fister have been quality pitchers for the Mariners, but they lack top-end stuff and are viewed as guys whose success is due in large part to Safeco Field. Other organizations would be hesitant to give up significant pieces for a guy whose stuff might not play as well in a smaller ballpark.

However, the sentiment of trading pitching for hitting has some real merit, and it’s actually an avenue I think the team should explore, though perhaps with the one guy on the staff that hasn’t been talked about in trade rumors before — Michael Pineda.

I realize that the thought of trading Pineda is going to sound crazy. He’s a 22-year-old flamethrower who is already a quality Major League arm, and the Mariners control his rights through the 2016 season. He’s the leading candidate for the American League Rookie of the Year, and a big part of why the Mariners have been competitive this season. But, for those same reasons, Pineda would attract a ridiculous amount of demand if the organization let it be known that they would move him for the right price.

The list of available starting pitchers this summer is weak and thin. There is no Cliff Lee on the market, and so teams looking to upgrade their rotation will be frustrated by their options. There are also multiple contending teams that are up against their payroll limits, and given their budgetary restraints, they wouldn’t be able to take on much salary even if they could find a player they coveted. Pineda solves a lot of problems for these teams, offering a league-minimum front-line starter who would be with their organization for years to come.

A trade with the Cincinnati Reds could net a package of prospects that includes 24-year-old Yonder Alonso, a line-drive hitting first baseman who might be able to play left field or could DH. (AP photo)

A team like the Reds, who have a lot of rotation depth but lack a true ace, would almost certainly be pounding down Jack Zduriencik’s door if they knew Pineda might be available. The Reds have an excess prospect at nearly every position the Mariners have a massive hole, and could offer something like a package built around a switch-hitting catcher with power (Yasmani Grandal), a line-drive hitting first baseman who might be able to play left field or could DH (Yonder Alonso), a third baseman with legitimate power (Todd Frazier), and throw in a decent back-end starter (Travis Wood) to help the M’s compensate for losing a member of their rotation.

The M’s could instantly reload at positions where they lack organizational depth, adding three good young hitters to mature alongside Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak. Alonso, Frazier, and Wood could step right onto the big league roster, and given who they’d be replacing, the M’s might actually be better this year even after trading Pineda away.

I know that teams are loath to trade away stud young pitchers, but in reality, they are some of the riskiest assets in baseball. If you look at the best pitching performances from players at age 22 over the last decade, you see names like Mark Prior, Scott Kazmir, Rich Harden, Dontrelle Willis, Oliver Perez, and Anibal Sanchez. All of these guys experienced significant problems with injuries and/or a loss of velocity after bursting onto the scene as dominant young hurlers. Even looking at last year’s phenoms, we see guys like Stephen Strasburg, Mat Latos, and Brett Anderson — all of whom have lost real value from where they were last summer.

Pitchers get hurt. They lose their fastballs, or they wake up one day and can’t throw strikes anymore. The guys who make it are the exceptions, not the rule. The Mariners got lucky with Felix Hernandez, but in reality, the organization is better off building around position players than pitchers. The team needs good young talent, but they also need to be able to count on that talent going forward, and while Pineda is spectacular now, it’s hard to know what he’ll be in a few years. He might still be amazing, or he might be working his way back from having Dr. James Andrews cut his arm open.

With Safeco Field, the team has a built-in pitching development factory, and with arms like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker on their way to Seattle, the organization is not hurting for guys who could fill the void that Pineda would leave. It might sound like blasphemy, but the Mariners could likely move their organization forward by trading their star young hurler. I’m not saying they should move him for just any offer, but if a team wants to put together a serious package to acquire his big right arm, the Mariners should at least listen.

No starting pitcher.

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