I can recall sitting in Newark-Penn Station, set to board a train for Washington, D.C. on a business trip, when I heard the news. The New York Yankees had traded their top prospect, the previously untouchable Jesus Montero, to the Seattle Mariners for 23-year-old All-Star Michael Pineda and one of Seattle’s better pitching prospects, Jose Campos.
The whole ride to Washington, I read report after report on Pineda and Campos, trying to find out what Brian Cashman thought was so special that he felt it necessary to part with one of the top hitting prospects the Yankees organization had seen in years. Pineda was big, standing 6-foot-8 and weighing 270 pounds, and threw hard, touching 100 at times during his rookie season. However, there was cause for concern. After making the All-Star team with a dominant first half in 2011, Pineda struggled mightily in the second half of the season, even being shut down at one point. With Campos, the jury was still out. He had improved in each season since being signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela and many scouts believed he had a ton of potential. However, Campos had never pitched in a full season before the traded to New York.
In Montero, the Yankees had a somewhat known commodity. He had looked excellent at the plate in a brief cameo in the Bronx in 2011, showing true power to all fields and an ability to get the bat on the ball consistently. Every scout out there agreed that his bat was the real deal, but that he still had plenty of room to grow behind the plate. If he could not find success down the road behind the plate, the Yankees could have attempted to transition him to first base, or made him a full-time designated hitter, while letting Austin Romine or another youngster take over the catching duties. For the Yankees to trade Montero, Brian Cashman surely had to have seen something special in these two pitchers.
One year after this deal went through on a cold Friday night, it appears to have been one of Cashman’s biggest mistakes during his tenure as the Yankees’ General Manager. Montero has continued to hit, putting together a .260/.298/.386 line during his rookie season in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. Though he caught in just 56 games last season, Montero appeared to have been showing a little improvement behind the plate. Should he have stayed in the Bronx, Montero likely would have benefitted from the tutorials put forth by Joe Girardi, who was known throughout his career for excelling on defense behind the plate. In light of the Yankees’ current catching situation, having a young, offense-first catcher in the mold of Jorge Posada might not be the worst thing in the world right now. Montero would likely have been this season's unquestioned starter behind the plate while Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart vied to serve as his backup. If he were still struggling behind the plate by the time J.R. Murphy or Gary Sanchez were ready, he could have slid to first base, likely replacing Mark Teixeira.
On the flip side, both pitchers acquired in the deal by Cashman missed time in 2012 with significant arm injuries. For Pineda, Spring Training delivered a torn labrum in his pitching shoulder that knocked him out for the entire season. He did not begin throwing off flat ground until November and is currently projected to be out until at least midseason. Yankees GM Brian Cashman even suggested in a November interview that Pineda might miss the entire 2013 campaign as well. Worse yet, some sports medicine doctors have wondered if Pineda will ever be the same pitcher he once was. It seems highly unlikely that Pineda will ever touch 100 MPH again, and instead will likely have to learn how to pitch with control, rather than attempting to fire each pitch past hitters.
As if Pineda's injury were not bad enough, disaster struck later that spring with the other prospect in the deal, Jose Campos. The then-19-year-old was slated to pitch in full-season ball for the first time in his career while a member of the 2012 Charleston RiverDogs. Instead, Campos made just five starts before going down with a mysterious elbow injury that would knock him out for the remainder of the 2012 season. Fortunately for Campos and the Yankees, the youngster avoided the operating table and is currently throwing off a mound as he works his way back from the injury. Right now, it appears Campos should be ready to go when pitchers and catchers report in less than one month.
“He’s done everything he’s supposed to do,” Yankees’ vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said regarding Campos. “The doctors say he’s healthy. We’re going to proceed based on that recommendation.” Newman also confirmed that Campos would be once again ticketed for Charleston, as he still needs to complete that phase of his development.
While Michael Pineda and Jose Campos may be fortunate enough to avoid any lingering problems and return to their pre-injury potential, it seems extremely unlikely that neither will suffer long-term effects. Meanwhile, while the effects of Safeco Field suppress Montero’s bat, Yankee fans are left to wonder whether he would be displaying much better numbers in the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium where he began his major league career. No one knows exactly what will happen long-term for Pineda, Campos, or Montero, but one year later, onr og yhr biggest trades for the Yankees in recent memory deal certainly appears to be leaning significantly in the Seattle Mariners’ favor.
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