Looking for a bat to drop into the heart of their lineup, the Seattle Mariners have apparently made a blockbuster trade – pitcher Michael Pineda for New York Yankees rookie catcher Jesus Montero.
Neither team would confirm or deny the reported deal, which likely included secondary players from both teams.
If true – and reports surfaced from a handful of sources all afternoon – the Mariners have given up a hard-throwing young starting pitcher for a 22-year-old right-handed hitting Venezuelan with 61 big-league at-bats. After dominating throughout the minor leagues, Montero hit .328 with four doubles, four home runs, 12 RBI and 17 strikeouts in those at-bats.
Pineda, 22, went 9-10 with a 3.74 earned run average last season in 28 starts, striking out 173 batters in 171 innings.
Montero was the bait New York dangled in the summer of 2010 when Seattle was about to trade pitcher Cliff Lee. Eventually, the Mariners sent Lee to Texas for a package that included Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke, instead.
The trade comes in the final year of catcher Miguel Olivo’s contract, so Montero could share duties behind the plate while serving as a designated hitter or win the job outright in spring training.
It was made possible by the young pitching depth in the Seattle system – starting pitchers Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, among others. Still, Pineda was expected to open the 2012 season as the No. 2 starter on the staff behind Felix Hernandez.
The second Yankee player involved in the deal could be 24-year-old right-hander Hector Noesi . who went 2-2 with a 4.47 ERA in 30 games with New York a year ago. The rumored second Mariners pitcher involved was Class A prospect Jose Campos, a 19-year-old right-hander who went 5-5 with a 2.32 ERA
The deal breaks an off-season of small moves for the Mariners, who added a backup catcher, left-handed reliever and, last week, Japanese starting pitcher Hishshi Iwakuma. Their rotation now will come from Felix, Iwakuma, Jason Vargas, Charlie Furbush, Noesi, Beavan and Hultzen.
How to rate the deal? A year ago, Baseball American listed Montero has the No. 11 big-league prospect – with Pineda ranked No. 13.
Last in the Amerian League the past two seasons in runs scored, the Mariners appear to have landed a productive bat for one of baseball’s younger lineups, one that will include Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp, Smoak and could have Kyle Seager or rookie Alex Liddi.
Confirmation, at least from the Mariners, won’t come until all players involved take and pass physicals, which likely won’t be until after the weekend.