Saturday, August 30, 2014

Who won the Yankees-Mariners game of bluff in 2012? Still hard to tell

I don’t follow baseball much anymore, but the latest “incident” involving half the “blockbuster” trade between the Seattle Mariners and the New York Yankees in 2011 brings to mind a simple truth: Trying to con your partner only works if he isn’t trying to “con” you too. 

And so it is that Jesus Montero—acquired in that trade from the Yankees—while on “rehab” assignment with the Mariners’ minor league Everett Aqua Sox, was being heckled about his weight—not by fans in the stands, but by one of the team scouts. Montero does have weight issues, and has been suspended for performance-enhancing drug use (obviously it didn’t work), and after less than expected power numbers in his only full season with the team, has been relegated to “assignment” in the minors to improve his bat for most of the past seasons. 

Unfortunately his bat (or catching skills) hasn’t improved enough to qualify him for the majors yet, and his underachievement obviously frustrates some people. Apparently the scout thought that a applying a little shaming would persuade Montero to put more effort into his game; Montero tolerated the ribbing, but when scout had someone send him an ice cream sandwich (perhaps to see if he had the “willpower” not add to his fat), Montero decided he had enough of the belittling and was preparing to take his bat to the scout’s head as a baseball to see if his “game” impressed him then. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and the scout kept his head.

Montero can’t be blamed entirely. He is part of the Mariners’ on-going failure to find players  who can off-set the mistake that is the dimensions of Safeco Field, a too pitcher-friendly park that has been the graveyard of many a player with alleged “pop” in their bat for other teams, only to experience severe power outages once they arrived in Seattle. Speed and precise hitting, not homerun power, is the key to scoring runs at Safeco, but fans like homeruns, so there is a never-ending quest to find that elusive “power” hitter. Robinson Cano—a free agent acquisition late of  theYankees—is having a fine year, but he is no dinger. 

Yet time and again, that heavily-built (not necessarily heavily-muscled) player like Montero is acquired who the organization hopes will provide fans with balls in the stands that were not sent there by the other team. Montero played in 135 games in 2012, and hit all of 15 homeruns—and he was still one of the team “leaders” in that department. In the past two seasons, he has played just 35 games for the Mariners, hitting just four homeruns and driving in 11 runs.

One might suppose that Yankee management is snickering about how they pulled one over on the Mariners in the swap for pitcher Michael Pineda, who was a hot, young trade prospect in 2011for teams looking for pitching. In 2011, he pitched 171 innings, striking out 173 batters, and had a respectable 9-10 record for a team that won only 67 that year. There were of course, questions about his endurance; after a fast start winning six of his first eight decisions, his arm seemed to die in stretches, barely making it to five innings. By the final months, he missed several starts, and was clearly being “saved” for some other purpose.

But then again, if the Yankees had done their homework, they would have discovered that Pineda spent much of his five years in the minors on the disabled list, which is exactly where spring training found him after he arrived in New York. A tear in his shoulder meant he was lost for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Pineda did manage to make the team as its fifth starter this year, but after just a month he was back on disability. He returned this month, and managed to win just his third game since leaving the Mariners last week. 

So who won this game of bluff? Both the Mariners and Yankees gambled that the other team would be fooled just enough to trade their “top” prospect with caveats only they knew about, for someone who was a future All-Star. It would appear that the joke is on both teams, having acquired little more than an “expectation” that went awry. But they should have known better than to trust what the other doing, as in most trades involving “hope” rather than reality.

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