Pitching depth allowed Mariners to deal Pineda
Prospects Walker, Paxton a big part of club's future plans
SEATTLE -- When word got out Friday that the Mariners were in the process of trading young pitching standout Michael Pineda to the Yankees for highly regarded catcher Jesus Montero, immediate reaction from many was, "How could Seattle give up such a promising arm?"
Quality pitching remains the top priority of most teams and Pineda proved special last season, particularly in an imposing first half when he overpowered the American League and earned an All-Star bid.
But Seattle has considerable strength in its young pitching corps coming up, enough so that general manager Jack Zduriencik obviously felt comfortable enough to use Pineda to acquire much-needed offense with the powerful Montero in a swap of talented 22-year-olds.
As of Monday, that deal still had not been finalized and won't be officially announced until players pass their physicals. That might take some time, since Montero was in Venezuela and Pineda in the Dominican Republic when news of the swap broke Friday afternoon.
The deal also will send Yankees right-hander Hector Noesi to Seattle, with Minor League pitcher Jose Campos going to New York.
Noesi, 24, shouldn't be overlooked in this swap as he is a potential rotation candidate for Seattle. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Dominican went 3-3 with a 2.70 ERA in 10 starts for Licey in the Venezuelan Winter League. He pitched mostly out of the bullpen last year for the Yankees, but did make two starts for the Bombers and has been a well-regarded starter coming up through the Minors.
He'll fit nicely in the young mix of talented pitchers in Seattle's organization, a group topped by Felix Hernandez, who's still just 25. The Mariners rotation also returns Jason Vargas and two rookies from last year, Blake Beavan and Charlie Furbush, while Japanese standout Hisashi Iwakuma just signed as a free agent.
But where Seattle stands out from most organizations is the wealth of top-tier arms coming up, led by left-hander Danny Hultzen, the No. 2 overall Draft pick last year out of Virginia.
Just like Pineda a year ago, Hultzen will get an invitation to Spring Training next month at age 22. Unlike Pineda, he's yet to pitch in the Minor Leagues and the Mariners likely will want him to get some experience under his belt. But he is regarded as a very polished pitcher already as a three-year starter at Virginia with excellent command, and he posted a 1.40 ERA over 19 1/3 innings in six starts in the Arizona Fall League.
The Mariners also figure to give good looks this spring to three other premier prospects -- James Paxton, 23, ranked the No. 2 prospect in the organization by MLB.com; Erasmo Ramirez, 21; and Taijuan Walker, 19, ranked No. 1 in Seattle's system.
Paxton was a first-round Draft pick of the Blue Jays in 2009, but the Scott Boras client never signed with Toronto and then was picked in the fourth round in '10 by Seattle after pitching just a handful of Independent League games in the interim.
The Mariners signed Paxton midway through camp last spring and the 6-foot-4 lefty was overpowering in Class A Clinton and Double-A Jackson, going 6-3 with a 2.37 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 95 innings. Seattle shut him down early due to his long layoff, but he's a prominent part of the club's future plans.
Walker is another up-and-comer, a first-round sandwich Draft pick in 2010 as a high schooler out of California. In his first full season of pro ball last year, he went 6-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 96 2/3 innings for Clinton while earning the Mariners Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors.
Then there is Ramirez, who has the most Minor League experience of the group despite being just 21. The right-hander out of Nicaragua made the jump to Double-A and Triple-A last year and went 10-8 with a 4.83 ERA between Jackson and Tacoma. He followed up with a strong showing in the Venezuelan Winter League, going 2-1 with a 1.48 ERA in six starts.
Beavan, a former first-round Draft pick by the Rangers acquired in the Cliff Lee deal, could also be considered part of the young prospects group. The 6-foot-7 right-hander, who turns 23 on Tuesday, went 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA in 15 starts after a midseason promotion and has a "leg up" on a rotation spot this spring, according to manager Eric Wedge.
Pineda clearly was a step ahead of that whole group, having pitched a full rookie year in the Majors and possessing overpowering stuff to go with his imposing 6-foot-7, 260-pound frame. He was a man among boys in the Minors and a man among men last year in the Majors, even at 22.
There's no question Zduriencik had to swallow hard before pulling the trigger on this deal, knowing the potential of Pineda. But you have to give up quality to get quality, and in Montero the Mariners landed one of baseball's premier young hitting prospects.
They dealt from strength to help fill a weakness, landing a right-handed slugger who they'll have under team control for six years. They used a premier power arm to get a premier power bat. And on a pitching-rich team that has finished last in the American League in scoring for three straight years, where even Hernandez and Pineda combined for just a 23-24 record despite their excellence last season, that is a deal that makes sense.