The January 2012 trade that sent Jesus Montero to the Seattle in exchange for Micheal Pineda wasn't just looked at as a win-win for the New York Yankees and Mariners, but rather a perfect exchange of elite prospects for positional needs within each organization, respectively.
Seattle, stocked with young pitchers coming through the system to buoy Felix Hernandez atop the rotation, badly needed offensive punch in their lineup, most notably at the catching position.
New York, under the mandate to get under the $189 million tax threshold by 2014, needed cost-effective starting pitching. Plus, despite watching Montero hit the ball hard in a September 2011 call-up, they were stocked with their own catching depth behind him and a lineup full of veteran, everyday offensive performers.
Winners and losers are often declared the minute a trade commences. With this example, there wasn't supposed to be one.
Seventeen months later, upon the news, via The News Tribune, of Jesus Montero's dismissal to Triple-A Tacoma, neither of the centerpieces of the deal are in the major leagues.
Who knew that on May 23, 2013, Hector Noesi would be the only player in the Montero-Pineda trade to still be in the majors. #YCPB5/23/2013, 4:00:42 PM
Amazingly, a year after shoulder surgery that cost him the entire 2012 season, it's Pineda that looks closer to making an impact in the show. His rehab has progressed to the point where a return from the DL could be just weeks away.
On the other hand, Montero continues to regress as a hitter while showing no ability to be a catcher on the big league level.
Offense from the catcher position is a luxury, but few teams will accept poor offense and defense from that position. If Montero were hitting closer to league average or had an on-base percentage at least in the .300s, it's likely that Seattle would have lived through his progression and allowed him to be their full-time designated hitter.
Instead, his .590 OPS was too unbearable to watch anymore for a team deficient at the plate.
While it's now easy to call this swap a lose-lose for both sides, that's as far from the truth as the win-win proclamations were upon the announcement in 2012.
Joel Sherman @Joelsherman1
#Mariners demote Jesus Montero. Pineda nearing rehab games. Full grade on trade still a ways off. #Yankees5/23/2013, 4:15:28 PM
Baseball fans want instant gratification, but young players are, much much more likely to go through the ebb and flow of progression, regression and ascension along the path of a major league career than they are to become the next Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. In other words, most good young players don't enjoy smooth rides to stardom.
In the case of Pineda, he looked like Matt Harvey before Matt Harvey. A few months later, he was overweight, overthrowing and headed to the operating table.
Montero showed rare opposite-field power for a right-handed hitter, slugging .590 in a brief 2011 cameo with New York. He was so good and polished that Yankee fans penciled him in as the next great catcher in a lineage that has included names like Berra, Munson and Posada.
Seattle Sportsnet @alexSSN
Jesus Montero's WAR is -0.3. So by sabermetric definition, he is actually worse than the inactive Michael Pineda.5/6/2013, 8:59:18 PM
At the age of 23 and 24, respectively, Montero and Pineda are now damaged goods, busts and fodder for fans who hate the mere idea of prospects.
Those narratives may be true, but they're also young players with considerable upside, years from their athletic prime and will likely be back and contributing before too long.
Assessing the winner of a trade like this was silly from day one. Montero's demotion to Triple-A doesn't make a breakdown any easier, though.
In reality, the true win-win or lose-lose won't be determined for years. For fans of the Mariners and Yankees, you can still win the trade.
Of course, it's going to take some patience first.
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