By now, the dwindling knot of fans still caring about the Mariners has examined Jesus Montero nearly down to the colonoscopy and found the 22-year-old to be an exciting young hitting prospect.
Underscoring the judgment was none other than Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who told reporters in a New York teleconference Monday that Montero “may very well be the best player Ive traded.
BUT (there’s always upper-case BUTs when talk turns to Mariners trades) can he catch?
“That will address itself in spring training,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said in his own teleconference Monday. “We scouted Jesus for a number of years — we knew him as an amateur in Venezuela. We’re going to give him the time for him to be all he can be. He will be a very good offensive player and get every opportunity to be a good catcher. We like who we have.”
Which is a magnificent ramble to get to “no,” as a way of answering the question of whether he’s a major league catcher.
But that’s OK. Four power ABs a game as designated hitter for such a woebegone offensive outfit as the Mariners works. It’s four more than they had, and they already hired a decent platoon catcher, John Jaso, to reduce the numbers of games by arguably the worst defensive catcher in MLB, Miguel Olivo.
What I’m wondering about is the pitcher in the deal, Hector Noesi. His resume reads well. He split the season between the Yankees and Triple A and was said to be the Yankees’ No. 7 prospect overall and possessed the best control in the Yankees system, and had 45 strikeouts in 56 innings with the big club. A Dominican who turns 25 Thursday and is under Mariners contractual control for at least six seasons, he’s already being called the “hidden gem” of the deal by some scouts.
“I’m excited about him,” Zduriencik said. “I’d be foolish to think we would replace Michael Pineda with this trade. But as we went through our options, we hope he’ll be a starter, which means we get two big leaguers in this deal.”
That’s the scary part. Noesi might be good enough to get traded.
As was Pineda (9-10 record, 3.74 ERA in 2011).
As was Cliff Lee (17-8, 2.40).
As was Brandon Morrow (11-11, 4.72)
As was Doug Fister (8-1, 1.89 ERA in 11 starts in Detroit after trade from Seattle).
That, friends, is a good starting rotation — 45-30 with an ERA around 3.50. The Mariners have traded all that quality mound labor for a proven closer (Morrow for Brandon League), a No. 5 starter Blake Beavan (Lee trade with Texas), and a lot of guys with potential.
Not to dismiss Justin Smoak, Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin and others acquired in the transactions, but like Montero, they are young guys who haven’t yet produced at the big-league level. Unlike the players for whom they were traded, they have lower ceilings.
For a decade, that’s what the Mariners have done. Trading one extra large for three mediums has gotten them virtually nowhere. And now, with the Angels and Rangers having amped up their financial games considerably, the Mariners have sent away their biggest young asset, Pineda, who at least had a full year at the top to allow the Yankees to see he was worth giving up on a talented DH, for the unproven.
Unless Prince Fielder shows up shortly sporting a compass rose on his hat, the Mariners are betting everything that all this potential is going to show up in 2012 to stem the wholesale fan disaffection. That is asking much.
Naturally, Zduriencik disagreed.
“We brought a lot back for those players,” he said, mentioning League, the three players for Lee and reliever Mark Lowe, the four players for Doug Fister and reliever David Pauley and, of course, Montero and Noesi. “We want to to do deals for players who will be with us for a long time. Some still need time to grow and improve.”
But hasn’t that always been the case for the last decade? They grow, they improve — they get traded. Zduriencik’s remark about wanting young talent the club can control for six years is true for every club, but it’s especially true for a franchise that is on its heels as their rivals blow past them.
The Mariners won’t pay the money to get well in veteran free agency, so they spend what resources they have hoping to get lucky with Kevin Millwood, Oliver Perez and the occasional Japanese semi-star.
I don’t blame Zduriencik for hard-selling his deals; only his entire job depends on it. But he’s up against a pile of skepticism much higher and darker than the dirty ice mounds along the sides of our village roads.
Because so many transactions have not paid off since the freak year of 116 wins more than decade ago, and because every season begins with some arduous workaround on huge, under-productive contracts (Carlos Silva, Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins, Ichiro), the GM in a pitcher-friendly park is forced to throw talented pitchers under the tires just for traction, not necessarily to get down the road fast.
Every school child understands the triteness about having to give quality to get quality. But the theory in Seattle has yet to produce quality in large doses, even though large doses have been provided.
Even Pineda seemed to recognized it, although his struggles with English are probably the source of a funny line at his press conference that caused knowing chuckles in New York.
I never thought,” he said, “I would become a New York Yankee so early into my career.
Those of us who watched the Mariners’ sad saga unfold over the years might respond: What took you so long?