Yankees Remake Rotation In One Night

Oh, what a night! Michael Corleone, er, Brian Cashman, handled all rotation business in one night, trading Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos, and before the dust had settled they signed Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year, $10 million deal. The two moves transformed the Yanks’ rotation from solid =with a couple of question marks to dominant.

The trade is a rare, good old-fashioned baseball trade — each team received something they needed. The Yankees have a powerful offense, and the Mariners have plenty of pitching. In acquiring Pineda, the Yankees added a young pitcher who strikes out batters by the bushelful. Pineda was just one of 11 pitchers who threw 100 innings last season and struck out better than nine batters per nine innings, and none of the other 10 were Yankees. In fact, using the 100 inning threshold, the Yanks have only had two pitchers top a 9.00 K/9 in the past decade — 2002 Roger Clemens and 2008 Joba Chamberlain (remember that guy?). Pineda is less than a week shy of his 23rd birthday, and under team control for the next five years, all of which is great news for the Bombers.

That’s not to say that Pineda doesn’t come without warts. Now that he is moving to a park with shorter fences in the corners — Safeco’s left-field foul pole is 331 feet from home, right field is 326, while Yankee Stadium is 318 and 314, respectively — Pineda’s fly-ball tendencies could get him in trouble. Only five qualified pitchers had a lower GB/FB than did Pineda last season. From a GB/FB perspective, he does represent a bit of a departure for the Yanks — since new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, 11 of the 14 Yankees pitchers to throw 100 innings in a campaign have had a GB/FB of better than 1.00. Two of the three that were under, 2010 Phil Hughes and 2011 Freddy Garcia, turned in two-win seasons, but I think Cashman and Co. have loftier designs for Pineda.

Pineda may also need to refine his mix of pitches, as he was essentially a two-pitch guy last year. The Pitch f/x numbers have him throwing either his four-seamer or slider 90.2 percent of the time. The choosier hitters in the AL East may sniff this out and wait for a fastball to groove — a dangerous strategy considering how hard he throws, but not an impossible one given how straight he throws it. Pitch f/x had his fastball as slightly worse than Chad Billingsley on a per 100 pitch basis, and that’s likely due to the fact that if you could catch up to the heater, you could hit it hard. Pineda will be successful, but he could make things easier on himself by working to refine his changeup so that it is more than the show-me pitch it was last year.

Whether these concerns turn out to be major or minor will determine whether or not Pineda is a #2 or a #3 starter, but #3 should be his floor. There has been concern about his platoon split, but his 3.82 xFIP against lefties ranked 42nd out of 119 qualified pitchers last season — this is not a glaring weakness. The pitcher who ranked 41st was Matt Cain. And while him leaving the cozy confines of Safeco has to be a touch concerning, it wasn’t an issue last season — his 3.51 xFIP at home was nearly identical to his 3.55 road xFIP, and his 3.26 road FIP was even better than his 3.62 home FIP. Now, one season of platoon splits should be not held up as definitive proof of anything, but the point is that we should put away our jump to conclusions mats for the time being.

Of course, Pineda wasn’t the only move the Yankees made. In landing Kuroda for $10 million, the Yankees will now have three pitchers who ranked in the top 30 in xFIP last season (CC Sabathia, Pineda and Kuroda). As I wrote in December, Kuroda didn’t generate as many grounders as he did last season, but he still was on the dirt-trodden side of the GB/FB spectrum. Kuroda is also quite efficient — his 3.21 K/BB may not be better than Sabathia, but it’s a far piece better than anything A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova, Garcia or Hughes has to offer.

The deal for Kuroda is especially a coup considering the low price in both dollars and years. Contrast his deal to the one Mark Buehrle signed, or the deals inked by Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell, and you can see that the Yankees made out well by waiting.

Big picture, the Yankees have solidified four slots in their starting rotation. Sabathia remains the top dawg, and behind him slot Pineda, Kuroda and Nova in some order. Burnett, Garcia and Hughes will vie for the fifth spot, with Hughes looking to be the low man on the totem pole. Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances could theoretically factor into the mix, but since neither has more than 35 innings of Triple-A ball under their belt, they’re likely ticketed for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

If they so choose, the Yankees could keep the two losers of the fifth-starter derby on the team and in the bullpen. Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, Rafael Soriano, Boone Logan and Cory Wade should make up the front five members of the ‘pen, but the last two spots look to be up for grabs, and could easily go to two of Burnett-Garcia-Hughes.

The Yankees had a good rotation last season — their starter WAR of 16.7 ranked sixth in the Majors. But some of its success, mainly in the persons of Nova and Bartolo Colon, may have been unsustainable. By acquiring Pineda and Kuroda, they should be just as formidable as a group, and there is a good chance the rotation ends up in the top three in 2012. Conservatively speaking, they should be worth at least three more wins combined than the pitchers they are replacing, and could easily push that to five wins. And even though the Yankees have enough credit to buy out Moe Greene and everyone else in baseball, when you consider that they didn’t pay full price for either player, it makes their acquisitions that much sweeter. So much for that quiet offseason.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times and a writer and editor for FanGraphs. He has written for the Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

58 Responses to “Yankees Remake Rotation In One Night”

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  1. Roll Call says:

    I don’t see a dominant rotation here. I see a rotation that still falls behind the Angels, Rays, and Rangers (assuming Darvish). Kuroda doesn’t have the same upside as Oswalt and he’s likely to top out at 10% above league average in the AL BEast. Pineda would seem to be ready to turn the corner, but then I remember being excited by Vazquez and all his Ks and few BBs in 2003. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the M’s get better value from Montero and Noesi, perhaps as much as 5 or 6 WAR. Pineda is going to give up some dingers to lefties in Yankee Stadium.

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    • INGY says:


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      • Chicago Mark says:

        Ingy, are you angry? Cool down man. It’s all ok. I agree with all. This isn’t a great rotation. It is a great trade though. And I’m not at all buying into Kuroda in the AL East. But little downside for Cashman. He now has a bridge to Grienke or Hamels or ??? next year. I am definitely a Yankee hater but this was a good one nights job.

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      • mhad says:

        Ah, the wonders of late night, drunken comment trolls.

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  2. Roll Call says:

    By the way, this slobbering over Cashman needs to stop. They wouldn’t have needed to make this trade if they had any success at all in developing their own pitching prospects. Chamberlain got all of 15 starts in the minors.

    Meanwhile, they have 7 starting pitchers one of whom they owe $33M to. Doesn’t he get “credit” for that?

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    • Austin says:

      Cashman has had his bad moves, but what GM hasn’t? I personally see this as a great upside trade for both teams. As a Yankees fan this trade excites the hell out of me. I wouldn’t be surprised if Pineda has a rough first year in the AL East (although I obviously hope he doesn’t) but long term I love this trade. Cashman made a good move here, at least as we see it now. Let’s give him some credit.

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    • Raf says:

      They were in the process of developing Hughes, Chamberlain & Kennedy, they went out and got Sabathia & Burnett anyway. Nova’s still in the mix, and had they not traded him, Noesi would’ve been in the mix as well. Hughes is still there.

      The Yankees didn’t “need” to make this trade but it’s good that they did anyway.

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  3. Chris H says:

    This trade confuses me. Why are the Mariners trying to compete now? They should be doing what the As are doing – selling high on assets to stock pile top talent for the future. Gio Gonzalez netted Oakland 3 big time pieces and he’s got two less years of control on his deal, plus the As didn’t have to give up anything besides him. In one deal, Jack Z was convinced that the Ms can compete now if they get a middle-of-the-order slugger; that a DH with very limited MLB experience is worth more than a #2 starter with a full season under his belt and so he should throw in another pitcher with huge upside to even out the deal; that this was the best deal for his young stud despite the other off-season trades involving young pitchers with a ton of team control on their contracts. As a Red Sox fan, I’m sick of other AL East teams (Yanks, Jays) capitalizing on Jack Z’s incompetence.

    C’mon Henry, pony up for Oswalt and get over that luxury tax hump! You can make it back in the playoffs!

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    • Aggie E says:

      Their GM is making moves that he thinks will help him keep his job. Thats why they wont trade Hernandez…

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    • Gary says:

      Why can’t Jesus Montero play 1st? He’s a DH in NYC because they have Teixeira there. Same problem doesn’t exist in Seattle.

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      • Chris H says:

        You’d rather have Montero try out 1B than Smoak? Why? Smoak can actually play 1B.

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      • Raf says:

        Montero will probably DH in Seattle. I would like to see if the M’s try and keep him behind the plate. He wasn’t going to get that shot in NY, not with the veteran pitching staff.

        Odd to me that a team that runs Cervelli out there, as a backup no less, is worried about Montero’s defense. Then again, Austin Romine may be the backup, with designs on starting in 2013, depending on how the other catchers in the system (Gary Sanchez, and I’m drawing a blank on the other) progress

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      • Kevin S. says:

        JR Murphy.

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      • Pitnick says:

        The Mariners won’t compete this year anyway, so I see no reason why they shouldn’t at least give Montero every chance to fail behind the plate.

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    • Raf says:

      The M’s aren’t trying to compete now, but they’re trying to get better.

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    • joser says:

      I fail to see how acquiring a hitter with multiple years of team control counts as a “win now” strategy while hanging onto a pitcher with multiple years of team control would not. Especially for an organization with a lot of pitching talent and a dearth of hitters in the high minors pipeline.

      What I do see is that for a Red Sox fan, any trade that doesn’t involve the Yankees giving away talent for nothing in return is going to be judged as a completely bone-headed move by the other team.

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    • Socrates says:

      Chris H is right!. Jack Z has missed the boat on trades big time.

      He could have a rotation of Felix, Morrow, Pineda, Fister, and Beavan. Also, he still could have had Montero and Betances (not Banuelos) for Felix. This guy has just not done a good job.

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  4. Gleb says:


    Not bad. Not great.

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  5. Phils_Goodman says:

    >Matt Cain

    Probably not the most instructive comparison.

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  6. Antonio Bananas says:

    “Dominant”? A guy going into his age 37 season who pitched well in the NL West in a pitchers park; a guy who has a ton of upside but again, pitched in a pitchers park and in a fairly weak hitting division, to go along with a handful of guys who are likely to suck and one guy who is one of the most consistently good-great pitchers in the game. Nope, not dominant.

    The good thing about this move is that their rotation isn’t “CC Sabathia then holy shit what are we gonna get out of these guys” anymore. Dominant? DOMINANT? How is it dominant when they still won’t even have the best rotation in their division? Unless by “dominant” you mean “good”. Maybe our definition of dominant is different. I think of “dominant” as like, the top dog in, at the very leat, your league.

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    • Aggie E says:

      Maybe he is looking at their “age like wine” batting order and thinking that if the rotation is decent that NYY will win 100 games..

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      • Jeff W. says:

        @Aggie E

        Because the age thing has really been hurting them this past… decade?

        Could have sworn they won their division last year and had 97 wins. You think 100 games is ridiculous when they improved their pitching? Yes, they’re all going to drop dead this year because of how old they are.

        Just say it, you hate the Yankees and you have no idea what you’re talking about.

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    • G says:

      It’s certainly behind the Rays, Phillies, and Angels rotations, but I can’t see anyone else with a definitively better rotation. The Rangers’ starters could be better if Darvish exceeds all expectations, but in all likelihood they don’t do better. If enough of the Braves’ young guys pan out theirs is better, but that’s a big “if.”

      It’s pretty dominant, they went from bottom 10 to top 5 in the MLB. When you factor in the lockdown bullpen they’re probably top to bottom the best pitching team in baseball.

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      • MajorDanby says:

        “but I can’t see anyone else with a definitively better rotation. ”

        probably the giants.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Stras could be better than CC, Gio could be better than pineda, Zimmermann and Lannan should be better than Nova and Kuroda. Nats too I think. If Josh Johnson is healthy and Buerhle pitches like he always does, the marlins may have a better rotation too. Basically, to call the Yanks new rotation “dominant” is a huge overstatement. They’re middle of the second tier. When the Phillies, Angels, Rays, Braves, Giants, Nationals, and Marlins all should/could have a better rotation, you’re not dominant, you’re “good if everything goes according to plan”.

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  7. Tanned Tom says:

    The Yankees traded a player without a position for a #2 starter? That’s a steal in my book. With the new CBA and the salary cap of $189 mil looming in 2014, they didn’t want a high priced free agent for multiple years. So they got a very good, very young pitcher who had a great KO/BB ratio last year. Cashman has made a ton of mistakes, but this isn’t one of them.
    Now what would really put the cherry on top of this off season is if they managed to trade Burnett, let Garcia man the 5th spot in the rotation and move Hughes back to the pen (where he’s actually done his best work). I’m thinking that this trade in addition to the Kuroda signing might even hint that such a trade is imminent, as neither Garcia or Burnett is suitable for the bullpen, and Hughes is.

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    • Aggie E says:

      Luxury Tax, I dont think there is a salary cap…

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    • wat says:

      WITHOUT A POSITION? He’s a fucking potential 5 WAR dh. Who gives a shit about position?

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      • G says:

        Ok so he could be productive for a few years, but he wouldn’t play nearly enough to be a 5 WAR player with the rest A-Rod and Jeter need. Maybe 3.5.

        Then in a few years what do we do when A-Rod needs the full time DH job? What would we do? I think he could be a catcher, but when your top 2 pitchers for the next 5 years are Sabathia and Pineda, both guys who work with big sliders in the dirt, I can’t see it ending well.

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      • Joe D says:


        Per Fangraphs, in the last 20 years, there have been 23 DH seasons that featured 5.0 or more WAR. A couple of those flat-out shouldn’t count, because they include guys who played significant time in the field, but let’s be generous to your argument, and let them all count.

        On average, about one DH per season has pulled off a 5.0 WAR. Virtually all of them OPSed close to 1000 and had massive walk rates, and here’s the breakdown:

        Edgar Martinez – 6
        Frank Thomas – 3
        David Ortiz – 3
        Travis Hafner -2
        Jason Giambi -2
        Manny Ramirez – 2
        Tettleton, Molitor, Palmeiro, G. Vaughn, D. Justice -1 each

        A couple of things:

        These are some of the absolute best hitters of the last two decades, and their DH seasons generally all came well past the age of 22. There is no historical precedent for a prospect to come up as a 22-year-old DH and start pumping out 5.0 WAR seasons. Nor even for one to come up and eventually pump out 5.0 WAR seasons. All of these dudes had a position, with the vast majority of them honing their craft in the majors and *then* popping out some 5.0 WAR DH seasons as veterans.

        In the sense that any real nice prospect has the “potential” to hit like a Hall of Famer or borderline Hall of Famer, sure, I suppose Montero has that potential.

        But to any meaningful sense of the word, projecting that sort of production is asinine when you look at how damn tough it is for a DH to accumulate value through his bat alone.

        Calling any hitting prospect a potential 5.0-WAR DH is rather like calling a pitching prospect a potential 2.5-WAR set-up guy. It’s such a specialized role, with limited opportunities of accumularing value, that just the nature of it makes it damn near impossible, regardless of how incredible the prospect is.

        Which bring us to: just how incredible a prospect is Montero? Well, I really like him. That being said, he has *zero* positional value, *zero* speed value, and spent the majority of 2011 posting a very-nice-but-not-great 815 OPS in a repeat engagement at AAA. This campaign featured moderate power, and mediocre walk rate.
        It also included a miserable 730 OPS against same-handed pitching.

        There is an awful lot of wishcasting involved to get to the point where we can even say he’ll be a significant asset over the next few years, let along like Jason Giambi, Manny Ramirez, Edgar Martinez, and David Ortiz at their absolute best.

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      • Joe D says:

        By the by, when I said “Virtually all of them OPSed close to 1000″…I meant to say “virtually all of them OPSed OVER or very close 1000…”

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      • bstar says:

        And Michael Pineda is a fucking potential 5 WAR pitcher.

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  8. Fletch says:

    I dont buy the whole “xxxx pitcher will perform significantly worse going to the AL East” argument if the pitcher will be playing FOR one of the 2 offensive juggernauts in the division. I feel Kuroda will do better than we think, especially given his groundball tendencies.

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  9. Pat S says:

    Kuroda is just a bridge to 2013. AJ and Mo are probably gone and the killer B’s should be ready for prime time. CC, MP, Nova, B + B perhaps. Bullpen Robertson, Hughes, Joba. Potentially vert young and low cost.

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    • William says:

      Also, 2013 FA pitchers.

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    • bstar says:

      Pat, has Rivera actually said anything about retirement after this year? He obviously hasnt lost anything at age 41, and he didnt start his MLB career until age 26. I would love if he went all Hoyt Wilhelm on us.(not a Yankees fan, but I love the great ones)

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  10. Jack Thomas says:

    Kuroda is a gamble despite his low price:
    Move from NL to AL reduce K/9 by .5 & add .5 to ERA (Not to mention AL East),
    FIP 68 pts higher than ERA in 2011,
    He had a very high LOB% last yr (Unustainable),
    Yankee Stadium is much worse pitcher’s park,
    Add his age & the NY aura to the mix.
    The Pineda/Montero trade seems to favor NY. However, only time will tell. Pineda is under the Verducci Effect (32 IP increase in 2011) with a history of elbow problems. Moreno is unproven prospect with no position to play. I do not know how the 2 prospects (Noesi/Campos) compare. However, Yankee’s prospect are usually over rated or hyped. Unless SEA plans on using Montero at catcher or they are very down on Pineda, it makes little sense for them.

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    • Jon says:

      In fairness Seattle handled Pineda very very well last year. The innings jump is certainly not outrageous by any means. Also they never pushed him in games, he was never allowed to go past 7 innings except one start late in the season when he had 2 extra days of rest. He was never allowed to labor through very stressful innings for the most part. He never went more than 106 pitches in a start. Now he does have injury history but if he has trouble in the future its because of issues from before last year because Seattle handled him perfectly IMO.

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    • JohnnyComeLately says:

      Seattle’s in the AL. No need to make an NL to AL adjustment

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  11. Matt says:

    I am of the opinion that we will need to wait a while before we can truly see which team got the better player in the Montero vs Pineda deal. That said, in the current marketplace, I think it is safe to say that Brian Cashman ‘won’ the trade in that he did not pay full price to get the young, cost-controlled SP. Look at what Gio Gonzalez and Mat Latos got their respective teams, and then ask yourself why Seattle had to include Jose Campos to get this deal done. If Campos was still with the Mariners, I would have thought that this was a balanced trade on both sides from a market value standpoint . . . but, sice he’s now with the Yankees, I give New Yord the edge. I have to think that Cashman would have still pulled the trigger if Pineda was his only return for Montero + Noesi.

    As for Hiroki Kuroda, I think it’s a great signing for the same reason it was great for the Reds to sign Ryan Madson: a 1 year contract at a reasonable price for a team that sees itself as ready to win now.

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  12. drumz says:

    i still believe that Jackson would have been a better deal for them. I do see the other side of it though. Their top two pitching prospects could both be in the rotation next year.


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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Jackson is proven and an innings eater though. Something like 70% of top pitching prospects flat out fail, then only like 5% of them actually become stars. The rest are average. I’d rather have a guy to eat innings while the young kids try to figure it out than an old fart who pitched well in a pitcher’s park. Of course, there are always free agents every year so it may not matter.

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