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Mariners Add Desperately Needed Bat in Montero

Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on as to who got the better end of the deal, Friday’s trade between the Mariners and the Yankees — Michael Pineda and Jose Campos for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi — was a solid baseball deal that will improve both clubs in areas in which each were lacking.  The Yankees were starving for arms and the M’s were in desperate need of a legitimate impact bat for the middle of their anemic lineup.  We’ve already heard from Michael Barr on the fantasy angle of Pineda’s move to pinstripes, so let’s tackle the other side for immediate impact.  Say what you want about Montero’s limited number of at bats at the major league level; this guy can hit.  If you believe, then welcome aboard.  If not, great!  That’s less of an investment we smart owners will have to make.

First off, let’s just look at the basic numbers.  His ascension through the minor leagues up until 2011 is laden with statistics that most fantasy owners are looking for in a rookie.  He has solid power totals with a steadily rising ISO mark that stayed above .220 at three different levels, including 500-plus plate appearances in Triple-A.  His walk rate is ok; not overwhelmingly strong, but certainly better than a some that we’ve seen.  And finally, he’s produced sound OPS totals that have screamed “promote me.”  Even his K%, though it ran as high as 18.1% in his first go around in Triple-A, is still fairly sound.  You simply can’t deny his talents as a hitter.

Now plenty are quick to point out his lackluster totals last season.  It’s true that, statistically, he took a step back last year, drifting off in every offensive category.  But that slide had much less to do with his hitting ability than it did with his maturity — or lack thereof.  Some cited it as boredom, but it seemed much more like the frustrated tantrum of a 21 year old who was reading his own press clippings.  He thought he was ready for the show; the Yankees did not.  So what does the petulant child do when he doesn’t get his way?  He cops and attitude and allows it to distract him enough that it shines a negative light on himself.  Acceptable?  No.  But everyone else in sports likes to throw around the cliche “it is what it is,” so why can’t we?

Things worked out in the end though.  Montero got his promotion and in 61 at bats, showed that he could hit big league pitching.  Yes, yes, small sample size.  Yawn.  I understand just how limited that number is in the grand scheme of things, but you have to start somewhere, guys.  The 2012 season is going to happen and fantasy drafts will take place before that number gets any bigger, so for now, you just have to use it.  No, I’m not saying run out there and draft him in the top 3 rounds because he’s going to hit 40 home runs, but stop dismissing it as an aberration because you prefer to use a larger sample size for your calculations.

But enough of this background stuff.  Let’s get to the meat of it here.  How will Montero fare in Seattle and where should you be looking at him in fantasy drafts?

Well, obviously the move to Safeco from Yankee Stadium is a bit of a bummer.  The dimensions of the field run longer down the lines and it certainly does not play well to right-handed hitting.  While that may affect his power totals early on — trading home runs for doubles — it could play better for him as far as batting average and OBP.  However, let’s also not forget that Montero has also shown the ability to hit for power the opposite way as three of his four home runs last year cleared the fences in right.  It may take a year or two of getting comfortable hitting in the bigs, but he is already more than capable of spraying the ball to all fields.  Yes, his overall numbers would likely be better if he played half his games in that bandbox in the Bronx, but he’s still going to shine.

And what the ballpark change might do to Montero’s offensive totals could also be made up in additional playing time.  As just the full-time DH for the Yankees, he was also likely to get more time off due to the need to rest certain veterans via the DH spot.  A-Rod, Jeter, and even Granderson would have poached DH at bats as the team got them some rest while keeping their bats in the lineup.  The likelihood of that happening in Seattle is much less given the youth on that team.

Then there’s the whole position eligibility thing.  If you can draft him as a catcher now, then great.  Do it and consider him one of the better options after the top four or five are off the board.  You won’t regret it.

If he doesn’t qualify now, then you’re just going to have to wait just as you would have had he still been in pinstripes.  Actually, you may not even have to wait that long.  The Yankees had viable options in Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli.  In Seattle, there’s the aging and OBP-challenged Miguel Olivo on the last year of his deal and John Jaso, a guy whom the Rays dismissed in favor of Jose Molina.  That alone speaks volumes.  The Mariners plan right now is to try and employ Montero as a catcher, so they’re going to give him an extensive look this spring.  Perhaps his skills improve enough that he gains that eligibility just a little bit faster.

So overall, this move does very little to the value of Montero.  He may not get the benefits of the ballpark factors, but he is still an outstanding hitter.  You should be just as confident in drafting him now as you would have been had he still been a Yankee.  The kid has a great future ahead of him.  And you know…keeper league folks…I think the last time the Yankees traded an unproven, impact bat to Seattle, his name was Jay Buhner.