By Jason Keidel
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Jesus Montero hit a home run Friday night, and I could smell the wax burning from various candlelight vigils clustered around the five boroughs and beyond.
It wasn’t just any homer, you see. Not only did it help the Seattle Mariners and hurt the New York Yankees, but also it was portentous, doubling as a microcosm of the trade that put Montero in that incongruous, if not blasphemous, attire.
Cyberspace gurgled with invectives from indignant Yankees fans, who took to Twitter and Facebook, bashing Brian Cashman for trading Montero to Seattle for a fat pitcher with a bum shoulder.
It seems the aggrieved Yankees devotees knew that Michael Pineda, the aforementioned flop, would appear portly for spring training and tear the labrum in his pitching shoulder. Everyone except the Yankees, who did a complete physical on Pineda– including an MRI – and thumbed through the Mariners’ medical records on the young man.
And now every time Montero inches closer to Pete Rose’s record for base hits – well, let’s see, he’s got 52 now, so…yup…just 4,004 to go – we’ll be reminded of the trade until Pineda does something important, which won’t happen anytime soon.
But what exactly has Montero done to warrant such worship? Is it his .262 batting average? His dreadful .287 on-base percentage? His five walks in 32 games?
To hear New Yorkers tell it, we just traded Roy Hobbs for Steve Trout. Soon we’ll just erase his last name and refer to him the holiest of terms. Did you see what Gee-Zus did last night? I told ya we shoulda kept him!
We haven’t noted, but we should, that good hitters are far easier to find than good pitchers. Out of the nine batters New York sent to the plate yesterday, just two (Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano) came up through the Yankees’ farm system. Signing A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and Nick Swisher turned out all right. But Kuroda? Garcia? Igawa, Pavano? Pitching is a crapshoot.
And the fact that the Yanks are ninth in the American League in pitching (4.06 ERA) and third in hitting should reflect that, while reinforcing the need to pull the trigger on nearly any trade that brings in a second-year pitcher who made the All-Star team as a rookie.
This column places me in the odd position of defending Brian Cashman, whose record with pitching is dubious (at best) and well-documented, from Kei Igawa to Jaret Wright to Kevin Brown to A.J. Burnett and Carl Pavano.
Frankly, I also think Cashman ruined Joba Chamberlain’s career with bewildering pitch counts and clandestine “Joba” rules, which included removing him from the perfect perch, from which he was born to pitch: the bullpen.
So in the lurking, hulking shadow of his aggregate pitching gaffes, Cashman earns a certain level of scrutiny, a jeweler’s eye on every move he makes. But to judge this trade in May, before Pineda has pitched his first game in pinstripes, is myopic at best.
No one loves the pastoral notion of a homegrown prospect whacking his way through the system then starring in Yankee Stadium for a decade more than I do. But let’s stop pretending Montero is Jose Reyes, much less the Core Four. Yes, the trade looks idiotic now, but only because Pineda is hurt, not because Montero is lighting up the American League.
Maybe it’s a maturity thing. Indeed, when I was 20 I had a housefly’s patience for perfection. I cursed the revered Paul O’Neill and even the sainted Don Mattingly back in the day whenever they struck out in a big spot. “I don’t care if he’s hitting .335,” I’d say from my living room. “None of those hits happen when it matters!” And now, with today’s young Yankee fanatics, every time Jesus Montero hits a home run he’s suddenly Roy Campanella.
Over time you take a step back and wait a little before putting a postmortem on a team or a trade. Indeed, David Waldstein put it best in The New York Times. “Pitchers do not come with warning labels. Sometimes they break without notice,” he wrote on Saturday.
That assertion applies to everyone; even to the New York Yankees. And even to Brian Cashman.
Feel free to email me: Keidel.Jason@gmail.com
Should Brian Cashman be let off the hook for this trade? Be heard in the comments below…