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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

January 13, 2012 at 4:31 PM

Big Mariners trade: Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero is the centerpiece

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(Here are two pictures of Jesus Montero I shot in Tampa last February during spring training. He’s far left in the first picture, right after batting practice. In the second, he’s getting instruction from Yankees coach Tony Pena while teammates, including Jorge Posada, center, watch).

Nothing officially announced yet, but according to multiple sources, the Mariners have traded Michael Pineda to the Yankees in a deal that will bring catcher Jesus Montero, one of the best power prospects in baseball, to the Mariners.

Yes, it’s a blockbuster.

According to Greg Johns of MLB.com (which I have confirmed), 19-year-old pitcher Jose Campos, a right-hander, will also go to the Yankees, and Hector Noesi, a right-handed pitcher, will come to Seattle. Noesi, 24, appeared in 30 games for the Yankees last year (two starts), and had a 4.47 ERA. Look for him to be a candidate for the back end of the Mariners rotation — he started in the minors, and was the Yankees’ No. 7-ranked prospect by Baseball America heading into last season.

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN was the first to tweet that the Mariners “are moving closer to a trade for a young impact hitter, two baseball sources confirmed.”

A second Crasnick tweet said It’s a “significant trade,” says one source. And Brandon League is not part of the return package.

I snooped around and heard that the trade involved Pineda heading to the Yankees in a package that would bring Montero to Seattle, and put out a tweet to that effect. And Heyman of CBS was the first to tweet that trade indeed is going to happen, supplying the additional names.

You might recall that Montero very nearly came to Seattle in the Cliff Lee trade — it was agreed upon, but the Mariners backed out because of concern over the health of a minor leaguer in the deal. They then pulled off the deal that brought Justin Smoak to Seattle.

Montero is a 6-foot-3, 235-pounder from Venezuela, age 22 (he doesn’t turn 23 until November 28), who hit .328 with four homers in 18 games last year for the Yankees. Small sample size and all that, but he also had four doubles and put up a .406 on-base percentage and .590 slugging percentage for a .996 OPS.

Montero could get some time behind the plate but with Miguel Olivo and John Jaso already on hand, right now figures to get the bulk of his action at designated hitter. His primary position for Seattle is “hitter.” They’ll stick him in the middle of the batting order, I assume, and then Eric Wedge will figure out where to play him.

I’ve got a lot of reporting to do, but snap judgment is I like this. A lot. Pineda is a huge talent and you hate to see him go, but the Mariners have young pitching coming in droves. Montero has the potential to be a major, major power hitter, and the Mariners need that, desperately. They can figure out where he’ll play — there are doubts about his defense behind the plate — when he gets here, but his bat is major-league ready. Yes, he’s a right-handed hitter, which is tough at Safeco, but his power should transcend the ballpark.

Last spring, when I was at Yankees camp in Tampa, I talked pretty extensively with Yankees GM Brian Cashman about Montero and the near-deal with Seattle. Here is the blog post I wrote, in which Cashman said Montero would have been “by far” the best player traded for Cliff Lee.

By the way, no deal will be announced for awhile — not until all the physicals are undertaken.

As for the impact on the Mariners’ acquisition of Prince Fielder, it theoretically shouldn’t affect it, since this move does not add substantially, if at all, to their payroll. But it provides an alternative power bat if they don’t land Fielder.

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