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July 1, 2011 at 9:52 AM

Trade Michael Pineda? Like an odd gift suggestion, it’s the thought that counts

Read an interesting proposal yesterday by USS Mariner guru and FanGraphs editor Dave Cameron. He suggests the Mariners should consider trading Michael Pineda this summer in order to cash in on a boatload off AAA/near-ready major league prospects or guys already in the majors with years of club control left.
Naturally, he got assailed for that opinion by a swarm of critics.
But I’ll suggest the same thing with this Cameron opinion that I do with stuff on this blog. Please, try to stop and think first before writing something knee-jerk to criticize a post. Even if something outrages you. Assume that everyone who writes in a public forum is not an idiot, knows something about their subject matter and has reasoning behind what they suggest. Then, if you disagree, by all means, fire away. But try to think it through first.
Because what Cameron suggests is not outrageous.
And depending on what the real front office plans are for this team, it might be the best way for this rebuilding plan to bear fruit more quickly.
Photo Credit: AP

For instance, if the real goal of the Mariners is to contend in 2013, and sort of let other surprise moments of contention pass them by until that “five year plan” hits its maturity date, then it makes perfect sense to trade Pineda right now if the right offer hits.
I am not in favor of a Pineda trade to contend this year. Seeing a bunch of prospects struggle the way Justin Smoak did last year is not going to get the 2011 team to the promised land. Not every young guy is going to do what Dustin Ackley has the first two weeks.
But if the Mariners’ front office has no real plans to contend in 2011 — or even 2012 for that matter, if we’re in the same boat a year from now — then by all means, trade Pineda and give your team a real shot at that 2013 target. When I say “no real plans to contend” I mean that the front office will not acquire the bats needed to bolster this offense when required to. If the word from above is to forget Carlos Beltran because the team won’t spend the money, or to put a trade freeze on any half-decent prospect, then that’s pretty much the equivalent of writing off this season. Because this team won’t contend much longer scoring one or two runs per game.
So, if the front office is already leaning towards 2012, the prophecy will become self-fulfilling by standing pat. You can start shipping off your veterans one-by-one in coming weeks and score as many prospects as you can get your hands on.
And if standing pat, other than some token trade for a mediocre stick, is going to rule the day, then let’s seriously get this future jumpstarted.
These Mariners, as Cameron writes, have plenty of gaping holes and questions. Not only in left field, at third base and DH, but also behind the plate. Miguel Olivo is only here for one more year and then two if the club picks up his option. But that option would kick in by 2013 — the “real” contention date — and we still don’t have a clue where Adam Moore is going to be at.
And as good as Pineda might become, he’s essentially been a two-pitch pitcher to-date, getting by on striking out a bunch of opponents with an electric fastball in a league that’s as weak offensively as it’s been in some time. We don’t know where he’s headed. Could be Felix Hernandez in a few years, or, he could become a frustrating enigma. We’re not yet through the once-around portion with him.
As Cameron writes, young pitchers are vulnerable to injury more so than young position players. That’s one reason the Mariners ignored Pineda’s Super 2 arbitration concerns and his pending free agency when promoting him right away this year, as opposed to waiting until mid-June as they did with Ackley. With pitchers, you want to get as much juice out of their arms as you can before disaster strikes.
You just don’t know when a young pitcher will get hurt.
On a note of lesser concern, Pineda will be under club control for five more years after this one. Ackley will be here for six more. Yeah, it’s only one season, but Pineda — if he does stay healthy and successful — will start collecting serious seven-figure arbitration money in a few years right around the time Felix Hernandez contract talks will begin. Might be nice to have a few extra bucks around for your best pitcher. Like I said, it’s a lesser worry, but it’s a factor if you aren’t planning to take a shot until 2013.
The thing to remember about Pineda is that he’s not Felix Hernandez. He’s a pitcher who has enjoyed success the first three months of his career. And as such, he’s accumulated some value that might never get higher than it is right now, since he’s ticketed for the all-star game (you’d think) and has yet to really experience the failure that will inevitably strike for some period of time.
Last winter, before Pineda had done a thing in the big leagues, we wrote about how the M’s might consider dealing him and one other top prospect to the Diamondbacks for outfielder Justin Upton. That the price of Upton was going to take at least Pineda and either Ackley or Smoak.
That’s because Upton had the potential to be a franchise player for five more years of club control. Upton is becoming that franchise guy this year, with a .304 batting average, .385 on-base percentage, .518 slugging percentage and .903 OPS. He’s on-pace to match his career-best 26 homers and will easily set a new career standard for doubles at the rate he’s going.
Upton is an impact offensive player. He plays defense as well, which the M’s love. The kind of guy you build a team around. How good would he look in left field for the Mariners right now? Your outfield would be set. Well, Franklin Gutierrez would have to wake up and join 2011 first, but that’s a whole other blog post.
Now, since that time we debated this last winter, Smoak has picked up his game and found something of a power stroke in the majors. Ackley has made a sizzling debut and Pineda has had a great first three months.
Their value has gone up. You might not need to trade two of those guys to land an impact bat. You might still need to for Upton. But maybe not for a bunch of bats less proven, but with the ability to get there someday and help a rebuilding team — if that’s ultimately what the M’s front office decides this club will be before 2013 — get to where it needs to be a lot sooner.
Frankly, I’m not sure the D-Backs would take a Pineda/Smoak package for Upton straight-up right now even if some Mariners fans would be horrified by such an offer.
The value of Pineda and Smoak has gone up. But it’s only three more months worth of value. They have yet to fulfill more than half a season at their new levels.
And so, as Cameron writes, if you can score a Cliff Lee type of package this year for a young pitcher who is still relatively unproven, the Mariners might just benefit from that type of deal in the long run. Especially if Pineda’s real value in coming years turns out to be somewhat less than his perceived value right now.
Cameron suggested a Reds package (you can read about it in his post, I don’t want to re-write the entire article here) that would represent an excellent prospects haul. In fact, I’m not sure the Reds would part with such a package in real life. But I get where Cameron is coming from.
The Mariners have pitching depth in their minor league system via Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton (Happy Canada Day to him, Erik Bedard and Michael Saunders, by the way). All three guys could be in the big leagues by 2013 and at least one could be doing exactly what Pineda is right now.
And even if Pineda’s first three months winds up better than any of theirs, a handful of good position players in return — with at least one being of real impact — could trump a half-season from a rookie all-star pitcher.
Bottom line is, you can’t rule it out. Especially if this team has no serious plans to “go for it” before 2013. None of us is privy to what is really in the mind of Jack Zduriencik as he goes forward. In real terms, as Niccolo Machiavelli (I think he played in right field) might put it, it’s in Zduriencik’s best interests to push off any do-or-die scenarios until 2013, since he’s due for a contract extension shortly and would probably like to make it through at least a couple of years of that.
If you hint strongly that you’re going for it in 2012, then lose, say, 101 games (no, that would never happen…) then all of a sudden, your future starts to look bleak indeed. Especially if this year’s squad winds up below .500 to precede that.
Anyhow, that’s just Machiavelli talking. I have no idea what’s running through Zduriencik’s head. For all I know, he’ll decide to “go for it” this year and make an impact trade. We’ll see.
But if everyone’s real target is 2013, then Pineda is a huge trade commodity you could look to cash in on by landing a bunch of big-time prospects who would then have another 1 1/2 seasons to mature.
That’s all Cameron is saying. Make the team better overall as it moves forward. Not neccessarily better this year. Maybe a lot better than anyone thought it could be by next year. And from that perspective, it makes sense.
I’d rather see this team try to win the winnable season that’s right in front of it. But as I’ve been writing for two weeks, everyone’s got to have a Plan B.



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