One of the most debated trades of the off-season was the deal that sent Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees in exchange for Jesus Montero. As soon as the trade went down, fantasy sites were buzzing about the deal and what it meant to both players' prospects for the upcoming season. The general consensus among the writing staff here was that the swap made sense for both teams. The Mariners had a slew of young arms ready to compete for rotation spots and the Yankees had two other good catching prospects in their own pipeline. Depending on your view, there were arguments to be made on the merits and the downside of the trade for both teams.
Fantasy players don’t really care who wins or loses a trade. We are more interested in how it affects the projections for the players involved. In the wake of the trade, Montero gained traction while Pineda’s stock took a slight hit. Once spring training arrived, Pineda’s stock took another hit as his velocity was way down. In his spring debut as a Yankee his fastball was sitting between 88-91 mph. That was down from the 94.7 mph that he averaged in 2011 and was the first sign that something was wrong.
Manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman both made public statements that they weren’t concerned with the drop in velocity, but privately both had to be concerned. Things didn’t really get much better in Pineda’s next two outings. His velocity was still down and Girardi seemed at a loss to explain why. Eyebrows were raised further when it was announced that Andy Pettitte would be returning to the team after sitting out all of 2011.
In his last start of the spring, Pineda got hammered. With questions about his velocity not going away and his rotation spot in jeopardy to start the year, Pineda tried one last time to right the ship. Instead, he was greeted by reporters afterwards and repeatedly asked if he had hurt his arm during the start. After initially denying that anything was wrong, the young pitcher finally admitted that his shoulder was “sore” and that he was trying to throw harder that fateful day. He would go on the DL with “shoulder tendinitis” and by the end of drafting season was being drafted in rounds 18-20, a big drop for a player who was the 17th starter selected in my first draft of the year, back in January. Yesterday, after getting a second opinion on his ailing shoulder, it was reported the Pineda has a torn labrum and would undergo season-ending surgery next week. It's a huge blow for the Yankees and fantasy owners alike to lose an arm like Pineda's this early in the season.
Questions are already flying around about if the M’s knew about the injury and pulled a fast one over on the Yankees. Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik has denied that the team knew that Pineda was injured, and Cashman himself has backed that up by stating there were no signs of injury at the time of the trade. While that may be true, the Yankee GM is nevertheless getting hammered on message boards by angry Yankee fans for not doing his due diligence and trading away the team’s top prospect for damaged goods.
The tabloids here in New York haven’t quite gotten around to pointing the finger at Girardi and his coaching staff yet, but I would bet that the Yankee skipper will be the next logical person to come under scrutiny. I expect we will soon hear stories of Girardi pushing Pineda to bring that velocity up and maybe even reports that they “tweaked” Pineda’s mechanics in an attempt to fix the problem. One of our friends in the industry, Rotowire’s Chris Liss, has already come out and firmly laid the blame at Girardi’s feet for “coaxing Pineda into injury.” I have to say that I agree with him and Girardi really blew it when it comes to his handling of Pineda this spring.
You may disagree with the both of us, but the truth is, the team had been down this road before, with Philip Hughes in 2011, and I am sure that Pineda’s drop in velocity had to give the Yankees high command flashbacks to Hughes’ troubles coming off his breakout 2010. Much like Hughes, Pineda was coming off his first full year as a starter in the majors. He showed the fatigue of the increased work with his late season slide last year. The fact that he was struggling so deep into spring training begged for the team to tread lightly with their prized off-season acquisition. Instead of caution, the opposite approach was taken, and a young pitcher was pushed to perform up to expectations. He then went out and tried too hard to give his manager what he was asking for with devastating results.
Girardi is already going into damage control, but I can’t believe that Cashman is very pleased with his manager right now. It seems clear to me that Girardi’s threat to demote Pineda at the end of spring training if he didn’t get his velocity back up set the table for what is now a potentially career altering injury. While Pineda will likely make it back to the mound in the future, the odds are long that he will ever again be the dominating presence the Yankees thought they were getting.
Some apologists will argue that there are risks involved with any young pitcher, and that the Yankees just got snake-bit here. I would tend to agree with those sentiments under normal circumstances, but to do so would be to ignore the recent track record within the organization. Pineda now joins Hughes and Joba Chamberlain as an arm mishandled by Girardi and his minions. If George Steinbrenner were still around, Girardi would be firmly on the hot seat today. If the Yankees come up short again in the playoffs this year, it will once again be because of an inability to match up with other contenders on the mound. While we won’t see Pineda throw a ball again until at least next year, I think we may have seen him throw his last pitch for Joe Girardi.
Quick Hits from around the AL:
Jake Peavy continued his stellar start with another standout performance, this time a CG shutout against the Oakland A’s. He's now 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA, 26 strikeouts and only 4 walks in 28.2 innings. You have to ride this and hope that he remains healthy, but everything is pointing to a big bounce back season for the former Cy Young winner.
Nolan Reimold was tearing the cover off the ball, with home runs in five of six games before neck spasms put him on the bench the last five games. The injury may be a blessing in shallower leagues, as he may still be sitting on some waiver wires in some. He should be back in the lineup soon and will continue to see pitches to hit at the top of the Oriole lineup.
Mike Aviles decided the best way to put rumors of a rift between he and manager Bobby Valentine to bed was to become a one man wrecking crew. He smacked two homers the last two games and is riding a seven-game hitting streak.
Justin Masterson owners are likely worried today. He followed up a great start against Toronto to open the season with three straight sub-par outings. Last week’s two-start turn against Seattle and Oakland had me (yes I own him on multiple teams) salivating over the prospects of a big week. Instead it was a nightmare that saw him surrender 12 runs in 7.2 innings over two starts. He walked 10 and struck out only three batters in the two games. He’s getting hit hard by lefties again, something that he seemed to have gotten under control last year. While you can’t bail on him yet, he’s a tough start until further notice.
The continued struggles of the Los Angeles Angels offense, and their outfielders in particular, have many in the fantasy community wondering when, not if, prized rookie Mike Trout will get the call from Triple-A, where he is terrorizing opposing pitching. He’s hitting over .400 while Peter Bourjos is scuffling at .186.
Edwin Encarnacion, a member of our AL All-Underrated team, has started out strong with four homers and 10 extra base hits in his first 18 games. He’s driven in 13 runs and even chipped in three steals so far this year.
Jason Hammel continued his re-emergence from the thin air of Colorado with another solid performance. That’s 4 starts, 4 W’s, 25 K’s in 26 IP. He’ll get tested next week with a two-start week on the road against the Yankees and Red Sox. It will be interesting to see how many owners will roll with him against those two tough matchups.
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