Even as the prohibitive favorites to win the AL East, the New York Yankees just got favorite...er. In fact, they might be the prohibitive favorites to win the whole damn thing. Because the New York Yankees just had a day.
Already excellently covered by BockerKnocker earlier in the evening, the Yanks pulled off a major trade tonight involving the primary pieces Jesus Montero and Michael Pineda.
This in itself is gigantic for the Yankees, and beneficial in many ways aside from the talent they had just traded for. With the aging, high-paid Yankees infield of Alex Rodgriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, along with Nick Swisher and Eduardo Nunez, the Yankees have multiple players that can play all four infield positions. Switching between these 6 men is a necessity manager Joe Girardi must deal with in order to keep his older stars fresh and ready for another 162 game stretch. That means DH-ing A-Rod and Jeter in particular, leaving rookie DH Jesus Montero on the bench for multiple days in a week.
So what to do with this problem? Somebody had to go, and seeing as he had such high trade value and lack of a heavy, multi-year contract, Montero was the logical choice to go.
Again, BockerKnocker covered what it means for the Yanks to lose Montero - he's an absolute stud, and a homegrown one at that. But on the other side, the Yanks acquired Michael Pineda, a fireballing Cuban right hander, built like a tight end at 6'7" and 260 lbs. If you've never seen him, imagine Ron Gronkowski's body, with Randy Johnson's arms, except young and perpetually looking pissed off. I watched Pineda pitch a bunch this year, and he is an absolute monster. Though he tailed off at the end of the year, Pineda killed the AL with a 3.03 ERA, and 113 strikeouts in the same amount of innings. Though projected to be a future ace, right now Pineda is most well-served to be the second or third best pitcher in any rotation - exactly what he'll be with the Yankees.
However, I've got my reservations about Pineda in the Bronx. For most of last year, Pineda lived in relative anonymity. he pitched in the quiet AL West, for a team no one expected to achieve against a subpar A's team and a oddly mediocre Angels squad. H estarted the year off with little fanfare, and even that came from only fantasy baseball nerds (me) and the 17 Mariners fans left. Without expectations, Pineda was the imposing juggernaut reflected by his hulking stature on the mound. But then came the accolades, the internet buzz and the All-Star berth. All combined, Pineda performed at less than league average in the second half - he still was striking out a ton of guys, but giving up more hits and homers than ever before. As soon as the pressure came, Pineda wilted even in the moderate Seattle weather.
Now let's extrapolate this situation and add 69,000 times the amount of pressure that he ever had in Seattle. Tonight, people are out in New York, buying shots and dedicating them to the acquisition of Michael Pineda. With the Yanks faithful having to endure a couple years of D-list pitchers supporting ace CC Sabathia, a young, cheap stud like Pineda is a dream come true. I just don't think that a man whose shown that he doesn't respond well to pressure can immediately succeed in New York. This is not to say that he'll never be the dominant force he has the physical tools to be while in pinstripes, but I highly doubt it'll be an instantaneous and smooth transition. Overall, a great trade for a team that badly needed pitching to be considered a true title contender. Giving up a young, cheap slugger like Montero is incredibly difficult for the Yankees to do, especially given how well he hit after his end of the year call-up, but the truly immovable contracts of Tex and A-Rod necessitated this move.
But that's not the entire reason why the Yanks had a great offseason day. Shortly after their mega-deal, New York signed pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to a 1-year, $10 million dollar deal to shore up a rotation filled with nothing but question mark pitchers - AJ Burnett, Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia.
I've crowed about the merits and my admiration for former Dodgers mainstay Hiroki Kuroda. A few months ago, I wrote that he is inarguably the best Japanese pitcher to ever perform in the States. He's performed fantastically for the Dodgers in one of the most trying times in team history, ignoring every off-field distraction (perhaps the language barrier was the best thing for his time as a Dodger?) and simply throwing up fantastic numbers: 41 wins, 3.45 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and an average of 28 starts per season. He's a work horse in every conceivable way, a consumate professional and one of my favorite players ever to don the Blue. Despite a career 5.27 postseason ERA, Kuroda actually has a reputation amongst Dodger fans as a big game pitcher. His first two postseason games, Kuroda threw 6.1 and 6 innigns respectively, giving up a combined 2 earned runs, 11 hits, 3 walks and no home runs, getting the win both times. After being batted around in his third start, his overall numbers took a beating.
Kuroda has proven that he's a guy who doesn't care where he is, what the situation is or the time of year he's pitching. He's going to go out there every night, give you at least 6 innings of quality ball and most importantly, can do it in the face of pressure and expectation. He's somewhat of an anti-Pineda in this regard; a foreign import who has never really reached the type of acclaim he's deserved. Largely going under the radar, Kuroda has succeeded when his team needing him most, and can ably fill in that 2nd starter role in the Yanks rotation.
The Yankees didn't just have a great day today - they killed it. I think you're looking at the new World Series champion favorites.