There has been some speculation that because the Mariners have traded Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero that they’ll be putting up the white flag in 2012. While conventionally speaking going young coincides with deciding against competing, it may not be the case for the Mariners.
But the Mariners traded a young pitcher for a young hitter. Presently Bill James and Rotochamp—the two projection systems presently available at Fangraphs—have Montero batting to a .361 and .360 wOBA next season. I’m not sure if that has been adjusted to reflect Montero batting in Safeco Field half his games, but I do know that if he were to achieve such a feat, he’d have a better wOBA than any Mariner last season. I also know that these kinds of projections for young players are generally based on perceptions gained from small sample sizes rather than small scale statistical models.
That small sample size is surely driven up by a .400 BABIP, so I understand the step back from his .421 wOBA from the 69 plate appearances that made up his 2011 season. And that BABIP was surely aided by a line drive rate over 27 percent. But if we believe Montero is such a good prospect, what do we expect from him? Presently there is a belief that he isn’t going to post huge home run numbers, the reason for that is that he’s a line drive hitter right now. He sprays line drives around the diamond, and while he hits some home runs, he hits many more line drives.
Will he sustain the 27 percent mark? Almost certainly not. Over the past four seasons, no player with more than 1500 plate appearances has a line drive rate at or above 25 percent. But if we really believe Montero is special (which I do), and we believe that his bat is advanced as it has been said (which I assume), then him posting a wRC+ around 135 isn’t that crazy. Rookies have done something similar a handful of times in the past couple years. Jason Heyward did it. Allen Craig did it. Garrett Jones did it. Save for Heyward, it’s hard to argue that Montero isn’t a better prospect than either of the others.
Prince Fielder has posted a wRC+ of only 146 over the past four seasons. Nothing to sneeze at certainly, but if we get over the idea of overpaying for National League home runs, and home runs that occurred in a better ballpark for hitters, we can realize that the Mariners may have traded Prince Fielder’s $150+ million price tag, and Michael Pineda for a near-equal to Fielder, but one who may be able to log 500 innings at a position that isn’t first base or DH. (Obviously, Campos was significant also)
If we believe that the Mariners will add another rotation arm, someone like the oft-mentioned Jeff Francis, there is no reason to believe that the Mariners can’t regain some of the production they lost trading Pineda. And if they’re able to do that, then they may just have cut the win margin between the with-Prince fictional Mariners and the actual-Mariners significantly while spending pennies on the dollar.
Would your rather have Prince Fielder for six years, $150 million or Montero for six years of team control at pre-arbitration and arbitration salaries?