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Keep that catching gear on, Jesus

Fans love prospects. They hear about them in their early stages having all the potential in the world. Fans begin to dream of the wonderful evenings they will someday spend together. Rarely do they hear about the fundamental flaws in their game, and even when those flaws are mentioned by some scout, they often excuse it away as one man’s opinion. When a chorus of other scouts and prospect experts say the same thing, they figure he’ll work on it, and everything will be alright. Fans and the prospects they love are like newlyweds. The whole world seems wide open with endless possibilities. Sometimes they’re right, and things do work out great. But all too often, the honeymoon ends. Sometimes they come to the conclusion that despite the fact they love each other, the relationship simply doesn’t work. In his latest edition of Inbox, Brian Hoch of MLB.com shoots down the notion of uber-prospect Jesus Montero playing Left Field, which alters the equation on his future in pinstripes. He writes:

Q-I have read a couple of articles about Jesus Montero and how some think he doesn’t project well as a catcher. Would the Yankees consider moving Montero to one of the corner outfield positions?
- Anthony G., Belleville, N.J.

A-You never say never, I suppose, but my understanding is that Montero would not be a terrific fit in the outfield because he just doesn’t run well. As one person in the know told me, “He’s slow as molasses.”

But he sure can hit, and the Yankees internally believe he can be a big league catcher, something he’ll continue doing at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He might have made an ideal first-base candidate at some point, but since Mark Teixeira isn’t going anywhere, it’s probably going to be catcher or designated hitter when Montero makes his big league debut. That may happen as soon as this year.

With Left Field not being an realistic option, then it’s pretty much Catcher-or-bust for Mr Montero to have any chance of staying a Yankee long term. We all know that First Base is occupied by a pretty good player for a very long time. The stuff about him being a DH is sounds good in theory, but breaks down in practice. First, he’s too young and loses too much value if you don’t find a position somewhere for him that he can play adequately. Next, if anyone is going to be spending time at DH over the next few seasons, it will be the 39 year old Jorge Posada, with Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez almost certainly spending some time there as well in future years. Did I mention Nick Johnson is signed (with a mutual option) through 2011? Young players need to play, and Jesus will be fighting time at catcher with Posada and Cervelli over the next two seasons, much less DH.

DH just means that he’d be worth more to another team than he is to us, like Nick Johnson was when we had Jason Giambi in the fold. Johnson was a fine hitter and better fielder than Jason, but he was making MLB minimum and therefore more far more valuable in a trade than the expensive, older Giambi. Fans may remember that Brian Cashman opposed the Giambi signing, preferring to re-sign Tino Martinez for a year or two and wait for Nick Johnson to develop. But he was overruled by George Steinbrenner and Giambi was signed. When faced with two players at the same position, Cashman then used his young, cheap asset in Johnson as the centerpiece to fill another need by making the Javier Vasquez deal with the (now-defunct) Montreal Expos. If a big pitcher becomes available, and sooner or later one will, it simply makes more sense to trade Jesus than keep him around as a part-time DH/Catcher. He doesn’t make sense as a 2nd string Catcher, which is typically occupied by a defensive specialist. I’ve heard some argue ‘his bat will play anywhere’ and he doesn’t need a position. Maybe, but it really doesn’t matter if he’s the best DH in all of Baseball, he’s not worth as much to us as a stud pitcher. Look up Josh Johnson’s WAR from 2009 and that of some top DH, say (AL DH Leader) Adam Lind from 2009. It’s an easy choice, and the Yanks would be foolish not to make that trade. If anything, they’d have to sweeten the pot to make the deal, Jesus alone wouldn’t be enough.

There may however, be a third option. Since Jesus is only 20 years old, it gives us some wiggle room in his case. The consensus among scouts is that even if he can catch initially, he will have to move out of the position eventually. If Montero can play the position well enough while he’s still young and has some youthful athleticism (into his mid 20′s) then he can serve as a placeholder for one of our other catching options like Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Kyle Higashioka, JR Murphy or a number of free agent options. The fact that the Yanks keep drafting Catchers despite having a system stocked at the position might be a window into what they internally think about Montero’s future at the position. They may envision a scenario where he spends his early years at Catcher/DH and moves over to 1B when Tex’s contract expires down the road. Sounds like a long way off, and it is, but in 2016 Jesus will still only be 27 years old.

In discussing this with Mike Axisa from RAB last night, he noted that these things tend to work themselves out, and I would agree with that. But don’t dismiss the notion that Jesus could be dangled for a stud pitcher or positional need. Brian Cashman has already offered him once, for a 32 year old making 16 mil. A young stud earning less would make even more sense. Again, if he can’t stick at Catcher then he’s more valuable to someone who can play him at First Base than he is to us if he’s a only DH. And most scouts think that’s all he’ll ever be for the Yankees.

35 Responses to “Reality Check: Jesus Montero may very well be trade bait”

  1. Let me say up front that I’m sorry this puts me squarely at odds with my buddy EJ, but I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em. If Jesus can’t catch effectively on the MLB level, he’s better off elsewhere.  (Quote)

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    swo Reply:

    That’s a big if, though. By all accounts, Montero has yet to completely embarrass himself behind the plate. There seems to be this impression that he looks like Baby Huey or something……I assure you, the man is no David Wells. He’s an athlete, and if he needs to improve his footwork, he will work with the coaches.

    Scouts are raving about his legitimate 80 power. If the man can throw out the occasional baserunner, you want that at catcher no matter what. If he doesn’t stick, then you can worry about making him the DH. Let’s see how the guy handles AAA before we perform any reality checks.

    Posada was never exactly a defensive wiz, and Montero’s bat projects to be better. Food for thought.  (Quote)

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    Chip Reply:

    He’ll get every chance to succeed but if his defensive shortcomings start to affect the pitchers on the team, then there’s a problem. Nobody ever said he had to be a good defensive catcher but he’s got to be able to play it better than a brick wall  (Quote)

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    EJ Fagan Reply:

    I shall have a response posted tonight :)   (Quote)

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    EJ Fagan Reply:

    Scheduled to be posted at 11 AM tomorrow morning.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    I anxiously await your rebuttal, counselor.  (Quote)

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  2. I agree with most of your conclusions, but I will say 2 things. Firstly, I have seen quotes from other scouts who think he can play LF. Until he tries it and fails, I wouldn’t rule it out. But more importantly, some scouts are beginning to come around on his defense, saying that it has reached a point where you could actually play him there (Callis and Piliere, to name 2). Callis has made the statement that a Piazza comp isn’t crazy, and has said that the bat could even give him Miguel Cabrera value. I would not be so quick to trade him when his defense is improving, even just a little, and his bat is drawing such lofty comps. However, as I said, I largely agree with your conclusions- if he is ONLY a DH, he has more value to someone else, snd I would explore a trade, but only for a young, cost controlled star.  (Quote)

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    Yankee1010 Reply:

    Spot on about the improving defense.

    People act like a 20 year old kid who was thrust into the full season leagues as a 18 year old with almost no game catching experience before he signed as a 16 year old and 33 games of experience as a 17 year old is going to be a finished product. Scouts are certainly coming around on his defense (you mentioned Callis and Piliere and I’ll add Goldstein too). I think a lot of scouts also suffer from confirmation bias and herd mentality in this area. “We once saw him and he couldn’t play defense as an 18 year old, so he’ll never be able to. Plus, that’s what every one else says, so it has to be right.”

    There are a lot of Miguel Cabrera and Mike Piazza comps being thrown around. Those are in all likelihood 2 Hall of Famers. Piazza is one of the best offensive catchers of all time and carried mediocre Met teams on his back. People are far too willing to discount the difference between a catcher putting up a .300/.400/.500 line and a Molina type putting up a Rudy Stein/Jose Molina like line. Montero as a catcher with even below average defense is a tremendous asset. And a better one than him at 1B, LF, or DH.

    Also, maybe we could give the kid some time too? What is with the rush to define his present and future utility so quickly? Next year will be his Age 20 season in AAA and he’ll be a catcher who can mash and whose defense is constantly improving. God, I can guarantee you there are 29 other organizations that wish they had this problem.

    Please, can we not fall prey to the WFAN/MSM idiocy?  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    I wouldn’t call Baseball America, Keith Law and countless other prospect sources “MSM idiocy”. WFAN barely ever discusses prospects, so I think you’re just overgeneralizing.

    That being said, I don’t disagree with much of your post. But when Jesus is entering AAA, and is an injury away from a MLB callup, it’s fair to discuss his readiness to play the most important defensive position in Baseball.  (Quote)

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  3. Would it be insane to consider Teixeira (who is not slow as molasses) in the outfield, opening up first base – assuming Montero could actually play decent defense there?  (Quote)

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    Joe X Reply:

    Downgrading defensive play at 1st. would be a huge mistake as A-Rod and Jeter age. Look at how much better the team was with Tex than Giambi. Good coaching should be able to improve him some. He is afterall a 20-year old athlete. If his bat is as good as they say – well, Abreu is still playing.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    (To answer your question) Yes, that would be pretty nuts.  (Quote)

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  4. Let’s trade him for Carl Pavano and watch him turn into Fred McGriff.  (Quote)

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  5. I dont see any reason why Montero couldn’t DH 100 games in 2011. Cashman has never bought into the “revolving DH for older players” concept, and I dont see him reserving it for days off for Jeter, ARod and Posada. Posada will need it more than anyone, but Jeter and ARod should be able to play the field most days. I think that if Montero’s bat is ready, they’ll find a spot for him. My best guess is that he splits time at C w/ Posada and DHs otherwise.  (Quote)

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    Tripp Reply:

    To add, he could also become a 1b back up for Tex as well. Swisher and Johnson’s deals are potentially both complete at the same time creating a hole in the backup first base category. Therefore, starting in 2011 he could be the back up catcher/DH (rotating with Posada) and then in 2012 he could be the back up catcher/DH/back up 1b (rotating with Romine possibly and Teixiera). Easily find 600 ABs for him in that scenario.  (Quote)

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    Chip Reply:

    That’s true but you have to think that they’ll pick up Swisher’s options if he keeps hitting the way he has for us.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    100 sounds excessive, especially with a then-40 year old Posada around. But again, the more he DHs, the more value he loses. You’re better off finding a team that has a stud pitcher to deal who can play him at First Base. Both teams benefit from better use of their resources.  (Quote)

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  6. I’d imagine they’ll at least try him as a catcher at the MLB level and do exactly what they did with Posada and Girardi back in the day. In the end, that’s going to be some insane production out of the catcher position with a potential HOF guy splitting time with a guy who has the best bat in the minors.  (Quote)

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    Joe X Reply:

    Piaza nor Posada played the best defence at catcher yet both may be HOF worthy. If his stick is great everyone will accept his defence.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    That’s the ideal scenario, where he and Jorge split time over the next 2 seasons. But as we all know, things don’t always go according to plan.  (Quote)

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  7. Just remember that he does not turn 27 until after Teixeira’s contract is done. So while first is not an option now it can be down the road.  (Quote)

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  8. Why not RF? He has the arm and he wouldn’t need that much speed as RF is supposedly so short in YS.  (Quote)

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    Chip Reply:

    For half of the games that’s true but not every right field in the league is that small. Plus right field isn’t that small once you start to get towards center.  (Quote)

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  9. if he cant catch he has to be marketed  (Quote)

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  10. You can’t break up the Holy Trinity.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    Andy! Nice to see you around here! Don’t be a stranger.  (Quote)

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  11. this kid should get all the time he needs to prove himself, a true home grown power hitter with high avg. potential.. no way his name should come up in a trade for anyone.. he is what 19… put this kid behind arod or in front of him and let the fastballs come..Tex arod and baby huey could be devastating..  (Quote)

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  12. If he continues to hit and grow like he has been, then there is no reason the Yankees should trade him. I would love to have a David Ortiz or Miguel Cabrera hitting in the DH spot at the number 5 hole.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    There is a reason, and that’s to make the team better. A stud pitcher for Montero could be good for both teams. Think Josh Hamilton for Edinson Volquez.  (Quote)

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  13. Look at the number of young, talented power pitchers signing extensions: Josh Johnson, Felix Hernandez, and now Justin Verlander. If the SF Giants come to the Yankees in 2011 and offer Matt Cain for Jesus Montero + a B prospect, I think Cashman won’t hang-up. Imagine not adding another 100MM contract to the payroll… a fiscally more restraint Yankees approach might be dawning on us.

    Landing & extending Cain to a 5 yr / 70 MM would be the optimal result in a Montero trade.  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    Yeah, those guys getting locked up will mean future free agent classes will be that much weaker. To get a top of the rotation starter, you’ll need to either trade for one or develop your own.  (Quote)

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  14. Allow me to add:
    1. I’m not advocating trading Jesus Montero, BUT i realize that under certain conditions, Montero could be traded:
    a. Cash is serious about adding another starter not named Pettitte or Vazquez to the 2011 team, and
    b. Cash wants a front-of-the-line type since AJ Burnett is so darn inconsistent, & most importantly,
    c. Cash has orders not to dish out another $100 MM contract, since we’re in recession.

    pretty much … If Cash trades Montero … blame AJ Burnett.  (Quote)

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  15. Where he ends up, only time will tell. This is the NYY, they try to win every year. Considering this, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Montero up with the big club if an injury hits Nick Johnson (no big shock). If his bat is “now”, I doubt NYY will waste it at AAA. This will limit his ability to learn a different position from catcher. Therefore the options are: 1) part time catcher/DH for Posada 2) Transition to 50/50 catcher with another NYY catching prospect (DHing other %) 3) trade bait for top line pitcher (that one’s odds decrease if NYY can sign Cliff Lee this offseason)  (Quote)

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    Steve S. Reply:

    That’s a likely scenario, another would be Posada falling off a cliff offensively, which would make his defense intolerable. At 38-39 years old, Jorge’s already past his expiration date as a Catcher, so a big drop shouldn’t surprise anyone. IIRC Bill James had him at the top of his list for regression candidates this year.  (Quote)

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  16. Personally, I’d like to see Montero traded in a prospect swap. If, for example, the Marlins see him as a Piazza-type, a trade for Mike Stanton might be possible.  (Quote)

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