Over the last season and a half or so, Jesus Montero has reportedly been offered to various teams in exchange for pitchers such as Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Many pundits have taken to including him in hypothetical trades for lesser players, suggesting that his lack of a clear position makes him more valuable as a trade chip. While I understand the sentiment and agree that Montero does have some question marks that need to be resolved, the performance of some key Yankee veterans displays why trading Montero is a bad idea.
Put simply, the Yankees are going to need a young, middle of the order bat at some point over the next few seasons. Alex Rodriguez has had a down year to this point, and while I do expect him to recover somewhat, his age and health suggest that predicting a return to the elite player he has been in the past may be wishful thinking. Derek Jeter has an OPS of .722, and he too is at an age where it is legitimate to question whether he will ever recapture his former glory. Jorge Posada can no longer be counted on to stay healthy for a full season, and is likely to hang up his cleats at some point over the next few seasons.
With Curtis Granderson being a disappointment, the only players on the club for whom I would feel reasonably confident in projecting them to approach or replicate this season’s performance are Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira (and the first two have some BABIP issues that concern me a bit). While all of the players noted as being in decline will still be useful cogs, they are unlikely to provide the Yankees with the dominant middle of the order production that we have become accustomed to for much longer. Even if Jeter and A-Rod bounce back, it is folly to depend on both to be superstar caliber hitters three or four years down the road.
This is where Montero comes in. Jesus is a 20 year old who, after a slow start, is mashing in AAA much like he did at the lower levels. He has shown himself to be a complete hitter, hitting for average and power, as well as displaying an increasingly solid batting eye. He hits both lefties and righties, early in the year and late, with men on and the bases empty, when trailing and when leading. Any way you slice his minor league splits, he looks like a major league hitter. The scouts love his bat, and I have seen many of them state that his is an elite stick no matter where he ends up defensively. Additionally, he is the only real middle of the order bat that the Yankees have close to the majors, and possibly in the entire system.
Yes, it is possible for the Yankees to supplement their lineup in free agency. But holding onto Montero allows the Yankees to forgo handing out huge contracts to free agents who are just old enough to be leaving their primes. And yes, it is very possible that he does not stick at catcher. But for a team that will need his bat soon, that should be largely irrelevant. You find a position for that sort of potential at the plate. You split his time between DH, C, 1B, maybe the outfield. You do everything you can to get Montero into that lineup on an everyday basis. He is 20 years old, and will be only 27 by the time Teixeira’s contract expires. Looking at the team now and saying that he is blocked is shortsighted. The Yankees should hold on to Montero. If they do not, I think they will regret it fairly soon.