Commentary

Just like that, Yanks upgrade rotation

New York deals Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda and lands free agent Hiroki Kuroda

Updated: January 14, 2012, 12:22 PM ET
By Jayson Stark | ESPN.com

For the first two months and 15 days of the 2011-12 offseason, those sneaky New York Yankees were so quiet, they made the Kansas City Royals look like, well, the Yankees.

Sheez, you didn't think THAT would last all winter, did you?

Hey, you know all those worries about the Yankees' starting-pitching depth we've been obsessing on for weeks? Welllllll, never mind.

That plot line became permanently defunct in the span of, oh, about 45 minutes Friday night.

[+] EnlargeHiroki Kuroda
Kelley L Cox/US PresswireHiroki Kuroda made 32 starts last season for the Dodgers, won 13 games and posted a 3.07 ERA.

There we were, trying to digest their stunning trade of Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda when, next thing we knew, Hiroki Kuroda was asking for directions to the Bronx.

So think through what just happened here. For 12 relaxing months, any time all of us baseball geniuses were asked what we thought about the Yankees, we could just push our favorite knee-jerk-analysis button and answer: "Who the heck's going to pitch on the nights CC Sabathia doesn't?"

Uh-oh. So much for that.

Now the Yankees actually have too MUCH starting pitching. Theoretically, anyway.

They have a true ace in CC. They have a future ace in Pineda. They have the under-appreciated Kuroda, whose 2.85 road ERA and top-10 finish in Adjusted ERA-Plus in the National League last year tell us he wasn't just a creation of Dodger Stadium. And then here come Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and good old A.J. Burnett to fill out the rest of the schedule.

Unless they trade away somebody in that second group. And don't bet against it.

Could they dump Burnett for some other team's worst contract? Could they swap Hughes for a young bat to replace Montero? Anything is possible now.

And you have to award extra shrewd points to Brian Cashman for pulling off this arm-fest without jeopardizing the Yankees' fervent new quest to plunge their payroll below the luxury-tax threshold by 2014.

Pineda will make under a million bucks this year and won't even be arbitration eligible until 2014. And Kuroda was a great buy, for one year and $10 million. He doesn't block the long-term path of Manny Banuelos or Dellin Betances -- and he represents one more reason the Yankees can feel great about not caving and committing five years of expensive, A.J.-esque exasperation to Edwin Jackson.

Oh, there was a cost, of course. And that cost was having to give up Montero, who seems destined to head west and fulfill his destiny as a patient, potent, middle-of-the-order masher, even in Safeco Canyon.

But it IS kind of interesting, isn't it, that the Yankees have been dangling Montero in all sorts of potential monster deals for two years now?

Maybe that's just because they're overloaded with catching depth in their system, and they sure don't lack for offense, with or without him. Or … maybe they weren't completely sold on him, for reasons they're bound to start leaking in the next 30 seconds.

But even if some of us are just overthinking that side of this, the Yankees were still a team perfectly positioned to swoop in and deal for Pineda -- who isn't King Felix, but may not be far behind when he figures it all out.

[+] EnlargeMichael Pineda
Steven Bisig/US PresswireFlamethrower Michael Pineda, who turns 23 on Jan. 18, struck out 173 batters in 171 innings for the Mariners last season.

How good might Michael Pineda be? Here are just a few tidbits to chew on:

• This guy whiffed 173 hitters in 171 innings last year. And you know how many starters in the history of the Yankees have averaged better than a strikeout an inning over a full season? How about TWO: Roger Clemens in 2002 and David Cone twice (1997 and 1998).

• Those 173 strikeouts and that 9.1 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio came in a season in which Pineda pitched at 22 years old. Want to guess how many right-handed pitchers in the history of the American League ever had that many punchouts and that good a strikeout ratio at age 22 or younger? Exactly one: Dave Boswell (barely), for the 1966 Twins.

• Pineda's average fastball whooshed along at 94.7 miles per hour last year, according to FanGraphs. The only starting pitchers in the big leagues who topped that were Alexi Ogando (95.1), Justin Verlander (95.0) and David Price (94.8).

• And Pineda generated a fabulous 24.2 swing-and-miss percentage last year, according to FanGraphs. The only pitchers in either league who did better than that were Tim Lincecum (24.9), Brandon Morrow (24.6), Cole Hamels (24.6) and Mat Latos (24.5).

Yeah, it's true Pineda faded in the second half, winning only once in 10 starts and sputtering to a 5.12 ERA. And it's also true he struggled against the AL East (4.73 ERA). But he's the kind of pitcher who almost never gets traded these days -- and the Yankees found a way to trade for him, anyway.

So mark it down in your offseason journal: Friday the 13th of January -- the night the Yankees awoke from their winter of hibernation … and started adding high-end pitchers to their rotation the way most New Yorkers add dollars to their subway cards.

Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His latest book, "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies," was published by Triumph Books and is available in a new paperback edition, in bookstores and online. Click here to order a copy.

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Senior Writer, ESPN.com