NEW YORK -- Categorizing the deal as a risk worth taking, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman heaped praise Monday on catching prospect Jesus Montero, whom he officially dealt to the Mariners in a four-player swap to net pitcher Michael Pineda. "He may very well be the best player I've traded, and I've been doing this for quite some time," Cashman said of Montero. "He's that good." The Yanks officially acquired right-handers Pineda and Jose Campos in exchange for Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi on Monday, filling a need at the front end of their rotation while simultaneously parting with one of the top hitting prospects in baseball.
Pineda, 23, went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA as a rookie with Seattle, finishing fifth in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting while leading all AL rookies in strikeouts (173) and strikeouts per nine innings (9.11). He also held right-handed batters to a Major League-low .184 average. The hard-throwing 6-foot-7 righty was dominant in the first half of 2011, earning AL Rookie of the Month Award honors in April after going 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA and eventually being named to the All-Star team. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.15) and strikeouts-per-nine-innings mark rank as the second-highest all-time among qualifying AL rookies. "I'm feeling great and I'm beyond excited," Pineda said Monday in a statement released through the Yankees. "I never thought I would become a New York Yankee so early into my career. This is the best thing in the world. Pitching alongside CC Sabathia, I'm speechless. And playing alongside players such as Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter is unbelievable." Though both sides agreed to the deal 10 days ago, the Yanks and Mariners could not announce it until all players passed their physicals. Now official, the trade should help solidify New York's pitching staff, giving the club a potential ace in the making to slot behind lefty Sabathia in the rotation. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Mike Morgan was the last player to pitch with the Yankees at age 23 or younger after having already pitched for another Major League team. That happened back in 1982, when Morgan made his Bombers debut at the age of 22 years and 187 days. Cashman called it a "need for need" trade, referencing his own deep catching corps and Seattle's pitching surplus. "The stars and the moon aligned in such a way that we again are one of the deeper catching organizations in the game, and obviously are blessed thankfully with a high-end offense," Cashman said. "The Mariners are really deep in pitching and high-end pitching. They've done a great job of developing pitching, and so they were in position to trade from a strength if they so chose, as were we, and so we were able to find that match." The seeds of the deal formed at the Winter Meetings, when Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik asked Cashman if he would consider accepting anyone other than Felix Hernandez in a trade for Montero. The two continued talking in the weeks that followed, negotiating back and forth until agreeing on the final incarnation of the deal. For the Yankees, that meant including Noesi, 24, who made his Major League debut last season. Over four stints with the Yanks, Noesi went 2-1 with a 4.01 ERA in 28 relief appearances and 0-1 with a 9.64 ERA in two starts. He also compiled a 30-18 record with a 2.98 ERA and 401 strikeouts in 97 Minor League appearances (74 starts). The kick-back for the Yankees was Campos, 19, who posted a 14-10 record with a 3.26 ERA in three Minor League seasons with the Mariners. Campos spent 2011 with short-season Class A Everett, going 5-5 with a 2.32 ERA and a team-high 85 strikeouts, while walking only 13 batters the entire season (1.44 walks per nine innings). He led the Northwest League in ERA and strikeouts and ranked second in opponents' batting average (.214). The right-hander made the Northwest League All-Star team and was named the league's top right-handed prospect (third overall) by Baseball America. But the core of the deal centered around Pineda and Montero, 22, who figured to start the season as the Yankees' primary designated hitter. Montero hit .328 with four doubles, four home runs, 12 RBIs and seven walks in 18 games last September in his Major League debut. Long one of the top catching prospects in baseball, Montero recently began regularly fielding questions over his ability to play the position in the big leagues. "It's not an acknowledgement of what we believe Montero's catching abilities are," Cashman said of the trade. "We do think he can be an everyday catcher in the big leagues. It was really more trading from an area of strength to continue to try to shore up an area of need." Cashman compared this trade to his seven-player deal with the Tigers and D-backs in 2009, which netted the Yanks Curtis Granderson but cost them Ian Kennedy, Austin Jackson and Phil Coke. In retrospect, all three teams benefited from that deal and made the playoffs in 2011, much as Cashman believes both sides will ultimately benefit from this one. "We gave up a lot in Montero," Cashman said. "But we're hoping we got a lot in Pineda at the same time." Taking into account Pineda and free-agent signee Hiroki Kuroda, whose deal is not yet official, the Yankees now possess more starting pitchers than they can fit in their rotation -- an enviable problem to have. Cashman spoke vaguely Monday about swapping a lesser pitcher for a designated hitter to replace Montero, though that possibility remains far from certain. "We obviously have power in numbers," Cashman said. "I know when you start to feel like you have enough, the baseball gods really start to come down on you. You can never have enough pitching. We have a lot of starters now, and that's a good thing. As it stands, Pineda and Kuroda should join Sabathia and Ivan Nova in the rotation, with Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia all vying for one remaining spot. "I'm not really ready to speculate on how it's going to shake out," Cashman said. "I just know that we're deeper and that means we're better."