The reprieve the Yankees received when Cliff Lee was scratched from his start in Seattle on the day of his trade to Texas comes due today when the new Rangers’ ace takes the mound against the Bronx Bombers in tonight’s series finale. Of course, Lee could just as easily be making tonight’s start in pinstripes if not for Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik’s decision to forgo the Yankees’ offer of Jesus Montero and instead opt for a Rangers’ package fronted by Justin Smoak.
That’s all water on the bridge by now, however. Besides, even though the Yankees starting rotation has struggled somewhat since the failed trade (13-12 with a 4.39 ERA over that span), Jesus Montero also happened to catch fire. Since the July 9 deal that sent Lee to the Rangers, Montero, the fourth best prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America, has taken his offensive game to another level. After starting off slowly in April and May, the 20-year old catcher has gradually increased his production, culminating in a current 10-game stretch in which he has hit .432/.488/.784. Hot isn’t the word.
Jesus Montero’s Monthly Progression At Scranton
While it’s obvious that the Lee would have greatly enhanced the Yankees’ chances of repeating in 2010, it’s equally clear that Montero has the potential to be a major contributor for many years to come. In fact, based on his recent performance, there is no reason that Montero can’t wind up being a contributor this season.
With Jorge Posada supposedly suffering from a “cranky” right shoulder, not to mention Joe Girardi’s repeated insistence that he plans to increasingly rest his aging catcher as the season concludes, the time has come for the Yankees to add a third catcher, and no candidate seems more deserving or more capable of having a positive impact than Montero.
By adding Montero to the roster, the Yankees would not only benefit from his right handed power bat, but they would also have more flexibility to manage the lineup. So, on nights when Posada is only available in an “emergency”, the team wouldn’t have to pin its hopes on the anemic bat of Francisco Cervelli. What’s more, the move would not only help the Yankees this season, but also give them a first hand look at how ready Montero is for the future. If the 20-year old catcher can make a quick adjustment to the majors, he’d not only give the Yankees a boost down the stretch, but it would also help Brain Cashman formulate his plan for the upcoming offseason.
In order to facilitate Montero’s promotion, the Yankees would have to make a roster move, but that could easily be accomplished by designating either Chad Gaudin or Sergio Mitre for assignment. The ascension of Dustin Moseley has made having both Gaudin and Mitre unnecessary, so whether the team promotes Montero or not, there is no need to keep carrying 12 pitchers.
There is no guarantee that Montero is going to step into the big leagues and hit. After all, he did suffer through a two month adjustment period in Scranton. However, the combination of his offensive talent and the Yankees’ current needs demand that the team at least give it a try. Furthermore, although there is likely to be some concern about his defense behind the plate, it’s not like the Yankees have enjoyed stellar defense from the tandem of Posada and Cervelli. The Yankees primary objective should be increasing the offensive potential and flexibility from the catcher position, and Montero would help the team do just that.
The Rangers have clearly boosted themselves as a legitimate World Series contender with the acquisition of Lee, but if the Yankees are willing to take a chance, Montero could also wind up playing a key role this post season. If so, everyone would be happy with the events of July 9…everyone that is but Seattle, who can’t be thrilled with Smoak’s line of .159/.169/.270 before his most recent demotion.
Sometimes the best trades are the one you don’t make. The Yankees might as well get started on finding that out now.