By Nathan Krohn
Every sports fan understands that disappointment and heartbreak are a part of the game. The most successful franchises in history have at one time experienced failure, leaving their fans distraught, upset, and questioning why they even care so much. Yet, fans of heartbreak teams like the Chicago Cubs and Buffalo Bills endure because they believe success will eventually come.
The worst kind of heartbreak comes not from losing a Super Bowl or blowing a ninth inning lead in the World Series, but rather when your team trades a young All-Star, a fan favorite, and a player with truly amazing potential. But that’s what the Mariners did when they traded Michael Pineda to the hated New York Yankees.
Unfortunately for Mariners fans, this is an all too familiar occurrence. In 1998, right before the trade deadline, Seattle traded Randy Johnson, the most feared pitcher in the league, to the Houston Astros. In 2000, the team traded Ken Griffey Jr., the best player in baseball at the time, to his hometown Cincinnati Reds.
The difference between those two trades and the one for Pineda was that both Griffey Jr. and Johnson asked to be traded from Seattle. Pineda had no intention of leaving the Mariners.
In his first full year in the majors the six-foot seven-inch, 260 pound Pineda was embraced by fans for his devastating curveball and overpowering fastball. At times, the rookie made some of the best hitters in the league look silly. And at only 22-years old, fans were looking forward to an unstoppable rotation of Pineda and Felix Hernandez for years to come.
From a fans perspective, the trade hurts, but from an analyst’s perspective it makes sense.
For the past two seasons the Mariners have had one of the most historically anemic offenses in the history of baseball. In those same two years however, the pitching has been phenomenal, led by Felix Hernandez and his 2010 Cy Young award.
In last year’s draft, with the number two overall pick the Mariners selected Danny Hultzen, a left-handed pitcher from Virginia. A surprising pick, considering the team’s strength at pitching and deficiencies at offensive, but a pitcher that should make an impact in the major leagues in just a few years.
The fix for the Mariners offense, or as fans wished, was supposed to be free agent slugger Prince Fielder. After the division rival Anaheim Angels signed the best offensive player in baseball, Albert Pujols, the pressure was on the Mariners to pay whatever price necessary for Fielder or risk ten years of irrelevancy in the division. When reports surfaced that Fielder might not be interested in signing with Seattle, General Manager Jack Zduriencik decided to trade top pitching talent for top hitting talent. In return for Pineda, the Mariners received Yankees top prospect Jesus Montero, a power-hitting catcher.
Fans may remember two years ago when the Mariners almost acquired Montero for Cliff Lee. The trade fell through at the last minute and the Mariners traded Lee to Texas for Justin Smoak.
Many believe Montero will be an offensive superstar in the near future. His defensive skills and ability to manage the game as a catcher are a different story. What the Mariners are most focused on is improving an offense that sets records in futility.
Overall the trade stung badly, and after a ten-year absence from the playoffs and a deteriorating fan base, upsetting the people who still watch is not something a general manager wants to do. But Zduriencik is hoping fans think with their head and not their hearts and realize this was a trade that needed to happen.
As it turned out, many players acquired in the trades for Johnson and Griffey Jr. were vital to the Mariners success in the early 2000’s, making fans quickly forget the feeling of seeing their favorite stars leave.