SSTN Mailbag: Nestor's Hammy, The Montas Trade Revisited, And The Fifth Starter!
I'm sensing a lot of doom and gloom talking to Yankee fans over the last few days, and I guess I can understand it to a certain extent. Nestor came up lame a few days ago with a pulled hamstring, Frankie Montas' bum shoulder requires surgery, and no one seems to know who's going to play left field...to paraphrase Crash Davis in the iconic movie, Bull Durham: "We're dealing with a lot of stuff!" I recognize that those subjects have started Spring Training on something of a down note, but I look at it from a different perspective. I woke up early Thursday morning a few hundred miles away from home, but despite my day job pulling me from my daily routine, I still popped my headphones in and listened to "Centerfield" by John Fogerty and Bernie Williams' rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" before I started my day. You know why? Because regardless of what else we have to say, baseball is back, and no matter what is happening with the team, the fact that Yankees are at camp, preparing to play baseball is better than sitting at home without baseball. Hope springs eternal, and I don't ever want to lose that optimism at the start of pitchers and catchers. It doesn't mean that the wool is pulled over my eyes about the Yankees' issues, but I'm not going to allow it to spoil my enjoyment of baseball's return.
As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll dive into how worried we should be about Nestor's hamstring strain, revisit and reevaluate the Frankie Montas trade, and discuss the fifth starter's spot in the rotation! Let's get at it:
Mikey asks: On a scale of 1-10, how worried are you about Nestor Cortes Jr.'s hamstring injury?
I'm at 2.5. I know that seems very low considering just how important Nasty Nestor is to a Yankee rotation that has the potential to be the best in baseball in 2023, but the reality is that a Grade 2 hamstring strain is not a big deal as long as it is handled correctly. In fact, the only reason I'm even a little concerned is that Nestor threw a career-high number of innings last season and his season ended with a separate, but significant lower body injury (groin strain).
Don't believe me that a Grade 2 hamstring strain isn't a big deal? I dug into multiple peer reviewed medical journals regarding outcomes from a variety of hamstring injuries. The most applicable study, Outcome of Grade I and II Hamstring Injuries in Intercollegiate Athletes, published in Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach, found that athletes were able to return to their respective sports after an average of 2 weeks and the risk of reinjury was low for those who suffered Grade 1 and 2 hamstring strains. To be fair, this study was relatively small, with a 48 athlete sample size, and very specific recovery regimens were used in all cases.
The Yankee training staff has not earned the benefit of the doubt over the last...decade, which is why my worry is above a 1. However, we already know that Nestor is set to begin mound work this weekend, and it does seem as though pulling Nestor out of the WBC was precautionary to ensure that proper recovery protocol is followed. I feel better knowing that he will be closely followed and allowed to recovery at his own pace without pushing to be ready for the WBC.
The Yankees need a repeat from Nestor in 2023 and I don't believe that this injury threatens him in any way.
Brian asks: Now that Montas needs shoulder surgery and is a question mark for the rest of his Yankee tenure - how do you evaluate the trade last season? Is hindsight an unfair way to grade the trade or is it justified?
You mean you don't think that 3 solid pitching prospects and a mildly interesting throw-in is a fair return for poor starting pitcher and Lou Trivino?!? I kid a bit, but yeah, this looks bad on the surface.
I have not been the biggest Frankie Montas fan on the planet. While I have preached patience regarding the trade, I wrote multiple times in 2021 and early in 2022 that Frankie Montas was far down the list of my preferred trade targets on the pitching market. I was not a big fan of his peripherals prior to his one stellar season in 2021 and recognized his inability to stay healthy even as a young guy, but also admitted that his pure stuff was tantalizing. Before I go further, we do need to provide some context to this trade, so let's go back in time by 6-7 months.
Obviously, if the Yankees were going to try to trade for an impact pitcher at the 2022 Trade Deadline, the guy to get was Luis Castillo. There was enough smoke about the Yankees' desire to go out and get Castillo for years that I do believe that Castillo was the Yankees' top target. However, multiple public sources (and one private source of my own) indicated that the Reds were asking for BOTH Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza in any trade for Luis Castillo. In fact, the Mariners gave up a serious haul for Castillo that only could have been matched/exceeded by the Yankees by including 2 of the group of Volpe/Peraza/Dominguez, and the uncorroborated word around baseball is that the Reds greatly preferred middle infielders in return for Castillo, hence their devaluing of Dominguez.
I have no inside info on this hunch, but I believe that the Yankees knew that they were going to trade Monty for position player help, so acquiring a starting pitcher at the trade deadline was an essential first step to their plan. With Castillo off the table, the Yankees quickly pivoted to the next best option. In terms of talent, I think that there is little question but that Montas was better than the next tier of available pitching (think Odorizzi/Quintana/Syndergaard). We also know that the Yankees tried to pry Carlos Rodon (as I suggested prior to the Trade Deadline) from San Francisco, but they couldn't get a deal done with the Giants as they decided that they would cross their fingers for a late season playoff push. With all of that being said, that left Montas as the last starting pitcher left on the carousel with the ceiling the Yankees wanted.
The Yankees gave up a ton of upper level pitching depth to acquire Montas (and Lou Trivino) despite the fact that the Yankees knew that Montas was dealing with shoulder issues. At the time of the deal, I assumed that since the Yankees were the team that had reviewed Montas' medical files, they decided that the risk that the shoulder was balky was a reasonable risk to take. Clearly, my assumption was incorrect, and I don't think we can give the Yankees the benefit of the doubt anymore on reviewing a player's medical file.
What we know now is that the Yankees essentially dealt the best of their upper level pitching prospects for Lou Trivino and...a few bad starts from Frankie Montas and the slim hope that he can return late in 2023 and make a positive impact. I think it's clear that the Yankees made an awful calculation, and that reflects poorly on Brian Cashman and his lieutenants. Based on what we know now, the Yankees would have been better off paying less for someone like Syndergaard on an expiring contract and finding another arm this offseason in addition to Rodon.
What we don't know is if the A's will actually get anything useful out of this trade. I liked Waldichuk and Sears, and everyone knows that I was basically Luis Medina's unpaid PR guy. However, I think there are real risks that none of those 3 are starting pitchers long-term, though Oakland is the perfect ballpark to hide Waldichuk and Sears' flyball issues.
The only way the Yankees win this trade is if Trivino is a key cog in the bullpen this year and Montas returns to pitch reliably on a World Series winning team. Otherwise, Cashman very clearly takes the loss on this trade, even if there were mitigating factors to this trade when evaluating it in the context of its timing.
David asks: If Nestor is out for the beginning of the year, who becomes the fifth starter?
I think it is going to be very interesting if Clarke Schmidt finally breaks through this year. It would sure help the Yanks if he does. I don't particularly believe that he's a starter, but his stuff is good enough to make him a 5-and-dive guy if he can stay healthy in a starting role. I think he'd begin the year as the Yankees' fifth starter if the scenario David mentions came to fruition.
With Montas' injury, Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt are much more important to the New York Yankees in 2023. It also puts added pressure on guys like Jhony Brito and Randy Vasquez to finish their development at AAA.