Michael Pineda, The Yankees, And A Theory

Clearwater, FL, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda (35) during a spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Now with New York, Michael Pineda has been drawing a bit of critical press. Is this all just part of his being a Yankee, or is there something else going on?

What I'd like for you to understand before we really get started is that I don't believe the theory I'm about to advance. It feels kind of like a conspiracy theory, and my instinct is to disbelieve any and every conspiracy theory. But what follows is something I've had on my mind, and so now I'm going to share it with all of your minds.

Michael Pineda is a member of the New York Yankees. He became a Yankee on the same night that Hiroki Kuroda became a Yankee, and in order to get Pineda, the Yankees had to surrender one of the more well-regarded young talents they've had in a while.

Pineda was basically penned in, at least by us. We weren't sure if he would follow CC Sabathia or if Kuroda would follow CC Sabathia, but we were sure that Pineda was in the rotation. Barring injury, it was guaranteed. Pineda was very effective as a rookie in 2011, and there wasn't much reason to believe that it was a mirage.

Not long after the trade, this was an interesting message:

Unusually strong language for an executive, but not necessarily unusually strong language for Brian Cashman. People have talked about it -- Pineda's changeup could stand to improve -- but I don't think many people made too much of it.

Fast-forward to spring training. Michael Pineda reportedly showed up at 280 pounds, which was ten over where he was at the end of last season. On February 28, Chad Jennings wrote:

Joe Girardi said this afternoon that he’s looking at it as four guys for three spots, with only CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda locked into rotation jobs.

Then, on March 5, George King wrote an article that might be the most critical article ever written about Pineda. King questioned Pineda's drive and conditioning, he questioned his change-up, and he questioned why the Mariners were been willing to trade him. I don't think anything in there was unfair, but the article definitely had a tone that wasn't the warmest.

Pineda made his Yankees debut Monday. He didn't throw much, but afterward, there was talk about his velocity and changeup. Lots of talk about his changeup; Yankees people are very big on the development of a third pitch, to go along with Pineda's two strong pitches.

Now, I don't think I've laid this out very well. Hopefully you've been able to follow. Here's something we know: as a rookie in 2011, Michael Pineda made 28 starts. He posted a lower ERA than Edwin Jackson, the same FIP as James Shields, and a lower xFIP than Kuroda and Josh Beckett. Even though Pineda never threw his change-up very often, and even though his change-up was seldom very good, he avoided a huge platoon split. He had a lower xFIP against left-handed hitters than Tim Hudson and Roy Oswalt.

Here's something else we know: Pineda is under the microscope. Media members and team officials have been honest and occasionally critical. They've publicly identified areas where he needs improvement. Pineda is not being given a job in the rotation; he's reportedly competing with three other guys. And those three other guys are Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes, so it's not like they're clowns. They're guys who wouldn't look out of place.

Here's where we finally get to the theory part. Against many odds, Pineda broke camp with the Mariners last season, and lasted the whole year without getting demoted. As such, he accrued a full year of service time. What if the Yankees are setting Pineda up to begin the year in triple-A? Nominally and perhaps in part to work on his change-up, but mostly to gain another year of team control? Right now, Pineda's a Yankee for five more years. If they send him to the minors for, say, a month, they would control his services for six more years.

That's how most people expected the Mariners to treat Pineda in 2011. That's how a lot of top prospects get treated. Instead Pineda lasted the whole year, but the Yankees still have an opportunity to gain that extra season. All it would take is a demotion and a reasonable explanation.

Sure, you'd think the Yankees would be the last team in baseball to play these games. But recently the Yankees have been talking an awful lot about fiscal responsibility and trying to stay under the cap. It's not impossible. The Yankees are more likely to play these games now than they might've been some years ago.

As I said at the beginning, this is only a theory and I don't think I believe it. Gun to my head, I think Pineda ends up the Yankees' No. 3 starter out of camp. Maybe No. 4. The fact of the matter is that he does have room for improvement, and he does lack a consistent change-up, and pointing those things out isn't unfair. But if the Yankees were to go this way, I wouldn't be shocked. An extra year of team control over Michael Pineda is on the table, and the Yankees would just need to choose to play that card. They probably couldn't play it after this year, assuming Pineda remains successful.

It's something to think about, is all. I, for one, am going to be particularly interested in following Pineda over the remainder of camp. I chuckled to myself when Joe Girardi said Pineda's spot wasn't guaranteed. I shouldn't have chuckled.

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