The odyssey of Jesus Montero and the Seattle Mariners came to a close on Monday. The centerpiece of the deal that sent Michael Pineda to the New York Yankees was claimed on waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays after four seasons in the Mariners organization. All Seattle has to show for it’s efforts are the $20,000 waiver fee and a handful of stories that include an ice cream sandwich.
My initial reaction to hearing the news was disappointment after seeing, from a distance, how hard Montero has worked to get his life and career back on track. Considering all that he had been through, to see him show up in camp last spring slimmed down and go on to make the Triple-A All-Star team could be considered inspiring — I’m sure for some it was. He did everything within his power to earn another crack at the big leagues. I wanted to see what he could do with a month’s worth of regular playing time.
But the cruel realities of baseball, and to an extent life, kick in and remind us that often it’s less about what you have done and more about what you are going to do now and in the future. The reality in this case is that Montero doesn’t really offer much to the 2016 Mariners.
Adam Lind does need a platoon partner at first base. But giving the 25th spot on the roster to a guy who would only hit left-handed pitching a couple hundred times a year while providing no value in the field or on the base paths didn’t make much sense. The leading candidate for that role, however, is offseason import Dae-Ho Lee who doesn’t differ significantly from Montero in what he brings to the table. Lee probably has a little bit more power to offer, but likely benefits most by offering a new or different unknown.
The book shouldn’t entirely be closed on Montero at 26-years-old. With nearly 900 plate appearances at the major league level and a measly 92 wRC+ to show for his career, though, the book is several chapters deep.
What exactly Montero’s role will be on the Jays is unclear. On the major league side Toronto has Chris Colabello and former Mariner Justin Smoak sharing first base duties and Edwin Encarnacion set at designated hitter. It’s possible they will try sneaking him through waivers to serve as minor league depth or as insurance should Encarnacion struggle to stay healthy all season.
There has been some concern that Encarnacion wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day after battling an oblique injury for most of the spring. A temporary stopgap solution could work here, but with the slugger back in game action on Monday — albeit minor league action — the club is optimistic he’ll be ready when the games start counting.
With that in mind, there isn’t a fit for him on the Blue Jays’ major league squad, either. But a look at the Jays’ recent history suggests they might know a thing or two about fixing broken power hitters.
Encarnacion is a great example of this after struggling during his time with Cincinnati before a 2012 break-out season. Jose Bautista coming over from the Pittsburgh Pirates and becoming one of the best sluggers in the game is another example. For both of those players, opportunity to fail without losing playing time aided in their eventual successes.
The case is still out for Smoak who only had a slightly above replacement level season. His platoon-mate, Collabello, rode an extremely high BABIP to a breakout offensive season so he’s one to watch going forward.
All that isn’t to say Toronto will somehow capitalize on all the talent we know has existed within Montero — it’s not as though they have something akin to the Pirates’ pitcher-fixing factory. But maybe they did see something mechanically they think could be fixed.
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote an excellent piece that reminds us of the perils of projecting young hitters, and any prospect for that matter. This is particularly the case when the prospect’s stock is tied entirely to a single tool. Some guys can make it work and many can not with a wide range of outcomes in between.
Montero’s tenure in Seattle will be most remembered for the poor and the strange: under-performance, injuries, a PED suspension, eating away an offseason, and the incident with the scout. But at this juncture we have a situation that really isn’t that uncommon: a capable Triple-A hitter who just couldn’t make it work in the show. Nevertheless, the slugger certainly gave us plenty to talk about and to hope for.
I don’t think I’m alone in that I would be happy to see Montero succeed elsewhere, or at least get another shot in the big leagues. It’s tough. Prospects are tough. Life’s tough. A couple of poor decisions can sink the ship the salesman guaranteed would float.
At minimum, Montero was supposed to hit for the Mariners. He didn’t. His story thus far isn’t unlike many others but at the same time is unique. However it ends, 28 home runs in the major leagues is still 28 more than most will ever get the chance to hit.