Yankees Could Use Mulligan on Frankie Montas

Another Brian Cashman trade for a young, controllable starter that fails?

I guess Wednesday was just a moment and not the start of something special. The Yankees followed up their much-needed, dramatic, come-from-behind, walk-off win with yet another loss, this time a 9-2 loss to the Blue Jays. Wednesday was just another win labeled as “The Possible Turning Point” that turned out to be nothing more than a letdown. There was no carryover effect and whatever momentum the Yankees had created in the early minutes of Thursday morning was gone before sunset on Thursday night. Momentum in baseball is only as good as the next day’s starting pitching, and unfortunately, Frankie Montas was the next day’s starting pitcher.

Before the Yankees batted for a second time the game was over on Thursday. Montas allowed a 5-spot in the top of the second, giving up a pair of singles, a double, walk and a three-run home run in the frame. The Yankees trailed 5-0 after an inning-and-a-half, never recovered and lost for the 12th time in their last 16 games.

While Montas was busy putting runners on base, the offense was performing their disappearing act against Jose Berrios, who entered the game with a 5.61 ERA and had allowed 13 earned runs and 20 baserunners in his last 7 2/3 innings. The Yankees scored just two runs, with both coming in a second-inning rally made possible by the Blue Jays’ defense. The Yankees didn’t hit a ball out of the infield in that inning, but managed to plate two thanks to a walk, a hit by pitch and an error. Even with their eight-run explosion on Wednesday, the Yankees have scored just 20 runs in their last nine games. Remove Wednesday, and they have scored 12 runs in their last eight games. Bronx Bombers, indeed.

For as bad as the offense was, this game was on Montas as he took the team out of it in the second. Through three starts as a Yankee, he’s pitched more like a No. 5 (at best) and nothing like the No. 2 or No. 3 the Yankees thought they were acquiring at the trade deadline. Of course, the Yankees should have traded for Luis Castillo, but at this rate, they would have been wise to just keep JP Sears, who they traded for Montas. (And obviously they should have kept Jordan Montgomery, who they inexplicably gave away for no reason and who hasn’t lost as a Cardinal, posting the lowest ERA of any three-game stretch in his career.) The Yankees traded for a pitcher with a 3.23 career ERA at home in Oakland and a 4.48 career ERA on the road, and he has lived up to those numbers.

Montas has been no different than the other relatively young, controllable starting pitchers Brian Cashman has traded for in the past who failed to come close to duplicating their performances with the Yankees.

Jeff Weaver
The Yankees traded for the 25-year-old on July 5, 2002 after he posted a 3.18 ERA (3.17 ERA) in 17 starts with the Tigers (giving up Ted Lilly who would go on to pitch in the majors for more than a decade). In two years with the Yankees, Weaver pitched to a 5.35 ERA in 32 starts and 15 relief appearances, and gave up the walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series that led the Marlins to three straight wins to beat the Yankees in six games. After the 2003 season, the Yankees traded him to the Dodgers for … Kevin Brown! What a way to double down on a bad decision and compound the problem.

Javier Vazquez
After pitching to a 3.52 ERA (3.40 FIP) for three straight years with the Expos, the Yankees traded for the 27-year-old in December 2003. He was an All-Star in 2004, pitching to a 3.56 ERA and accumulating 10 wins in the first half. But after the break, he fell apart, pitching to a 6.92 ERA in 14 starts. He relieved Brown in the second inning of Game 7 of the ALCS and allowed a first-pitch grand slam to Johnny Damon. After the season he was traded to the Diamondbacks in the Randy Johnson deal.

After winning the 2009 World Series, Cashman let World Series MVP Hideki Matsui walk, so he could bring back Nick Johnson to be the team’s designated hitter, who he traded to the Expos acquire Vazquez back in 2003. He also brought Vazquez back after posting a 2.87 ERA in 32 starts with the Braves. Vazquez was even worse in his second go-around with the Yankees, pitching to a 5.32 ERA (5.56 FIP) in 26 starts and five relief appearances, the only regular-season relief appearances of his career.

Michael Pineda
The Yankees traded Jesus Montero for Pineda after Pineda was an All-Star in his rookie season in 2011 with the Mariners. Pineda missed all of 2012 and 2013 with injuries and didn’t make his Yankees debut until his third year with the organization. He was outstanding in 13 starts, pitching to a 1.89 ERA, but got busted for having an exceptional amount of pine tar on his neck against the Red Sox and got suspended and injured and missed the majority of the season. In six years with the Yankees, Pineda missed two full seasons due to injuries, and most of two others, making only one true full season of starts (32 in 2016) with almost another full season (27 in 2015).

Nathan Eovaldi
As a Marlin in 2014, Eovaldi led the league in hits allowed (223), so of course the Yankees thought they could fix a 25-year-old with a triple-digit fastball who somehow couldn’t strike anyone out. In two seasons with the Yankees, Eovaldi made 51 starts and three relief appearances, pitching to a 4.45 ERA, while allowing nearly one-and-a-half baserunners per inning. He left the Yankees after 2016 needing Tommy John surgery, signed with the Rays and was traded to the Red Sox and helped eliminate the Yankees in the 2018 ALDS on the way to winning the World Series.

Sonny Gray
In 2015, David Ortiz said this about Gray:

“The last few seasons, the toughest guy I’ve faced is Sonny Gray from Oakland. This kid’s stuff is legit … the first time I see this Gray kid on the mound, I can’t help but notice he’s 5’10” and skinny. He looks like the guy who fixes my computer at the Apple Store. I’m thinking, Here we go. This is gonna be fun. Then he took me for a ride, man. Fastball. Sinker. Slider. Curve … Whap. Whap. Whap. You have no idea what this kid is going to throw. He drives me crazy.”

That coupled with his 3.42 ERA in five seasons with the A’s had me ecstatic when the Yankees traded for him at the 2017 deadline. Gray was solid down the regular-season stretch for the Yankees, pitched poorly in Game 1 of the ALDS, but extremely well in Game 4 of the ALCS. In 2018, after allowing 10 baserunners and seven earned runs in 2 2/3 innings against the last-place Orioles, Gray and his 5.56 ERA were removed from the rotation. Cashman made it clear in the media he was going to move Gray after the season, saying, “I don’t feel like we can go through the same exercise and expect different results.” This admission ruined any value of Gray and any leverage for the Yankees and they traded him to the Reds for nothing.

In three seasons with the Reds, Gray was an All-Star and pitched to a.349 in 68 starts. This year, his first with the Twins, he has a 3.11 ERA In 18 stars.

James Paxton
The Yankees trade for the oft-injured left-hander who had never pitched more than 160 1/3 innings in a season. He was good (3.82 ERA and 3.86 FIP) but not great for the Yankees in 2019, and in the postseason, he couldn’t get through five innings in his lone ALDS start and got only seven outs in his first ALCS start. His Game 6 start in the 2019 ALCS (6 IP, 1 ER) made up for his other two, but his inability to give the Yankees length helped destroy the bullpen.

In 2020, he made five awful starts ( 6.64 ERA) before going to down for the season with an injury, ending his time with the Yankees.

(I will leave Jameson Taillon out of this for now since he’s still a Yankee, but he’s not as good as the Yankees hoped in trading for him and has worse numbers as a Yankee than he did with the Pirates.)

Montas is only three starts into his Yankees career and will ultimately be judged on how he pitches in October (if he doesn’t pitch himself out of the rotation by then). He will be a Yankee through next season (if he doesn’t pitch himself out of the rotation or off the team by then).

He’s a long way from becoming the latest young, controllable starter that the Yankees have traded for who then failed with the team. But as of now, he’s off to the same start and on the same path as some of his predecessors. And if it doesn’t work out for Montas with the Yankees, I’m sure he will enjoy success again once he’s no longer a Yankee, like all the other young, controllable starters Cashman has acquired.

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