PEORIA, Ariz. — Jack Zduriencik had a fitful night's sleep in the hours before making a trade that could have a major impact on two franchises for many years to come.
"It was (3 a.m.) and I'm lying on my back, staring at the ceiling and wondering if I was going to do the right thing," the Mariners general manager said.
That is how gut wrenching it was for Zduriencik to pull the trigger on a January trade that sent right-hander Michael Pineda and pitching prospect Jose Campos to the Yankees for switch-hitting catching prospect Jesus Montero and right-hander Hector Noesi.
"In Michael, you're talking about a kid who made the All-Star team as a rookie last season, is 6-foot-7, 260 pounds and has a chance to be a great pitcher," Zduriencik said. "It's not easy to trade a pitcher like that, but the bottom line was we needed offense and he was a piece we felt we had to trade to get that offense. We knew we were getting a very special hitter back in Jesus Montero."
The Mariners have scored the fewest runs in the major leagues in each of the last two seasons, part of the reason why Pineda had a 9-10 record last season despite a fine 3.74 ERA in 28 starts.
However, the Mariners are so sure Montero can help boost their offense that they plan to bat him fifth and have him serve as their primary designated hitter even though he has just 69 plate appearances in the major leagues. Those came in September with the Yankees, and he made quite a first impression by hitting .328 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 18 games.
Two of those games were against the Mariners, and his future teammates noticed Montero.
"You could just tell he was a special hitter," second baseman Dustin Ackley said. "The ball jumped off his bat and he had big-time power to both left-center and right-center. ...
"When I heard about the trade, I had mixed emotions. I hated to see us trade Michael, but I also knew we were getting a special player, the type of hitter we need in the middle of our lineup."
The Mariners are counting on Montero to join Ackley and first baseman Justin Smoak to form the nucleus of their lineup for years to come. The Mariners used the second overall pick in the 2009 draft to select Ackley, 24, from North Carolina while Smoak, 25, was the key player acquired from the Rangers in a trade for ace left-hander Cliff Lee during the 2010 season.
However, there is no doubt Montero is the centerpiece among the Mariners' young hitters. While it might be a lot to put on a 22-year-old, the 6-foot-3, 235-pounder embraces the expectations.
"I'm excited about being here," Montero said before a recent Cactus League game. "I want the chance to play in the major leagues every day. With the Yankees, maybe I would have gotten that opportunity this year, but maybe I wouldn't have.
"Here, I know I'm going to play every day. That's not pressure. That's fun."
Montero was considered the Yankees' next superstar-in-waiting, and he went into the offseason believing he would replace Jorge Posada, who eventually retired, as the designated hitter. Then came the trade and Montero was leaving an organization with 27 World Series titles for one that has never been to the Fall Classic.
"I was real surprised," Montero said. "I wasn't expecting it at all and I was disappointed at first. Then Jack Zduriencik called and told me how excited he was that I was going to be playing in Seattle, and that made me feel better. Now that I'm here with my new team, I'm very happy. I feel very comfortable here."
The big question surrounding Montero is whether he will become comfortable behind the plate in the major leagues. Many scouts believe his defense is not good enough for him to be a starting catcher long term and he will wind up being a designated hitter, but the Mariners disagree.
While veteran Miguel Olivo is the No. 1 catcher, Montero will likely start two games per week behind the plate.
"I want to be a big-league catcher," Montero said. "Miguel has helped me a lot already, and I'm learning a lot from him. I'm working hard to make myself as better catcher."
Manager Eric Wedge said: "We'll give Miguel every chance to prove himself at catcher."
As for Zduriencik, he is sleeping well this spring knowing Montero is on his team.
"It was a good, old-fashioned baseball trade," Zduriencik said. "It wasn't about money for either side, which you rarely see anymore. It was about two teams trading for need. Time will tell how it works out, but I feel very good having Jesus Montero in our organization.
"Seeing him this spring only makes me feel better about the trade."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times