Yankees general manager Brian Cashman acknowledged there was a lot of clenched teeth by both sides before doing a deal with such budding young players.
"Jesus may very well be the best player I've ever traded, and I've been doing this a long time," Cashman said in a conference call with New York writers. "He's a middle-of-the-lineup bat who is very gifted. He's a good kid and he's going to have a heckuva career. It's not easy to make these decisions. But at the same time, we're excited about what we're getting."
The trade's announcement was delayed when Montero had travel issues getting out of Venezuela and then weather problems in Seattle that slowed the process. But all the i's were finally dotted and t's crossed Monday, so Montero and right-handed pitcher Hector Noesi officially became Mariners, while Pineda and 19-year-old pitcher Jose Campos became property of the Yankees.
Noesi, 24, will challenge for a spot in the Seattle rotation after pitching 30 games (28 in relief) for the Yankees last year as a rookie, while Campos is a well-regarded prospect who pitched in Class A last year. But without a doubt, Montero and Pineda are the kingpins to this swap.
Montero, rated the No. 1 catching prospect by MLB.com last week, gives the Mariners some much-needed offensive help as a right-handed hitter with power.
Pineda, a late addition to the AL All-Star team last year as a rookie, provides the Yankees with a big boost to their rotation.
Montero hit .328 with four home runs and 12 RBIs in 61 at-bats after a late-season promotion by the Yankees. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he figures to split time at catcher and designated hitter for the Mariners and provide a middle-of-the-order bat for an offense that has finished last in the AL in scoring for three straight years.
Though some have questioned whether Montero will be a viable Major League catcher, Cashman said the Yankees saw him as a long-term everyday player at that position. Zduriencik said questions of how the Mariners' backstop situation lines up will be answered at Spring Training, with the team having already acquired Tampa Bay's John Jaso to back up returning starter Miguel Olivo.
"We'll give him an opportunity to be all he can be, whatever that will be," Zduriencik said. "He's a smart kid and a talented hitter, and he'll get every opportunity to catch as well. Things will work themselves out, but we like the player we acquired."
Montero clearly expects to catch for his new team.
"That's why I'm here," he said. "I'm looking for a spot, for an opportunity. I'll keep working hard behind the plate and do my best to help the team, help the pitchers and everybody to win."
Cashman said Zduriencik asked him at the Winter Meetings in early December whom it would take, besides Felix Hernandez, to acquire Montero. The Mariners weren't willing to give up Pineda, however, until the Yankees agreed to include Noesi in the deal.
Zduriencik said Noesi will be given a chance at a rotation spot this spring.
"He was an important piece to the deal, the fact we got two big league-ready guys," he said. "I'm excited to see what is going to happen in the rotation. Obviously, Felix is at the top and we've got lots of competition for the other spots.
"You're not going to replace Michael Pineda right now. It'd be foolish to think we could. But we were looking to get a little more balance and that's the big reason we did this."
The Mariners rotation also includes Jason Vargas, Japanese free-agent signee Hisashi Iwakuma and 2011 rookies Blake Beavan and Charlie Furbush. Zduriencik mentioned veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood as being one of the rotation challengers as well, as he's agreed to a Minor League deal with an invite to camp.
The Mariners also have several premier pitching prospects waiting in the wings, including Danny Hultzen, last year's No. 2 overall Draft pick out of Virginia, along with James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Erasmo Ramirez.
That depth of quality young hurlers is what allowed Zduriencik to move Pineda, a hard-throwing right-hander who went 9-10 with a 3.74 ERA last year as a rookie.
"We're going to really root for Michael and always will," Zduriencik said. "We wish him all the best. The Yankees got themselves a heckuva pitcher. The flip side of that is now we're rooting for Jesus and getting to know him. This kid was 21 last year. He'd have been the youngest player on our ballclub.
"There are things he'll bring to the table here that we're very happy about. To me, it's exciting when you consider how young this club already is, and now he's another guy growing with this team."