22 years old; Experience: rookie
It is too early to call any trade what will define a general manager, but it looks like depending on how the future plays out, the trade that saw Michael Pineda don the pinstripes and Jesus Montero come to be the savior of this poor hitting squad will probably go down as either the one that kept Jack Z's job or sent him packing. Remember, this is the same Jesus Montero that the M's balked at giving up Cliff Lee for, when Cliff Lee eventually went to the Rangers and the key piece coming in Justin Smoak.
Needless to say, there are a lot of expectations on Montero to succeed. This isn't only because pretty much every scout who has watched him hit is convinced the kid can mash the ball to hell and back, but also because the Mariners gave up what was appearing to be a very good and very young pitcher in Pineda. Although Pineda only had one major league season under his belt, and it appeared that he tired as the year went on, the Mariners were giving up a proven commodity for someone who has everything to prove.
It isn't looking all doom and gloom on that front however. Montero played 18 games with the Yankees after September call-ups and hit four home runs in the process. He has shown the ability to consistently club the ball at all levels of the minor leagues (he has spent three years there, advancing a league each year). Montero also has two full seasons of AAA under his belt and appears to be as ready as you can ever be for that full season of major league baseball.
There are a few questions revolving around Montero. The first is how well he will come along in his defense, and whether or not the Mariners will really want him behind the plate. Outside of catcher being a position that absolutely wears and tears you away, Montero isn't known for having a cannon of an arm. But Jack Z has still said that Montero will catch, and Montero has said he wants to catch, so we will probably end up with a 70 DH/30 catcher split on the year. The second question is how Montero will respond to the pressures of this Mariners line-up. It is a lot easier to hit four homeruns in 18 games when you have other players around you that can actually string balls together. Montero will be batting fifth, behind Smoak, and in front of Carp (until Carp got injured yesterday, we'll see who goes behind him now). If those two players struggle at the plate, it will be interesting to see how Montero responds when pitchers don't actually have to pitch to him anymore.
Regardless, he is entering 2012 with a lot of expectations riding on him, from fans and from the national media. Quite a few sportswriters pegged Montero as their AL rookie of the year, and if he achieves what a lot of projected numbers are looking like for him - .280, 22-26 HRS - he probably will take those honors home. If Montero is able to reach that number and develop further, then the Pineda trade will be a lot easier to swallow, and he will be a crucial building block to finally assembling a respectable line-up. If Montero struggles, or is only able to put forth a season like Smoak did last year, it will be a lot tougher to rely on the strategy of this organization.