Eight starts in, and we've had a decent look at Michael Pineda.
We've seen him against lefties and against righties, in pitcher's parks and in hitter's parks, at night and during the day, striking out young batters and striking out veteran batters.
Basically, Pineda's a monster and not just because of his gargantuan stature. He's a strike machine with a fastball that hovers around 100 mph (even late into games) and a slider that leaves the best of hitters dumbfounded (Note: It's actually impossible to hit his fastball in MLB 2K11).
Pineda can remain in Seattle for a possible five more years under arbitration, barring a multi-year deal or trade.
So the question is, should the M's offer him a long term deal at the end of this year?
Let's take a look:
Pros of Giving Pineda a Long-Term Deal:
He's 22. Just take a second and imagine him three years from now after he's developed some of his secondary pitches. Imagine the anguish that opposing batters will experience each time they have to march up to the plate against him.
When should the Mariners sign Pineda for a real deal?
In addition to developing his arsenal, Prince Pineda should improve steadily as a player for several more years, like most promising rookies do.
He'll become more comfortable on the mound and learn the ins and outs of major league pitching with help from the talented Rick Adair.
Pineda has yet to have a bad start. He was already meriting rookie of the year talk after his fourth start, and he hasn't slowed down at all.
So far, through a month and a half, Pineda has earned a 5-2 record while keeping his ERA at a minuscule 2.45. He's averaging upwards of six innings and six strikeouts per start (good for a 9.1 K/9 ratio) while rarely allowing hitters a free pass to first (2.3 BB/9).
These are good stats, for sure, but what makes them amazing is the consistency with which they were achieved. A look at the range through eight starts: between six and 7.1 IP, three and seven hits, four and nine strikeouts, zero and four walks and 85 and 103 pitches thrown (each of these is approximately normally distributed, so some of the numbers like four strikeouts and four walks are low probability events).
Some may be concerned that this is just a small look at eight starts in his short major league career, but his consistency stretches back to his tenure in the minors.
He isn't experiencing any of Dustin Ackley's issues with adjusting to new leagues.
Pineda fits beautifully into the Mariners' young rotation. Situated between a Cy Young winner and two developing guys is a great place for the 22 year old.
Undoubtedly, he will learn from King Felix through a mentor-type relationship. Both guys use their size to sling the ball at batters with precarious velocity, and Felix is just a few years farther along in the path Pineda will be following.
Neither Fister (27 years old) nor Vargas (28) is as naturally talented as Pineda, but both guys look pretty good this year. They've suffered from harrowing run support that reflects in their W-L records, but we can see a definite improvement from last year.
I think the Mariners will hold on to these guys for a little while longer.
I haven't yet mentioned Bedard, and that's because I foresee him leaving Seattle sometime soon. After a stellar 200-plus strikeout season with Baltimore, Bedard came to Seattle for a few disappointing years. Granted, he has been plagued by injuries, but that's reason enough to deal him. Also, keep in mind he's 32 this year.
Cons of Giving Pineda a Long-Term Deal:
Pineda is currently pitching on a typical rookie contract of $400k for his first year, but if he keeps up the stellar pitching, he's going to want a little more—well, a lot more—in the years to come.
He's earned a raise, but the Mariners also have a couple of big prospects coming up in the next few years who will take up a chunk of the payroll, and the management should leave some room for trades (I still want Prince Fielder).
A possible solution to this problem is a deal similar to the one the Tampa Ray's worked out with superstar 3B Evan Longoria after his early success. He was locked up at six years for $17.5M, with the possibility of earning $44.5M over nine years.
While this option gives the Mariners the opportunity to preserve some payroll in the near future, they are risking a lot of money in the long run based off the assumption that Pineda will continue to pitch like a one or two starter for years to come.
They could consequently wait until the end of his arbitration years to lock him up long-term, but he may be worth $15M/season at that point--whereas he could likely be signed for less than a third of that if executed right now.
There haven't been any issues this season (knock on wood), but Pineda did spend some time on the DL in 2009 while he was with High Desert. He was reported to have recovered fully, but the injury was in his elbow which is always dangerous for a pitcher.
It's best for Seattle to monitor his situation closely.
As with many things in life, this has essentially turned into a cost-benefit analysis. His pitching is great, but is it worth the hefty salary he could request?