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Yankees get a major upgrade in pitching department

By Pete Caldera, The Record (Hackensack N.J.) –

Michael Pineda possesses a hulking frame, a dynamite right arm and the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation starter and strikeout artist for years to come.

He’s also under the Yankees’ control for the next five seasons.

“That’s hard to come by nowadays,” said one AL executive, who lamented that Pineda is now in pinstripes. “They have to win (every) year. That was a really good move by those guys.”

In Friday night’s haul, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman dramatically upgraded the club’s suspect rotation by landing Pineda — along with highly regarded Class A right-hander Jose Campos — from Seattle for slugger Jesus Montero and righty Hector Noesi.

Also, veteran free agent right-hander Hiroki Kuroda agreed to a one-year, $10 million contract.

Now, the Yankees have seven starters for five slots — with A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia facing increased pressure to earn a spot behind CC Sabathia, Pineda (9-10, 3.74), Kuroda (13-16, 3.07) and Ivan Nova.

Hughes’ trade value is at its lowest point, and Burnett’s remaining two years at $33 million make it difficult to spin off another deal.

What’s clear is that Cashman now has a well-coveted No. 2 starter on a consensus AL East favorite.

“That’s a big piece. A huge piece,” said one AL West scout who has followed Pineda’s development. “And the other guy they got back (19-year-old Campos) is a pretty good arm.”

Another AL scout thought the trade made sense on both sides, although the true evaluation won’t be known for years.

“Seattle’s got pitching coming down the road,” the scout said. “How could you march that same offense out there? With a team that couldn’t score, they couldn’t look their fans in the face.

“But my question about (Montero) is that he has to put up huge numbers (to justify the deal). And there’s some swing-and-miss in him, too.”

A second AL West scout thought more highly of a slugging catching prospect with a high offensive ceiling but limited defensive skills.

“I can’t believe they gave up on Montero,” said the scout. “He’s not going to be Russell Martin, but if they spent the time with him behind the plate he might be similar to (Jorge) Posada.”

Still, Montero’s expendability acknowledged how the club feels about Austin Romine. Martin is eligible for free agency after this season and Romine — who figures to start his first full season at Class AAA — is considered to be a big-league-ready receiver and a future No. 6-type hitter.

Eduardo Nunez stands to gain at-bats with Montero gone. Andruw Jones could see more time at designated hitter, although the Yanks could add another DH-type bat; Vladimir Guerrero and old friends Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui remain on the free-agent market.

But the Yankees aren’t worried about scoring runs in 2012. If there’s any immediate concern, it’s Pineda’s 1-5 record and 5.12 ERA in just 10 starts (58 innings) during last season’s second half.

The first AL West scout acknowledged the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Pineda’s past elbow issues, but believes Seattle merely was limiting his innings.

Pineda, who turns 23 on Wednesday, struck out 173 batters in 171 innings. Last season only 10 other pitchers averaged at least a strikeout per inning with a minimum of 100 innings, according to Fangraphs.

“And Kuroda’s a nice middle-of-the-rotation piece, too,” the scout said. “Life just got a lot better over there than it was two days ago.”

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