New Mariners’ general manager Jerry Dipoto was essentially tasked with making the Seattle Mariners relevant again. With a core consisting of Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz already in place, Dipoto had a solid base to build upon. However, in the past few weeks, the GM has significantly improved the Mariners’ roster with a trio of moves.
Seattle made the first significant trade of the offseason by dealing Danny Farquhar, Brad Miller and Logan Morrison to the Tampa Bay Rays for starting pitcher Nate Karns, outfielder Book Powell and reliever C.J. Riefenhauser.
It may seem like a lopsided deal to move three players who were major contributors for one proven big-league player and two prospects, but the Mariners made out like bandits in this one.
The team essentially dealt from unneeded surplus to improve the roster.
In terms of Seattle relievers, Carson Smith was the only reliever left on the roster who posted a WAR above 1.4 last season. After him there was/is a good deal of uncertainty and sub-par pitching. Farquhar’s WAR was a career-low -0.7. His ERA (5.12) and FIP (4.60) weren’t much better. Tampa Bay has a history of rehabbing struggling relievers, so perhaps this will happen to the now-former Mariner, but he likely wasn’t assured a job next season thanks to his numbers in 2015.
Tampa Bay now has the same dilemma at shortstop that Seattle faced a few years ago, start Miller or Nick Franklin? Granted, the Rays also have former first-overall draft pick Tim Beckham in the mix, but still—same dilemma.
Miller was expendable thanks to the presence of Ketel Marte. Marte posted a .283 batting average, a 2.3 WAR, 17 extra-base hits and 17 RBI in 57 games. At only 22-years-old, the former top prospect seems to have a stranglehold on the shortstop position. Miller played a number of positions as a Mariner, but didn’t profile as a quality defender at any of them. In other words, he wasn’t going to cut it as a utility player. His .258 batting average and 101 strikeouts didn’t exactly help his cause either.
Lastly there’s Morrison. The first baseman/corner outfielder/designated hitter managed only a .225 batting average and 54 RBI in 146 games. These numbers are significantly below LoMo’s career numbers. The stats not only made Morrison expandable, but also created a significant need at first base. Regardless of this deal, changes were bound to happen at first base. Including Morrison in this deal ensured that the team received value for him.
The gem of the trade for Seattle is Karns. The 27-year-old starting pitcher turned in a solid season in Tampa last year, posting a 7-5 record, a 3.67 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 147 innings. He also chipped in with a 2.2 WAR.
Karns has already proven his worth as a dependable starter. The fact that the M’s acquired him looks even better when you consider that the former Washington Nationals’ farmhand isn’t arbitration eligible until 2018. The earliest he can become a free agent is 2021.
In addition to the years of controllability, Karns provides the Mariners with a potential replacement for Hisashi Iwakuma. MLB.com’s Jason Beck reports that Tigers’ general manger disclosed that Iwakuma is a player Detroit has interest in. In addition to Detroit, a number of teams figure to be interested in ‘Kuma’ thanks to his track record. Karns provide an excellent replacement should Iwakuma leave town in the offseason.
If Iwakuma joins Karns in the rotation, it allows the Mariners to deal a rotation arm like James Paxton for a proven upgrade elsewhere on the roster. While moving Paxton seems unlikely given his age, controllability and upside, he was rumored to be discussed with the New York Yankees. That same report from The New York Post said the M’s have interest in Brett Gardner.
Can be Iwakuma insurance in case Iwakuma leaves. Also allows the team to shop someone like James Paxton or another pitcher if they feel so inclined (for upgrades elsewhere on the roster). Add link to Paxton/Brett Gardner link.
Powell and Riefenhauser are both inexperienced, but both come with upside. Powell was originally drafted by the Oakland Athletics, before being dealt along with Daniel Robertson and former Mariner John Jaso for Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar last offseason. The 22-year-old hit .295 with 28 extra-base hits (including nine triples), 40 RBI, 18 steals and 61 walks in 117 games between Double-A and Triple-A. His slugging numbers won’t earn him any accolades, but he did post a .385 OBP last season.
Riefenhauser does have a career 6.30 ERA and a 5.68 FIP in only 24 appearances in the majors. However, his minor-league stats reveal more promise. In six seasons in the Rays’ farm system, the pitcher owns a 2.77 ERA and 442 strikeouts over 480.1 innings pitched. Riefenhauser is also extremely versatile having started 42 games and finishing 56 contests in his career. In 2015, his ERA in 34.2 innings at the Triple-A level was 2.86.
With so many question marks in the bullpen, Dipoto made another trade. The new GM dealt for established reliever Joaquin Benoit.
Benoit has been excellent since 2010. Equally adept as a setup man or a closer, Benoit owns a 2.35 ERA and 422 strikeouts in 370 innings dating back to the 2010 season. His FIP also comes out at a favorable 3.15.
The Mariners surrendered two prospects, Enyel De Los Santos and Nelson Ward, to the San Diego Padres in the trade. De Los Santos is the only one of the two to make it onto MLB.com’s list of the top 30 Padres prospects.
Neither prospect has passed the Single-A level in the minors, and given Benoit’s track record, this trade could pay massive dividends for the Mariners.
Did I mention Joaquin Benoit has a 16.7 WAR since 2010?
With the Benoit, Smith and Charlie Furbush on the roster, Tom Wilhelmsen was likely out of a gig as a setup reliever. Dipoto capitalized on this brief surplus by flipping Wilhelmsen and centerfielder James Jones to the Texas Rangers for reliever Anthony Bass and centerfielder Leonys Martin. It may seem redundant to trade an outfielder and a reliever for an outfielder and a reliever, but what Dipoto has essentially done is turn the two prospects he sent to San Diego into upgrades in the bullpen and in center field.
Seattle comes away from the deal with a significant upgrade in the outfield. Like Jones, Martin brings a similar speed element to the game. However, unlike Jones, he’s shown the ability to be an above-average contributor at the dish.
In 2013 and 2014, Martin hit .268 while averaging eight home runs, six triples, 17 doubles, 34 stolen bases and 44 RBI. Over those two seasons, his WAR was a combined 8.1. Jones’ career WAR is -1.1.
The Wilhelmsen/Bass exchange may seem more titled in Texas’ favor, but when you consider the M’s already added Benoit, it makes the deal much easier to accept.
While Wilhelmsen’s track record is much better and more consistent than Bass’, the now-former Texas reliever isn’t just a throw in. Bass posted a respectable 3.73 FIP in Texas’ launch-pad-masquerading-as-a ballpark.
Put it this way, would you rather have Benoit, Martin and Bass or Wilhelmsen, Jones and two prospects? Easy choice right?
Since taking over, Jerry Dipoto is doing an excellent job at reshaping the Seattle Mariners. He’s already turned excess depth into upgrades. Should he continue to make more shrewd moves, he’ll be the architect of a potential playoff team.
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All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.