As the trade deadline approached, the Mariners find it more and more difficult to score runs, and the second wild card spot slips further and further from their grasp, I was afraid Jack Zdurencik would panic and do something foolish. I was happy to see he didn’t. Though the addition of two right handed hitting outfielders, Chris Denorfia from the San Diego Padres, and Austin Jackson from the Detroit Tigers are not likely to catapult the Mariners into the American League West race, they both answered some important needs for the M’s.
First, both players are are at least average defensively, and an upgrade over the Mariners current outfield defense. Austin Jackson is a World Series veteran, starting everyday center fielder. They haven’t had a quality centerfielder since 2010 when Franklin Guttierrez was still semi-healthy, and the organization hasn’t developed a talented center fielder since that Adam Jones guy they traded away. Jackson has historically been an average center fielder or slightly above. Denorfia is average at all three outfield positions. They will be an improvement over the inexperienced James Jones and the aging Endy Chavez..
Though neither player is bringing a lineup changing bat to the team, they are both right handed which evens out a team that is unbalanced toward lefties. Jackson’s slash is .272/.332/.399 with an OPS+ of 99. He replaces James Jones with .258/.287/.313 and an OPS+ of 72. Though Jackson brings little threat of home run sock, his 25 doubles would tie for the team lead with Kyle Seager and Robinson Cano. Denorfia is having a down year at the plate and is hitting .242/.292./319. Though Denorfia has tended to mash lefties in years past, his splits for this year doesn’t show those kind of lefty killing numbers.
Most importantly, neither of these players cost the Mariners players who likely fit into the teams future plans. The M’s contribution to the three way deal that brought them Jackson was Nick Franklin. Though Franklin was a highly regarded prospect, the sheen on him was a bit tarnished. He struggled to hit at the major league level. His best defensive position was blocked by $240 million of Robinson Cano. The Mariners made clear their verdict on his value when they called up Chris Taylor to replace a faltering Brad Miller at shortstop. Ouftielder Abraham Almonte and reliever Stephen Kohlscheen were the cost for Denorfia. The Almonte experiment imploded in a mushroom cloud of strikeouts and misplays in April, and Kohlscheen is blocked from joining the M’s crowded, talented bullpen. Most notably are the players the Mariners did not give up-no Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, D.J. Peterson, no Brandon Maurer or Mike Zunino.
Just as interesting is who will lose playing time with the addition of these guys. One would guess Jones will head back to Tacoma to work on his game. Chavez may be gone too. Denorfia will likely form a platoon with Michael Saunders when he returns from the DL as long as Dustin Ackley continues his hot hitting. With Paxton likely to return from the DL this weekend, we may see the end of the Corey Hart experiment as well as other players, hitting marginally better than Hart rotate through the DH spot.
No, the Mariners did not add players who were transformational. The team will continue to be offensive light-weights, though improved by degrees. It is a big improvement defensively, and a very modest improvement offensively. Jackson is under contract through next year, Denorfia is just a rental. Those expecting the Mariners to be the offensive equal of the Angels or Tigers will be disappointed, but honestly those bats were never available. Look at the guys who were traded. The headline players were big arms–David Price, John Lester, Jeff Samardijia. Does this improve their playoff chances? Probably not. But it does make them better, and the Jackson trade fills a huge organizational hole at a minimal cost.