What to make of DiPoto’s moves

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New Mariner player Nori Aoki tries on his new Mariner hat. (Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times)

It’s been a week from hell at school with all sorts of craziness going on and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to sit down and write about Mariners craziness. Let’s just say it was the busiest Mariner week I can ever remember.

On Tuesday night word began to come down of Mariners interest in dealing first baseman  Mark Trumbo ahead of Wednesday’s deadline for non-tenders.  First the Rockies and then the Orioles were named as potential trading partners.

It quickly became clear what the Mariners were looking for in a deal for Trumbo: a bag of cash.  Specifically, about the $9.1 million they believed Trumbo would get in arbitration.  When the deal was announced with Baltimore, for Steve Clevenger, my immediate response was, who? Okay, Clevenger it is.  When lefty C.J. Riefenhofer was later added to the deal, I said “Wha?”

Just some quick analysis of the deal here.  Let’s be clear on what we are seeing–Trumbo was traded for a guy named salary relief.  Riefenhofer was traded for Clevenger.  The cash isn’t coming from Baltimore, it’s simply savings and the salary flexibility it provides.  But it is what it is.  I understand this trade, I get the benefits, but there is something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  It feels like a NBA trade.

So what did the M’s get in Clevenger? He’s a left handed catcher who can platoon with Chris Ianetta, which allows Mike Zunino to figure things out in Tacoma. That’s something that should have happened three years ago, but you know that. DiPoto positively gushed about Clevenger’s ability to catch and play first and third.  He likes his low strikeout, high contact rate.

Whoa there Jerry.  Clevenger may turn out to be a great addition to the team, a good role player, but let’s not get too excited. Clev, has exactly 148 major league games under his belt-not a lot for a guy who’s going to turn 30.  He has only 446 major league plate appearances. We don’t know what Clevenger is.  That’s 1,500 fewer at bats less than the Dustin Ackley we shipped off to the Yankees, and about 2,200 fewer appearances than the Justin Smoak we waived last December 2nd. We knew (over and over again) what they could do.  In Steve Clevenger, we know  very little, because he hasn’t done much.

However, we do know the converted second baseman is not a great catcher.  He is a middling framer of pitches, lousy at throwing out runners and blocking the plate. He’s also out of minor league options.  So if the M’s decide Zunino should be their backup instead of Clevenger, they can’t stash him in Tacoma as insurance without the unlikely possibility he clears waivers. Nice. More about his talents at USS Mariner.

But wait, there’s more.  Later on Wednesday, the Mariners announced they’d signed righty reliever Justin DeFratus.  A free agent, DeFratus was signed to a cheap major league contract, after a lousy year with the Phillies. This is another one of Jerry D’s buy low acquisitions.  DeFratus was used in many multi-inning outings, by to flesh out the miserable Philadelphia rotation’s short outings and he responded poorly.  This is a bet he’ll respond better to his customary inning or less per appearance and adds right-handed depth to the bullpen, which the team really needs. At age 27, DeFratus is cheap, controllable and, well, cheap.

Later Wednesday, it was announced that the Mariners were sending Patrick Kivlehan to Texas as the player to be named later in the Leonys Martin trade.  So that breaks down as Tom Wilhelmsen, James Jones and Kivlehan for Martin and reliever Anthony Bass.  For those who believed Jones was the second coming of Ty Cobb, he’s already been released by the Rangers to clear a roster spot.  Sorry to see Kivlehan go–liked his growth, but always feared he’d be an in limbo guy like Stefan Romero, not really good enough to be helpful at any position–or kind of like Steve Clevenger.

The signing, still later that day, of outfielder Nori Aoki seems like a no-brainer.  He is relatively cheap, a low K, high OBP guy, the kind of player DiPoto likes. Signed to a team friendly one year deal with a player friendly vesting option for 2017, this seams like a good acquisition for the Mariners and Aoki.  According to our hyper-active GM, it also generates an outfield rotation who can mostly go get a ball.  I say mostly because Nelson Cruz still figures into that rotation, and honestly, at age 34 there are questions about how good defensively Aoki will be. Importantly, it gives the M’s a couple of years to get their outfield shit together.

The M’s had a number of other moves to make this week.  These had more to do with roster adjustments than anything else–definitely nothing as exciting as signing David Price or Zach Greinke. On Frenetic Tuesday, the M’s announced they were claiming first baseman Andy Wilkins from the Orioles–who likely lost a possibility of a job to Mark Trumbo. They also lost catcher John Hicks to a waiver claim by the Twins. You see the circular replacement pattern at work here.

The M’s also lost a pair of pitchers who were out of minor league options.  Jose Ramirez, a 25 year old hard throwing, walk-inducing machine was actually traded for something to be named later–cash or players.  Edgar Olmos, who failed spectacularly in a couple of September starts for the M’s, was claimed off waivers by the Cubs.

So let’s just review for a moment.

The Trumbo deal grades out as an incomplete for me.  If the M’s make some solid moves with the money they’ve freed up great.  Adding to the rotation, another arm for the bullpen, a fix at first base in line with the DiPoto philosophy all make sense.  But there’s now a hole at first base, and don’t feed me bullshit about how awesome Clevenger is–that is Jack Zdurencik style propaganda.

The Nori Aoki signing makes complete sense. He is a max two year investment at a very reasonable rate. He upgrades the defense, adds a little bit of speed and can get on base.  Call his signing a B due to his age and questions about defensive regression.

The Justin DeFratus signing, like Aoki’s, was a solid move.  If he has a bounce back season, he lengthens the bullpen, is young, controllable and cheap.  If he doesn’t bounce back, he has minor league options.  It’s a B+ signing.

I’m anxiously waiting for Monday’s start to Winter Meetings.  The M’s have holes to fill and Jerry DiPoto is on the loose.  I’m taking an extra tank of oxygen to school with me so I can keep up.

 

 

 

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