The first thing I’d re-do is re-title my last blog post. “Jerry’s Epic Fail” got me clobbered on social media. Maybe a little less hyperbole there, something like “Really Jerry?”
But the content of the article I stand by. The Dodgers signed Hisashi Iwakuma to a three year $45 million deal. To be clear, that is below market value. At $8 million per WAR, Iwakuma was a 1.8 WAR player in 2015, do the math. It’s less per year than Jeff Samardzija’s per year salary, and less than John Lackey’s. To aid your comparison, Samardjiza was a 2.7 WAR player in 214.0 innings versus Iwakuma’s 129.2 innings. Iwakuma had a better ERA, WHIP and FIP. Lackey, who is two years older than Iwakuma, but also has a healthier recent history, had a roughly equivalent 2015 if pro-rated for injury. The Mariners will regret Iwakuma’s departure starting today.
With the flight of Iwakuma to the Dodgers leaving a hole in the rotation, DiPoto had to fill it, and he did so immediately. While many, like me, believed he’d consider the free agent market and players like Scott Kazmir and Mike Leake, Trader Jerry took the route less traveled and quickly assembled a deal with the Red Sox. The Mariners had their new starting pitcher, left-hander, Wade Miley.
I understand DiPoto’s preference for trading. It’s more sensible than hamstringing a team with lengthy contract obligations that often end badly. But for this strategy to be very successful it’s important to have roster and organizational depth, and unfortunately the Mariners don’t have that at this time. Trades often leave holes that will have to be filled later, or worse, unfilled by quality replacements.
Today the Mariners traded from their rather thin coterie of starting pitchers, left-hander Roenis Elias, and their even thinner collection of effective relievers, Carson Smith. The Mariners also received reliever Jonathan Aro, a successful minor league pitcher with limited, and less successful major league experience.
In Miley the M’s receive a pitcher who was not very good in diminutive Fenway Park, a haven for right-handed hitters and a graveyard for left-handed pitching. His 2015 record was 11-11, with a 4.46 ERA and 3.81 FIP. DiPoto, according to Greg Johns, was attracted to his durability, his history of 200 or thereabouts innings, and his cost-$6 million in 2016, $9 million in 2017, and $12 million team option in 2018. Needless to say that’s much less than the current market value for his 2.6 WAR for the 2015 season.
But let’s be real, Miley does not replace Iwakuma’s quality. 2015 was the worst of Iwakuma’s American career. But let’s compare some key statistics (by FanGraphs.)
IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA xFIP
Iwakuma 129.2 7.70 1.46 1.25 .271 3.54 3.27
Miley 193.2 6.83 2.97 0.79 .307 4.46 4.08
In short, Miley had more innings and allowed fewer home runs, but far more baserunners, resulting in more runs. It would be one thing if Miley was a fly-ball pitcher working with the strength of Safeco’s size and damp atmosphere, but he’s mostly a ground ball guy with a career fly ball rate of 29.9%. Compare with Chris Young’s fly ball rate of 55.1%.
So not re-signing ‘Kuma means the Mariners have signed a cheaper alternative to be sure, a more durable pitcher possibly, one who will give more innings of . . . what?
Miley is definitely better than Elias, but it was the inclusion of Smith that made the deal.
In trading Smith, the Mariners blew a hole in what was already a questionable bullpen. Smith had five years of control and was likely the best piece of a bullpen including veterans Joaquin Benoit and Charlie Furbush, and a bunch of lesser-known lights including Justin DeFratus, Vidal Nuno, Anthony Bass and Tony Zych. Smith is so highly thought of FanGraph’s Jeff Sullivan immediately followed the trade with this little missive:
Red Sox Turn Wade Miley into Potential Bullpen Ace
Further, in adding Miley, DiPoto said he’s done with the rotation.
So, I ask you, if this is the completed work, which looks better to you? Which rotation looks like it is more likely to compete for a playoff spot?
A. Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Nate Karns–Roenis Elias in reserve.
B. Felix Hernandez, Wade Miley, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Nate Karns–nobody in reserve (okay Mike Montgomery until the end of spring training because he’s out of options.)
What about this A) a bullpen with Carson Smith B) a bullpen without Carson Smith.
And just to be clear, the Mariners rotation and bullpen were not among the Mariners strong areas in 2015. They are worse today than yesterday.
So let’s go back 24 hours. The M’s still could have signed Hisashi Iwakuma to a three year $45 million below market deal. They’d still have Roenis Elias to add depth to their rotation or as a trading chip. They’d also still have a very inexpensive, very talented reliever in Carson Smith-a guy who might have been their closer in 2016. Yes, they would have had less cash, but DiPoto seems relatively averse to spending cash on free agents anyway. I’m beginning to wonder if this is sort of a game within a game–the GM saving the most cash wins regardless of the record on the field.
It is quite possible Dipoto use his dough to improve the bullpen. It’s probable he will find a way to better the Mariners first base situation. If he chooses to put money there he better go all in on Chris Davis. This team won’t be able to score enough runs to keep up with the pitching.