Assessing trades at the quarter pole: Nate Karns

Karns 2

The Mariners got out of the gate in the trading period early. On November 2nd they announced the first deal in major league baseball, and their biggest trade of the season.They swapped shortstop/outfielder Brad Miller, 1b/DH Logan Morrison/ and reliever Danny Farquhar for right-handed starter Nathan Karns, reliever C.J. Riefenhausen, and minor league outfielder Boog Powell.

The trade implemented General Manager Jerry Dipoto’s view the Mariners needed a deeper rotation, to lengthen and deepen the bullpen, and to acquire younger, more athletic players who would play well at Safeco Field. In order to that, Dipoto traded, arguably, the Mariners most valuable, but expendable chip in Miller, and included pieces, Morrison and Farquhar, who failed to contribute to Mariner success in 2015.

So let’s take a quick look at the new Rays.  Beginning with Farquhar, the news is not good. Danny has had trouble staying with the big club.  He’s compiled only 5.1 inning in Tampa, while spending considerable time in AAA Durham. His Tampa Bay line isn’t terrible, a 3.38 ERA on 7 hits.  But he’s also give up two walks and two home runs for a WHIP of 1.668, a BABIP of .313 and xFIP of 4.08, s0 he’s not exactly keeping guys off the bases. He was DFA’d on May 14th as the Rays try to sneak him through waivers in a bid to control their 40 man roster.  It’s not clear what his final destination will be.

Logan Morrison got off to a horrendous start. When the Rays swam into Seattle to be beaten up by the Mariners on May 9th, Morrison was hitting a frigid .122/.188/.149.  Yes, do the math, that’s a .271 OPS. I didn’t know they made OPS that low. Like Leonys Martin, and others, Morrison has improved. as the season has progressed. He has a big hole to dig himself out of, but his current slash is .206/.309/.280, adding a couple of home runs to his repertoire. LoMo has clearly heated up during the last four weeks.  What isn’t clear is if this is sustainable improvement or if it is simply similar teases we’ve seen from him in the past. First base remains a weighted offensive position, and though the Rays lead the American League in home runs, they are only tenth in runs scored.  They need all hands on board.

Brad Miller became expendable when Ketel Marte demonstrated he could handle shortstop, hence his cross country trip to Tampa Bay. Like Morrison, Miller started out slow. Though he’s now slashing .233/.303/.434, it’s been a slow rise from his nadir of .106/.176/.213 on April 23rd. Offensively, Miller is rated above average with an OPS + of 105, and a wRC+ of 106.  Defensively, the story is a little different.  The shortstop is rated unequivocally bad at the present time, with -8 defensive runs saved, and a UZR 150 of -28.7  These are MUCH worse ratings than he posted as shortstop with the Mariners.

For the Rays, its still a bit early to determine how successful this trade was for them.  They’ve put their eggs in the Miller basket for shortstop, but clearly that has some defensive ramifications.  In the case of Logan Morrison he hasn’t shown much yet. Farquhar looks to be a throwaway.

On the Mariners side of the ledger, C.J. Riefenhausen didn’t remain a Mariner property for long.  He was included in the Mark Trumbo trade, and never donned Mariner teal.

Nathan Karns struggled during much of spring training, but in his last few starts, showed enough consistency to win the 5th starter’s job. Karns is 28, but a young 28 and does not have a ton of time in the big leagues.  2015 was the first season he spent much time in the majors.

Karns has some great numbers, starting with 4-1.  He has a great K/9 ratio in 9.0, and solid ERA of 3.53.  But all is not perfect. His WHIP of 1.294, while not fatal is not great.  Though he allows some baserunners, at least he doesn’t give up piles of homers.  He’s had difficulty getting deep into games. In only one of his starts has he gotten as deep as the seventh inning.  Five of his starts ended 5.0-5.1 innings. Overall his rating is above average.  His ERA+ is 108, BABIP is .294, and xFIP is 3.75. Plenty of room for improvement, but probably better than most of the fifth starters most teams are running out once a week. Karns earned .7 WAR, which is pretty darn good for May 25th.

Boog Powell 2

Boog Powell is in Tacoma. Powell was brought to the Mariner organization to be a lights out, balls for leather defensive outfielder, with the expectation he would likely make the majors as a fourth outfielder.  I have no actual evidence to share about Powell’s defensive prowess, only anecdotal observation that he plays hard and is a classic dirty shirt guy. He can hit a little too. His slash in the offense-happy PCL is .280/.341/.373. with six doubles, a triple and two homers. Just to be clear that’s twice as many extra base hits as Logan Morrison.

It feels like the Mariners half of the trade is out-performing the Rays at this time.  It will be interesting to see how this pencils out in, say, August.  Is Powell a candidate to take Nori Aoki’s spot if he continues to struggle?  Can Karns make progress and lengthen his outings? Will Miller turn around some of his defensive woes?  Lots to learn as the season goes on.

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