Month: November 2016

White meat or dark, Jerry?

The Mariners added shortstop Jean Segura in a multi-player deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks yesterday

A notification splashed across my Facebook page last night.  “Mariners have sent Taijuan Walker, Ketel Marte to Arizona for SS Jean Segura, OF Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis. WOW”  Happy Thanksgiving Mr. Dipoto, he said as he was trying to squeeze this article in between getting ready for the arrival of Thanksgiving guests.

It’s hard to know exactly what to make of this deal.  My initial reaction is that both teams are taking some gambles in what can only be described as the biggest deal of the Hot Stove League so far.

The biggest risk is probably to Arizona, but it offers the biggest possible upside .  I’ve always loved  Taijuan Walker‘s potential, and I’ve been a cheerleader for the big right-hander.  I’ve believed he was the player who would take Felix Hernandez’s role as ace of the Mariners staff.  Of course, we know how that’s turned out.  The 2010 first-round draft choice was maddeningly inconsistent in Tacoma, and during his 62 starts over four seasons in Seattle. After a slow start in 2015, Walker looked like he was on track to seize Felix’s mantle in 2016, finishing the season strong.

But in 2016 he struggled with a foot injury, had to remake his delivery, showed some flashes throwing complete game shutouts against he Indians in Seattle on June 8th and on the road against the Angels on September 13th.  But 2016 can only be seen as a step back. The Diamondbacks are taking a chance on some promise and potential, but proof of Walker’s dominance hasn’t been on the field on a daily basis.

The M’s also sent shortstop  Ketel Marte to the Diamondbacks.  Marte came up to Mariners to replace Brad Miller at shortstop in the 2015 season and seemed like a revelation.  The M’s looked like they had a 22 year old shortstop who could field, hit, and run, was young, affordable and athletic and under team control for six years. Then 2016 happened.  Marte went from a guy who slashed .283/.351/.402 with a 112 wRC+ to .259/.287/.323 with a 66 wRC+.  And it didn’t stop there, as his defense plunged from a slightly better than average 2 Defensive Runs Saved and UZR 150  of 1.2 to a disastrous -2 DRS and UZR 150 of -15.3.  Do I think that’s the player Marte is?  Probably not, but he will need more development.

For the Diamondbacks, is this a good deal?  Maybe not this minute, but Walker and Marte at 24 and 23 respectively have both shown flashes at the major league level, and if Arizona can be patient, they could both be quite good, cheap and controllable, but definitely some ifs in there.

Segura slashed .319/.368/.499 with 20 home runs from the leadoff spot in 2016.  His hitting earned him 13th in NL MVP voting.  Whether he can come close to repeating those numbers will determine the success of this deal for the Mariners.

For the M’s, the big pick up is SS Jean Segura, age 27.  In doing so, the M’s are very much living in the present as Segura had the best year of his career in 2016.  Segura slashed .319/.368/.499 in 2016.  He led the National League with 203 hits and scored 102 runs on a lousy Diamondbacks team. Segura hit leadoff and managed 20 home runs in addition to 33 stolen bases.  He is the leadoff hitter the M’s have searched for, and offers speed the team needs. The baseball writers thought enough of his 2016 season to make him 13th in NL MVP voting.

The downside is his two lousy years with Milwaukee, leading to his trade to the D-backs in 2016. Segura is at the highest point of his career, moving to a new league, leaving cozy Chase Field for roomy, but now homer-friendly, Safeco Field. Is this the Segura bubble?  There’s lots of room for regression.  Segura is also not a brilliant defender. The numbers say he’s always been around average. Last year he was 0 DRS in 153 games and a -11. 9 UZR 150.  Not terrible, but not great.

With Robinson Cano entering the fourth year of his deal, and only two years remaining on Nelson Cruz’s contract and who know’s how much production is left to the Ageless Wonders, this is a buy-high, win-now deal.  Segura is under team control for two years, and is arbitration-eligible.  He made $2.6 million last year.  It’s estimated he will triple that for 2017.

Right-handed OF comes with Segura and could get playing time with the M’s this year.

The other players the M’s received in the deal make this more interesting. Mitch Haniger is a guy who is a student of the game. Eric Longenhagen wrote a nice piece including Haniger for his Arizona Prospect Reports in Fangraphs October 27th.  Read it for more detail.  But most importantly, Haniger is a right-handed hitter with power who has worked hard to make himself a better hitter. In 123 plate appearances with the D-Backs slashed .229/.309/.404 with an 91 wRC+. He also joins Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel as talented defensive outfielders who could play the corner, or spell CF Leonys Martin if needed. Longenhagen isn’t super high on Haniger and projects him as more of a 4th outfielder, or he could end up as additional outfield depth in Tacoma for the M’s. But with the Mariners rolling the dice on two more outfielders with little major league experience, the competition can’t hurt.

The last player in the deal is diminutive right-hander Zac Curtis. All 5’9″ of Zac was the throw in on this deal. He pitched 21 mostly terrible games for the Diamondbacks in 2016. 13.1 IP; 6.75 K/9; 8.78; BB/9; .282 BABIP; 6.75 ERA; and 7.37 FIP are numbers that say sooo much.  Back in the pile kid.

Is there a winner in this deal?  I’m not sure.  If Segura regresses 10% or so, plays average defense, slashes .290/.345/.450 with 12 homers, that’s a pretty significant tick up for the Mariners.  If Haniger turns in to anything, that’s pretty great. It won’t look good if Walker turns in to the NL Cy Young Award winner in 2018.  But just by the simplest of numbers, the addition of  Segura, Haniger, and Curtis represent an addition of 5.2 WAR.  The subtraction of Walker and Marte represent a loss of -.1 WAR. The numbers are according to Fangraphs.  That doesn’t mean it will remain so lopsided in 2017.

With the addition of Segura and Haniger, the Mariners continue to flesh out an offense that at times struggled away from the core of Cano, Cruz and Kyle Seager.  Dipoto added Danny Valencia as a right-handed hitting 1B who could play corner positions on the infield and right field. The acquisitions of Taylor Motter and Richie Shaffer, and the trade with the Dodgers for backup catcher Carlos Ruiz answer issues of depth.  They also added lefty reliever James Pazos who may or may not be ready for primetime come spring.

Dipoto blew a hole in a rotation that scuffled in 2016 with this deal.  We saw how the M’s struggled with major injuries to their rotation last year, and Dipoto must deal with those in a year when, frankly, decent pitching will be available at a premium price.  If this team is really going to go for it this year they’ll have to spend the money or the prospects it will take to get a starter or two and add that hard throwing lefty they talked about in October.

Somehow they need to find a way to grab those three wins they needed to make the playoffs in 2016. The work on offense seems complete, but something must be done on the pitching end, and a statement signing or trade for the mound would be nice. The M’s have taken a step and half forward, but at least a half step back.


Firing up the trade-o-matic: M’s get catcher Carlos Ruiz for Vidal Nuno

News yesterday the Mariners would acquire Dodgers reserve catcher Carlos Ruiz for a pitcher from their 40-man roster. Later, it was announced the pitcher was left-hander Vidal Nuno.

Ruiz is 38, and had a solid career with the Philadelphia Phillies, throwing out 42% of baserunners with Phillies and Dodgers in 2016. Though he is strictly back-up material now, he should provide quality depth for Mike Zunino, after the M’s declined to pick up Chris Iannetta’s $4.5 millon option. Ruiz provided a solid .264/.365/.348 in 233 plate appearances. He has good throwing and blocking skills, but is below average in pitch framing. Ruiz will make $4.5 million in 2017, and is a free agent after this season.

This represents an upgrade over doing nothing at the catching position.  Though Zunino clearly improved at the plate, he is just as obviously a work in progress. If the M’s were to rely on in-house options, they would include light-hitting Jesus Sucre or Tyler Marlette who has not played above the AA level. Adding Ruiz does fill a need, though it’s not clear this is a $4.5 million need given the Mariners budget picture.

We’ll be waving good-bye to Nuno, acquired infamously in the Wellington Castillo trade with the Diamondbacks June 3, 2015. that also brought Mark Trumbo to Seattle. Vidal held up his end of the trade with a 2016 line of 55 games, 58.2 IP, 3.53 ERA, and a well above average ERA+ of 115. His BB/9 was down 15 percent to 1.7, and his K/BB ratio was up nearly an entire strikeout to 4.64. Nuno was a useful pitcher.  He ended the season the only left-hander in the Mariners bullpen, but he had a bit of a reverse platoon split, performing better against right-handed batters than lefties.

The M’s traded a away a cheap, cost controlled-reliever, who could start in an emergency.  Not a guy who will make or break this bullpen, but not without value.

Not a trade likely to make a highlight reel, but good to see Trader Jerry’s juices flowing.  With is his preference for trades over free agent signings, we’re likely to see plenty more. I hear the hum of the trade-o-matic in the basement of Safeco Field.