July 20th we received the news the M’s traded lefty reliever Mike Montgomery and AAA starter Jordan Pries to the Cubs for 1B/DH Dan Vogelbach and AA starter Paul Blackburn.
I didn’t like the deal at the time. I thought Montgomery was one of the few effective relievers on staff at the time of the trade, with a 2.34 ERA, a 7.9 K/9 rate and 2.6 BB/9 rate, a 58.8% ground ball rate at the time of the trade. He’d made two starts, and was effective against right and left handed hitters.
Yes, Montgomery was just a reliever, but on a team without a lot of guys in the bullpen that could be counted on, July 20th seemed like a dark day. Art Thiel at Sportspress Northwest wrote an October 5th column suggesting it was the trade that turned the M’s away from winning a playoff spot.
Montgomery went on to have a respectable finish to the season, though he didn’t prosper quite as much with the World Champions. He pitched in a variety of roles, including five starts, and he saved the deciding game seven in what was arguably the greatest World Series game of all time. Joe Maddon seemed to be quite clear about Montgomery’s value to the Cubs going forward, possibly as a starter.
“Montgomery, I’m telling you man, this guy is a legitimate major league starter,” Maddon said. “He’s going to win a lot of major league baseball games. The big thing with him is we have to keep him on point, on task and have him understand how to utilize his stuff because his stuff is that good.”
So the M’s, limping through the rest of the season with questionable starting pitching and periodic explosions in their bullpen, parted with one of their most effective pitching pieces.
In return they received Dan Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn . Vogelbach is a heralded first base prospect who was blocked by the emergence of Anthony Rizzo, an All-Star and Gold Glove winner. An accomplished minor league hitter with exceptional on-base ability, he simply did not prosper in Tacoma. He arrived from Iowa City batting.318/.425/.505 with 16 home runs, and finished in Tacoma with a .240/.402/.422 and 7 home runs. Not terrible, but certainly not the numbers from the Cubs system. In his handful of at-bats with the M’s after his September call-up, Vogelbach did not impress, but he did look good on rookie dress-up day.
Vogelbach, at 6′ 0″ 250 lbs, is less than athletic. He would likely make a better DH than first baseman, and is an immovable object on the basepaths. Though it’s clear he can get on base, it’s just as obvious the big Floridian has a limited skill set. He’ll need to hit with power, and improve his game around the bag to play regularly in the major leagues.
Paul Blackburn finished the season at Jackson with a combined 143.0 IP between Tennessee and Jackson. Blackburn was 9-5 with a 3.27 ERA, striking out 99 with 35 walks and allowing 8 homers. Respectable numbers, Blackburn figured as depth for the Mariners heading into the 2017 season.
But fate intervened when the Mariners traded Blackburn to the A’s for Danny Valencia. It feels like the Valencia trade has flown under the radar, when it has the potential to be a transforming addition to the Mariners offense. A right-handed batter, Valencia played all over the field for the A’s last year. At first and third base, in left and right field, Valencia is not particularly accomplished at any of them defensively. But it is hard to ignore his 500+ PA’s of .287/.386/.446 with 40 extra base hits. Further, because Valencia doesn’t have a severe platoon split, he can stay in the game against right-handed pitching.
Valencia and new shortstop Jean Segura add a pair of right handed bats to what had been a lefty-dominated batting order insures there is additional lineup flexibility that includes lefties Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Leonys Martin, Seth Smith and likely Ben Gamel and Vogelbach, but can also feature right handers Segura, Nelson Cruz, Mitch Haniger, Mike Zunino or Carlos Ruiz and Valencia. The M’s have talked about insuring Valencia gets 500 at-bats, which is more possible due to his position flexibility.
Though I was not wild about the Montgomery trade when it was made, I’ve come around a bit, given the acquisition of Valencia. I am still hesitant about giving Vogelbach a bundle of at-bats when he hasn’t really earned them. But, at least Valencia can fill in if he or Gamel stumbles. The downside is Valencia is in his last year of team control, and will likely earn a raise from last year’s $3.15 million, before becoming a free agent next year.
Though parting with Montgomery and Blackburn weakened an already thin crop of pitchers, the addition of Valencia shouldn’t be under-estimated. He is a veteran right-handed hitter with a record of success and should strengthen an already formidable Mariner lineup. It’s up to Jerry to replace the guys he parted with.