Shipwreck: A Dipoto deal that didn’t work

The free agent market is heating up slightly.  News that Yu Darvish signed with the Cubs is good for him and good for the game. Lots of lesser players are signing as well, but the rest of the big names-Jake Arrieta, J.D. Martinez, Lance Lynn, Alex Cobb and others are still unemployed.

An interesting name popped up yesterday on MLB Trade Rumors. Shae Simmons was signing a deal with the Cubs.  You may remember Simmons as a reliever traded to Seattle from Atlanta on January 11, 2017.  The Mariners granted Simmons free agency in December. He’s partnered in Mariner trade history with Drew Smyly who also was acquired by trade from Tampa Bay on January 11, 2017, and is also now a Cub.  So two players acquired by the Mariners same day are now wearing Cubbie blue, and are linked together in a pair of deals that go together.

They were costly deals that never worked out and I would argue they are among the worst deals in Mariner history.  Not quite Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb bad, or Adam Jones, George Sherrill, Kam Mickolio, Chris Tillman and Tony Butler for Erik Bedard horrendous, but it will be remembered with the worst of them.

Let’s recall the details of this swap. The M’s began by trading minor league pitchers Thomas Burrows and Luiz Gohara to the Braves for reliever Shae Simmons and minor league outfielder Mallex Smith. The same day Dipoto traded 17 year old infielder Carlos Vargas, minor league starter Ryan Yarbrough and Smith to Tampa Bay for Smyly.

Here’s what the M’s got in this deal.  Smyly was signed to a two year deal with the Rays, and would have been part of the Mariners through the 2018 season.  He went off to the WBC during spring training in 2017, and had a great outing.  Came back to camp with a “soggy arm” and never made it back out on the mound for the Mariners. He went through TJ surgery and was granted free agency on December 1st along with Simmons. Smyly’s injury was the first of a plague of pitching injuries that effectively de-railed the Mariners season. He’ll also be the poster boy for manager concerns about allowing their best pitchers to throw in a high stress situation before they are physically ready in the 2021 World Baseball Classic.

Simmons was the other player the Mariners held on to after the dust cleared on January 11th.  He is considered a right-handed reliever with a power arm the M’s coveted.  Long on potential but short on major-league experience. Simmons also never made it out of spring training, developing significant arm/shoulder problems.  He eventually pitched in nine September games for the M’s, allowing virtually nothing through his first six appearances and getting absolutely shelled in his last game. Scheduled to make $700K in 2018, the M’s mysteriously non-tendered him.

So the M’s completed virtually a three team deal to acquire Smyly and Simmons, and between the two of them got 7.2 innings out of Simmons. What did the Mariners give up?

Tampa Bay received Mallex Smith and Ryan Yarbrough.  Smith is a 24 year-old speed and defense outfielder.  He managed a .270/.328/.355 slash in 81 games with 16 stolen bases in Tampa.  He was also a superior defender with 12 Defensive Runs Saved in his half season of work.   His performance is very mindful of Jarrod Dyson.  Smith is expected to step in for All-Star Center Fielder Kevin Kiermaier if the Rays trade him.

Yarbrough is a 26 year old lefty starter who is ranked 27th in Tampa’s highly regarded farm system.  Last year he made 26 starts with a 3.43 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 2.2 BB/9 and  1.163 WHIP.  Yarbrough is envisioned as a back of the rotation starter.  He’d probably look good in Mariner blue.

Atlanta’s farm system is ranked #1 by Baseball America.  Luiz Gohara is ranked as their number six prospect. The hard throwing lefty pitched 29.1 innings for the Braves in 2017 or about four times as many innings as Smyly and Simmons combined. Writer David O’Brien of the Atlanta Constitution Journal expects him to break into the Braves rotation in 2018.

Thomas Burroughs didn’t quite make the Baseball America Top 20 Atlanta prospects, more of an honorable mention.  But he did make the top 30 for Atlanta.  For a team that is virtually without significant infield prospects trading Burroughs without a significant return hurts.

This is a trade that just didn’t work. Smyly and Simmons are gone, and so are the armload of prospects traded for them.  Imagine if the M’s hadn’t traded Mallex Smith. They might not have made the deal for Jarrod Dyson, and still had Nate Karns. They wouldn’t have needed Dee Gordon and could have held on to his $9 million salary.  They also would have kept Nick Neidert, their best pitching prospect heading into 2018.  Or they could have forgotten the whole deal and held on to Gohara and Yarbrough, both of whom might be challenging for a starting role today.

Jerry’s made lots of deals.  There have been some really good ones. I like the trade for Segura and Haninger.  I like the Gordon trade.  But there are some that haven’t worked out at all, including the Chris Taylor trade; Mike Montgomery to the Cubs for Paul Blackburn and Daniel Vogelbach,  and this one.

I was listening to the Baseball America podcast with Carlos Collazo and Kyle Glaser analyzing the Mariners farm system.  You may recall it is ranked the worst in the majors. It is a fairly sympathetic look at what Jerry Dipoto has done to improve the big league club.  But among the comments is a recognition that Dipoto has also traded 13 pitching prospects over the past two years, which has seriously depleted the farm.  It’s a great listen–30 minutes during your morning commute. Glaser was highly complimentary of the entire organization including farm executives and scouting.

But it’s the drive to get into the playoffs that has forced trades that weaken the farm system and left no margin for error, like the injury to Smyly.

This trade continued the trend and essentially got nothing back. At least in the bad Slocumb and Bedard trades we got some bad innings out of the deal. We didn’t even get that in this trade.  I like Dipoto’s boldness, but the man has made some costly mistakes, and this is one of them.



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