Seattle Mariners’ Early Trades Already Making the Team Better

New Mariners’ general manager Jerry Dipoto was essentially tasked with making the Seattle Mariners relevant again. With a core consisting of Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager and Nelson Cruz already in place, Dipoto had a solid base to build upon. However, in the past few weeks, the GM has significantly improved the Mariners’ roster with a trio of moves.

Seattle made the first significant trade of the offseason by dealing Danny Farquhar, Brad Miller and Logan Morrison to the Tampa Bay Rays for starting pitcher Nate Karns, outfielder Book Powell and reliever C.J. Riefenhauser.

It may seem like a lopsided deal to move three players who were major contributors for one proven big-league player and two prospects, but the Mariners made out like bandits in this one.

The team essentially dealt from unneeded surplus to improve the roster.

In terms of Seattle relievers, Carson Smith was the only reliever left on the roster who posted a WAR above 1.4 last season. After him there was/is a good deal of uncertainty and sub-par pitching. Farquhar’s WAR was a career-low -0.7. His ERA (5.12) and FIP (4.60) weren’t much better. Tampa Bay has a history of rehabbing struggling relievers, so perhaps this will happen to the now-former Mariner, but he likely wasn’t assured a job next season thanks to his numbers in 2015.

Tampa Bay now has the same dilemma at shortstop that Seattle faced a few years ago, start Miller or Nick Franklin? Granted, the Rays also have former first-overall draft pick Tim Beckham in the mix, but still—same dilemma.

Miller was expendable thanks to the presence of Ketel Marte. Marte posted a .283 batting average, a 2.3 WAR, 17 extra-base hits and 17 RBI in 57 games. At only 22-years-old, the former top prospect seems to have a stranglehold on the shortstop position. Miller played a number of positions as a Mariner, but didn’t profile as a quality defender at any of them. In other words, he wasn’t going to cut it as a utility player. His .258 batting average and 101 strikeouts didn’t exactly help his cause either.

Lastly there’s Morrison. The first baseman/corner outfielder/designated hitter managed only a .225 batting average and 54 RBI in 146 games. These numbers are significantly below LoMo’s career numbers. The stats not only made Morrison expandable, but also created a significant need at first base. Regardless of this deal, changes were bound to happen at first base. Including Morrison in this deal ensured that the team received value for him.

The gem of the trade for Seattle is Karns. The 27-year-old starting pitcher turned in a solid season in Tampa last year, posting a 7-5 record, a 3.67 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 147 innings. He also chipped in with a 2.2 WAR.

Karns has already proven his worth as a dependable starter. The fact that the M’s acquired him looks even better when you consider that the former Washington Nationals’ farmhand isn’t arbitration eligible until 2018. The earliest he can become a free agent is 2021.

In addition to the years of controllability, Karns provides the Mariners with a potential replacement for Hisashi Iwakuma.’s Jason Beck reports that Tigers’ general manger disclosed that Iwakuma is a player Detroit has interest in. In addition to Detroit, a number of teams figure to be interested in ‘Kuma’ thanks to his track record. Karns provide an excellent replacement should Iwakuma leave town in the offseason.

If Iwakuma joins Karns in the rotation, it allows the Mariners to deal a rotation arm like James Paxton for a proven upgrade elsewhere on the roster. While moving Paxton seems unlikely given his age, controllability and upside, he was rumored to be discussed with the New York Yankees. That same report from The New York Post said the M’s have interest in Brett Gardner.

Can be Iwakuma insurance in case Iwakuma leaves. Also allows the team to shop someone like James Paxton or another pitcher if they feel so inclined (for upgrades elsewhere on the roster). Add link to Paxton/Brett Gardner link.

Powell and Riefenhauser are both inexperienced, but both come with upside. Powell was originally drafted by the Oakland Athletics, before being dealt along with Daniel Robertson and former Mariner John Jaso for Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar last offseason. The 22-year-old hit .295 with 28 extra-base hits (including nine triples), 40 RBI, 18 steals and 61 walks in 117 games between Double-A and Triple-A. His slugging numbers won’t earn him any accolades, but he did post a .385 OBP last season.

Riefenhauser does have a career 6.30 ERA and a 5.68 FIP in only 24 appearances in the majors. However, his minor-league stats reveal more promise. In six seasons in the Rays’ farm system, the pitcher owns a 2.77 ERA and 442 strikeouts over 480.1 innings pitched. Riefenhauser is also extremely versatile having started 42 games and finishing 56 contests in his career. In 2015, his ERA in 34.2 innings at the Triple-A level was 2.86.

With so many question marks in the bullpen, Dipoto made another trade. The new GM dealt for established reliever Joaquin Benoit.

Benoit has been excellent since 2010. Equally adept as a setup man or a closer, Benoit owns a 2.35 ERA and 422 strikeouts in 370 innings dating back to the 2010 season. His FIP also comes out at a favorable 3.15.

The Mariners surrendered two prospects, Enyel De Los Santos and Nelson Ward, to the San Diego Padres in the trade. De Los Santos is the only one of the two to make it onto’s list of the top 30 Padres prospects.

Neither prospect has passed the Single-A level in the minors, and given Benoit’s track record, this trade could pay massive dividends for the Mariners.

Did I mention Joaquin Benoit has a 16.7 WAR since 2010?

With the Benoit, Smith and Charlie Furbush on the roster, Tom Wilhelmsen was likely out of a gig as a setup reliever. Dipoto capitalized on this brief surplus by flipping Wilhelmsen and centerfielder James Jones to the Texas Rangers for reliever Anthony Bass and centerfielder Leonys Martin. It may seem redundant to trade an outfielder and a reliever for an outfielder and a reliever, but what Dipoto has essentially done is turn the two prospects he sent to San Diego into upgrades in the bullpen and in center field.

Seattle comes away from the deal with a significant upgrade in the outfield. Like Jones, Martin brings a similar speed element to the game. However, unlike Jones, he’s shown the ability to be an above-average contributor at the dish.

In 2013 and 2014, Martin hit .268 while averaging eight home runs, six triples, 17 doubles, 34 stolen bases and 44 RBI. Over those two seasons, his WAR was a combined 8.1. Jones’ career WAR is -1.1.

The Wilhelmsen/Bass exchange may seem more titled in Texas’ favor, but when you consider the M’s already added Benoit, it makes the deal much easier to accept.

While Wilhelmsen’s track record is much better and more consistent than Bass’, the now-former Texas reliever isn’t just a throw in. Bass posted a respectable 3.73 FIP in Texas’ launch-pad-masquerading-as-a ballpark.

Put it this way, would you rather have Benoit, Martin and Bass or Wilhelmsen, Jones and two prospects? Easy choice right?

Since taking over, Jerry Dipoto is doing an excellent job at reshaping the Seattle Mariners. He’s already turned excess depth into upgrades. Should he continue to make more shrewd moves, he’ll be the architect of a potential playoff team.

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All stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

New Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto’s First Priorities

The Seattle Mariners wrapped up a disappointing season on a positive note, claiming a 3-2 win over the Oakland Athletics. The attention now shifts to the offseason, where new general manager Jerry Dipoto will be tasked with turning the team around.

Dipoto has already made it clear that he’s keeping hold of, and building around, “core” players Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez.

Thankfully, none of those four players will be leaving the Emerald City any time soon. If the M’s finished 76-86 with that quartet, who knows how they’d fair without the foursome? Odds are it wouldn’t be pretty.

Dipoto has his work cut out for him, but if he can creatively fill some of the team’s needs without losing much either in a trade or in salary, the M’s have a chance to contend next season.

Among the most prominent needs is at catcher. Per Baseball Reference, Seattle catchers collectively finished last season with the worst wins above average by any backstop grouping in the league. Mike Zunino and company were worth -3.9 wins below average. No other catching group was worse than -2.6.

The problem with the situation is that Zunino is only 24-years-old. The Mariners aren’t going to bail on the former third-overall pick that quickly, but he has to start improving offensively. Zunino has a career .193 batting average in 1055 plate appearances. This simply isn’t going to cut it. Adding another catcher to the roster in the same vein as the Wellington Castillo transaction.

In addition to a catcher, Seattle needs a leadoff hitter. Ketel Marte performed atop the order, hitting .283 and stealing eight bases in 57 games. However, the team may find easier to find an outfielder who hits atop the order. Mariners’ center and left fielders both were below league-average in terms of wins above average. Seattle left fielders were worth -0.2 wins below average while centerfielders were worth -1.3 wins below average. Only four teams had worse production from their centerfield groupings, so perhaps someone like Denard Span, Dexter Fowler, or even Rajai Davis, could make sense.

(RELATEDAnalyzing Jerry Dipoto’s Top 14 Career Trades).

The M’s could use stand to score more runs. Only six teams scored fewer runs in the league. Another bat would certainly make sense. Mark Trumbo showed flashes of the talent he showed in Anaheim, but only managed to hit .248 against right-handed pitching. Logan Morrison was supposed to fill that role, but he hasn’t hit much either (.241 against righties, .190 against lefties). Justin Morneau could hit free agency and would be a fit. The former Minnesota Twin hit .316 with an .850 OPS in 184 games for the Rockies over the past two years. He’d be a great fit alongside Trumbo, especially considering he’s a career .297 hitter in over 4,000 (4,169) plate appearances against right handed pitching.

Last but not least, Dipoto must fix the bullpen. Generally a strength for Seattle, this year’s bullpen was often an eye soar.

Going back to the “Wins Above Average by Position” leaderboards, the M’s relievers finished fourth-worst in the league. The relievers were worth -3.4 wins below average. The group may get better simply by subtraction. Fernando Rodney has already departed while a number of ineffective relievers could, and should, be jettisoned.

A number of quality relievers (Tyler ClippardJoakim Soria and Darren O’Day, just to name a few) could hit the free agent market, so Seattle will have its pick should the team chose to spend. Additionally, effective relief pitchers are found on the waiver wire every month, so there’s plenty of options for Dipoto to fix the bullpen.

New M’s general manager Jerry Dipoto has his work cut out for him, but he’s shown he can make shrewd trades. Seattle has a number of issues, but if Dipoto can fix them, the team has a chance.


New Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto’s Major Trade History and Grades

Unlike his predecessor, new Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has previous experience as a top decision-maker (for lack of a better term) in a major leaguefront office.

Dipoto presided over the Arizona Diamondbacks for a short spell as the Snakes went through a transition period. The GM shipped off a number of key players.

Following his stint in the desert, Dipoto took over as the general manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

However, before we get to the spending and all-in moves made by Dipoto in Anaheim, his tenure in Arizona must be properly gone over with a fine-tooth comb—at least in terms of his trades.

Dipoto made a few major trades in Arizona. The most prominent of which occurred on July 25th, 2010 when he dealt Dan Haren to the Angels for Tyler Skaggs, Rafael Rodriguez, Joe Saunders and Patrick Corbin.

Haren was generally pretty outstanding in a Diamondbacks’ jersey. He earned All-Star nods in 2008 and 2009 while finishing fifth in the Cy Young voting in ’09. Over the two seasons he went 30-18 with a sparkling 3.23 ERA and 429 strikeouts in 445.1 innings pitched. His FIP was an even more outstanding 3.12. Haren led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio in both 2008 and 2009.

The 2010 season was different for Haren. He went 7-8 with a 4.60 ERA in 21 starts. His FIP was a still-respectable 3.88, but it was clear his numbers were nowhere near his usual best. So with the Diamondbacks struggling, Dipoto sent Haren packing to his future employers in Anaheim.

The Haren trade was actually sneaky-good, in retrospect, for the Diamondbacks. Despite the ace posting an impressive 13.2 WAR in two-and-a-half seasons in the desert, he was traded. Haren was essentially dealt for three starting pitcher (Rodriguez threw 2.2 innings for the D-Backs and hasn’t seen the Majors since).

The first pitcher, Skaggs, posted a 5.43 ERA in 13 career starts for the Diamondbacks. The young pitcher was never quite able to put it together in Arizona. Dipoto later acquired Skaggs during his tenure in Anaheim. Skaggs and Adam Eaton to the Angels and White Sox respectively for Mark Trumbo (who strangely enough, was just dealt to Seattle a few months ago).

Saunders was extremely dependable as a member of Arizona’s rotation. He posted a 3.96 ERA in 424.2 innings for the D-Backs, serving as an innings eater. He only won 21 games in three seasons with Arizona, but was worth a 2.1 WAR.

Last-but-not-least,Patrick Corbin is the centerpiece of the deal. The starting pitcher has won 26 games in his three seasons with Arizona. He made the All Star team in 2013 and posted a 14-8 record with a 3.41 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 208.1 innings pitched. He missed 2014, but came back to post a 3.60 ERA in 16 starts this season. The 26-year-old is clearly one to build around for the D-Backs.

Haren never posted the brilliant stats he did in Arizona after leaving the desert. The fact that Dipoto received three major league starters for Haren, including an All Star and frontline starter in Corbin, makes the trade a win for him. Dealing an ace is never easy, but when you acquire three big-league starters, it’s looked at as a win—especially when one of the three has the potential to be a front-line starter for the foreseeable future.

Trade Grade: A

Five days after that Dipoto sent Edwin Jackson to the Chicago White Sox for David Holmberg and Daniel Hudson. Continue reading

Seattle Mariners: Jack Zduriencik’s Best and Worst Trades

Jack Zduriencik’s tenure in Seattle wasn’t the most successful. While he was able to sign Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz and managed to hang on to Felix Hernandez¸ he never guided the Seattle Mariners to the playoffs.

A lot of this—well, most of it—has to do with personnel changes. Zduriencik made few trades where he was considered the outright winner. In that vein, he lost a number of trades. Here are some of his best (and mostly) worst trades.

We’ll start with the good news before delving into the bad.

Best—Acquiring Cliff Lee

Zduriencik did extremely well to bring in Lee to pair with Hernandez at the top of the rotation. In fact, he was very Dombrowski-esque with his fleecing of the Phillies. He unloaded three prospects (Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and J.C. Ramirez) who failed to make much of an impact in Philadelphia and are no longer with the team. Aumont posted a 3.42 FIP in his first two seasons (40 appearances) with the Phils, but then posted an ugly 11.71 FIP in his next seven appearances. Those seven appearances spanned last season and this season. He’s with the Blue Jays Triple-A affiliate. Gillies never hit well in the minors and was out of the organization before he could reach the majors. He’s currently with the Padres Double-A team. Ramirez has actually made a positive impact in Major League Baseball this season—with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He owns a 4.11 ERA in 12 relief appearances. See folks, something positive did come out of this.  

Lee was exceptional during his short stay in Seattle, earning All Star honors while going 8-3 with a 2.34 and an even more generous 2.16 FIP. He posted a 14.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio. No, that isn’t a typo. Lee was later traded, which will be touched on later.

Best—Trading Jason Vargas for Kendrys Morales

Very rarely do division rivals make trades magnitude, but that’s what Zduriencik did with the Angels. He flipped Vargas, who was a serviceable, middle/ back-end of the rotation starter in Seattle, to Anaheim for Morales.

Vargas posted a respectable 4.09 ERA/4.36 FIP in 702.2 innings for the M’s, but only managed a 36-42 record over that span due to poor run support. He was never a prolific strikeout pitcher (5.7 Ks per nine innings as a Mariner), but he did post a cumulative 6.6 WAR during his time in Seattle. As dependable as he was, Zduriencik needed a bat, so he acquired Morales.

In his first season in Seattle, Morales drove in 80 runs, hit 23 home runs and hit .277. He also smacked 34 doubles over 156 games. Exactly what the M’s needed, however the team failed to make the playoffs, finishing 71-91.

Now for the bad trades…

Worst—Reacquiring Morales and Russell Branyan

The Mariners traded for Morales (from the Minnesota Twins) and Branyan (from the Cleveland Indians) less than a season after letting each walk in free agency. At the end of the day, the team lost Stephen Pryor, Ezequiel Carrera and Juan Diaz in the deals. While none of the three have gone on to become world-beaters, it still begs the question, why didn’t you just re-sign Morales and Branyan in the first place?

To make matters worse, Morales only hit .207 in his second go-around with Seattle while Branyan managed a paltry .215 batting average.

Worst– Dealing Michael Morse for Ryan Langerhans

Morse hit .300 in 107 games for Seattle from 2005 to 2008, but was never given much of a consistent opportunity. Seattle flipped him for Langerhans, a man who hit exactly .200 in 117 games for the M’s from 2009 to 2011.

From 2009 to 2011, Morse hit .295 with 49 home runs and a .889 OPS for the Washington Nationals, posting a 5.1 WAR. Langerhans’ WAR over that span? 0.8.

There goes four-plus wins.

Worst—Trading Cliff Lee to Texas

While Zduriencik pulled off a heist in acquiring Lee, he fumbled mightily when trading the ace.

For a half season of Lee, the M’s brought in Matt Lawson, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Justin Smoak.

Behold, the disappointment.

Lawson never made it past Double-A with the Mariners and was dealt to Cleveland. He last played for the Indians’ Triple-A affiliate in 2013.

The second prospect acquired in the trade, Beavan, was passable as a back-of-the-rotation arm in 2012, posting an 11-11 record with a 4.43 ERA. In 152.1 innings. However, in 2013 he put up a 6.13 earned run average in 12 appearances and was transitioned to the bullpen. Beavan made a spot start in 2014, but never pitched for the Mariners again.

Lueke posted a 6.06 ERA in 25 innings while wearing an M’s jersey, before being flipped to the Tampa Bay Rays for John Jaso. Jaso was fantastic in his only season in the Emerald City, hitting .276, driving in 50 runs and posting a 3.4 WAR. However, he too was dealt—this time for Morse, who had regressed from the home-run crushing Goliath form he displayed in Washington D.C. to more of a bench bat.

Justin Smoak’s time in Seattle can probably be summed up in one stat.

The current Blue Jay has accumulated a 0.9 WAR in five years with the Mariners. This season, his WAR with Toronto is 0.7. Smoak never quite developed into the middle-of-the-order masher the M’s envisioned.

Worst—Giving Away Doug Fister

This trade may be the worst of all.

Zduriencik dealt away Fister (and David Pauley) for Charlie Furbush, Francisco Martinez, Casper Wells and Chance Ruffin.

Furbush has been about the only dependable (if at all consistent) player the M’s acquired. He owns a 3.53 FIP as a Mariner and has been worth a 1.2 WAR since touching down in Seattle. After that it gets sketchy.

Martinez struggled in the M’s minor league system before actually returning to the Detroit organization where he currently plays in the low minors. Wells has also returned to Detroit since the trade, but the outfielder has now become a bit of a journeyman. He played for three different teams in 2013 and hasn’t seen action in the majors since.

Ruffin threw 23.2 innings for the Mariners before abruptly retiring. He struck out 30, but also allowed 16 runs.

To make matters worse, Fister excelled in Detroit. He piled up 32 wins in three seasons in Motown while posting a sparkling 3.20 FIP while becoming a dependable/effective postseason pitcher. His WAR in three seasons in Detroit was 9.9.

Just to compare, the players traded for Fister collectively own a career 4.3 WAR.

The trade was so lopsided that the good people at Homer’s Apparel made a t-shirt about the deal.

All stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted. 

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Seattle Mariners Lineup vs the Texas Rangers 8/18/15