The holidays always cool the stoves a bit and that was true this year as well. Fortunately, the Mariners threw some coal on the fire on two separate occasions on Friday as they made a couple of interesting trades. First, they traded outfielder Seth Smith to the Orioles for RHP Yovani Gallardo and then RHP Nate Karns went to the Royals in exchange for outfielder Jarrod Dyson. There’s a lot to sort out here, but we’ll get things started chronologically with the trade with Baltimore.
Seattle had been vocal that Smith, who turned 34 in September, was on the trading block for a month. In his eight full seasons in the majors, Smith has been a .260/.343/.447 hitter which has been good for a 112 OPS+. Over that timeframe though, he’s only been worth 11.8 bWAR, or an average of about 1.5 WAR/year thanks to being a less than stellar defender. He’s always had notable platoon splits (.272/.355/.472 career line against RHP vs. .202/.282/.312 against LHP). From a contract perspective, Smith will be a free agent after the coming season and will make $7 million next year.
At his best, Gallardo is a superior player than Smith, an innings-eater who could start over 30 games and was consistently worth between 2 and 4 WAR per season. Of course, that fails to account for the fact that Gallardo is about to turn 31, has quite a bit of mileage on his arm and is coming off a season where he suffered from shoulder injuries and only pitched 118 innings. Statistically and unsurprisingly, it was also the worst season of his career, as he posted a 5.42 ERA/5.04 FIP which was backed up by some rather alarming warning signs. Hes lost 5 MPH off his fastball velocity over the last couple of seasons and his BB/9 to ballooned to 4.65. Then there’s the fact that Baltimore restructured Gallardo’s contract from three-years to two, another signal that there might be further concerns with his health.
All of which really makes you wonder what Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto was thinking. Smith isn’t exactly elite and wasn’t going to bring back a huge return. But if Seattle really just wanted to roll the dice on a bounceback candidate, they could have done that without giving up anything on their end other than cash and just gone with someone available on the free agent market (Tyson Ross, Brett Anderson and Doug Fister, to name a few).
Grade for Mariners: D
While the mantra of the free agent pitching market this offseason is something along the lines of “buyer beware” and there are lots of landmines out there, trading a useful player for Gallardo upped the ante on risk taking. Maybe Gallardo does bounce back, and pitching at Safeco Field should certainly help, but there are certainly enough warning flags here that it’s hard to justify the move no matter how you look at it.
Grade for Orioles: A-
Credit to Orioles General Manager Dan Duquette, as this trade certainly looks like a win on their end, as they turned a pitcher who looked to be a liability going forward into a player who, while not without flaws, is certainly an asset to a team in need of some RHP hitting hitters.
Moving on to the second trade, Seattle looked to swap out some players to fill the same positions of their last trade in trading a pitcher for an outfielder. Heading to the Royals is Karns, who did not have a very good debut with Seattle last year after coming over in a trade with the Rays. As with Gallardo, he struggled with injuries and was ineffective when he was healthy (for 94.1 innings), struggling with his command (4.29 BB/9) and putting up a 5.15 ERA, although his FIP fared a bit better at 4.05. All told, he didn’t improve upon his 2015 campaign, where he put up 2.2 bWAR, and was only worth 0.2 bWAR in 2016.
Heading from Kansas to City and filling an outfield spot vacated Smith is Dyson. Known mainly for his excellent defense and baserunning acumen, Dyson is a career .260/.325/.353 hitter, which translates to an OPS+ of 94. Despite being a below average hitter, his contributions in the field and on the bases have paid dividends in value as of late, as he has been worth a total of 6.8 bWAR over the last three seasons. Unfortunately, he turns 32 this season, and those types of contributions are the first to go with age. Dyson will be a free agent after this season, which was clearly one of the motivating factors on the Royals’ part.
Grade for Royals: C+
The Royals are going to have to figure something out if they want to make it back to the postseason any time soon. There is, after all, a reason they dropped so precipitously on our year-end MLB team portfolio rankings we just published. While Karns has four years of team control left, his last season doesn’t portend well going forward and it’s not clear that KC has figured out what their strategy is in terms of looking towards the future or trying to win in the present, what with so many key players presumably on their way out the door soon.
Grade for Mariners: B
Dyson is likely the best player moving around in all of this wheeling and dealing, but there are some serious caveats that come along with his value. That, combined with his contract status as compared to Karns’, keeps this trade from being a bigger win for the Mariners.
All in all, if you average the moves together you can make an argument that the negatives and positives of each more or less cancel each other out and it’s just Dipoto continuing to tinker with the team and figure out what the missing link is to get the Mariners back to the postseason for the first time since 2001. It’s certainly not difficult to imagine them making it as currently configured, but it’s also pretty tough to be terribly excited about these moves, as they seem somewhat lateral at best.