Analysis: Maurer for Smith

 The Seattle Mariners have acquired veteran outfielder Seth Smith from the San Diego Padres for right-hander Brandon Maurer, reports Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. Presumably, Smith will be part of some kind of timeshare in one or both corner outfield spots.

The Mariners get a 32-year-old for the next two years at $12.75 million with a $7 million club option for 2017. The left-handed hitting Smith has a track record of strong production versus right-handed pitching and batted .266/.367/.440 overall in 2014.

Smith is a below-average defender but has played a passable left field for the Padres. More time in right field may allow him to track balls better in that corner, perhaps bringing his defense closer to average levels. Smith possesses a fringe-average throwing arm.

Smith, a former college quarterback at Ole Miss behind Eli Manning, struggles to drive the ball versus left-handed pitching but still shows some on-base production against southpaws. It’s his work versus right-handers that provides his value.

In 2014, Smith batted .270/.359/.455 against righties and for his career owns a .277/.358/.481 split, including a .362 wOBA and 123 wRC+. Weighted Runs Created plus is park adjusted and Smith’s mark versus right-handers this past year was 133 and a very strong 130 versus left-handers.

To land Smith the M’s sacrificed a nice piece in Maurer, who broke through as a reliever in 2014 after struggling in multiple stints as a starter. Out of the bullpen, Maurer sits 93-98 mph with a four-seam fastball that shows good life up in the zone. His best secondary pitch is a slider that firmed up a year ago into a cutter-like offering that can induce swings and misses. The pitch was better in the past as a true slider that darted down and away from right-handed batters, but as-is remains a weapon.

Maurer also possesses a changeup that flashes above average and a curveball that he didn’t use much in a relief role but ultimately might be his second-best pitch. The 24-year-old displayed inconsistent command in 2014, even out of the ‘pen, but showed an ability to dominate at times.

The Padres control five years of Maurer, and may consider giving him another chance to start this spring before letting loose in the same relief role.

The Mariners could use Smith in both corners and even occasionally at designated hitter. He’s never played first base in the majors but in a pinch could handle it without much question.

Smith has had limited success batting in the No. 2 hole over the course of his career but was good in that spot a year ago — .296/.329/.625 in 82 plate appearances — and has fared well batting third, fifth and sixth as well.

He’s also a very solid fastball hitter who adjusts well to changeups. Such success bodes well for his tenure in the American League.

The M’s could employ a lineup that looks something like this, particularly versus right-handed pitching:

  1. Austin Jackson, CF — R
  2. Seth Smith, RF — L
  3. Robinson Cano, 2B — L
  4. Nelson Cruz, DH — R
  5. Kyle Seager, 3B — L
  6. Logan Morrison, 1B — L
  7. Dustin Ackley, LF — L
  8. Mike Zunino, C — R
  9. Brad Miller, SS — L

And versus lefties:

  1. Jackson
  2. Ruggiano, OF
  3. Cano
  4. Cruz
  5. Seager
  6. Morrison
  7. Ackley/Smith
  8. Zunino
  9. Taylor

The Mariners’ payroll still sits in a position where I suspect salary will remain a non-issue in terms of continuing to add talent to the roster. The club still could use a veteran backup catcher, a veteran lefty reliever and should not rule out more outfield help, including an everyday player.

The club probably shouldn’t have much interest in James Shields unless they have a deal set up to acquire another hitter in exchange for Taijuan Walker, and there are no indications the club has discussed any such deals of late.

As they sit, the Mariners appear to be a club set to win 85-90 games or so, dependent on health and other variables, and the loss of Maurer in the bullpen probably won’t be felt at all with Carson Smith ready to step in immediately and handle high-leverage situations and pushing down Yoervis Medina into more of a middle role.

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Jason A. Churchill

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