Analysis: M’s acquire Miley, Aro

The Seattle Mariners reportedly have acquired left-hander Wade Miley and right-handed reliever Jonathan Aro from the Boston Red Sox. Miley is the main piece here, potentially filling a mid-rotation role in Seattle, where the ballpark will help him eliminate some of the bad innings he displayed with the Red Sox.

The 29-year-old southpaw has been somewhere between average and slightly above-average over the course of his career, landing in the former range with Boston in 2015. He posted a 4.08 FIP, 6.8 K/9 and an acceptable yet not ideal walk rate just under three.

Miley sits 90-92 mph from a lower-than-typical slot with both a two-seam and four-seam fastball, using the two-seamer more often than not. His mid-80s slider is average, flashing above-average at times, and his curveball is typically grades out in the 40-50 range, with obvious inconsistency. His changeup has become his best pitch and he used it nearly 20 percent of the time this past season.

While not being a severe fly ball pitcher, Miley also isn’t a ground ball machine, per se, and his home run rates could maintain the potential outlier produced in ’15 due to the ballpark changes.

He tossed 193 2/3 innings in 2015 after back-to-back 200-inning campaigns with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His performance, career arc and trends, plus what his environment likely will be in 2016 suggests Miley is a strong No. 4 starter with a chance to be a soft No. 3. He has missed more bats than the 6.8 K/9 he posted last season, but getting back over eight strikeouts per nine innings does not appear to be in the cards considering stuff and command.

Aro, 25, is a short right-handed reliever that made his big-league debut in ’15. He offers a fastball up to 94 mph from a three-quarters arm slot, setting up an average slider and a changeup that’s inconsistent but has shown promise and more movement in most recent outings. Aro is Triple-A depth, from what I can gather, without a true plus pitch or the delivery and physical attributes to start games, though he has generally been used for multiple innings out of the bullpen, logging nearly two frames per appearance in 2015 at Triple-A Pawtucket.

The Red Sox get left-hander Roenis Elias and right-hander Carson Smith. Elias is an ultra-athletic arm with enough angle and stuff to pitch out of the bullpen but a lot of upside as a starter, still. The fastball is low-90s — up to 94 on occasion — to go with a plus curveball that he didn’t command consistently in 2015. His changeup has improved, giving him a chance at a third big-league offering and he’ll change arm angles with the first two pitches versus left-handed batters.

Elias, despite being 27, has five years of club control remaining and with the right attention to his mechanics could end up better than Miley ever has been, though he’s not right now and his exact role in Boston remains to be seen.

Smith was the Mariners’ best reliever in 2015 by a wide margin and also comes with five years of control left, including two more before arbitration kicks in for the right-hander. He throws from a low three-quarters slot, turning over a nasty slider he commands well and consistently and the fastball has tremendous sink up to 95 mph. His command is above-average, though his walk rate in 2015 doesn’t suggest so, thanks to a stint after the all-star break where things went awry for about 10 outings.

With the Red Sox, Smith likely will be one option in the seventh and eighth innings and if necessary can handle the ninth in close situations. Smith was one of the best relievers in the American League this past season, and with the Sox’s recent acquisition of Craig Kimbrel, the back-end should be difficult to navigate for opposing teams if Boston hands them a lead.

With Miley due $6 million in 2016 and $8.75 million in 2017 (with a 2018 club option worth $12 million), the Mariners do get the southpaw for at least two years at a reasonable price. If this were Elias-for-Miley, it’s be easy to understand and easy to get behind, despite my personal belief that Elias has a lot more to give with the right focus and instruction and it could happen as early as 2016. Adding Smith-for-Aro is where this hurts most, especially considering the lack of bullpen arms in Seattle. The club added Joaquin Benoit, but without Smith even the eighth innings is a huge question mark now, rather than just the sixth and seventh.

As of this moment, there is no word of any cash being involved, though for me it wouldn’t make a significant difference unless it came from Boston and nearly-equaled Miley’s entire salary for ’16.

In conclusion, I don’t like this trade for Seattle and I absolutely love it for Boston. The Sox shed a little payroll, add a useful, multi-dimensional lefty with cheap controlled years left, and a devastating right-handed reliever who also will be dirt cheap for two more seasons.

I know a few high-ranking scouts that like Miley more than his numbers, but in order for this trade to even out for the Mariners, Miley needs to be a legitimate No. 3 starter from the get-go, and I’m not sure he’s a 200-inning, 3.5-3.6 FIP starting pitcher. Clearly, GM Jerry Dipoto and his staff believe he is just that.

I wouldn’t call this deal awful or terrible or any other exaggerated, hyperbole-driven adjective, but the Mariners are giving up what they’ve coveted prior to this deal, and that’s control years and upside. If they lose on the wager that Miley is better than No. 4 starter, this trade will be a bust, as the upside for Aro has no chance to make up for it. As for how the roster looks now, they did get at least a little better in the rotation with Miley’s advantage in probability, of not production, too, but the bullpen needs more help than Donald Trump’s combover and the club still is without a clear No. 2 or No. 3 starting pitcher to compliment Felix Hernandez.

The news isn’t all bad for Seattle, however, as reports now are filing in that Dipoto is after Adam Lind, who would be the club’s best first baseman in years. Simply adding Lind to the lineup without considering trade cost and payroll, it’s exciting to see the length and likely production throughout, without having to hope upon hope that some of the young players explode.

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Jason A. Churchill

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