Miley deal a step backwards

 

It didn’t take long for Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto to turn to “Plan B” after losing Hisashi Iwakuma to the Los Angeles Dodgers. This afternoon, he acquired starting pitcher Wade Miley along with right-handed reliever Jonathan Aro from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Carson Smith and Roenis Elias.

Although Dipoto didn’t waste much time in moving past Iwakuma, this deal and the recent trade of versatile reliever Tom Wilhelmsen leaves the Mariners’ bullpen in worse condition than the one that was so atrocious last season. Plus, the team still needs more starting rotation help.

In effect, the team took a step backward today. Fortunately for them and their long-suffering fan base, it’s only day-one of the Winter Meetings and there’s still plenty of time for the club to improve their roster.

According to MLB.com, the 25-year-old Aro was the number-26 prospect in Boston’s minor league system. He projects as a middle reliever and may end up being Triple-A depth in Tacoma. Although that doesn’t sound sexy, minor league depth matters during an arduous major league season. For proof, look no further than last season when the Mariners bullpen went into a tailspin and no one from Tacoma could help the team. With that said, Miley was the key to this deal.

Dipoto and Miley have a history that goes back to when the Mariners GM was the Arizona Diamondbacks director of scouting when they selected Miley with the number 43-overall draft pick in 2008. Moreover, he had the opportunity to observe the 29-year-old with Boston, when he served as a senior adviser in the Red Sox front office during the second half of the 2015 season.

The 29-year-old is owed $15 million over the next two years, plus the Mariners will hold a $12 million team option for Miley’s age-31 season. That’s considerably less than the $45 million that the Dodgers are paying Iwakuma. Some may not view Miley as a direct replacement for Iwakuma, but the southpaw presents some upside that “Kuma” didn’t during his tenure in Seattle.

Although Miley – at best – projects as a number-three starter, that’s where Iwakuma needed to be if he remained in the Emerald City. So, the Mariners essentially replaced Kuma with a cheaper, younger pitcher.

It’s true that Iwakuma has been more valuable than Miley during the past four seasons. But, the Mariners’ newest starter has been more durable averaging 198 innings-per-season compared to Iwakuma’s 163 during that four-year span.

As with all trades, adding Miley comes at a cost. The Mariners had to part ways with Elias and Smith, who both are young and under team control for five more seasons. Smith was clearly Seattle’s best reliever in 2015. Whether Elias was actually in the mix for the 2016 Mariners rotation is debatable. I’ve heard Dipoto refer to the 27-year-old as a factor in the bullpen on two separate occasions.

On the surface, the Red Sox did much better than the Mariners in this deal. Prospect Insider Executive Editor Jason A. Churchill said as much during his analysis of the trade. In addition, Buster Olney of ESPN reports that Boston is getting “rave reviews from rival executives” for the acquisition of Smith. There’s no doubt that the Red Sox are the winners today.

The deal doesn’t provide the Mariners with a clear-cut number-two starter. Perhaps, the team is using the “hope theory” that Taijuan Walker is ready to move up into that spot. Walker may be ready to rise to the next level, but he hasn’t done it yet. So, it’s natural for observers to be cautious in expecting the 23-year-old to be “the next man up” behind ace Felix Hernandez.

With that said, I’m going to hold judgement on this trade until I see the follow-on deals that Dipoto will inevitably make to shore up the bullpen, and possibly the rotation. Jason mentioned a number of free agent options who could help fill out the reliever corps.

Additionally, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mariners looked at free agent and former Mariner Doug Fister or one of the trade targets that Jason mentioned during his trade target piece in order to bring in more depth to the rotation.

Seattle is down to 11 players on the club’s 40-man roster who were on last season’s Opening Day roster. That number will certainly drop down to the single digit level by the start of the season, if not the end of the week. Hopefully for the team and its fans, the future moves that shreds players from the roster will be aimed at helping bolster their starting rotation and the bullpen.

Although today’s signifies a step backwards for the bullpen and maybe the rotation, it’s not fair to judge the Mariners’ hot stove season on this one trade or conclude that the club is heading down the wrong path. As I keep saying, it’s only early December and Dipoto is far from done.

Even as I peck away on my keyboard, Seattle is in hot pursuit of Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Adam Lind, who would be Seattle’s best first baseman since I arrived to the area in 2009.

All of this roster upheaval should excite fans and not discourage them. The team is on a trajectory to be far better than the 2015 version and it’s only December 7.

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