Satisfactory deadline for Mariners

The Seattle Mariners were busy prior to Friday’s trade deadline, consummating three deals and essentially ‘selling’ rather than renting for 2015 or buying for 2016 and beyond. General manager Jack Zduriencik did about as well as one could expect when the pieces moved had marginal and/or short-term value, despite the apparent fact that he was not allowed to discuss trading Hisashi Iwakuma, the club’s most valuable trade chip that is not under contract beyond this season. For such efforts, Zduriencik gets a passing grade, but the organization gets a big fat ‘FAIL.’

Let’s get to the deals…

Seattle Mariners Acquire: Ramon Flores, OF; Jose Ramirez, RHP
New York Yankees Acquire: OF/2B Dustin Ackley
This deal, made Thursday, handed the Mariners a live arm that may be an answer to the multiple questions in the bullpen, and an outfielder close to the big league with enough ability to suggest a September call-up is likely.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Ramirez sits 91-95 mph with his fastball, touching as high as 98 in the past, a slider in the 83-87 mph range and a mid-80s changeup that has become his best secondary offering.

The delivery is loose, including the arm action, and provides some deception and added movement. The change shows sink and fade from the lefty hitter and he maintains good arm speed on the pitch, inducing swings and misses and some ground ball outs.

The 25-year-old’s control is below average and his fastball command is about fringe-average. He’s had problems getting to his secondary pitches as a result, yet still has posted strong strikeout rates in the high minors, including 56 in 49 2/3 frames in Triple-A this season.

Flores, a left-handed batter, has average tools across the board, including run, throw and hit, the latter of which is the basis for a lot of his overall value. With a short, line-drive swing and good hand-eye coordination, Flores makes consistent contact, giving him a chance to hit for average. He will work counts and has good judgment of the strike zone.

Defensively, Flores is merely solid-average in a corner without long-stint center field skills, and the average arm suggests left field rather than right, as does the bat. The bat speed is average, too, and in combination with the swing Flores does not generate much loft, limiting him in the extra-base hit department.

Flores projects somewhere between up-and-down Quad-A player and perhaps average regular, led by his on-base skills and instinctual play. He could be ready for a look in September, if not sooner. He is on the 40-man roster.

It’s impossible to dislike this trade; Ackley wasn’t going to play much the rest of this season, may have been a non-tender over the winter and by trading him now, the Mariners sell him as a potential bench helper during a pennant race and the outside chance he shows promise to be more than that in 2016. Either of the above players would have been enough in exchange for the former No. 2 pick, honestly. Getting both is low-impact, yet solid deal for Seattle.

Seattle Mariners Acquire: Adrian Sampson, RHP
Pittsburgh Pirates Acquire: J.A. Happ, LHP
It made zero sense to keep Happ, who easily could be replaced in the rotation by Roenis Elias or Vidal Nuno. In exchange for two months of Happ, Seattle gets a right-hander with a live arm in Sampson, a 5th-round pick out of Bellevue Community College in 2012.

Sampson, listed at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, uses a lower-than-average arm slot for a starter, one I’d call low three-quarters but it’s not as low as, say, Carson Smith, who is closer to sidearm than is Sampson, who also gets some sink on a low-90s fastball with plane, along with some armside run.

In a starter’s role, Sampson profiles as a back-end arm with a hard slider at the back foot of lefties that bites down and away from right-handed batters. The slider flashes plus, but is inconsistent.

He’s had problems getting inside on left-handed batters and at times has been caught trying to pound them away, which leads to hitter’s counts. He will throw his changeup in hitter’s counts, to righties and lefties, alike.

If Sampson were to move to a short-relief role, the stuff may play up enough to suggest a seventh-inning role. But there’s enough in the stuff, command and delivery to keep him in the rotation for now. The 23-year-old will serve in that role for Triple-A Tacoma for the time being, with a chance to see the big leagues at some point in 2015. Sampson is on the 40-man roster.

Sampson is a solid return for two months of Happ, especially since the Mariners weren’t going to tender him the qualifying offer over the winter and have virtually no use for him the rest of this season.

Seattle Mariners Acquire: Rob Rasmussen, LHP; Jake Brentz, LHP; Nick Wells, LHP
Toronto Blue Jays Acquire: Mark Lowe, RHP
In return for Lowe, a free agent at season’s end like Happ, Seattle gets three arms, one of which is just about big-league ready in Rasmussen.

Rasmussen, 26, is a short, short-arm left-hander out of UCLA, selected in Round 2 of the 2010 Draft. He’s started nearly 80 games in the minors but has served in relief in 44 of his last 45 appearances datibg back to the start of 2014.

The southpaw generally sits 89-93 mph with his fastball, but in relief he’s more consistently 91-94 and with sink. He employs a low-80s two-plane slider and a low-70s curveball that he doesn’t use as much in his new role. The changeup never did reach average levels and isn’t a regular part of his arsenal out of the bullpen.

As a reliever, his work versus left-handed batters is important and he’s taken care of them his entire career, college and pro. But he’s been tpugh on right-handed batters, too, limiting them to a .198 average and just one long ball in 2015. Rasmussen’s crutch is his overall control and early-count command of his fastball, leading to more walks than is generally acceptable.

Despite some sink on the heater, Rasmussen’s stature flattens out his fastball, creating a lot of fly ball scenarios. He’s adept at missing the barrel, however, therefore has not experienced a significant issue with the home run ball.

His best chance to help a major league club is out of the pen in a multi-inning role, not unlike that of Nuno and Joe Beimel. Ideally, the Mariners won’t need Beimel or another veteran lefty outside of Charlie Furbush in 2016, which may open the door for Rasmussen.

Rasmussen is on the 40-man roster and may see the majors before September, as the M’s begin to need to shuffle relievers up and down, specially since Lowe now is no longer available.

Brentz, an 11th-round pick two summers ago, brings to the mound velocity into the mid-90s and a track record of missing both bats and the strike zone. Prior to the ’13 Draft, some preferred Brentz to Phil Bickford, whom most had a top 40 talent then, and again this past June.

Along with the velocity, the 6-foot-2, 198-pound Brentz still is working on improving his mechanics, starting with a lagging arm, inconsistent release point and an overall issue repeating.m

Brentz’s secondary pitches include a power curveball and a changeup that flashes average, though remains inconsistent. The control and command each remain below-average.

The lefty, however, is a converted outfielder that’s been focused solely on pitching for just over two years. The arm strength is rare for a lefty and the right adjustments with the delivery may help him throw more strikes with consistency. The ceiling still is fairly high, but before long starting may not be part of Brentz’s future. He’s just 20, however, suggesting a necessary role change is a few years away at this stage.

Brentz is not on the 40-man roster and will report to Class-A Everett.

The 19-year-old Wells, another left-hander, was a 3rd-round pick of Blue Jays a year ago and brings projection and above-average present velocity. He stays on top well, creating plane and also deception when he goes to his hard curveball. He generates strikeouts with both pitches but in 2015 has been working on his changeup, which most believe will end up useful at the big-league level.

At times this season Wells has shown some polish but he’s had some problems getting ahead with the fastball. The raw stuff projects to be well above average, led by a fastball that sits 91-94 mph and could ultimately reach an average in the 94 range.

Some scouts don’t love how he uses his lower half, particularly the drop-and-drive with his back leg before launching forward toward release. It’s a three-quarters arm slot and an otherwise, easy delivery. He avoids both third base and first base fall-offs and his land leg plants almost perfectly in line with his back foot, trunk and shoulders at the point of release.

Wells is not on the 40-man roster and will report to Class-A Everett.

The Mariners cleaned house in this deal. The Jays got what they needed and will not necessarily miss any of the three arms they gave up, but Seattle did exactly what they should have done. If you can’t get immediate help for rentals, go for upside and the opportunity to use acquired talents in your own future deals that add to the 25-man roster. That is what Zduriencik and company did in dealing Lowe to Toronto.

Wells, Brentz and Sampson will enter the Prospect Insider Mariners Top 25 Prospect Rankings this coming winter.

I ‘Zimmer’ it.

Adding J.C Ramirez recently is part of the club’s mid-season additions and should go entirely unnoticed. He sits 91-95 mph with a slider that, at times, is above-average. Another potential helper for the bullpen.

Iwakuma
If it’s true that Mariners ownership ultimately kept Iwakuma’s name out of trade discussions, I have no words. If that is true, we learned a little bit more about the organization today. One, they remain a meddling ownership (although it may just be the club’s CEO Howard Lincoln speaking on behalf of ownership, or even the influence of Japan that remains) that doesn’t know baseball. Two, they haven’t learned a thing about their role in baseball decisions over the past two-plus decades.

Trading or not trading Iwakuma isn’t the problem here. If this is all true, this is about the baseball decisions being made by business people that have no business making baseball decisions. The club did not lose out on adding an elite player to the farm system or some automatic savior for 2016 and beyond. But they did lose out on an opportunity to add more talent that can help along the way.

There’s a reason the club traded Lowe and Happ — because getting something for them makes so much more sense than not. Iwakuma is not different, except he’d have been worth as much or more than Lowe and certainly more than Happ.

Despite conflicting reports, I do believe the Mariners are allowed to tender the qualifying offer to Iwakuma this winter. Why they would want to pay the right-hander $15 million or more for one year is beyond me and everyone else in the game I ask about the situation. Iwakuma very likely accepts and says ‘thank you very much’ to the $15 million.

Do the Mariners have a handshake agreement with Iwakuma that he’ll decline when they tender the offer? I don’t know, but I’m not certain it applies here, anyway. With a draft-pick attached, what club wants to take the risk on Iwakuma, at 34 years of age and having spent significant time on the disabled list two years in a row? Younger, healthier players have had massive trouble getting deals when the compensation is attached to their name.

“Maybe they’re planning to re-sign Iwakuma” one might suggest. The Detroit Tigers are planning to do so with Yoenis Cespedes, yet still traded him to the New York Mets.

Trading Iwakuma doesn’t mean they can’t re-sign over the offseason and no matter what some may try and claim, there is no evidence that trades do so much damage to a team-player relationship that it’s not worth going through with it.

“Maybe the Mariners didn’t want to lose their player-connection to the Japanese,” someone else might ponder. For two months? Is that really going to make a lick of difference in anything? Of course not.

“Maybe the offers weren’t good enough,” another could say. Anything is better than nothing. The ONLY way to ensure future value out of Iwakuma is to trade him this season. The cost in re-signing him doesn’t change one way or the other, and he could sign elsewhere and the Mariners would get zero. ZE-RO. Getting a 24-year-old Double-A reliever would have been better than keeping him for any reason. Including sentimental value, cross-culture value, neither of which would have lasted longer than two months, anyway.

Austin Jackson
From what I can gather, there wasn’t much interest in Jackson, who is the most likely of the Mariners’ free-agents-to-be to decline a qualifying offer. He’s a Scott Boras client and the player is having a decent run the past two months that if it continues will make the numbers look good enough to expect a two-year deal, considering the lack of centerfielders on the market this winter and his agent’s approach to the offseason.

Paying Jackson $15 million, considering the risks or lack thereof, makes more sense than offering it to Iwakuma. If the offers were marginal at best, I’m more than OK with the fact he was not moved by the deadline. He always could be dealt in August, too, but the return versus even a decent chance at draft-pick compensation may not weigh out in favor of a trade.

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Jason A. Churchill

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