Believing his team can compete right now, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto pulled off a pair of intertwined deals designed to reinforce his rotation and transform his club into a legitimate postseason contender.
Dipoto started by trading minor league pitchers to Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows to the Atlanta Braves for outfielder Mallex Smith and reliever Shae Simmons. Within an hour, he flipped Smith along with two minor leaguers — southpaw Ryan Yarbrough and infielder Carlos Vargas — to the Tampa Bay Rays for starting pitcher Drew Smyly.
Essentially, Seattle dealt a quartet of minor leaguers — Gohara, Yarbrough, Burrows, and Vargas — in order to obtain the proven middle-of-the-rotation arm they desperately needed.
Smyly spent parts of three seasons with the Detroit Tigers before being moved to the Rays in 2014 in the three-team deadline deal that brought starter David Price to the Motor City and center fielder Austin Jackson to the Mariners.
In his second year of eligibility, Smyly projects to earn $6.9 million — according to MLB Trade Rumors — and will be a free agent after the 2018 season. His addition should put Seattle’s payroll at approximately $150 million entering next season.
During his five-year career, Smyly owns a a 3.74 earned run average (ERA) and superb strikeout (23.5-percent) and walk (2.52-percent) rates during 570 major league innings. Having said that, the southpaw has encountered difficulties since arriving in Tampa.
In 2015, he struggled with shoulder issues, logging just 66 innings of work. Last season, the 27-year-old had the worst ERA (4.88) of his career, although he did manage to record personal bests in starts (30) and innings (175.1) and had the tenth highest strikeout rate (22.6-percent) in the American League (AL).
Thanks to his style of pitching, Smyly is a good fit for spacious Safeco Field. Especially, with Dipoto’s newly constructed defensive-oriented outfield in place. Last season, the southpaw had the second highest fly-ball rate (49.3-percent) among qualified starters in the AL last season, but registered the seventh lowest hard-contact rate (29.6-percent).
It’s fair to note Smyly was susceptible to the long ball with the third highest home runs-per-nine innings (1.64) last season. Still, it he can regain some semblance of his pre-2015 form, the former second round draft pick gives Seattle’s rotation a significant boost.
Now, the Mariners have four pitchers — Smyly, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Yovani Gallardo — who have tossed 175-plus innings in the majors. Moreover, James Paxton threw a combined 170.2 innings with Seattle and Class-AAA Tacoma last season.
|2017 Mariners Rotation Candidates|
|Chris Heston *||29||3.95||31||177.2||4.02||0.8||10.8||5.4||1.4|
|* 2015 numbers|
With the rotation seemingly set, the Tacoma Rainiers should start the season with a relatively strong starting staff. If Ariel Miranda doesn’t stick with the Mariners as a reliever, he’d join Chris Heston, Rob Whalen, and Max Povse in Tacoma. Considering that, Seattle used 13 starters last season and the major league average hovers around 11 annually, it’s likely all four hurlers will see big league action in 2017.
The other player acquired today — Simmons – will vie for a bullpen spot. But, the 26-year-old pitched just 18.1 innings last season after missing 2015 due to Tommy John surgery on his elbow. With two minor league options remaining, the right-hander may start the season as minor league depth with the Rainiers.
To get Smyly, the Mariners parted ways with a quartet of prospects, but only one (Gohara) was likely to be top-10 in Prospect Insider’s upcoming rankings. As Jason A. Churchill adeptly points out, the Mariners’ system currently isn’t deep or good.
SEA traded prospects No. 5, 11, 16 and 36 in a bottom-feeder system for two years of Drew Smyly.
— Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) January 11, 2017
Gohara — who has considerable upside — was reportedly the piece going to back to the Cincinnati Reds for shortstop Zack Cozart in a deadline deal that never happened last summer. Now, the 20-year-old heads to Atlanta. Despite his superb potential, there were concerns about the lefty. Specifically, his conditioning and its impact on his development.
Yarbrough was the Southern League Pitcher of the Year after making 25 starts with Class-AA Jackson in 2016 last season, but may be better suited for relief duty. The other two players — Vargas (age-17) and Burrows (22) — are just starting their professional careers.
While the Braves got the player with the most upside in Gohara, the lefty and the other prospects dealt today couldn’t help the Mariners win now — Smyly can. That’s why this deal makes sense for Seattle.
Smyly’s presence — along with Gallardo — gives the Mariners’ rotation the added layers of depth needed by contenders to survive an arduous 162-game season and the postseason.
Yes, much hinges on the success of a rotation full of questions — including Gallardo and Smyly. Plus, the development of young players — such as Mitch Haniger and Dan Voglebach — and the performance of the bullpen will also play a role in determining whether the Mariners can break the 90-win mark.
Still, Dipoto deserves credit for creatively manufacturing a package good enough to land Smyly despite having few trade chips at his disposal. In the end, he found a way to land the veteran starter in a seller’s market and simultaneously transform the perception of his ball club.
Suddenly, the Mariners have a chance of being a serious postseason contender.