After a brief hibernation period, general manager Jerry Dipoto is back at it. Moments after dealing outfielder Seth Smith for starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, the Seattle Mariners had another deal completed. In comes speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson and to Kansas City goes starter Nate Karns.
As PI’s Luke Arkins wrote earlier, Gallardo offers the potential to improve the rotation but at a cost of an experienced outfield bat. It’s easy enough to look at Dyson as a direct replacement for Smith — and he technically is in 25 and 40-man roster terms — but he brings a different skill set to the table, one that is valued highly by Dipoto and company.
Dyson, a 50th-round pick in the 2006 draft, has spent his entire career in the Royals organization. The 32-year-old made his debut in 2010 but was most recently noted for his role in the Royals’ 2015 World Series championship as a late-inning pinch-runner extraordinaire and defensive replacement.
For his career, which amounts to 1539 plate appearances, the left-hander owns a .260/.325/.353 slash line with an 86 wRC+. He bested that line in 2016 posting a .278/.340/.388 line and a 94 wRC+ — a few ticks below league average for his position. However, speed and defense have always been and remain Dyson’s calling card.
Last season Dyson swiped 30 bags and has averaged just over 31 steals over the past four years. Defensive metrics have been rather fond of the outfielder, crediting him with 19 defensive runs saved last season. The defensive performance helped push Dyson over the 3.0 fWAR mark for the second time in the past three years.
Karns was originally acquired by the Mariners last winter in the multi-player deal that sent Brad Miller to the Tampa Bay Rays. He made 15 starts in 2016 and over 94 and 1/3 innings pitched, including a handful of relief outings, he posted a 5.15 ERA and a 4.05 FIP. His 9.64 strikeouts per nine were mixed with a rather ugly 4.29 walkers per nine innings pitched.
The right-hander missed a good portion of the season dealing with a back injury but the command issues were evident. Having just turned 29-years-old he’s not without upside, and the M’s had little pitching depth to work with after dealing Taijuan Walker, but he figured to be competing for the No. 5 spot in the rotation with Gallardo now on board.
It’s best to look at today’s deals as a whole — the Mariners deal Smith and Karns for Gallardo and Dyson. Arguably the pitching staff lost some upside in Karns but likely gained some floor given Gallardo’s track record as an innings-eater. Losing Smith and his career 112 wRC+ does weaken the lineup, but Dyson figures to make up for that offensive gap in two words: run prevention.
The stolen bases are one thing, but combining Dyson with Leonys Martin and Mitch Haniger figure to give the Mariners one of the best defensive outfields in baseball, perhaps the best. This follows Dipoto’s original plan of building a team that suits Safeco Field. There won’t be anymore sluggers lumbering around the outfield, except for when Nelson Cruz makes his cameos. Instead, more athleticism and runs saved on the other side of the ball will be present.
Defensive metrics can be tricky to decipher in small samples, but all three outfielders pass the eye test with flying colors. Moving Dyson to left field where he is expected to play regularly will hurt his value some as his speed and range will be limited. However, it will be a substantial improvement of Smith’s declining defensive abilities and perhaps more importantly, gives Seattle another legitimate option in center. Martin probably could’ve used a couple more days off last season.
The old adage of if you can’t score more runs, you’d best prevent them is at play here. Seattle did make a significant addition to the lineup with Jean Segura inserted at shortstop and the top of the lineup, but otherwise a similar offense will return in 2017. And expecting all three of Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Cruz to repeat their performances is foolish. They’re all great hitters, but some regression can be expected.
With a similar offense and a terrible class of free agent pitchers, it made sense for the Mariners to emphasize the value an improved defense brings. The thing about having a stronger outfield is that it can make a below-average rotation better. This may well be what Dipoto is counting on given the question marks existing in the rotation.
Given the current standing of the roster, we can estimate the the Mariners will roll out lineups that may resemble these in 2017:
|Projected 2017 Lineups|
|vs. RHP||vs. LHP|
|Jarrod Dyson||Jean Segura|
|Jean Segura||Danny Valencia|
|Robinson Cano||Robinson Cano|
|Nelson Cruz||Nelson Cruz|
|Kyle Seager||Kyle Seager|
|Mike Zunino||Mike Zunino|
|Dan Vogelbach||Mitch Haniger|
|Leonys Martin||Leonys Martin|
|Ben Gamel||Jarrod Dyson|
We could quibble with how the lineups will round out or who hits in the No. 2 hole against lefties, but what we see here is a much more balanced lineup than in year’s past. There certainly projects to be enough power, but there’s finally a couple of legitimate leadoff options in Segura and Dyson.
The first base and right field platoons offer some upside and Valencia’s flexibility will be utilized in the corner spots. Depending on how the bench shakes out, there’s the ability to sit Martin or Dyson against a particularly difficult left-hander.
Losing Smith’s consistent bat and Karns’ upside hurts, but it’s hard to find an angle where for the purposes of 2017, the Mariners roster isn’t better today than it was yesterday. Some more pitching depth would be nice, but it appears that Dipoto finally has the outfield together that he wants.