Analysis: Benoit deal a win for M’s

The Seattle Mariners have been active early this offseason, consummating a six-player deal with the Tampa Bay Rays last week, signing Franklin Gutierrez to a one-year deal Wednesday and dealing for relief help Thursday.

Jerry Dipoto sent infielder Nelson Ward and right-hander Enyos De Los Santos to San Diego in exchange for veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit. Benoit, 38, has experience late in games including a 24-save season in Detroit in 2013. He’s typically been a seventh or eighth inning option, though it remains to be seen what role he will see in Seattle.

As a setup type, Benoit has been solid and consistent since moving to the bullpen full-time in 2005. He boasts a career K/9 of 8.9 and while his walk rate is too high to be ideal (3.63 career, 3.08 a year ago), he’s been able to work through that with weak contact and strike three.

Benoit, as he’s aged, is throwing fewer four-seam fastballs and fewer fastballs overall, despite registering an average fastball north of 94 mph for the third straight season in 2015. He’s thrown more sliders the past few season and his changeup, as it’s improved into the plus range, has been used more than a third of the time.

If the season started today either Benoit or Carson Smith would close games for Seattle — or both — and the other would handle the seventh or eighth in combo with Charlie Furbush, the club’s best left-handed option.

In Del Los Santos, who will be 20 next month, the Mariners give up a medium-ceiling right-hander with at least three years before he hits the brink of the majors. He was a sleeper of mine, I wrote about him right here after seeing him several times this summer.

Ward is a utility player with little shot to play in the bigs, and if he does it’s in a reserve role. He’s 23 and has yet to reach Double-A after being a 14th-round pick in the 2014 draft out of Georgia. He does have some plate skills but he’s below average up the middle, doesn’t have the bat for third base and has yet to be sent to the outfield for extensive work.

I like the deal more for Seattle but both clubs get done what they set out to; for San Diego it’s clearing some payroll space and adding some upside to their farm system. De Los Santos certainly brings some of that to the table. For Seattle, they add a necessary piece to their bullpen, and do so without spending huge free agent dollars — Benoit will make $7.5 million in 2016 and then hit free agency — and by trading from the one area of depth they have in their system, which is young, long-term pitching.

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Jason A. Churchill

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