In another trade that swapped some probability for club control and added outfield defense, the Seattle Mariners have acquired Leonys Martin and swing reliever Anthony Bass in exchange for right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen, outfielder James Jones and a player to be named. And no, the player to be named isn’t Taijuan Walker, or even Roenis Elias or D.J. Peterson.
The Mariners get a top-half glove in center field in Martin, 28 in March, who struggled at the plate in 2015 — .219/.264/.313 — due to a rather curious fall in BABIP from .319 and .336 to .270, but also an uptick in strikeout rate.
Martin is a left-handed bat with 30 power but a decent line-drive stroke that remains very much a ‘1290’ type — No. 1, 2 or 9 in the order, or a bench bat (the ‘0’). He’s a well above-average runner, posting times under 3.8 seconds on bunts in the past, handles the bat pretty well and as a base runner and a base stealer is among the smarter players in the league.
Defensively the glove is plus, consistently impressing the scouting eye with solid routes and terrific jumps on balls to either side. He’s an accurate thrower and possesses above-average arm strength. At 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Martin physically is the prototype center fielder.
When Martin was signed, all the main boxes were checked; speed, arm, bat speed that suggested some power and the acumen and instincts to make it all work. But the swing needed work, and probably still does in an ideal world. Safeco is a non-issue for Martin offensively.
If the bat bounces back some and he stays healthy all year, the Mariners probably have a 2-2.5 win center fielder at worst, and he’s just now entering arbitration s he comes off a major-league deal that made him $15 million over five years. Don’t be surprised if he cuts a multi-year deal with Seattle rather than going year to year.
Bass, essentially, is meant for the role Wilhelmsen played under Lloyd McClendon until late last season when he handled the ninth inning again: Swiss Army Knife.
The 28-year-old is a five-pitch arm; two-seam, four-seam, cutter, slider and changeup. He came to pro ball with a curveball, but has ditched the pitch and succeeded without it.
From a high three-quarters arm slot, Bass sits 91-95 mph with all three fastball options, setting up a true slider in the mid-80s and low-to-mid 80s changeup. His two-seamer and slider are his best pitches but the split-style changeup was more of a factor for him in 2015 and is a pitch he’ll need in any expanded role. When he needs the strikeout his usage of the slider spikes and the four-seamer becomes almost 100 percent non-existent.
Bass is best suited as a long reliever, but can start in a pinch despite a relatively high-effort delivery. He has problems versus left-handed pitching, mostly due to problems pitching effectively away from them, which may be where improving the use of his cutter and two-seamer can help. He’s done a solid job keeping the ball in the yard, despite being more of a fly ball arm, even though his ground ball rates are up the past two years.
Bass also is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and is probably in line for a similar salary as Wilhelmsen’s $1.4 million this past season.
The Rangers get a versatile arm in The Bartender, who stills reaches the 94-97 mph range with a straight four-seamer, but has added a useful cutter-slider to his arsenal. When he has a feel for it, his 12-6 curveball is as good as there is. Wilhelmsen is likely to receive a salary in the $3-4 million range via arbitration this offseason. He’s not the worst option at closer, but unlikely to overtake Shawn Tolleson. He can start in a pinch and cover multiple innings at any point in the game.
Wilhelmsen is held back by spotty control that leads to less-than-ideal walk rates — he’s ended each of the last three seasons between 4.08 and 5.03 walks per nine innings. He’s not much of a ground ball guy, so the Rangers will have to hope he throws more strikes and his 8.7 K/9 in 2015 repeats or gets better.
James Jones is a terrific athlete who’s below-average in center, above-average in a corner with consistent time and offers a plus throwing arm. Despite a 6-foot-4, 200-pound frame, Jones cannot hit for power thanks to a swing more reminisce of Juan Pierre than Fred McGriff. He’s a 65-70 grade runner and base stealer and embraces any and every role club’s present to him. Jones is depth for Texas.
Player To-Be Named is all ages, has both no playable skills and every skill known to man and has them at every grade stop between 20 and 80. Can pitch OR play the field, but not both, and likely brings six years of club control to the table.
The Mariners more-than replace Austin Jackson‘s glove in center and there’s a chance Martin gives them more at the plate — and he’ll do it for about half what Jackson was paid in 2015. The club’s bullpen loses Wilhelmsen, but Bass is a worthy seventh arm if not more.
Since taking over, Jerry Dipoto has added about $6-7 million in salary for 2016, but already the outfield defense is at least 10 runs better with a chance for more. The bullpen is better, and deeper, despite losing Wilhelmsen’s versatility, and exactly zero pieces sent away in trade is going to be missed by the club on the field in 2016, including Brad Miller, who is far less valuable in left field than at shortstop.
It’s early, and the club has many areas to address still, but it’s been a very strong start for the new regime in Seattle, and if you’re a fan of the team and aren’t impressed with the names brought in, there’s absolutely no question the game plan is correct, which isn’t something the club has had in the front office since Year 2 of the Jack Zduriencik era.
Next up for Dipoto and company: C, SP, RP, part-time or full-time RF, veteran reserve infielder that can play SS. Sounds like a lot, but again, the club has barely used any of its available resources as we near the winter meetings and the heart of the offseason.
Acquiring Martin, and after the Boog Powell and Franklin Gutierrez transactions, likely means the Brett Gardner rumors will die down for Seattle. I wouldn’t completely rule it out — Gardner can play left or center and the presumed Gutierrez-Seth Smith platoon can handle either corner — but the salary and likely trade cost seems a little out of character for what Dipoto has done and is doing.
Gerardo Parra still fits, as might Rajai Davis and a number of potential non-roster invites. Free agent Denard Span seems to be a player the Mariners aren’t likely to be that interested with the addition of Martin.
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.
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