Analysis: M’s deal Miller for SP, RP, CF

Jerry Dipoto didn’t wait very long. The Seattle Mariners announced Thursday evening they have completed a six-player trade with the Tampa Bay Rays. Incoming are right-hander Nate Karns, lefty C.J. Riefenhauser and outfielder Boog Powell. Heading to Tampa are infielder-outfielder Brad Miller, first baseman Logan Morrison and right-hander Danny Farquhar.

The Mariners are getting pitching depth as one half of the deal. Karns, 28 later this month, was solid in 27 appearances for the Rays this past season, 26 as a starter. He posted a 4.06 FIP and showed he can miss bats with a strikeouts-per-nine ratio of 8.9.

Karns has been an intriguing power arm since signing out of Texas Tech in 2009. He’s missed some time with injuries and that appears to have cost him a little velocity — formerly up to 97 mph. In 2015 he sat 90-94 to go with with a 78-81 mph spike curveball that was plus this past season and a fringe-average changeup in the 84-86 mph range. The curveball, being of the knuckl-grip variety, has more of a slider path to it, biting down and in on left-handed batters. As Karns has simplified his mechanics he’s been able to throw the changeup for strikes and with some sink, though the pitch lacks ideal fade.

He managed just fine versus left-handed batters this past season, though this is where his below-average control bit him on occasion as 38 of his 56 walks came versus left-handed bats. Karns throws from a higher-than-typical arm slot, which probably helps his breaking ball but may hamper the changeup, and perhaps with fastball movement. He does pitch wisely and effectively up in the strike zone, but serving up 19 long balls in 147 frames is a hefty price to pay.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Karns has the stuff that may play in a bullpen role and the Mariners could start camp with both roles in mind. If he remains in the rotation hes a No. 4 arm with a chance to be more based on his ability to miss bats, but whether or not he can handle a 190-200 inning workload remains to be seen. His career high is the 157 1/3 frames he tossed in 2014 before notching 147 this past season.

Despite his somewhat-advanced age, Karns has just one year of service under his belt, making him a very cheap arm for the next two years, and one with No. 3 starter upside.

Riefenhauser, 26 in January, was a 20th-round pick of the Rays in 2010. He’s logged less than a year of MLB service — 20 total innings, to be exact, making him a rookie, still, for 2016.

The southpaw doesn’t throw hard — typically sitting 88-90 mph and mixing in an average high-70s cutter-slider, a mid-70s curveball and a changeup that flashes above average. His stuff suggests he’s a back-end starter but he came out of the bullpen for each of his 24 appearances in the big leagues the past two seasons.

He’s not likely to miss many bats and his control and command sits somewhere in the average range, so he’s not the next Mark Buehrle, either. His fly ball tendencies, however, fit better in Seattle than they in just about any other ballpark, so he has that going for him. Riefenhauser, ideally, is minor league depth once the season starts.

While Karns is the immediate key to this deal for Seattle, Powell, 23 in January, has a chance to be the best player acquired. Unlikely to reach star levels, Powell brings speed, defense and a contact-style game plan to the batter’s box. He’s been comp’d to Sam Fuld in the past, but he might be more like Chicago White Sox center fielder Adam Eaton in the end. He served a 50-game suspension in 2014 for amphetamines, but rebounded to impress in the Arizona Fall League a year ago and batted .257/.360/.364 in 56 games at Triple-A Durham after a 61-game stretch in Double-A Montgomery where he produced a .328/.408/.416 triple-slash.

His ability to make contact and handle center field to above-average levels make Powell a viable option for the Mariners as early as Day 1. He hasn’t hit for much power but the swing is short to the ball and generates line drives and hard-struck ground balls with consistency.

Powell is not a burner — most grade his speed above average, perhaps a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale, but he’s very good on the bases and can swipe 10-15 bags a year in full-time duty, if not more.

Powell’s best tool is his ability to force pitcher to throw him strikes. He’s very good with two strikes and adept at spoiling two-strike pitches. He’s very much a Rays or Royals kind of player, and now he’s a Mariners kind of player. Powell is the lone player in the trade not already on the 40-man roster, but if the left-handed hitter makes the club in March it could set up a nice 1-2 punch with Marte ahead of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. Both make contact and can run, and both play up the middle.

Miller will provide the Rays depth at shortstop with the immediate ability to handle second base and perhaps left field, too. He may be due for a breakout season at the plate, but where he was going to fit in Seattle was unclear. I would have been fine with Miller being half of a left-field platoon while using him at other positions when he’s not in left in order to keep Ketel Marte, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager sharp and rested.

Farquhar fell off a cliff in 2015, but showed flashes of the cutter-curveball combo that made him very good in 2014. If any club can fix him it’s Tampa (and both Chicago clubs). Morrison was a strong candidate to be non-tendered if he wasn’t traded.

What this deal tell us is if your instincts suggested to you Dipoto would go after arms early and often, you were right. This won’t be the end of it, either. But it also tells us the club has exactly zero big-league outfielders on the 40-man roster aside from Seth Smnith, who may be the most likely player to be moved this winter.

Dipoto certainly prefers Marte over Miller at shortstop — understandably, considering Marte has almost zero experience in the outfield, and rather than dampening Miller’s value by using him in left for the most part, Dipoto dealt Miller as a player that can and will be used up the middle.

The Rays did just fine in this deal and probably landed the best current player in Miller. The Mariners stretched out their pitching depth and acquired one arm that’s sure to make the roster out of spring training and almost certainly as one of the five starters.

And in case anyone is wondering, the answer is no. No, this deal doesn’t make Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery, et al, available in trade. The price won’t change on players because other players are acquired, and you never can have too much starting pitching. None of the above, including Karns, is a proven, reliable veteran. We’ll likely see Dipoto go after that kind of arm this offseason, too.

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at InsidethePark.com. He spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. 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.

11 Comments

  1. rkfrik, you and Jerry seem to be missing something. I NEVER said Jack got the right kind of guys. In fact, I stated that he didn’t. But, it’s not related to JUST to acquiring power hitters that aren’t good defenders. That’s the simple approach in the “one-stop” supermarket that has become the American way. If the bullpen had performed as they did in 2014, Seattle would have likely been in the running for a wildcard. I didn’t for a moment, defend Jack. He lost his job for a reason.

    Is that cleared up now?

  2. Edman,

    Read Jason’s response. I was going to say the same thing, but Jason said it perfectly. JZ went after the wrong guys with his rose colored power glasses on. Thank god JZ is out to pasture.

  3. Jerry, just where did I say that I didn’t like this trade, or Dipoto? No where did I say such a thing. I’m not at all negative about either. But, every GM the M’s have hired, in my recollection, comes in with promise.

    By comparison of work, Dipoto is no where near what Jack inherited, Dipoto is light years ahead of where Jack started. One of Jack’s first trades had a huge impact on the team, going forward, netting Guti, Vargas, Chavez, and somewhat useful Carp and Ezequiel Carrera. That by comparison, is huge. This trade in no way comes close, on its face. It’s a good trade, but ii is not indicative of anything at this point.

    I’m hopeful that Dipoto can get the franchise moving in the right direction. I think he’s a good combination of the mechanical and analytical sides of baseball. Do a fair evaluation of this season, and not just the simple “pick one cause” approach that’s so common in America anymore. Many things failed. But the team was not bleeding runs, because of poor defense, it was bleeding losses, because the bullpen couldn’t hold late leads. A nearly complete failure, sans Carson Smith. I get the defensive aspects, but the bullpen was a bigger contributor to losses, than defensive failings of Cruz, Trumbo, etc. Jack failed for one basic reason……he failed to anticipate that Seattle’s bullpen was more lucky, than good, in 2014. He miscalculate because he didn’t anticipate that there were failings that weren’t evident, and traded away young, cost controlled pitchers, by believing that luck was actually indicative of what he could expect in 2015. That is one area I have full belief that Dipoto understands, and won’t miscalculate going forward.

    Am I going to give him immediate accolades? No, I’ve been there before, and not going to make that mistake again. This trade was fair, and no more. It helps both teams for different reasons. And, it’s great that he’s getting started early. But, at this point, it’s helpful, not impactful.

  4. Edman,

    I don’t see how “obsessed with power” is in any way an unfair appraisal of Jacks MO the past few years. As Jason clearly stated, he built a roster full of players who could really only do one thing, and the results were bad.

    Beyond that, why so negative about Dipoto? Of course he still has a lot of work to do. He inherited a flawed roster. It’s early Nov.

    And the fact that this trade isn’t an absolute fleecing isn’t a bad thing. It’s a fair trade for both teams. Miller has more value to another team where he can play SS. The Rays have TONS of pitching depth. This deal makes sense for both clubs. One thing I like is how many years if control we just got, plus some upside in Powell. If you expect trades to be robbery, you’re going to be disappointed. There aren’t many stupid clubs anymore.

  5. Jason, I have no issues with your reply. I agree with much of what you wrote. But I see posters like Paul who simply use the “obsession with power” comment all the time, as if that sums everything up. It doesn’t, as you’ve stated. That’s not why Jack failed, that he liked the long ball. It’s that he didn’t build a balanced roster. And, I really get tired of it being the “buzz word” for Jack’s failures.

    That said, I don’t see this as any more than a fair trade. We gave up something, to get something, in Miller and Karns. Neither has established themselves, and in that portion of the deal, we did not get younger, just a little more cost control. I like Miller, and no, he will never be another Ben Zobrist, but he very well could thrive in Tampa Bay.

    Personally, I believe, as the old baseball saying goes, that you can never have too much pitching. IMO, Jack’s biggest failing last two years had nothing to do with loving power, but trading away the team’s strength, young, controlled, bullpen arms. The bullpen was a huge failure last year, and partially because Jack had nobody at Tacoma to fill those roles. The team’s late season recovery came because we had better bullpen performances.

    I like Dipoto, but he’s got a lot to prove. He has a philosophy, only time will tell how big a difference it will make. It was the right move to make, but he isn’t the Messiah.

  6. This is a fun one as we’ve all had Miller touted to us for so long. A lot of what you think about this trade depends on what you think of Miller. I’ve already seen many references to all his potential. But, if I was a TB fan waking up this morning, I would go straight to his stats which show is WAR decreasing each year with increasing PA. Not a good trend. Bad enough that Fangraphs/Steamer has him at 0.0 WAR next year. yikes…..For comparison, Nate Karns is projected to have 1.8 WAR.

    So, I buy into some of Miller’s potential, but not like I used too. I also buy into the “adequate SS with some pop” argument. But it could also be that the numbers and trends hold true and we just did alright for ourselves. I know if I was a TB fan looking at this, I’d only be happy thinking that we plugged a hole at SS.

    But, overall, I think the M’s are better today than on Wednesday. I think Miller’s bat as an OF will be easier to find at a reasonable price than a starting pitcher. So, more moves needed, but I do not hate this.

  7. To me, this is a disappointing first trade for Dipoto. Whether he was a good fit for the M’s or not, Miller was one of the more valuable/sought after trade chips the Mariners had and they really didn’t get much value in return for him.

    Sure, maybe Dipoto sees something of value in Karns and Powell that other GM’s don’t. But those are the type of players you want to buy low on and not deal one of your key trade chips.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that Miller is going to be an above average player in his time with the Rays and I prefer him to Marte / Taylor. Powell could very likely surprise as he’s been an over-achiever for his entire career (maybe an upside of Adam Eaton or Brett Gardner), but the odds are against him and he’s more likely to become a Jeremy Reed.

  8. It’s OK to go after power hitters, but it’s a different story going after power and completely ignoring defense on a team with a lot of fly ball pitchers on its staff. Zduriencik didn’t simply add power hitters, he added one-dimensional power hitters at times — Hart, Trumbo, to name two recent ones — that can’t do anything else and are a legit liability in the field. You can do that at one spot, plus the DH obviously. But when you’re running Trumbo out to left field, Cruz in right and versus righties it’s Seth Smith taking over in one of those spots, it’s going to hurt the team.

    Look at how some other clubs have added power — and it doesn’t matter HOW they acquired said player (developed, traded for, free agent, waivers, doesn’t matter). When the O’s added Cruz and used him a decent amount in the OF, it wasn’t with Jones in CF and another Cruz in the other corner. Nick Markakis was the everyday guy in one corner, and that was the lone sore spot defensively for them. Look at the Cubs’ power — Bryant is adequate are better at 3rd, so they used him there to get a bad outfielder (Schwarber) time in left, But who was in center and right, first, second and short when they ran out one bad defender? Yep, all solid-average defensive players, if not downright good.

    The bitch here is that power was valued over hitting + defense. Not that power doesn’t matter, but this really comes down to: Which would you rather have, a .270/.330/.400 hitter who’s average defensively and on the bases and makes average contact or a .260/.300/.450 hitter who’s well below average at EVERYTHING ELSE? It’s pretty simple. In today’s game, the more well-rounded player is typically more valuable, even if nothing he does stands out. The fairly rare exception is when you run into a player like Cruz, who left Texas a slugger and showed in Seattle working on year 2 of being a decent hitter on top of the legit 30-plus homer pop.

    If the Mariners want to make waves in the win column, the deal Dipoto made today is the kind of trade that helps, both now and down the road, especially considering the +8 years of control he received. Nine year of control went to Tampa, 17 years came back. Significant factor here that will pry open the flexibility window for another few years.

  9. I’m getting a little tired of the Dipoto praise because he’s not obsessed with the long ball. Why shouldn’t Jack have gone after some power hitters, on a team that until this season, didn’t really have much power? Some make it sound as if power isn’t a good thing. It isn’t about power, OBP, or any partictular stat, it’s about balance.

    Jerry made ONE trade as the Mariners GM. We basically gave up Miller for Karns in this deal, and a fringe outfielder who could be an okay get. But, this trade isn’t any sort of statement, other than Dipoto moved a guy in Miller, who didn’t have a solid role, a guy in Lomo who was likely to be traded to someone, and Farquhar who isn’t likely a long-term fix. It’s an okay trade, but this is one that only time will determine who got the best of the deal.

    I like the way Dipoto is going with the club, but we all had the same hope when Jack was hired. Be excited, but do so with some amount of caution.

  10. It is so nice to have a GM that is not OBSESSED WITH THE LONG BALL! As promised the evolution of the roster is taking place, with a focus on pitching and defense. LoMo is not going to be worth is 2016 salary in arbitration, he would have been a non-tender candidate had we not found a trade partner. I bet Jesus Montero has a better 2016 season than Morrison! Farquhar is a volatile reliever who could use a change of scenery. Losing Miller hurts a little but he didn’t have a home here in Seattle. I wasn’t crazy about Miller in the outfield, and like our other SS/2nd Base options on the roster now. This trade officially welcomes Jerry Dipoto to Seattle. Let the offseason fun begin!!!

  11. Solid depth for the rotation and an OF prospect who immediately makes Seattle more athletic. Both those guys are controllable for a few years as well. We only gave up one such player.

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