Rarely does Major League Baseball’s annual July 31st non-waiver trade deadline spark as much interest as it did today. In total there were 12 trades made and several significant pieces were moved in the process. Aces David Price and Jon Lester found new homes, the Boston Red Sox cleaned house, and the Seattle Mariners added a pair of outfielders to a club in need of an offensive boost. In a market barren of impact bats and overpriced assets, the Mariners played it safe, and smart.
Chris Denorfia, acquired from the San Diego Padres for Abraham Almonte and a minor league reliever, may be a veteran on a down season, but he has hit left-handed pitching well throughout his career and is an upgrade on the current Seattle roster. Austin Jackson, acquired from the Detroit Tigers in a three-team trade in which the M’s sent Nick Franklin to the Tampa Bay Rays, is a true centerfielder that’s capable of hitting at the top of a lineup. He represents a significant upgrade to the roster as is.
Both players are now with the club Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune tweets, and are expected to be in the lineup tomorrow night when Seattle wraps up a three-game set with the Cleveland Indians. Now as always, the first question that usually comes to mind is who’s roster spots will the new imports take?
Presumably Stefen Romero will be sent down to Triple-A as the club as already used an option on him for the year and he’s now managed a 52 wRC+ in 180 plate appearances with the big club. Romero is still just 25-years old and only had one full season of Triple-A experience under his belt before breaking camp with the team this spring. He’s received below average grades for both base running and fielding according to FanGraphs and his fWAR on the year is -1.0, meaning even having a replacement level player take his spot on the roster would be an improvement.
The second most likely candidate to face the roster crunch is James Jones as Jackson is expected to take over regular center field duties. Jones, also 25, burst on the scene when he was called up at the end of April and posted an impressive 101 wRC+ in May while hitting at the top of the order. He started to slide in June with a 76 wRC+ for the month before seemingly imploding in July with just five hits and a walk in his last 12 games and 48 plate appearances. Jones’ defence has been a work in progress this year and he definitely had his struggles at times, but a trip down to Tacoma to work on his defence and try and figure his offensive issues out could be very beneficial. Jones could still factor into the team’s plans in 2015 as he’s shown the ability to succeed in the big leagues, but needs to improve his game as a whole first.
The pair of veterans everybody’s been wanting to see disappear, Corey Hart and Endy Chavez, are perhaps the least likely to be removed from the active roster, at least for right now. Hart’s had his struggles this year, there’s no questioning that, and between missing the entire 2013 season as well as an extended stretch in the first half recovering from a hamstring injury, it’s really been a disappointing season for the slugger. His wRC+ is now down to 72 after an 0-for-4 performance in tonight’s win, but he has started in right field three games in a row now. He’s still owed at least $3 million for the year — depending on how his incentives play out — so cutting him would be simply an exercise in opening up a roster spot as the M’s wouldn’t save any money in the process. The move could still happen, but it doesn’t seem imminent, yet.
Chavez has seen far more at bats this year than anybody expected and he doesn’t have much to show for it. Often hitting at the top of the order, the seasoned veteran owns a 74 wRC+ in 173 plate appearances. He’s been below average in right field, but he’s essentially provided replacement level value with a -0.2 fWAR. Chavez hasn’t actually been that awful in his second stint with the Mariners, but if he was utilized as a No. 4 outfielder instead of a regular contributor it’s likely he would’ve provided more value. The 36-year old would hit the waiver wire in the event the M’s decided to designate him for assignment and it appears unlikely he’d accept an assignment to Triple-A, but I suppose it is possible.
Simply replacing Romero and Jones with Denorfia and Jackson stands to make a potentially significant improvement to the club, and if Chavez ends up as the odd man out when Michael Saunders returns — possibly in two or three weeks time — one could suggest that the M’s would finally have a decent group of outfielders together. Between Dustin Ackley, who’s been swinging the bat very well this month, Jackson, and Saunders the club has a set of very competent defensive outfielders with a couple of decent bats to make use of in Denorfia and Hart.
[pullquote]Since rejoining the Mariners lineup on July 25th Morales has just one hit in 21 plate appearances with a pair of runs batted in and one walk. His wRC+ in that time is -41.[/pullquote]
The acquisition of Kendrys Morales should weigh in to the review of the Mariners trade deadline success, and in exchange for the three bats acquired, the team gave up nothing off of the big league roster and nothing of real significance to the future. As I mentioned earlier, Franklin has all the talent to be a very good player but it just wasn’t going to work out in Seattle for him. Almonte is an okay depth piece but he’s replaceable, as is Stephen Pryor.
The M’s received some flack from Jeff Passon of Yahoo! Sports for being involved in the Price trade but not coming up with the player they had coveted for so long and the additions they did make only brought them back to mediocrity. Let’s look at the facts: Seattle was lukewarm at best when it came to including Taijuan Walker in a deal of any kind and didn’t have another comparable player to Drew Smyly to include in the deal. If the M’s offered Franklin, a Smyly-type of pitcher, and a third high-upside prospect they would’ve landed Price. The pieces simply didn’t meet up for the Rays and M’s, and I don’t believe that’s for lack of effort.
I do agree that the return for Price may look slightly on the lighter side, but it was likely still more than the M’s should’ve been comfortable dealing at this point in time. Remember, this wasn’t a club that was one piece away from being a World Series contender. This is a club that was a couple pieces away from even being a serious playoff contender down the stretch, and paying a premium price for Lester, or any other rental, just doesn’t make sense for this club. General manager Jack Zduriencik did well to turn Franklin, an asset who had no opening within the organization, into Jackson who fills several holes on the club and is controllable for the 2015 season as well. If that was the only move Jack Z made, I would’ve been happy with the day. Adding another bat, albeit low impact, only helps improve the club further. As will the returns of Saunders and James Paxton.
Again, even getting back to mediocrity in right and center field is still a boost considering how outstanding the entire pitching staff has been. Think of all those times the M’s had an opportunity to cash in an extra run or two but came up empty. Having Denorfia take the place of Romero, for example, on even a handful of those spots could net the team some extra wins, or at the very least the extending of an inning to create a better chance for victory. Bottom line, Jackson and Denorfia make the current roster better.
In terms of true impact bats, there really was nothing available. I’m surprised the Philadelphia Phillies weren’t able to move Marlon Byrd, though their asking price sounded totally unrealistic, and that the Texas Rangers held on to Alex Rios as well. I don’t blame Seattle for passing on the $16 million that would be owed to Byrd for the next two seasons following this one, but I’d be curious to know why Rios didn’t end up getting dealt. There were several reports of trade talks occurring, but the Rangers obviously didn’t get an offer that they deemed to be worthwhile.
Yoenis Cespedes was dealt today, and he would’ve been a huge addition to the Mariners, but look at the context: the Oakland Athletics were able to bolster their rotation even further with Lester and Jonny Gomes makes for an interesting addition as well. Not to mention the A’s re-acquisition of defensive specialist Sam Fuld as well which will help offset the loss of this year’s Home Run Derby Champion. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the A’s were going to move Cespedes this winter regardless since they didn’t feel they could lock him up to a long term deal before he reaches free agency just over a year from now, and decided to cash in now.
Not to say that Oakland would or would not deal Cespedes within the division, but the Mariners simply didn’t match up well with the A’s. Who on the club is comparable to Lester and could actually be given up? I suppose there’s an argument that Hisashi Iwakuma could be of similar value though he’s not as good as Lester, but there’d be no reason for the M’s to deal him. Aside from Cespedes, there wasn’t another high impact bat traded today.
The Mariners got better without hurting the future. That’s the biggest thing to takeaway from today, in my opinion. Zduriencik didn’t collapse under the pressure he faced and overpay for a player like Price. One could argue that Jack Z should’ve made the flashy acquisition, but I have no problem with the pair of moves made today since they improve on players like Romero and Jones who’s contributions have been sub-par, as well as the Morales acquisition from earlier.
Seattle still has a solid chance to grab a Wild Card slot, and today they were able to improve their chances while a team like the Toronto Blue Jays did not. It’s going to be a fun next two months.