Potential M’s Trade Targets: Outfielders

 Offense is one area Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto should not be overly aggressive this summer, though it’s conceivable an upgrade could fall into their laps. Defense should be a major part of the decision to add another outfielder, however, and if that player offers more at the plate, that’s gravy.

The Mariners’ shortcomings all are about run prevention. The club’s pitching staff has been serviceable, ranking No. 9 in the American League in Fielding Independent Pitching and No. 10 in Win Probability Added. The rotation ranks No. 7 and No. 8 in those categories and the bullpen comes in at No. 7 and No. 10.

I provided rankings to those metrics to show where the Mariners are versus those they’re racing against. It’s clear, by any measure, the Mariners need to add help. But there’s another way to help prevent runs, and that’s defense.

While the M’s have improved defensively at multiple positions and overall compared to a year ago, it’s a pitching staff flush with fly-ball type arms and the club is rolling out one of the worst corner-outfield combinations in the circuit.

Seattle’s left fielders have combined for -10 Defensive Runs Saved and the eye test doesn’t save Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez. Two weeks ago, the Mariners sent down the lone passable left fielder on their roster — Nori Aoki — who is only slightly better than Gutierrez and wasn’t producing at the plate.

In right field, it’s more of the same with Smith and Gutierrez, but sprinkled in is a dose or two of Nelson Cruz.
The Mariners can not only use an upgrade in the corners — they could end up getting even better offensively in the process.

Let’s get to some names, then. But first, a note: Players on teams right in the thick of even the Wild Card race will not be considered. Things can change in a matter of days and weeks, so we’ll check back on or around July 25 for new additions, but there’s no point in adding predictions of several club’s win-loss records over the next three weeks to this exercise.

Here’s a snapshot view of the relief pitching market, with a special focus on what’s logical and realistic for the Mariners in 2016, while covering the bigger names and why or why not they may be a fit:

Josh Reddick, RF — Oakland Athletics
Reddick missed some time this year but was solid a year ago — .272/.333/.449 in 149 games and is generally considered an average to above-average right fielder. He’s a free agent after the season and will earn about $3.3 million the rest of the way.

Reddick will draw a lot of interest from contenders not willing to pay the price for Jay Bruce or Ryan Braun, but the Mariners do have enough ammo to land such a player if the A’s are OK receiving longer-term outfield or pitching prospects, which is the Mariners’ farm system strength.

Ender Inciarte, OF — Atlanta Braves
Inciarte is mostly a defensive wizard but has produced a career .325 on-base percentage to date. He’s down to .236/.307/.305 for the Braves this season, but would be a more-than-capable backup for Martin in center while providing valuable defensive innings in left and right. He’s a very good baserunner, too, and again, the bat has produced in the past, at least enough to warrant a platoon-type role.

The 25-year-old is likely to qualify for Super Two status after this season but remains a value moving forward thanks to his versatility, defense and speed. I’d bet on the bat some, too. The price tag might be a bit steep for Seattle, however. We’ll see how this one develops.

Melvin Upton, Jr., OF — San Diego Padres
Upton is NOT having a career-saving season in 2016. If .266/.317/.444 is career-saving, then his 2015 triple-slash of .259/.327/.429, which followed .208/.287/.333 and .184/.268/.289 the previous two seasons, actually did the saving.

But Upton can run, defend in left or center — he has no experience in right field but is athletic enough to manage — and he’s hitting enough in combination to warrant playing regularly. The problem here is Upton’s contract, which calls for $8 million over the final three months of this season and another $17.05 million next season. He’s certainly not a $16-17 million player and $25 million for a year and a half of Upton — which at his current rate would provide about 3.0 fWAR.

The Padres recently sent $22 million to the Chicago White Sox in order to rid them of that contract, so it’s conceivable they’d be willing to do so to an extent for Upton. Upton, however, is actually worth something of value in trade return if cash is going to be involved.

Assuming the right balance of salary-mitigation and trade cost, Upton is an ideal fit for Seattle, providing a clear defensive upgrade and enough offense to warrant four days a week in left field and a a start in center here an there when the club wishes to give Leonys Martin a day off versus a tough left-hander.

Charlie Blackmon, OF — Colorado Rockies
Blackmon is about average defensively, only managing in center but fitting well in right and serving as an upgrade in left for Seattle. Blackmon’s bat is a real value, though. He doesn’t rely on Coors Field, hits a lot of line drives, has some legit power — fringe average away from Coors, but far from slap status.

Blackmon is due another $1.75 million this season and has two more rounds of arbitration coming. Next season a salary between $5 million and $6 million seems likely.

The cost may be prohibitive, but this is the kind of player the Mariners should consider this summer, and there’s no question Colorado is a seller.

Steven Souza, Jr., OF — Tampa Bay Rays
Souza, who recently was benched for not hustling out of the batter’s box on a triple, is an interesting possibility. The Rays have no specific reason to trade him other than because they really like the return.

Souza swings and misses a lot — 34.7 percent — but is an average corner outfielder with power and playable on-base abilities. He’s not eligible for arbitration until after next season and would fit nicely in the No. 7-hole in the Mariners lineup. Yes, Souza is from Everett — Cascade High School — and probably isn’t a long-term regular, but he could be a multi-year value for Seattle.

The cost is where I run into problems. The Rays are sellers, but that doesn’t mean ‘trade pre-arbitration players under club control.’

David Peralta, OF — Arizona Diamondbacks
While I don’t believe Arizona will ‘sell,’ per se, a player like Peralta could use used to get something to shore up a weakness now and for next season.

Peralta is pre-arbitration until after next season, but often it makes more sense to deal players that aren’t considered long-term regulars during their zero-to-three period rather than waiting for them to get a little pricey, which limits their value to every club in baseball.

Peralta is passable in center in short stints but handles the corners just fine and offers some offensive help, too. He’s batting .259/.308/.442 this season after dropping a .312/.371/.522 triple-slash last season in a full-time role. For me, Peralta, 28, is best used as a part-time player, particularly as the strong-side platoon piece.

He’s on the disabled list with a back injury, but is expected to start a rehab assignment soon and should be activated in time to be showcased.

The one issue I have with such a player is the 35 percent of the time a left-hander is on the mound. The defense isn’t nearly good enough to make up for the time on the bench or the poor production versus southpaws. The Mariners already have two platoons. Adding another offensive platoon player seems like a non-fit.

Brett Gardner, OF — New York Yankees
Gardner still hits enough to be an overall upgrade for Seattle, but he’s fading defensively a bit the past few seasons and is owed $31.5 million guaranteed through 2018.

It seems far-fetched to suggest the Yankees would send a large dollar amount away in a deal without the return being significant enough — and close enough to the big leagues to help in 2017 as the the roster is built to win now, not in three years, not in five — to warrant it. This is probably where the Mariners jump off the Gardner train.

The Upton situation is different than Gardner’s because the Padres are trying to collect young talent and the Yankees are stuck in win-now mode — even if they deal Aroldis Chapman — because they have $130 million on the books for just eight players next season and the average age of those players is 34.

Why isn’t Jay Bruce on the list? Because he’s an awful defender and isn’t likely to be much better at the plate than the combination he’d be replacing — a portion of the Smith-Gutierrez platoon, sometimes used in left, sometimes in right. And I don’t base the defensive assessment purely on the metrics — which grade him at far below acceptable each of the last three seasons and he’s only trending down. Not to mention he’s not exactly good versus left-handed pitching — .256/.292/.456 this season, .229/.294/.423 career.

Did I mention he’s owed $7.25 million for the rest of 2016, plus his buyout of a $13 million option?

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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.

9 Comments

  1. Carlos Gonzalez isn’t listed because the Rockies believe he’s worth twice as much as he is and he’s a huge risk not to hit enough away from Coors to be worth much at all.

    He’s an average glove, 31 years old now, you mentioned the salary owed to him, I mentioned thew cost and there’s a big enough home-road split to be concerned (274/332/406). Using these numbers alone isn’t good enough, since Coors hitters adjust their approaches and swings BECAUSE they play half their games at Coors, but there are some legit signs, too, such as Gonzalez rolling out a .379 BABIP, 40 points over his career mark. It’s a very dangerous play for a club like Seattle and they have no business going down that road.

  2. Expected to see at least a passing mention of Carlos Gonzalez here. Not that he’s a perfect fit but at this stage, even at $20M next year and ~$7M this year, he’s still not prohibitively expensive given that he’s already accumulated nearly 2.5 WAR this year and has been an above average defender in the outfield. I’m not saying the M’s should go get him but a case could certainly be made depending how much of his salary they take on.

  3. Aoki Now is being looked at as a part-time player if and when he comes back. At his age, seeing if he responds to playing such a role (versus RHPs only, for example) makes tons of sense. He was playing a lot before being sent down and maybe he’ll be more effective as a 3-4 day a week guy, versus RHP only.

  4. I’m not trading Iwakuma, he’s the only guy we can count on right now to give us 6 innings a start. In regards to Aoki, he has an option that vests based on plate appearances. I am pretty sure they don’t want to go into next year with Aoki in leftfield so I would imagine that they leave him in AAA until after the All Star break and quite possibly longer if it saves them from the locked in contract.

  5. What do you think of an off radar name like flipping a SP to a team in desperate need of SP’s and has a heard of OF’ers? LA Dodgers. I really like Trayce Thompson. Maybe he can be flipped for Iwakuma, or Miley? Keep Paxton in his spot?

  6. It isn’t as much about his offense as it is his defense. As Jason alluded to this team’s corner OFers have been really bad defensively. Aoki has been BRUTAL in LF this year. Not a recipe for success.

  7. Did you read the article or attempt to look up some stats? Yes, both of those aforementioned individuals would provide significant upgrades over who we currently run out there. Cruz is 36 and shouldn’t be playing the OF all that much. Mariners fans like to think Guti is fine out there defensively because of what he USED to be. He isn’t “Death to Flying Things” anymore. He has actually been pretty bad out there if you take gander at his UZR. Smith is notoriously mediocre in the field. As for Lind, he hasn’t done anything that should warrant concern over potentially losing playing time. This article was written because the team needs help. It’s OF (Corner) has been BAD. Really bad.

  8. Yeah, I agree with Fred. Some of these players are interesting, but they would cost talent and most would be marginal improvements. If the M’s are going to move talent and/or add significant salary going forward, it needs to either be cheap or a substantial improvement over what they have.

    Although Aoki has sucked, he’s been a consistently solid player his entire career. I think he’s a good bet to improve. Steffen Romero is raking at Tacoma. And Tyler O’Neill might see Tacoma this year, and hopefully is the future.

    Additionally, adding another OFer will take away playing time from the group of Cruz, Lind, and Lee. The M’s have been playing Cruz in RF quite a bit, and using Lee/Lind at DH/1B. Adding a better corner OFer would help, as Cruz is a defensive liability, but it essentially cuts away playing time from Lee or Lind. Lee seems to be doing fine versus RHP, so ideally a new OFer would cut into Lind’s playing time. But at that point, roster spots become a problem unless they ditch Lind completely.

    Thus, any addition would essentially be a change to the Cruz RF/Lind DH alignment. Reddick or Blackmon would be an improvement, but I’m wondering if that improvement is really that substantial compared to what we already have (plus Aoki eventually).

  9. Why don’t they just call Nori Aoki back up?…He has reached base 16 times in 33 plate appearances (0.407 avg, 0.485 obp) at Tacoma — what a waste of two weeks,…They sent him down because he wasn’t hitting lefties and Tacoma has not yet faced a left-hander…Brilliant….He was batting an “unacceptable” 0.245 with an “unacceptable” 0.323 obp for the Mariners, which is 40 points better than OMalley and Robertson….He is bound to go 0.300 avg 0.350 obp the rest of the way…Why give up anything to bring in any of these six guys, all of which will cost a lot to get…Plus they’ll be competing with the White Sox for OFs, who need an OF even worse (they are playing JB Shuck) and Boston, if Brock Holt goes down again…Get Smolinksi and run an Aoki/Smolinski platoon in LF…

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