Throughout his tenure as general manager of the Seattle Mariners, Jack Zduriencik has attempted to acquire hitters able to succeed in the pitcher friendly realm of Safeco Field. Often these players are bat-first corner outfield, first base types who are best served as a designated hitter. The term ‘one-dimensional’ encapsulates said player quite well. Some were bought low on, some came at sticker price.
A few of the moves made were questionable from the beginning, with serious concerns arising from the value given up for what was on the return end. The odd one actually worked out.
Mark Trumbo — Acquired via trade with Arizona Diamondbacks in six-player deal
With the offense struggling, Zduriencik made the first big splash of the season when he acquired Trumbo and Vidal Nuno in exchange for Dominic Leone, Welington Castillo, Gabby Guerrero and Jack Reinheimer. In his first three big league seasons, Trumbo belted 29, 32 and 34 home runs while playing decent defence at first and poor defence in the corner outfield. The 29-year old is coming off an injury-plagued 2014 season in which he appeared in 88 games posting a career-low 91 wRC+ and a career-low .180 ISO.
So far it’s been a slow start to his Mariner career, but Trumbo has shown some signs of encouragement in the final week of the first half. He owns a .581 OPS since the trade, entering Sunday’s game, after finishing June with a -5 wRC+. Obviously this trade has several pieces in play, but the center piece of it all is Trumbo, who is a slugging first base, corner outfield type who’s likely best utilized at DH. He owns a career .298 OBP, doesn’t walk a whole lot and strikes out a quarter of the time. His acquisition brought a sense of inevitability instead of an upgrade.
Nelson Cruz — Signed four-year, $57 million free agent deal
After an offseason of back-and-forth about what really happened in winter 2013-2014, the M’s finally added the slugger to the fold this past winter. Only problem is he was coming off an MLB-high 40 home run performance and you best believe Seattle was going to pay sticker price. He was a decent defender early in his career but isn’t exactly graceful in the field and nearly all of his value comes from the bat. He can handle his own though if he’s only partially used in the field and primarily as the DH.
So far in 2015 Cruz has spent more time in the outfield than many are comfortable with, but he has delivered a .308/.373/.546 slash line with 21 home runs — the walk rate is a tick above his career mark as well. His first half performance was good enough to result in a starting gig at this year’s All-Star Game. The last couple years of his deal are probably going to look as bad as everyone figured, but for now, Cruz is living up to his end of the bargain with his bat.
Rickie Weeks — Signed one-year, $2 million free agent deal
The 11-year big league veteran was an interesting pick-up for the M’s late in the winter and at a very inexpensive price. For the bulk of his career, Weeks had been an above average hitting second baseman with average to slightly below defensive skills. He belted 70 home runs between 2010 and 2012 and he’s regularly had a walk rate around 10 percent. However his career 23.5 percent strikeout rate more resembles that of a slugger.
With Robinson Cano manning second base, Weeks transitioned to left field to form a platoon with Dustin Ackley. That would ultimately be a failure. The athletic 32-year old wasn’t a lost cause in the field, but he didn’t look great either. In 95 plate appearances he mustered a .167/.263/.250 slash line with a 51 wRC+. Not only was he transitioning to a new position, but from an everyday guy to a part-time player who pinch-hit frequently which can sometimes be a daunting task. Finding a groove with the bat didn’t happen. Weeks was released by Seattle on June 21.
Logan Morrison — Acquired via trade with Miami Marlins in exchange for RP Carter Capps
LoMo is your classic prospect who succeeded for a few years in the minors, struggled for a couple years in the majors and then received a change of scenery two winters ago. With Justin Smoak flailing as a major league first baseman, the M’s acquired Morrison to give them another option at first, right field, and you guessed it, DH. The 27-year old missed some time with injury in 2014, but managed a 110 wRC+ and supplanted Smoak — now a Toronto Blue Jay — as the everyday first baseman.
The left-hander continues to show signs that he’s capable of another 23 home run season akin to his first full season in the big leagues back in 2011. There’s been some experimentation with using LoMo in the leadoff spot and he finishes the first half with a .229/.300/.385 slash line. Morrison’s being regarded as a good defensive first baseman but the metrics suggest he’s below average. His days in the outfield are done and with a career 108 wRC+ in over 2100 plate appearances, it appears that the M’s have an average, occasionally better, first baseman. Morrison is under club control through 2016.
Corey Hart — Signed one-year, $6 million plus incentives free agent contract
Acquired on the same day as Morrison, the pair are often mentioned in conversation together. The two-time 30 home run hitter was brought aboard as the right-handed slugger to bat behind the newly signed Cano. It was a risky move as Hart missed the entirety of the 2013 season after undergoing double knee surgery. Sure enough he struggled throughout the 2014 season while battling unrelated injuries. Ultimately he would finish with a 70 wRC+ and six home runs in 255 plate appearances.
This move was lauded at the time as a low-risk, high-reward bargain. In a different context this probably would have been a shrewd move. However this was the follow-up to the Cano signing and the ‘protection’ that would hit behind the superstar. Truthfully, it was too much risk betting Hart would be able to resemble his former self one-year removed from surgery without a real clean-up hitter. For what it’s worth, he’s not having all that much success this year as a part-time player for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jesus Montero — Acquired via four-player deal with the New York Yankees
The Mariners were struggling to sign free agent hitters. The Yankees were struggling to develop young pitchers. Both clubs figured they would solve each other’s problems with New York sending Montero to Seattle and Michael Pineda going the other way. Montero entered the 2011 season as the No. 3 ranked prospect in baseball, but few thought the right-handed slugger would last more than a few more years behind the plate — the value his bat provided was amplified by the scarcity at the catching position. The critics were right.
Montero had some struggles in his first full big league season finishing the 2012 season with a 90 wRC+ and then it all went downhill. Underperformance, injuries, weight issues, a PED suspension and an incident involving a scout and an ice cream sandwich made up the following two years. But, a seemingly revitalized Montero showed up to camp this year after undergoing a significant weight loss. The results have followed as he’s posted an .868 OPS at Triple-A this year and was selected to the All-Star team.
The former top prospect was re-called from Tacoma and made his season debut on Friday. In three games he’s 1-for-7 with a pair of walks and a run driven in.
Justin Smoak — Acquired in six-player deal with Texas Rangers
The former blue chip prospect was the centrepiece of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Texas. Ironically enough, Seattle reportedly had a deal with the Yankees that would’ve netted them Montero in exchange for the ace but pulled out once Smoak become available. The switch-hitter was hyped for his bat and regularly hit for high averages in his early minor league career, but was never the power-hitting slugger that some had hoped he’d be. He played parts of five seasons for the Mariners and only finished two seasons with a wRC+ above league average (100).
Despite being regarded as a solid defensive first baseman, and the metrics suggest he’s average on the field, there simply wasn’t enough offensive production to warrant starting the former top prospect. He was supplanted at the position last summer by Morrison and dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays over the winter. The trade has done him well as the 28-year-old is having a very good year in a more limited role for the Jays and owns a 128 wRC+ in 147 plate appearances.
Michael Morse — Acquired in three-team trade in exchange for C/DH John Jaso
Prior to the 2013 season Seattle brought Morse back into the fold for a second tenure — he debuted with the M’s in 2005 and remained in the system into 2009. He was coming off a solid offensive season with the Washington Nationals posting a 113 wRC+. As the team’s everyday right fielder in 2013 he posted a 92 wRC+ with 13 home runs before being dealt to the Baltimore Orioles at the end of August. He was due to depart as a free agent after a disappointing year.
Jaso was actually coming off a career year in 2012 with a 143 wRC+ and producing 2.6 fWAR as a part-time catcher and DH. At the time the move was described as typical of Zduriencik, dealing a well-rounded asset for a slugger who couldn’t play defence. Jaso posted a .394 OBP in 2012, Morse finished 2013 with a .270 OBP. For what it’s worth, Jaso has struggled with injuries since the deal and is now in the Tampa Bay organization.
Jack Cust — Signed to a one-year, $2.5 million free agent contact
Despite the fact he resembled the prototypical designated hitter acquired during the Zduriencik tenure, Cust actually had above average OBP skills and was a walk-accumulating machine. The left-hander actually performed close to league average offensively in 67 games as a Mariner in 2011, but after hitting just three home runs, he was released in early August.
The signing was quite reasonable given Cust’s skill set, but he should have been brought on as a part-time player instead of the No. 4 hitter on Opening Day.
Jason Bay — Signed to a one-year, $1 million plus incentives free agent contract
This move I was a fan of given the low-risk nature and me being a fan of Bay during his years in Pittsburgh and Boston. Unfortunately the right-hander was never the same after signing a four-year, $66 million with the New York Mets. He struggled with concussion issues and his contract was mutually terminated with money deferred. No longer the well-rounded player of years past, Bay offered minimal value in the field and little on the base paths entering 2013. He still had some pop in his bat though and was useful against left-handers.
Little harm was done with the move as Bay posted a 94 wRC+ and produced -0.2 fWAR in 236 plate appearances before being designated for assignment. He would be released in early August and has unofficially retired since then.
Raul Ibanez — Signed one-year, $2.8 million free agent contract
The signing marked Ibanez’s third tour of duty with the M’s in 2013. He previously was with the club from 1996-to-2000 and 2004-to-2008. At age 41, Ibanez nearly made history by belting 29 home runs, but was also tasked with regularly playing left field throughout the season. Hitting solo home runs was about all the left-hander did for the Mariners that year, though, as his defensive shortcomings resulted in a 0.1 fWAR for the season. Though his 102 wRC+ would likely be a welcome addition to this year’s incarnation of the club.
Seth Smith, acquired via trade with San Diego Padres in exchange for reliever Brandon Maurer, follows the trend of dealing a reliever for a bat, but unlike many of the other bats acquired, Smith is well-rounded in the box and isn’t a slouch defensively. That’s not to suggest he’s anything special in the field, though he was credited with 6 DRS in 2014. He’s more capable of being an average major league outfielder, which given many of the names who have roamed Safeco Field in the past few years, is a plus.
It is interesting to note that, reportedly, Seattle had an opportunity this winter to acquire Jackie Bradley Jr. from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for reliever Charlie Furbush. Bradley Jr. doesn’t resemble the Jack Z type of player at all: he’s athletic, plus in the outfield and is strong on the bases. Only problem is that he doesn’t hit, and while his skills would upgrade the Mariners outfield defense, the problem to be solved over the winter was finding more runs. Not to suggest the trade should have been accepted if it was in fact offered as Bradley Jr. has a career 50 wRC+ and Smith has been a pleasant addition.
All told, there’s plenty of evidence to show that Jack Zduriencik has targeted these bat-first corner outfielders who should be a DH. But at the same time, his biggest expenditure, Robinson Cano, is a true five-tool player despite the fact he hasn’t shown the same power output. Other exceptions would include Chone Figgins and Franklin Gutierrez who were excellent athletes.