Mariners Decide They Want To Field Actual MLB Outfield

Austin Jackson (wikimedia commons)
Lo and behold, the Mariners were active at the trade deadline! When the dust settled the Mariners grabbed a pair of right-handed outfielders for nobody on the current MLB roster. Clearly they are better, and addressed their most glaring spots of need. Time to get to know the newest Mariners, just how much better they've made the team, and how much was given up to get them:

Mariners acquire OF Chris Denorfia from the Padres for OF Abe Almonte and RHP Stephen Kohlscheen

Denorfia is what he is, a right-handed bat with a bit of gap power and good corner outfield defense. He becomes a free agent at the end of the year and is 34 years old. He is a rental and marginal upgrade for most teams, though not the Mariners. Keep in mind he will replace a slew of right-fielders that have combined for about -1.5 WAR this season. He could be as much as a 2-win upgrade because he supplants players posting negative totals.

The Mariners gave up a surprising amount at first glance, though not an alarming amount. It depends on how much you like Almonte. I still like him as a fourth outfielder, and frankly he was a better option than James Jones in center this whole time (though Jones likely has more long-term upside). Kohlscheen also looks like a solid bullpen piece, but he was buried in the Mariners embarrassment of bullpen riches.

Usually, a player like Denorfia comes at virtually no cost (like cash or a player to be named later), but this wasn't a normal market. Very few bats were available, and the ones that went tended to go for surprising prices. Asdrubal Cabrera, in a down year, netted Cleveland a surprisingly decent shortstop prospect in Zach Walters. Gerardo Parra, an all-glove, limited-bat type, went to the Brewers for a pair of prospects. It seems to me that the price the M's paid for Denorfia is in line with this year's market values. More importantly, the Mariners kept their group of core prospects together. At least until a few hours later...

Mariners acquire OF Austin Jackson from the Tigers for 2B Nick Franklin (who goes to the Rays in the David Price blockbuster)

It's hard not to like this deal for the Mariners. Jackson is a bona fide center fielder, though his defense has slipped the last few years according to advanced metrics. Still, defensively, he's an upgrade over James Jones (at least until Jones develops further; I like his raw tools) and is lightyears ahead of Jones with the bat. Jackson strikes out a bit, but with some power. He was a 5-win player a few seasons ago and is still just 27 years old. He should be entering his prime right about now. Jackson is also under team control through next season, so he is not a pure rental.

Nick Franklin is a more than fair price for Jackson. Franklin had no spot on the Mariners once Robinson Cano signed. He continues to crush AAA pitching and strike out too much in the majors. Either he will figure out MLB pitching or he won't. I think Franklin will, and if/when he does he could be a good everyday player for the Rays. However, his high strikeout rates make me wonder if Sean Rodriguez is a reasonable comp for him at this point - and if that's the comp, then the Mariners swung a great deal.

Honestly, I am pleasantly surprised that the Mariners could get Jackson for Franklin, straight up, and also pleasantly surprised that Zduriencik pulled the trigger on this deal. I have a hard time imagining this trade turning into a disaster, even if Franklin develops into a good player.

Overall, the Mariners are probably 2 or 3 wins better between now and the end of the season with Jackson and Denorfia, and only gave up one core prospect to improve - and of the core prospects, Nick Franklin was the most expendable thanks to Robinson Cano.

The Mariners may or may not make the playoffs with the roster they have, but they should hang around the race. Their rotation could get huge boosts from James Paxton and Taijuan Walker if either can get totally healthy and locked in between now and September. Denorfia and Jackson aren't the same kind of additions the A's and Tigers made grabbling Lester and David Price, respectively, but I'm not sure what else the Mariners could have done that would have made good sense. Two thumbs up from me. Time to see how the pennant race unfolds.

Those Moneyballin' A's

Billy Beane (wikimedia commons)
This might be a two-post day as I already planned to write something after the trade deadline passed (at 1pm Pacific Time). The deadline is pretty much over now though, thanks to Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics. He has already acquired Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes, and Sam Fuld this morning, giving up Yoenis Cespedes, Tommy Milone, and a draft pick in the process.

One reason I hate the Angels so much is because I can't hate other division rivals. Maybe I can conjure up some solid hatred for the Astros once they rise to prominence, but for now I admire their ability to utterly give up competing for a few years to focus on their farm system - which, by the way, is loaded and starting to graduate some good players. The Rangers can only be hated so much with a jigging, coke-snorting manager, and the lovable interplay between former M's favorite Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus. Plus they are just awful this year, thanks largely to an unfair slew of injuries.

Then there are the Athletics, the team I cannot force myself to hate. Moneyball, to my memory, is the first book I ever asked for as a Christmas present. I had the potential to take a closer, analytical look at baseball before that book but it is what took my fandom to another level. It's been hard for over a decade to both root against the A's as a Mariners fan, and root for them as a general baseball fan. I want Billy Beane to get a ring. He deserves it.

So I love today's trades by the A's. Billy Beane has proven with so many trades over the years that he keeps a certain cold-blooded distance from his players. They are assets to him, which serves him well in a small market where only so many players can be kept on long-term deals within the budget. Moreover, Beane can wheel and deal as a man entrenched in his job. Really, will he ever be fired? What in the world would he have to do to get fired in Oakland at this point? Beane can afford to make riskier deals if he chooses to with the confidence that a backfired deal or two won't cost him his job.

Cespedes is an otherworldly athlete that, believe it or not, is overrated as a ballplayer. His insane arm in the field make up for some defensive gaffes, and bruising power at the plate make up for lots of bad swings and misses. His contract ran through 2015 and then he would have hit free agency, where no doubt some team would have valued his raw tools more than the A's. This is the cold-blooded Billy Beane at his best: Cespedes was not the entrenched superstar, he of back-to-back home run derby titles and a starting bid in the All Star Game - he was an above-average left fielder with only a year and a half left in Oakland. So, Beane traded him for Jon Lester, a rental for sure, but a bona fide star.

Furthermore, Beane even went out and immediately got the Cespedes replacements, Jonny Gomes and Sam Fuld. Neither superstars, but with their powers combined, a surprising Cespedes facsimile. Fuld brings superior defense and plate discipline, Gomes some thunder, especially against lefties.

This is Oakland's best chance to win the World Series. They are already the best team in baseball, and a surprising number of big market teams (like the Red Sox, who they just got Lester from) are out of contention. Oakland knows as well as anyone, from the Mulder-Hudson-Zito days, that the playoffs can be an unfair crapshoot. However, the whole point of baseball is to step up to the table and play with whatever pair of loaded die you can get your hands on. Billy Beane is breathing in to his hands right now, and will cast his set in October. This is why I love the A's trades this morning, and why I will be frustrated if/when the Mariners stand pat at the deadline once again in the name of preserving the future.*

*Hopefully, this last sentence reverse jinxes the Mariners into a deal.

Deal or No Deal

Jack Zduriencik (wikimedia commons)
I despise writing theoretical trade posts. Any old blogger can cook up some theoretical trade and analyze it, justifying why both teams should go for it. The ideas and posts are so formulaic. I dare you to find some random internet writer/commenter's trade proposal that doesn't follow one of these three patterns:

Pattern 1: The now-for-future swap. The (insert fan's favorite team) should trade (top prospect) and (best prospect at superstar's current position) for (superstar). (Superstar) would be the impact (arm or bat, depending on position) that the (fan's favorite team) need, and (other team) would be loaded a few years down the road when they are ready to contend.

Example: The Mariners should trade Taijuan Walker and Alex Jackson for Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton would be the impact bat that the Mariners need, and the Marlins would be loaded for a few years down the road for when they are ready to contend.

Pattern 2: The delusional trade pillage. This comes in two variants, depending on where the fan's team is in the standings. If they are contending, it looks like, "(fan's favorite team) gets (superstar) for (young bench player that's a marginal prospect at best). Once a team with a superstar is out of contention they should grab any young player with a pulse."

Example: The Mariners get Giancarlo Stanton for Stefen Romero. Stanton is about to get paid but Romero is cheap, young, and has right-handed power!

If the fan's team is not contending, then this kind of trade looks like, "(fan's favorite team) trades (marginal starter that had a hot April, May, or June) for (other team's top prospect). (Other team) needs impact (bat/arm) and need to JUST WIN, BABY."

Example: The Rangers trade J.P. Arencibia to the Mariners for Taijuan Walker. The Mariners need an impact bat and Arencibia drove in a run last night. They can't let Walker's potential get in the way of WINNING NOW.

Pattern 3: Speculating on a rumor from a reporter. This is the most common of all.

Example: Reports are that the Mariners might be looking at Chris Denorfia of the Padres. 90% of internet commenters have next to no idea who Denorfia is. So, with the report in mind, they then take Denorfia and fit him in Pattern 2, since he isn't the superstar that could fit in Pattern 1.

Example: The Mariners should give up Stefen Romero to get Chris Denorfia.*

*Actually, I could see the Padres taking Romero for Denorfia. Sometimes random, pattern-fitting trade proposals make sense.

So now that I've written every trade proposal you could ever run into this time of year, let me get to the second point in this post. Jack Zduriencik, apparently, is hard to make a deal with, according to anonymous sources that respected journalists Ken Rosenthal and JP Morosi talk to. The money quote, from their joint article:
"They think, ‘Who can we give up that will never be any good?’ They don’t want to give up anyone who will haunt them. That’s just flat-out fear.”
True to the blue :-(

The evidence follows classic conspiracy-theory logic. There is no way to prove this statement wrong, particularly because Zduriencik has not pulled a noteworthy trade in a few years. We have almost no idea what kind of deals the Mariners considered or proposed. The only "proof" is the lack of proof to contradict the theory. Zduriencik is guilty until proven innocent.

Furthermore, to fully play devil's advocate, there is an art to trade deadline deals. The media can (and is) a pawn in the trade deadline game. Everyone wants to make a deal that favors their team. The anonymous sources in Rosenthal and Morosi's article have heavy incentives to criticize Zduriencik's trade style. If they can manufacture an added sense of urgency and pressure on Z, then he might be more willing to part with better talent.  It is in their best interest to push a bad reputation on him whether these anonymous sources actually believe Zduriencik is gun shy or not on deals. It could help their leverage, and since they are anonymous, comes with virtually no risk of harming their bargaining position and relationship with Zduriencik.

However, the anonymous sources got me thinking about Z and his trading style. I doubt he is as skittish as "anonymous sources" make him out to be, but there is evidence to suggest he values his own players rather highly.

Jack Zduriencik, way back when he started on the job, seemed to be the master of trades. He made a massive 3-team, 12-player swap that gave away J.J. Putz and brought back Franklin Gutierrez and Jason Vargas. The next offseason he made the megaswap for Cliff Lee. Zduriencik seemed to quickly assert himself as a crazy wheeler and dealer.

Here's the deal though: None of those trades involved guys that Zduriencik's regime drafted or developed. The same goes for the Doug Fister deadline deal, the most recent trade deadline swap Zduriencik pulled. Fister was drafted by Bill Bavasi. The only Zduriencik draft picks traded to date are Carter Capps (for LoMo) and Stephen Pryor (for Kendrys Morales). Bullpen guys that had been leapfrogged by other bullpen prospects, namely Dominic Leone. Additionally, Kendrys spent a year with the Mariners and Zduriencik tried to sign him back to the M's in a few different ways last offseason. The crazy wheeling and dealing ways of Zdurienick evaporated once "his guys" populated the Mariners system.

Take an even deeper look at the system, and Zduriencik's preference for his own guys becomes even more obvious. He originally drafted Tom Wilhelmsen in Milwaukee. Corey Hart, although a free agent signing, is also a draft pick of Zduriencik's from his Milwaukee days. Lucas Luetge, a mildly productive Rule 5 pick from a few years ago, stays around the 40-man roster and was plucked from Zduriencik's Milwaukee farmhands too.

None of these moves make Zduriencik an outlier per se. Teams draft players because they like them (duh) - moreover, particularly in the mid to late rounds, teams are highly likely to draft players that they value significantly more than other teams. The simple fact is that, by the 10th round or so, every player has been passed over by every team 9 to 10 times. So, teams generally select players they are less interested on passing on than every other team in baseball. The system is subtly designed for teams to prefer their own players to outsiders.

Additionally, it is worth remembering that Zduriencik got the Mariners job because of the phenomenal work he did building up the Brewers farm system. His baseball DNA is grounded in finding amateur talent and watching it flourish.

Conventional wisdom suggests that, if Zduriencik is on the hot seat, he would go in full "win now" mode and trade the farm. I'm not so certain that's how he would respond though. Managers and GMs generally prefer to go down with "their guys," and nobody is more Zduriencik than the prospects in his farm system.

With all that said, Zduriencik will trade his own guys. Remember that he had pulled off a trade with the Diamondbacks a few years ago that would have landed the M's Justin Upton for a package that included Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin. Justin Upton rejected the trade, not the Mariners or the Diamondbacks. Zduriencik successfully brokered that deal. The Putz megadeal and Cliff Lee trades can't be forgotten either, even if they didn't involve Z's own draftees.

Zduriencik is just like every other general manager in baseball - he pulls a trade when the price is right in his estimation. He has in the past, and will continue to do so in the future, perhaps (hopefully) as soon as today, tomorrow, or Thursday before the trade deadline passes. For better or worse, he appears to prefer his own players more than most general managers.

I'd say that Mariners fans better get ready for a quiet deadline. Perhaps Zduriencik trades the farm for Giancarlo Stanton - I think Z would be willing, whether the Marlins would be too is another question - but he definitely would trade next-to-nothing for a guy like Chris Denorfia.

Start rooting for Taijuan Walker, D.J. Peterson, Brad Miller, Chris Taylor, and others to figure out life in the big leagues in a hurry before Robinson Cano and Felix Hernandez exit their primes. That's true to the blue, at least underneath Jack Zduriencik's leadership.

Kendrys Returns

Kendrys Morales (wikimedia commons)
The Mariners made a trade today, acquiring Kendrys Morales from the Twins for Stephen Pryor. Morales, of course, played with the Mariners last year and then hung out in free agency forever since nobody wanted to sign him for big money and lose a draft pick, a scenario the Mariners forced when they extended Morales a qualifying offer.

I'm hoping there are some financial details yet to be reported in this trade, because without them, I don't like this deal.

Losing Stephen Pryor isn't a big deal at this point . The M's are flush with bullpen depth, and Pryor isn't the same since his major shoulder injury a couple years ago. He tops out around 94 or 95mph now and he used to flirt with triple digits. Pryor still has an MLB-caliber arm, and I hope he makes it back to the majors and sticks with someone for a while, but he is the exact type of player the M's should have been shopping around to take a chance on a hitter.

Where exactly will Kendrys Morales fit on this roster though? In 39 games he has been worth -0.9 WAR, and he is a limited defensive first basemen or DH at this point. He's essentially been a switch-hitting version of Corey Hart thus far, except worse.

What worries me most is the money involved though. Morales should make a little over $4 million the rest of the season. The Mariners may or may not have about $7-8 million of wiggle room, assuming they can use the money reserved for Corey Hart's performance bonuses. The Mariners just lost a bunch of their salary flexibility unless the Twins are picking up a bulk of Morales's salary (which could actually be happening but hasn't been reported; salary details often lag behind the news of players involved). I would be fine with that if Morales was an impact bat, but he isn't, or at least shouldn't be considered one.

The Mariners are gambling on Kendry's success last year and that his long free agency caused him to open up this season rusty. I could envision Kendry heating up and being a pleasant addition, but I'd like more than a low-upside gamble for half of the projected budget room the Mariners have. The Mariners could take a similar gamble to Morales by promoting Jesus Montero, except Montero would cost the Mariners absolutely nothing and might offer the M's more upside than Morales anyway.

I am struggling to see the value that Kendrys Morales adds which the Mariners didn't already have inside the organization. I suppose it is nice to see some move made as the offense sputter through July, but Kendrys is a highly unlikely savior.

The R Team

Jesus Montero (Wikimedia Commons)
The original name for this post was "Montero Musings," but after attending last night's 11-8 Rainiers victory I decided to expand the scope. I also considered a title involving the term "X-Factors" but decided that veered dangerously close to HOT SPORTS TAKE territory. However, The R Team wins if for no other reason than it makes me think of the A-Team theme song and intro.

On to the actual post now.

The Mariners find themselves in a legitimate pennant chase. They sport one of the better run differentials in baseball and have been in position for a wild card playoff spot for a while now. Their offense is borderline putrid but paired with an exquisite pitching staff, anchored by King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma, and buoyed by the best bullpen in baseball.

In other words, the Mariners are a team built to acquire someone at the trade deadline. They are good enough as-is to potentially make the playoffs, but have obvious holes where they could upgrade. The focus will (and should) be on who they could acquire and who they would give up.

I want to go under the radar for a little bit here, and outline some of the more creative options at the Mariners disposal. I make it to more Rainiers games than Mariner ones, and there have been some interesting developments in Tacoma. So, instead of making random theoretical trades up, I'll highlight some unsung heroes that could make surprising contributions if given the chance:

Todd Coffey and/or Logan Kensing

I'll lead off with a  pair of non-roster bullpen arms. The Mariners bullpen is the best in baseball and it's only gotten better with the recent emergence of Brandon Maurer. Behind the MLB bullpen is a pretty formidable Tacoma unit too. Some of the names are known - Stephen Pryor and Lucas Luetge have spent a little time in the majors this year, and Carson Smith isn't too far behind them (if behind them at all.) However, Coffey and Kensing shouldn't get lost in the shuffle.

Both Coffey and Kensing are veterans that have tasted success in the majors. Kensing topped out at 95mph multiple times in last night's Rainiers game and also throws a slider in the mid to upper 80s. Coffey features similar repertoire, though his fastball tends to top out around 91mph. Still, he struck out the side in the ninth inning last night, which was his second inning of work in the ballgame.

In my humble opinion, the Mariners bullpen situation is the most interesting puzzle piece the M's have as the deadline approaches. They clearly have an embarrassment of riches right now. Guys that would work the 7th and 8th innings on many staffs take care of middle relief in Seattle. However, given the M's offensive woes, their bullpen faces more high leverage situations than most teams. Their phenomenal bullpen is arguably the biggest key to their current success. The M's bullpen has a special ability to make small leads stick simply because they are filthy good from top to bottom.

I would be curious to know what kind of internal scouting reports the Mariners have on Kensing and Coffey though. They look to me like serviceable middle relievers. They could make a guy like Tom Wilhelmsen or Yoervis Medina expendable. There would be the problem of creating 40-man roster space for either of them, but that seems simple to solve to me - make a two-for-one trade. Packaging Medina with a guy like Stefen Romero could be a sneaky valuable package to a rebuilding team, given that that both players are under team control for a combined nine more seasons before they could hit the open market, and both come with some MLB experience (successful MLB experience in Medina's case). The presence of Kensing and Coffey would make me extremely comfortable considering such a deal.

Jesus Montero

I was down on Montero at the start of the season, to say the least. I made jokes and complaints at his expense given any sort of slight opening. I still encourage friends at Rainiers game to watch him try to run the bases. I haven't been kind to Montero, and I will come clean right here, right now: I gave up on him.

I am somewhere between curious about Montero and a full-fledged believer in him again though. He is white-hot at the moment, batting a whopping .464 in July with 14 extra-base hits, good for a 1.327 OPS (not a typo, I promise). Of course, this is a small sample size, and TNT writer John McGrath pointed out that Montero has enjoyed a string of lefties as of late. Still... a 1.327 OPS?!!

Moreover, it appears to me that Montero's recent hot streak corresponds with an adjustment he made in his batting stance. He starts wide open now - reminiscent of Jay Buhner, to give you an idea of how wide open we are talking about here - but quickly closes. It's worth noting that Montero has more extra bases hits in July than he had in May and June combined, and equally comforting to me is where those extra base hits go. They are up the middle, from left-center to right-center. He's regaining the hitting profile that made him an elite prospect when the Mariners acquired him.

Montero has hit home runs in both the last two Rainiers games I've been to. One was a line drive that I thought would get down for a double in right center, but it just kept going. The ball was out over the plate in the lower half of the strike zone, and Montero went with it and crushed it. The other was a home run to left center. This pitch was more on the inner half of the plate but had a similar vibe - it was a bit more towering, but again, just kept going and easily cleared the fence.

The only player on the Mariners roster who might have more raw power than Jesus Montero is the man he would logically replace, Corey Hart. Hart, to date, has posted a -0.9 WAR. Coincidentally, the increasing likelihood that Hart won't reach any of the incentives in his deal is why the Mariners might have $7-8 million of room in their budget to take on a salary at the trade deadline.

I wonder what kind of internal scouting reports the Mariners have on Jesus Montero at this point. I would be very tempted to release Corey Hart, which should guarantee that he doesn't reach any of the incentives, and replace him with Jesus Montero. If the M's get lucky, Montero could do a decent impression of Evan Gattis at the plate, plus the M's could go acquire an impact player with the added salary room.

Ty Kelly

The Rainiers fielded an intriguing lineup defensively last night. Ty Kelly started in right field. Granted, the Rainiers are very thin on outfielders right now, and Kelly has been a bit of a utility player all season because Chris Taylor and Nick Franklin get the bulk of playing time in the middle infield, but the start still seemed intentional to me. Kelly has played some third base and Rainiers utility player Leury Bonilla started there last night. Bonilla is a true utility player, as I have seen him play first base, third base, right field, and pitch. In fact, he has multiple pitching appearances the past three seasons. Nick Franklin also has a handful of starts in right field this season too, but he was at Kelly's "natural" position last night, second base. So, Kelly didn't have to start in right field, but he did.

Moreover, Kelly looked good in right field, at least last night. He took clean, efficient routes to balls, including a soft fly ball he had to charge hard in front of him, and rather hard hit line drive he had to sprint back on to make a nice running catch. However, his best play of the game came on a single, where he gunned a runner out trying to go from first to third. Kelly flashed a surprising arm - maybe not prototypical right field strength, but way better than I expected from a guy who has played second base for the most part, and the throw was right on the bag.

At the plate Kelly is a switch hitter with remarkable patience. He has more walks than strikeouts right now, which if that holds would be the fourth consecutive season he's pulled the uncommon trick. Kelly also has already established a new career high in home runs this season with 13.

It is no secret that the Mariners could use some offense, and the corner outfield spots are particularly weak spots on the roster. Kelly isn't on the 40-man roster right now, but I am a fan of his skill set. A switch-hitter with plate discipline and defensive versatility makes for a really nice bench piece, and on the Mariners, maybe a better starting option than some guys in the majors right now. Similar to the situation with guys like Coffey and Kensing, the presence of Ty Kelly would make me pursue deals where I collect a handful of young guys on my 40-man roster right now to get a quality rental player. It's a strategy that protects top prospects while improving the ball club noticeably right now.

Who knows what moves the Mariners are actually pursuing, considering, or have available to them. However, if they want to get better now and hold on to their top prospects, they will need to get creative. What makes the most sense to me is to offer multiple fringe-like guys with MLB experience on the roster right now while eating a bunch of salary. This approach could work surprisingly well if the Mariners believe in some of their non-roster guys in Tacoma. I, for one, see reasons that the Mariners should believe in some of their overlooked depth.