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Crazy Legs for Boog (and Others): Offseason Begins Unexpectedly

Brad Miller
(Flickr via Wikimedia Commons, Keith Allison)
Jerry Dipoto consummated his first deal as Mariners GM, a six-player swap with the Rays. It also doubles as the first transaction of the offseason made by any team. The trade is (probably) not star-studded, but nonetheless and interesting six-player deal that raised some eyebrows. The blow-by-blow recap:

Rays acquire:

  • RHP Danny Farquhar - Lord Farquhar was a revelation in 2014, and really near the end of 2013 too. He combined a 96-mph heater with a very good cutter and racked up strikeouts at a prolific rate. However, Farquhar struggled mightily last season and shuttled between Seattle and Tacoma a bit. Farquhar could regress next year, which for him means improving to his 2014 form, but his inclusion in this deal suggests that Dipoto saw him as fringy depth.
  • SS? Brad Miller - Crazy legs is clearly the key piece in this deal, and in all likelihood the best player of all six traded. However, Miller's value is hard to judge, and his trade value is especially mysterious. Miller is a polarizing player because of his skillset. He has gap power, nice speed, and just enough contact and plate discipline to be a respectable hitter. This is a tremendous combination for a shortstop, but opinions of Miller's defense at shortstop vary wildly. Some think he is awful and must move off the position immediately. Others point to data like UZR and suggest that he his at least league average. An average defender at short with a league-average bat is a borderline all-star. An average defender in left field with an average bat is a fringe starter. So, a team who sees Miller as a shortstop would value him much more than a team who thinks he must move off the position. Any team acquiring Crazy Legs likely sees him as a shortstop, but also likely knows that he should come at a bit of a reduced price because other teams would have no interest in him. I always liked Miller as a shortstop so his inclusion in this trade his hard for me to stomach. More on this in the analysis to follow.
  • 1B Logan Morrison - Frankly, I view LoMo as less than a throw-in. He penciled in as a bench bat slated to make around $4 million in arbitration. There was little doubt in my mind that Dipoto would get rid of him one way or another. The Mariners collected way too many 1B/DH types under Jack Zduriencik. The $4 million man most likely to sit on the bench many days was a very logical guy to go.
Mariners acquire:
  • RHP Nate Karns - Karns fits the Dipoto mold. He is a hard-throwing righty that racks up strikeouts, along with a disproportionate amount of home runs. Whether his high home run rate is an unsustainable fluke or an underlying flaw in his game remains to be seen. Either way, Safeco Field is likely to mask this problem. At worst, Karns is a serviceable starting pitcher under cheap team control for several years. At best, he could take a step forward and be a legitimate mid-rotation starter.
  • CF Boog Powell - Powell also fits the Dipoto mold, or at least the vision he shared of his kind of Safeco Field team. Powell has little power to speak of, but has exhibited great patience, plate discipline, and contact ability throughout the minors. Moreover, scouting reports suggest that Powell can serviceably defend all three outfield positions. Powell's skillset screams marginal MLB talent, but his specific things he is good at are things that were virtually non-existent on the Mariners roster.
  • LHP C.J. Riefenhauser - A lefty reliever yet to do much in the majors (albeit in limited opportunities), Riefenhauser has been productive in the minors and has lots of years of team control remaining. The lengthy team control is probably his greatest asset, though he is also highly likely to log some time in the M's bullpen in 2016.
It is easy to look at this trade and be disappointed in Dipoto and the Mariners. Farquhar, Miller, and Morrison all logged significant time with the Mariners the last two years. Only Karns has done much of anything in the majors among the trio the Mariners receieved. Also, Farquhar, Miller, and Morrison were among the Mariners more interesting, charismatic players. Brad Miller with his crazy legs and gorgeous stirrups, Farquhar with his brutal honesty in interviews (like saying he was sent down because he sucked), and LoMo with things like running to the mound and asking Fernando Rodney where his arrow went. I simply enjoyed the presence of the players the M's got rid of in this trade, and the players received are, at least at the moment, so anonymous.

I am glad I waited a day to write this post though. The deal has grown on me considerably in the past 24 hours. It is a tad risky, but makes good sense, especially when some hidden assets in the deal are considered.

The Mariners needed some team-controlled, cost-controlled depth. Robinson Cano, King Felix, and Kyle Seager are all signed for $100+ million for the next several years. Nelson Cruz is not exactly cheap either and has three years remaining on his deal. The Mariners have to count on these players being the core of their team. However, the Mariners won't win with this core if they cannot assemble decent talent around them, and that talent will have to come on a budget. These players do not need to be stars, but they need to be complimentary pieces at reasonable prices - in other words, decent players who are years short of hitting free agency.

Boog Powell has 6 years of team control remaining. His MLB clock hasn't started. Riefenhauser has at least 5 years of team control. Karns has at least 4. LoMo had 1 year of team control left, Farquhar and Miller were at 3 or 4 apiece. The Mariners added several years of cheap, team-controlled talent in this trade, which cannot be ignored in the overall valuation of this deal. In fact, the gap in team-controlled years involved in this trade is large enough to expect the Mariners needed to give up more talent to offset this gain - and pursuing decent players with lots of team-controlled years, given the current structure of the Mariners payroll, is somewhere between wise and necessary.

So, Danny Farquhar is probably a more talented reliever than C.J. Riefenhauser. However, I would argue he is a less valuable overall asset. Riefenhauser is left-handed with a couple more years of team control. If both Farquhar and Riefenhauser project as bullpen depth - either in middle relief in the majors or as one of the first call-ups from Tacoama - taking the guy with more cheap, team-controlled years is a no-brainer. The talent gap doesn't matter as much as the millions of dollars that can be spent somewhere else.

Similarly, this is why Logan Morrison could almost be considered a liability for the Mariners. He projected to have marginal playing time at best*, with only one year of team control remaining, and a relatively pricey year given his projected role. LoMo's lumbering lefty power would have been nice to have stashed away on the bench, but LoMo as an overall asset did not make much sense for the 2016 Mariners. The price point and lack of team control are not good fits at all.

*Assuming Mark Trumbo plays first base, which seems especially safe with this trade.

Ultimately, this all suggests that the talent gap between Brad Miller and the combination of Nate Karns and Boog Powell has to be substantial before this deal turns out bad for the Mariners. There is room for Miller to blossom for the Rays and for the Mariners to still be better for making this trade. 

The deal is even less likely to turn out bad given the complexion of the Mariners roster. They desperately needed capable defensive outfielders and some plate discipline, the two things Zduriencik completely ignored the last few years as he horded ALL THE DINGERS FOREVER. Boog Powell has plate discipline and outfield defense. It remains to be seen if Powell's skills are strong enough to carve out a legitimate spot in the majors, but he at least possesses skills the Mariners sorely lacked. 

As for Karns, he will help eliminate the need to stretch out relievers to start, which is what the Mariners ended up doing after the All-Star break (Vidal Nuno, Edgar Olmos, and even Tony Zych for one start). Rotation depth was absolutely necessary, especially with Hisashi Iwakuma as an impending free agent.

At worst, the Mariners got a little depth with lots of cheap, team-controlled years. At best, they got themselves a nice mid-rotation starter and an everyday centerfielder who could also be an effective leadoff hitter. Dipoto's comments suggest that he believes he got the latter, not the former, which makes it easy to see why he would part with Brad Miller. I think Dipoto is looking through this trade with rose-tinted glasses based on his comments, but even an outcome noticeably short of Dipoto's vision is still one worth making.