Jerry Dipoto, it turns out, is a man of his word. He said he wanted to make the Mariners more athletic and focus on run prevention. Both of his outfield acquisitions, Boog Powell and Leonys Martin, fit that mold. However, the Mariners were starved for outfielders. Dipoto's most recent trade really begins to show his value in defense.
Yesterday the Mariners made a minor move, shipping OF Ramon Flores to the Brewers for INF Luis Sardinas. I would argue this trade is the most interesting of Dipoto's so far because it gives us the best look at his vision. It's the first deal he made that did not address a gaping hole on the roster, so presumably this says something about how he values Sardinas and his skills.
Let's start with Flores though. We hardly got to know him. He was part of the package the Mariners got in return from the Yankees for Dustin Ackley at the trade deadline. Flores got off to a torrid start in Tacoma but broke his leg and missed the remainder of the season.*
*I was at the game where Flores broke his leg. It was weird. No contact involved. He crumpled to the ground in the middle of running down a ball in the right-center field gap.
I felt that Flores had a fringy toolset, but in areas where the Mariners lacked any skills. He batted leadoff in Tacoma and I quickly fell in love with his approach at the plate. Flores worked counts and was a safe bet to put the ball in play, often enough in the form of a pretty solid line drive. I liked him as a darkhorse to make the Mairners opening day roster, assuming he had recovered from his broken leg.
Luis Sardinas is an interesting return for a player like Flores. Sardinas is not much of a hitter (at least yet) but he can play shortstop and already has experience at second and third base. At worst he is a utilitiy infielder. However, Sardinas is only 22 years old and has a few cups of coffee in the majors to his credit already. He was also listed among the top 100 prospects in all of baseball in 2013 and 2014 by Baseball America. For a little perspective, neither Brad Miller nor Chris Taylor had gone beyond AA by the time they were 22 years old, and neither were ever listed as a top 100 prospect. This is hardly a guarantee that Sardinas will be an impact player in the majors, but he brings some interesting upside to the Mariners while also adding defensive depth around the infield.
I doubt anyone, Jerry Dipoto included, thinks that Luis Sadinas is a better hitter than Ramon Flores. So, Dipoto is banking on Sardinas providing value defensively, especially at shortstop. However, the Mariners already have Ketel Marte and Chris Taylor on the roster, so Sardinas is a bit buried on the depth chart. He is almost certainly more buried than Ramon Flores was.
Perhaps the Sardinas deal is actually a harbinger of yet another trade, ala when Dipoto acquired Joaquin Benoit and then shipped away Tom Wilhelmsen. However, this deal can also stand on its own. Sardinas is younger with better reports on his defense. He fits the Dipoto of team control and run prevention. He appears to show just how serious Dipoto is about both, given that Sardinas does not play a position of need like other Dipoto acquisitions have.
Ultimately, Sardinas reminds me some of Joaquian Arias, who is the definition of a replacement-level infielder. So, this trade is not likely to make a huge impact. However, from a skillset perspective, it says something about how devoted Jerry Dipoto is to defense and run prevention.