Would You? / Wouldn’t You?

Jeff Sullivan · November 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

I have to admit, I was a little caught off guard by that rumor being thrown around that the Red Sox could try to trade Yoenis Cespedes for Hisashi Iwakuma. It’s not that I’m surprised that Cespedes could be on the move — with what the Red Sox have just done on the free-agent market, it seems like he’s already as good as gone. It’s also not that I’m surprised that the Mariners would have interest in Cespedes — he’s a righty-hitting outfielder with power and visibly incredible skills. Cespedes to the Mariners? Yeah, I can buy that, now that he’s out of the division.

I just never really thought about trading Iwakuma. Why would you? He’s good. Teams trying to win don’t trade good players. But the more that I think about this, the more I just end up stuck. Which is why I’m including a poll in this post. Would you, or wouldn’t you?

I wanted to hate this. And my initial response, in my own head, was, no, Cespedes isn’t enough. I’ve spent a couple years watching his OBP bounce between .2-something and .3-something. That’s a hard impression to shake, and all Iwakuma has done is pitch brilliantly since joining the Mariners’ starting rotation in 2012. People have argued at points that Iwakuma is quietly as good as Felix Hernandez is, and while the specifics of that argument are kind of silly, the message is legitimate: Iwakuma’s been very good, very quietly, cementing himself as one of the most underrated pitchers in the game.

But — okay. Usually, when I’m putting a poll in something, I don’t want to write a lot first, because I feel like it biases the voters. But I don’t care. Is this science? This isn’t science. If anything, making you read a whole post first before you vote will make you less likely to vote based just on your first impression. I want you to think about this. I guess I can’t stop those of you who have already scrolled down to click on a circle. That’s fine; nothing hinges on this.

What are the big details, here? Cespedes is a year away from free agency. Iwakuma, too, is a year away from free agency, and by the terms of their contracts, neither one of them can be extended a qualifying offer when the season’s complete. So there are no draft-pick considerations here. Iwakuma’s set to make something like $7 million. Cespedes, $10.5 million. Right there, that’s a point in Iwakuma’s favor. The Mariners don’t have Red Sox money.

So you reflect on recent performance. Iwakuma’s been a good starting pitcher for two and a half years. By his peripherals, he’s a 3 – 4 win starting pitcher. By actual runs allowed, though, he’s been worth ten wins in two years. That’s a factor — we’re not accustomed to seeing too many guys score with Iwakuma on the mound. Cespedes? He’s held somewhat steady. He hasn’t been what he was in 2012, offensively, but he’s stayed above-average, with obvious jaw-dropping power. He’s not a defensive liability, at least not when you consider the value of his throwing arm. He’ll fail to run down a few balls in play, but he’ll make up for that with some baserunner kills, which is just a different way of creating outs.

Based on what’s already happened, Iwakuma seems a bit better than Cespedes. Throw in the salary difference and you can see why the Mariners might say no to this proposal. It’s then that you turn to the unknown. Iwakuma turns 34 next April. Cespedes turned 29 the same day I turned 29, this past October. Take what you know about both players. How do you adjust them for age, when you only care about the single season directly in front of us?

This is what gives me so much trouble. But, rationally, I get that Iwakuma is a pitcher, and pitchers are less reliable than hitters. Iwakuma’s more likely to have a major injury, and Iwakuma’s more likely to have a little age-related skill erosion. Cespedes hasn’t exactly had a clean bill of health since arriving, but he’s younger and stronger and I can see how he might have a higher probability of having another 3-win season in 2015. The difference wouldn’t be great, but perhaps it offsets the track records. Perhaps it offsets the difference in money due.

My biggest issue might be about something else entirely. Let’s say, for the sake of simplicity, that Cespedes and Iwakuma are as good as one another, at this writing. So swapping them straight up would be moving a strength from one place to another. But right now, the Mariners don’t have a whole lot of starting-pitcher options. Beyond the five, there’s Erasmo Ramirez and Danny Hultzen. Maybe you add Tom Wilhelmsen. One of those guys has declined, one of those guys has had a catastrophic shoulder injury, and one of those guys has been a reliever. Move Iwakuma and, at least for the time being, one of those guys goes into the rotation.

But you’re not plugging an outfield hole. The Mariners think there’s a hole, but, Michael Saunders is not bad. I’d be content to move forward with Saunders, Dustin Ackley, Austin Jackson, and a decent fourth-outfielder guy. The real need is at 1B/DH, and Cespedes doesn’t do that, and the other outfielders don’t do that. The Mariners would get better in the outfield, but they wouldn’t get better by a lot, and they’d still need help. They’d still need a 1B/DH. They’d need a starting pitcher. Or two. Pitchers get hurt. Several of the Mariners’ pitchers did get hurt.

So the Mariners trade Saunders, then, maybe packaged with something else for something else. That much already feels inevitable and there’s potentially some upside there. Just because the Mariners might be giving up on Saunders doesn’t mean it has any effect on his trade value, provided other teams want him. Nothing has happened to Cespedes’ trade value because he’s all but out of a job in Boston. Demand is demand. There would be some demand for Michael Saunders, so he could be turned into help at another spot.

But because of all this, thinking about Cespedes for Iwakuma just makes me upset all over again about how the Saunders saga is playing out. The Mariners don’t have many starting pitchers or outfielders. Weird for them to maybe think about trading a starting pitcher, or an outfielder. Yet I suppose offseason plans are complicated.

Yoenis Cespedes, Hisashi Iwakuma. Maybe if you trade Iwakuma now, it makes it less likely you can sign him after the year. Maybe not. Maybe you wouldn’t want to sign Iwakuma after this year anyway, given his advancing age. Cespedes probably wouldn’t re-sign with the Mariners, but for one thing, that’s a guess, and for another, the priority is 2015. The Mariners should be good in 2015, even if they make a move or three we disagree with. There’s a strong foundation here, and Cano/Cespedes/Seager would admittedly be a fun thing. Cano and Seager do the consistent damage, and Cespedes adds the occasional detonation. The long ones count the same as the shorter ones, but the long ones sure are delightful.

If I were to take my own advice, this is such a difficult decision that it should be an easy decision. Can’t really go wrong. But it’s one thing to think like that in theory, and it’s another to think like that regarding specifics. I think, though, I have my mind made up, at least for right now. Do you? I’m interested in how this goes.


22 Responses to “Would You? / Wouldn’t You?”

  1. Logan Davis on November 24th, 2014 3:56 pm

    I would not trade Kuma for Cespedes straight up. Kuma is better, and he’s cheaper, and he has a higher chance of re-upping with the team. He’s also a much better fit for the park. Age doesn’t outweigh all of that for me.

    However. I WOULD strongly consider a swap of Kuma and a secondary piece (perhaps Saunders, Farquhar or Rodney) for Cespedes and Napoli together. Napoli seems like the perfect candidate to address the 1B/DH hole you mention; he’s basically old Evan Gattis. And hey, you think Cano/Cespedes/Seager is fun? Imagine that, but with also another Cespedes.

  2. ck on November 24th, 2014 3:57 pm

    I really like Iwakuma, and what he has given, and hopefully, will continue to give the M’s.

  3. naviomelo on November 24th, 2014 4:07 pm

    Iwakuma and Cespedes each already play where their skillsets are more valuable.

  4. Gomez on November 24th, 2014 4:10 pm

    Questions to consider: How many more years do you expect to get out of Iwakuma? How many do you think you’ll get out of Cespedes?

    In 2015, yes, I think Iwakuma provides the better value. But what about 2016 and beyond?

  5. Eastside Crank on November 24th, 2014 4:21 pm

    Iwakuma has been pitching more than he ever has. It is just a matter of time before he develops arm problems. This would be the time to sell high. I would prefer a centerfielder who can actually hit.

  6. ivan on November 24th, 2014 4:35 pm

    Trade nobody. Outbid everyone else for Tomas. Offseason complete.

  7. Hutch on November 24th, 2014 4:36 pm

    The ~$3 million difference between the two players shouldn’t matter all that much if the team has the payroll capacity they’ve claimed. Unless they’re leaving room for some major addition (Lester, Kemp, etc.) I doubt the team is really going to worry much about that.

    I think it’s pretty much a lateral move, with a reasonable chance that some combination of age/injury history/fringy “stuff” will catch up with Kuma sooner rather than later. There’s a fair amount of good SP options on the market to replace him, while the RH bat options you’re looking at are a bit less appealing (Cruz, all of Kemp’s contract, Morse, etc.) The front office deserves piles of kudos for identifying his value and signing those contracts, but you have to know when to get off the train. As much as I’d like to envision Iwakuma turning into Tom Glavine in his mid-late 30s, that’s not a bet I’m taking.

  8. Liam on November 24th, 2014 5:07 pm

    Iwakuma wants to be here with his family, which is why he was quickly re-signed to his current team friendly contract. Cespedes for Iwakuma isn’t really an upgrade, so having Iwakuma uproot his family doesn’t even make good baseball business sense. Keeping him and possibly signing him to an extension does and has the added personal family benefit to Iwakuma.

    If they want an impact outfielder, next year’s free agent class of Cespedes, Upton, Heyward, Zobrist would be the place to get it. I wouldn’t want to see the Mariners have to double dip, trading to get a Cespedes and then needing to pay the ridiculous amounts of money they’re going to get too.

  9. Jerry on November 24th, 2014 6:17 pm

    I voted no. Iwakuma and Cespedes are both good players, but the difference for me is my belief that Iwakuma could be resigned for a reasonable amount. For some reason, I see Cespedes as a rental. I have no solid proof that that’s the case, its just a feeling.

    One thing Cespedes has going for him: what he does is hard to find and expensive. The M’s COULD trade Iwakuma for him straight up (they are comparable values), and sign a pitcher who is just about as good as Iwakuma (or better, if they wanted to break the bank for Lester).

    There are other Red Sox I’d target first: Allen Craig, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts would be on the top of my list.

    Iwakuma and Paxton for those three?

    Or what about Iwakuma and Paxton for Cespedes, Bradley, and Bogaerts?

    Ok, I’ll shut up.

  10. Westside guy on November 24th, 2014 6:55 pm

    Dammit Jeff, you got me worked up about the Michael Saunders situation again… and in a post that’s not about Michael Saunders, no less!

    I voted no because this org doesn’t seem to know how to manage or evaluate its outfielders, and I fully expect that, somehow, they’d screw up having Cespedes on the roster.

    Also I am irrationally fond of Kuma.

  11. Longgeorge1 on November 24th, 2014 7:15 pm

    Ackley can and has played a credible 1st. Cespedes can DH. So gaining a 1b/DH is not an issue ( I think) Also I think LoMo will probably be the 120 game 1b guy.

    That all said I would keep Kuma, Cespedes will be just a 1year rental and I don’t think Seattle is high on his list of best places to make REALLY big bucks.

  12. billr on November 24th, 2014 8:06 pm

    How healthy will Allen Craig be next year? Would he make a decent DH/1b? Kuma and Saunders for Cespedes and Craig ?

  13. smb on November 24th, 2014 10:14 pm

    I echo Westside guy’s sentiments. Too fond of Kuma to trade him straight up for a guy we’d probably find a way to get less out of than he’s shown historically. Kuma is also a pretty darn good value on his current contract, is he not?

  14. seattlesonsofbaseball on November 24th, 2014 10:19 pm

    A trade involving Kuma and Cespedes isn’t going to happen… I can guarantee it. So any who are concerned over it, don’t let it worry you the slightest. It isn’t happening.

  15. PackBob on November 25th, 2014 2:57 am

    No to a trade because of the domino effect on the rest of the team. I too think that Ackley/Jackson/Saunders are fine for the outfield, and the starting pitching could be a problem even before a trade of Iwakuma.

    Fixing DH is the biggest priority for the team.

  16. Hutch on November 25th, 2014 8:24 am

    Thank you for settling that, seattlesonsofbaseball.

  17. eternal on November 25th, 2014 10:17 am

    Would it be worth it to turn Cespedes into a 1B/DH?

  18. bfgboy on November 25th, 2014 11:49 am

    I see this a foregone conclusion. It is my belief that the only reason it hasn’t been announced yet is because the entire deal is contingent on the M’s signing a solid 2 or 3. It’s all just conjecture on my part, but I see the following going down: M’s sign Brandon McCarthy, trade Kuma and Wihelmsen for Cespedes, Napoli, and cash, Red Sox sign Lester. Craig and Nava slide into the 1B slot vacated by Napoli. BoSox then send Middlebrooks, Bradley, Betts, Joe Kelly, and Brandon Workman to Philly for Cole Hamels.

    There you have it; rosterbation at its finest!

  19. Goodbyfiggins on November 25th, 2014 3:24 pm

    Concerned that Cespedes may be another Milton Bradley.Oakland let him go and Boston is bailing on him…red flag. Hope M’s think.

  20. BennyG on November 25th, 2014 5:19 pm

    I wouldn’t in a 1-for-1.

    I like Kuma a great deal and don’t see the need to move away from him. Now if we signed someone like Lester and then made this move, I might be more ok with it. But not without a reliable #1a type pitcher in the fold.

    I am no Cruz fan, but adding him at least is just adding payroll for potential dingers, rather than getting rid of one our best pieces for a similar-ish value (meaning: adding value to existing value, rather than subtracting X to add X and thus not making an improvement).

  21. Eastside Crank on November 25th, 2014 9:21 pm

    It will be easier for the Mariners to find a pitcher to put up similar numbers to Iwakuma than it will be for them to find an outfielder who can hit. Iwakuma faded in the last month starting in the last week of August to the end of the season. His ERA at Safeco was 3.02 and away it was 4.17. Even though he did have a dominant stretch from the beginning of July to mid-August, he does not really compare to Felix. Center field was a lost position for the Mariners in terms of hitting. An upgrade there would give them the most offense improvement for the outfield. Replacing Saunders is going to be difficult unless the Mariners can find someone who is just as good defensively and can also hit for power and average. Iwakuma alone will not get you that player.

  22. MrZDevotee on November 26th, 2014 3:11 pm

    I tend to agree with Eastside Crank on this…

    You can use “league average” ideas of player value, but to look specifically at the Seattle Mariners, the ability to replace a starting pitcher with a high level player is MUCH GREATER in the M’s system than the ability to insert an above average, middle of the order, right handed outfielder into the lineup.

    In that light, Cespedes is a more valuable commodity to the M’s than Iwakuma.

    Maybe we could think about WAR with a team “multiplier” index, as to need… 1.01 (little need) to 1.20 (high need)… The multiplier would take into account “team need” and “ability to replace player with a different player”

    To the Red Sox, Iwakuma’s multiplier is probably 1.10 or 1.15… To the Mariners his multiplier might be 1.05 to 1.07

    To the Red Sox, Cespedes’ multiplier is probably 1.03 to 1.05, while the Mariners is probably 1.15 to 1.18…

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