Would You? / Wouldn’t You?
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.