Mariners Acquire Seth Smith, Obviously
There was a time, not long ago, the Mariners were openly content with going into next year with Brad Miller as a part-time outfielder. There was a time, not long ago, Glacier National Park projected to keep having a bunch of glaciers in it. Situations change, and as the Mariners came to terms with Miller as an outfielder, the Padres traded for all the other baseball players, which left some players on the outside looking in. The Padres made this easy. They showed the Mariners the way. The Mariners just had to go for a walk.
Having acquired Justin Ruggiano, the Mariners were poised to have a right-field platoon. All they needed was an opposite-handed willing member of a right-field platoon. Transcript of a front-office conversation:
Mariners executive: just about done
Mariners executive: all we could use now is a Seth Smith-type
Other Mariners executive: I have an idea
This became stupid obvious. Everyone knew it and there was no sense in denying it. The one hurdle is that the Padres had promised Smith they wouldn’t trade him back when they gave him a contract extension, but, those were different Padres, with different players under different management. This Padres front office didn’t make that Padres promise, so in the end, the Padres turned Seth Smith into Brandon Maurer, and the Mariners turned Brandon Maurer into one of these guys:
Maurer, of course, isn’t a nothing sacrifice. Yeah, it felt like the ship sailed in terms of his being a starter here. Yeah, the Mariners have a lot of pretty good relievers, and it’s generally not too difficult to accumulate more of them. The Mariners traded from depth. But in the bullpen, you like to have depth, especially hard-throwing young depth under team control for a while. Maurer last year, as a reliever, had 38 strikeouts and five walks, and two of those walks were intentional. Strikes and missed bats are all the ingredients you need to be good for an inning.
But if you figure the Mariners can survive losing Maurer, this is an exchange of a reliever for a semi-regular position player. As a rule of thumb, that’s the sort of deal you can support. Maurer isn’t a proven elite relief arm, and Smith can play a lot, and he’s under control for a few years. He doesn’t do much against lefties, but that’s why Justin Ruggiano exists. Seth Smith plays outfield defense like you’d expect from a guy whose name is Seth Smith, but that doesn’t mean he’s a liability. It means he’s uninteresting. Outfield defense can be a lot worse than uninteresting.
Really, you don’t need a bunch of numbers here. What does Smith do? He hits pretty well against righties. Is that a proven, sustainable skill? Well, you can never tell the future, but he’s been doing it for a while. His contract is reasonable and he’s not yet in his later 30s. He’s always hit enough, and eventually he’ll reach a point where that isn’t true anymore, but he should be fine in the short-term future in which the Mariners are a big-time contender. You don’t need to worry about his transitioning to a pitcher-friendly ballpark — Safeco isn’t Petco, specifically, but Safeco is Petco, generally. Smith’ll survive. Let me take that back. Indications are strong that Smith’ll survive. If he doesn’t, welp. Anyone can do anything, in a good way and a bad way.
As far as the roster is concerned, you figure things are just about complete. Bullpen’s stocked. Rotation’s stocked. Lineup’s stocked. Only thing missing from the bench is a right-handed corner-infield type, someone who looks a lot like a decent version of Jesus Montero. The Mariners might now believe they possess a decent version of Jesus Montero. If not, maybe they’ll get someone else, in a trade or as an NRI. I expect that Montero will be given an opportunity in March, as impossible as that would’ve been to believe last September.
Maybe the most interesting thing here is what it could mean for Brad Miller. God knows the most interesting thing isn’t Seth Smith. Miller, fortunately, is still Mariners property. They’ve gotten this far in the offseason keeping that the case. As things stand, Miller and Chris Taylor will compete for the starting shortstop job in spring training. The loser presumably heads to Triple-A. That feels like something of a concern, given that both Miller and Taylor project to do well in the season ahead, but, one thing the Mariners haven’t had a lot of is depth. Two potentially good shortstops increases the probability that you end up with one actual good shortstop, and there are also potential injuries, and cases of under-performance, and whatnot. It’s not a bad thing to have Miller or Taylor available in Tacoma. There doesn’t have to be a rush, and this way, midseason adversity would be a little less likely to be a significant problem. And this way, nothing changes about the chance of Miller becoming a long-term center fielder. The Mariners still like him as a possible outfielder. This just means he’s not an outfielder, in Seattle, at the start of next season.
Because of Seth Smith. Welcome, Seth Smith, perhaps the least surprising Mariners acquisition since Nelson Cruz, which I guess was hardly any amount of time ago. The Mariners have attempted a lot of fairly predictable things. They’ve pulled off a few of them. None of them have been dreadful, and the end(ish) result is a team that looks about as good as any other team in the league. Seth Smith does little to alter anything in a major way, but there was a piece missing from the puzzle, and the Mariners slid in the appropriate and recommended puzzle piece, from the box. That’s what you’re supposed to do, but you still feel a little buzz when you get the right pieces to fit.