Dipoto’s First Big Trade: Miller/LoMo -> Tampa; Karns, Powell -> M’s

marc w · November 5, 2015 at 10:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

It’s an easy analogy – the M’s have a glut of young shortstops, making one of them obsolete. Other teams *know* that said SS is on the block, and low-ball the M’s accordingly. But it’s tough finding middle infielders with decent power in 2015, so they eventually yield and make the deal. And thus, a year-plus after dealing Nick Franklin, the M’s have shipped Brad Miller (and Logan Morrison and Danny Farquhar) to Tampa for SP Nate Karns, CF prospect Boog Powell, and reliever CJ Riefenhauser. The M’s hope Karns/Powerr are more useful than Austin Jackson turned out to be, while the Rays hope that THIS M’s SS prospect works out better than Nick Franklin.

The irony isn’t lost on Franklin, the guy who became expendable BECAUSE of Brad Miller, and will now be blocked again thanks to Miller’s arrival. The Rays have all but given Miller the starting SS slot, with last year’s incumbent, Asdrubal Cabrera (himself a former M’s SS prospect who got shipped out because the M’s had Yuni Betancourt locking down SS for a decade), leaving in free agency and Tim Beckham OBP’ing .274 and striking out over 30% of his plate appearances. And that makes sense: Miller’s cheap, and by most statistical measures, perfectly fine at SS and flawed-but-solid at the plate. The M’s front office(s) (both Zduriencik and Dipoto) have decided that Miller won’t be a SS while Ketel Marte and Chris Taylor remain in the org. The Rays remember the M’s view of Erasmo Ramirez, and have decided to take another gamble that the M’s evaluation isn’t exactly rock solid.

As Dipoto himself mentions, this doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. “They addressed needs. We addressed needs, and everyone walks away happy,” Dipoto said to Bob Dutton, who had the initial report on the swap. The M’s didn’t need a super-utility guy whose best profile was SS if they’re going to give the starting job to Marte. Meanwhile, they actually DID need an athletic CF who won’t strike out all the time. Enter Boog Powell. The former A’s farmhand moved to Tampa in the Ben Zobrist deal after a remarkable 2014 that saw the 21-year old get on base at a .450 clip between the Midwest League and Cal League. The average and thus OBP were a bit lower in 2015, split between AA Montgomery and AAA Durham, but he showed a bit more pop than he did in the A’s org. That is a laughably low bar, however. Of Powell’s 90 hits in 2014, only 18 went for extra bases. The 3 HRs are understandable from an undersized speed/defense CF, but the lack of 2Bs and 3Bs was a concern. With Tampa, the 22-year old Powell notched 28 XBH from his 103 total hits, which..that’s not great, but it’s a hopeful sign, especially when considering the difference in league run environment.

The M’s have gone into the past few seasons thinking that SP depth wasn’t much of an issue. They had to send Roenis Elias to Tacoma in April last year, which didn’t go down well with the Cuban lefty. They swapped the out-of-options Erasmo Ramirez to the Rays. The year before, Elias made the club with Hector Noesi in the pen, which pushed Blake Beavan to..OK, bad example. In any event, SP depth has continued to bite them. James Paxton has struggled to stay healthy, and is now taking his customary tour of the AFL to get more innings in. Danny Hultzen has *really* struggled to stay healthy. Mike Montgomery started out brilliantly, but ended the year not in Seattle but in instructs, close to, but not actually a part of the AFL. Jordan Pries, Forrest Snow and, hell, Chien-Ming Wang weren’t able to force their way into the picture. That’s the context in which the M’s made a deal *featuring* righty Nate Karns. If the M’s are able to bring Hisashi Iwakuma back, Karns is fighting for the 5th slot with Elias. Many may see that as a bad return for a guy the Rays believe is a starting shortstop, but it’s an intriguing move for Seattle.

Like many of the Rays, Karns is a straight-over-the-top, rising FB pitcher. His four-seamer averaged over 11″ of vertical movement, making it an extreme fly ball pitch that he’s comfortable throwing up in the zone for whiffs or poor contact. His best pitch is a power curve at 81-83, and with good two-plane break. He’s also working on his change-up, and the pitch may now be within range of league average, after starting out as something of a project. That three-pitch mix enabled the somewhat unheralded Karns to post 1.5 fWAR and 2.6 RA9 WAR for Tampa, using the curve and a willingness to pitch up to rack up impressive strikeout totals.

The downside to all of the elevated fastballs probably isn’t a surprise. Karns has given up 1.42 HR/9 in his brief career, and while he improved on that last year, he still clearly had a HR problem. But just as Miller makes sense in the AL East, especially for a team whose frame of reference for defense was Asdrubal Cabrera, Karns’ weakness should be masked a bit by Safeco and the other coastal parks in the AL West. Of course, you wouldn’t want to run a fly ball pitcher out there with Nelson Cruz and Mark Trumbo in the OF, but that’s where Powell comes in. On paper, the M’s have ticked every box – they reduced K’s offensively, they added to SP depth, and they swapped something of a poor fit for their park for a great one.

But these are the M’s, and they’ve been trading from the same areas of surplus and receiving a bit less in production than they would’ve hoped. For the past two years, the one position the M’s have felt comfortable trading has been the bullpen – they simply had too many arms for too few spots out there, until suddenly their depth vanished thanks to variance and regression. Last year, it was Chris Taylor’s remarkable 2014 that had the M’s ready to entertain offers on Brad Miller, and then Taylor melted in a short big league trial. Brad Miller had the job, then lost it to Chris Taylor and then Marte. The areas teams identify as surpluses have a weird tendency to become areas of need in short order.

That cautionary note aside (and they’re pretty much required for M’s fans), this is a solid deal for the M’s. Forget Miller’s Fangraphs stats. He wasn’t going to play SS here, not while Ketel Marte and Chris Taylor remain. With K% a concern of the new GM, Marte’s elite contact skills and Miller’s…not as elite contact skills made Miller’s ISO advantage irrelevant. Meanwhile, the Rays have Matt Moore AND Alex Cobb AND Drew Smyly coming off of long injury layoffs last year and likely would’ve sent Karns to AAA if those three plus Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi were healthy. Yes, pitchers get hurt, and the Rays know that better than anyone, but the Rays were able to sell high on a righty without an overpowering FB and without a guaranteed rotation spot. I’m sure there are Rays fans upset they couldn’t get more for a cost-controlled, improving-but-already-league-average starter, and if it makes them feel better, despite knowing it was coming, it still stings to trade Miller after his last two sub-par years.

Just as the inclusion of Powell makes this a much more intriguing deal for M’s fans, the inclusion of Logan Morrison makes…ha ha, no, sorry. Morrison is no longer exciting, but he still fits a clear need for Tampa. M’s 1B ranked 28th in baseball last year, thanks in large part to Morrison’s disappointing campaign. But James Loney and the Rays’ first sackers were even worse, finishing 30th out of 30 with a combined 77 wRC+ (the M’s 1Bs managed an 88), while playing worse defense. The Rays have somehow made dumpster diving work in recent years, getting Casey Kotchman’s best year after the M’s cut bait, and then getting what passes for a good Loney campaign before striking out last year. LoMo isn’t much of an upgrade, but it’s the kind of low/no-cost move the Rays have a surprisingly good track record with.

Finally, the clubs swapped disappointing relievers, as Danny Farquhar and CJ Riefenhauser swap places. Farquhar has the better stuff, by far, with plus velo and what looked like great breaking stuff in 2013-14. But Farquhar was absolutely awful last year, and while you imagine the Rays have a few tweaks they’d like to make, Farquhar’s inclusion in this deal isn’t going to trouble M’s fans. Riefenhauser is more of a LOOGY, with a slider-dominant arsenal and a low 3/4 arm slot for his 88-90 MPH fastball. Oddly, Riefenhauser’s been better against righties than lefties recently (small sample alert), which is nice, but made it impossible for the Rays to figure out how to actually use him in games. He and Edgar Olmos will fight it out as strange lefties without well-defined roles.


34 Responses to “Dipoto’s First Big Trade: Miller/LoMo -> Tampa; Karns, Powell -> M’s”

  1. Westside guy on November 5th, 2015 11:32 pm

    So at least one of our defensively-challenged outfielders is already out of the outfield. Hallelujah!

    I’d love to see Trumbo go elsewhere – Hey, Arizona, how about a do-over? – and Cruz at first. But of course everything depends on what Dipoto finds out there, and the off-season is just beginning. One nice thing about the new broom… it’s not beholden to the stuff the old broom felt it had to keep around in hopes of it turning into something useful.

    I expect this off-season is going to be anything but boring!

  2. maqman on November 6th, 2015 5:25 am

    I like it. GM Jerry got stuck in early at rebuilding the team in his image thanks to the FO getting him in place early enough to get ready for the off-season. It will take years for all of the ramifications of this deal to play out so nobody can reliably say if it’s a win/lose/draw deal at this point. I like that we got 17 years of control and only gave up 9 years. I like that we got a 2.2 bWAR rotation arm for the league minimum pay. I like that we have a good, young candidate for CF who has years of control and knows how to take a walk and has some speed. I like that we have another candidate for the bullpen in C.J. Riefenhauser.

  3. Microsoft Zunino on November 6th, 2015 6:14 am

    1) M’s rookie middle infielder X exceeds expectations in second half call up during disappointing season
    2) X penciled into starting lineup for following season
    3) X struggles to adjust as full-time regular, scuffles for remainder of M’s career

    I’m really hoping Jerry and Ketel can break this pattern, but it’s a well-worn pathway by this point.

  4. ck on November 6th, 2015 7:56 am

    GM Dipoto’s first trade is promising ( accepting that trade’s can’t be truly judged for years ) due to M’s excess / weakness that were addressed. LoMo, Trumbo, Cruz, out of options Montero, post-surgical Cano, were many roster spots piled up around First Base this Spring.
    Question: Will Dan Wilson be on M’s Staff this year ? Can he make Montero into a solid back-up catcher ?

  5. Longgeorge1 on November 6th, 2015 8:27 am

    Just as past success does not guarantee future performance it would be nice if past fail……
    Just woke up! It’s the M’s. 1962 Mets + Groundhog Day = Mariners

  6. JMB on November 6th, 2015 10:09 am

    In case you were wondering, as I was… no, this Boog Powell is NOT related to the Orioles slugger of days gone by.


  7. bluemoonking on November 6th, 2015 6:19 pm

    Seems like just the beginning… I like it. Seems like the M’s have a slight edge on this one.

    Is Guti going to be a Mariner come spring?

  8. djw on November 6th, 2015 7:06 pm

    Hmm. Hard to call it anything other than a pretty close to 50/50 trade, but my gut is that I’d rather have kept Miller. I am optimistic about Marte, but a backup plan seems sensible, and Miller seems like a sound candidate for that. (And a good supersub if not needed). Hopefully the HR/FB situation corrects itself.

  9. Woodcutta on November 6th, 2015 11:11 pm

    The problem with Miller wasn’t his offense (although that might be valued more than it should b/c he played/was put at SS) but his defense and mental lapses. His defensive issues, imo, can’t be worked out. They are purely mental at this point and those lapses just can’t happen at the major league level.

  10. djw on November 8th, 2015 7:39 am

    We have ample evidence Miller is a pretty good defensive shortstops. That he muffs easy plays slightly more often than most shortstops is only a small part of his defensive profile, and doesn’t cancel out the rest of it, which includes an above average range.

  11. Eastside Crank on November 8th, 2015 10:24 am

    The other issue with Miller is that he does not hit left handed pitching very well. If he is better served as a platoon shortstop than maybe he was the right one to trade.

  12. heyoka on November 8th, 2015 12:54 pm

    So wait.

    Who plays first base now?

  13. Westside guy on November 8th, 2015 1:45 pm

    Who plays first base now?

    Probably one of Jack Z’s “outfielders” – Cruz or Trumbo. Or Smith. There’s also Montero.

    Jack stocked the roster with first baseman.

  14. casey on November 8th, 2015 3:17 pm

    bit of an exaggeration there – as far as I can tell Jack’s roster stocked with first basemen Cruz and Smith have actually never played first base in the majors, and are clearly outfielders. And Trumbo played a bunch of first base for Angels but has played equal time other places like third and the outfield. More accurate for me would be that the Jack Z team seemed to value power hitting outfielders who were not very good at fielding their postions.

    I’m thinking Trumbo plays first next year unless the new guy sends him packing and then the position is wide open.

  15. Westside guy on November 8th, 2015 4:55 pm

    I prefer the term “hyperbole”. 😀

    But bad outfielders generally do end up at first base, as they age and get worse. I imagine no one has forced the issue with Cruz because keeping him and his bat happy is paramount.

  16. Westside guy on November 8th, 2015 5:02 pm

    Smith actually did put up decent defensive numbers in left field last year.

  17. mrakbaseball on November 8th, 2015 9:05 pm

    One guy who will not be playing first base for the Mariners is Byung-ho Park. The Mariners, according to Heyman, didn’t place a bid at all.

  18. Grayfox3d on November 8th, 2015 10:06 pm

    Why are people still trying to plug Montero in at catcher? and even in a back up roll! I’d say occasional first base/dh…but no way at catcher.

    So far just looking at the trade, and the signing of Robertson, I’m happy, but we shall see how it all pans out.

  19. Westside guy on November 9th, 2015 9:33 am

    Who’s trying to put Montero at catcher?

    … Oh, never mind, I didn’t see that older comment. Hopefully that was tongue in cheek!

  20. djw on November 9th, 2015 7:19 pm

    If Dipoto is remotely competent, he kind find an adequate stop-gap first baseman. (Which could be Trumbo.) I don’t see a problem here.

  21. Sowulo on November 10th, 2015 8:23 pm

    Spring Training is only 106 days away!

  22. casey on November 11th, 2015 5:29 pm

    signed Guti today – thumbs up here – two good deals in a row by my count. Heck I even like Robertson as 4th / 5th outfielder signing but doesn’t really count.

  23. JMB on November 11th, 2015 6:56 pm


    Though I’m not sure why we’re supposedly looking at Brett Gardner.

  24. Notfromboise on November 11th, 2015 9:36 pm

    Brett Gardner gets on base despite the low BA, just a shade under .350 OBP career. Good eye at the plate, and spent 45% of his career at CF, as opposed to SS like most of our CF candidates. Sigh.

    He’s 32 so he’s more of a Seth Smithy short-term answer, but outside of a lost 2012, he’s remarkably durable. He’s logged 145+ games every year since he won a starting job with the Yanks in 2010. Not sure if not getting hurt is a sabermetric stat, but its something.

    Assuming Trumbo spends most his time at first and we chain Cruz to the clubhouse radiator (until he agrees to spend a fraction of his at-bats from the DH spot) there will be plenty of space to fill in the outfield. Boog Powell could earn some of those at bats, but i applaud Dipoto for considering an *actual* outfielder… to play in our outfield.

    Baby steps.

  25. Westside guy on November 11th, 2015 9:52 pm

    Bringing back Guti seems like a no-brainer – but I’m very happy to see he’ll be back!

    I’d love to see Trumbo/Cruz mainly doing 1B+DH, but probably Dipoto has more holes to fill than dollars to spend – so we very well might continue to see Cruz in RF most of the time. But perhaps a rangy CF could make that a little less painful (plus as long as Cruz is mashing, most of us probably won’t complain TOO often…).

  26. heyoka on November 12th, 2015 6:38 am

    Gardner usually rates up there in #Pitches/Plate Appearance. That would be a good asset to have in the line up.

  27. Notfromboise on November 12th, 2015 1:33 pm

    Agreed. Plus you have to consider the M’s are linked to any FA outfielder with a pulse these days.. Upton (yeah, he was so excited to come to Seattle the last time…), Gordon, etc. Take it all with a grain of salt. For the money I’d take Gardner over the other two.

    This just in, Mariners get setup man Benoit from the Padres.

    Dipoto quote :

    “There is still an awful lot of offseason left,” Dipoto said. “I don’t anticipate this will be the last addition we make in our bullpen.”

    Good to hear.

    Downside is Benoit, while he was fab last year in San Diego, is coming into camp at 38 years young. Think Jeff Nelson with 3 pitches and a lot less left in the tank, but its a start!

    I don’t expect Riefenhauser (barring an injury) to even make it past spring training on the big legue club, but Benoit is a keeper, and only cost a couple fringe prospect. God bless the 20 year Padre rebuilding plan.

  28. Woodcutta on November 12th, 2015 2:12 pm

    Benoit also only has one year left on his deal so the long term commitment isn’t there for an aging player.

  29. Longgeorge1 on November 12th, 2015 2:19 pm

    Benoit. 14 years 50 saves/31 BS. 2015 2 saves/ 4BS. San Diego just threw out the trash.

  30. eponymous coward on November 12th, 2015 5:11 pm

    Benoit. 14 years 50 saves/31 BS. 2015 2 saves/ 4BS. San Diego just threw out the trash.

    If you’re primarily used in the 7th-8th inning… you’re not going to have a lot of saves compared to blown saves.


    Oh, look, his lifetime stats show him pitching much more in the 7th and 8th than 9th…

  31. californiamariner on November 12th, 2015 5:12 pm

    Are we really using saves/blown saves to determine the worth of Benoit? I hope that’s some big time sarcasm.

    I’m liking what I have heard about/from Dipoto so far and liking what he’s doing. Should be an interesting offseason to say the least!

  32. eponymous coward on November 12th, 2015 5:16 pm

    For instance:


    33 lifetime saves, 49 blown saves. Pretty much the same as Benoit. Nellie wasn’t a bad pitcher as a bullpen guy, and obviously past performance is no indication of future results as far as Benoit goes, but using save/blown save ratio to determine the value of a guy who can’t usually get the save because he won’t be pitching the ninth inning is misusing the stat.

  33. djw on November 12th, 2015 7:12 pm

    Wow, did someone really use use S/BS ratio to evaluate a reliever who’s not even a closer? For someone we’ve got a thousand innings of real statistics to evaluate? Good grief. I remember when that kind of stuff just wouldn’t fly here.

    He’s obviously a good reliever, but at 7.5 and 38, I’m glad they didn’t give up real prospects.

  34. Westside guy on November 12th, 2015 8:09 pm

    Jef has an interesting piece regarding Benoit over at FanGraphs…


    Looking at his stats, a couple things immediately jumped out at me:

    1) His ERA seems to consistently outperform his xFIP.
    2) i don’t know what the Rays did to him after they acquired him in 2010, but he made a pretty dramatic improvement that season – and it’s stuck.

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