Mariners, Rangers Reconfigure Outfield and Bullpen Piles
I have a rather uncanny knack for having my regularly-scheduled, irregularly-posted contributions here usurped by major deals or trades that have come to fruition without our prior awareness. Thus, it came to pass that Monday, the Mariners traded with Texas to acquire outfielder Leonys Martin and right-hander Anthony Bass while sending way once-closer Tom Wilhelmsen, stolen base prodigy James Jones, and a PTBNL who I can only assume is a man between the ages of eighteen and forty who has two thumbs and likes baseball a lot. You, friend, may be the player to be named later!
Over the week in which DiPoto has been in charge, we’ve seen moves made in an attempt to remake the team in his own image and philosophies. Whether or not this is a side effect of going mad with power after being released from the perpetual tutelage of one Mike Scoscia, the general idea has been an emphasis on playing more to the uniqueness of Safeco by emphasizing flyball pitching, plus defense, and on-base percentage to compensate where power may be less viable (rather unlike the previous attempts to get bury-the-needle levels of power that would overcome whatever circumstances). Martin helps to tick off the second category and, despite OPS generally below .700 for his career, he’s nonetheless been a positive WAR contributor by virtue of his excellent defensive skills.
One of the remarks made in the presser and by sports pundits afterward is that, while Martin had a down year last season, expecting him to bounce back isn’t outside reason. The offensive skillset the Cuban employs is primarily based on speed and contact and more rarely getting one into the gaps. Since his BABIP last year was below .300, uncharacteristic of his profile, one could be convinced that some positive regression is in order. Cruz and Bogar, who have both been around Martin, have vouched for his abilities, and familiarity with him in his better years makes rebound probable. Since very little of his game was about power, he likely won’t suffer much in Safeco. As for his position in the batting order, I would guess that with the discussion of OBP, we’re likely still looking tentatively at Marte leading off and Martin will serve to lengthen the lineup down at around 8 or 9.
The trade makes sense to me in the same way that the Austin Jackson trade made sense. From a player development and acquisition standpoint, the Mariners have long neglected their outfield depth, necessitating deals for such trivia question answers as Eric Thames and Trayvon Robinson and mercenary lummoxes-for-hire like Mike Morse. Even as outfielders started to be prioritized again, few have been viable everyday centerfield candidates and Braden Bishop, who would appear to be the best bet internally, is at least three years off. Martin helps us bridge the gap and provides a plus defender so that we aren’t shifting the burden directly on Boog Powell and an out-of-options Ramon Flores, whom I would tentatively pencil in as the back-up outfielder at this point.
Anthony Bass’ role might be defined less concretely as a member of the pile of limited material definition. One presumes that someone in the organization is familiar with him insofar as we’re again trading for a former Padres. Bass was a starter in the minors up through 2013 and in the majors has been a reliever with a three-pitch arsenal of fastball, slider, and change with velocity sitting in the low 90s. He’s a pitch-to-contact groundballer who probably walks a higher percentage than you might be comfortable with given the lower strikeouts. In the grander scheme of things, Benoit likely fills the higher-leverage roles that Wilhelmsen had and Bass will sop up innings in lower-leverage situations.
Within the larger organizational scheme, Bass helps the bullpen now while being a potential piece going forward. As noted in the 40-man preview, what with the perpetual trading away of relief resources, the Mariners are a bit thin on bullpen contributors in the near term. Farquhar and Leone are gone. Carson Smith is still here and a bit erratic. Guaipe hasn’t looked like an asset. Zych could be. And then there are guys like Jose Ramirez and Cody Martin… The situation isn’t great. Bass as a tertiary piece is useful, but he could end up being secondary or primary depending on how things shake out. In the interim, I would imagine that DiPoto is still looking to shore up the bullpen before February.
In trading Wilhelmsen, the Mariners lose one of their better arms from the bullpen and their best dancer (as far as I know). Tall Tom from Tucson had a rebound year for the Mariners in which he eventually helped solidify the back end of the bullpen while Fernando Rodney’s arrows went errant and struck hapless passers-by. He had the look of the Tom Wilhelmsen that had been so fun to watch in 2012, but as we’ve repeatedly noticed and hopefully learned, bullpen commodities can be volatile and a frequent reminder of the vagaries of chance and fate we are often oblivious to. For the Rangers, Wilhelmsen is the centerpiece, but they aren’t exactly buying low as the second-half of 2015 did a lot to repair his reputation. The roles Wilhelmsen played for the Mariners bullpen can be delegated to Benoit and others, but having that level of versatility in a single pitcher is a boon to any bullpen.
Of James Jones, there may be less to say other than Chris Gwynn is still somewhere, smiling about his reaching the majors as a position player and not a pitcher. The reality is that Jones’ elite speed and arm strength have not translated to good defensive play. In the minors, he played almost exclusively right field. For whatever stock you put into defensive metrics, the ones Jones has supplied to Fangraphs have stink lines rising up from them. If Rangers fans are interested, I can note that after having perennial issues with strikeouts, Jones ran close to an even K/BB in the minors this year. Whether he has the requisite power to keep pitchers honest is another matter, but there is at least a reason to think that his offense may eventually not be abysmal, as you wait for the defensive improvements that may or may not come.
This is another one of those trades that made sense for both parties involved. The Mariners improved their outfield depth significantly while losing some bullpen depth, the Rangers did the opposite, but one could argue that with the acquisition of Benoit, and even considering the loss of Farquhar, the Mariners had ability to maneuver in the bullpen whereas plus gloves in centerfield were probably going to be harder to come by. About as much as I have for summary is that DiPoto has wasted little time in restructuring the team. While I haven’t been elated by any of the moves, they’ve seemed like potential net positives in each case. We absolutely needed a centerfielder for at least the next three years, probably more than we needed a reliable arm in the bullpen, so I think that the early opinion favors Mariners on this one. Getcher warmed-over, next-day’s-breakfast takes, right here.