Mariners Swap Luiz Gohara for Mallex Smith/Shae Simmons
The M’s face an uncertain future thanks to an aging core and an ace starter that looked much more common than royal in 2016. That’s led many fans to encourage the M’s to stop *tweaking* the roster and actually overhaul it by bringing in talent, even if that makes them weaker in 2018 and beyond. There are a number of ways to operationalize that sentiment – from opening their wallet for Jose Bautista to trading the farm for a top-name starter. In the past, the M’s were perhaps too fond of their own prospects, and the Zduriencik regime foundered when their hand-picked core of Ackley/Smoak and Montero fizzled out. Jerry Dipoto has now shipped out the M’s #1 and #3 prospects from 2016 this off-season – Alex Jackson earlier and Luiz Gohara today – and received a back-up OF, a LH reliever coming off TJ surgery, and two lower-level SP prospects. The M’s have been ready and willing to deal just about anyone in their system. It’s just that the market isn’t all that interested in what they’re selling.
Luiz Gohara – the recipient of the biggest signing bonus ever given to a Brazilian, and a teenage phenom touching 97 – took a long, long while to get his pro career going. After a few disastrous seasons in Everett where he walked too many and gained a reputation for an inconsistent work ethic, he took a big leap forward last year. His command improved markedly, and he finally passed the Northwest League test and he was able to sustain that success in the Midwest League. He’s been in the US affiliated system since 2013, but he’s still somehow just 20 years old. He capped this past season with a stint as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League. Facing much more advanced hitters, he still held his own, striking out 19 in 11 2/3 IP and averaging 98 MPH with his fastball. Though he’s been named as a potential piece in several trades (most prominently, the rumored deal for SS Zack Cozart), it was pretty evident that he just wasn’t a hugely valuable trade chip given his previous struggles and the sense that his future role was in the bullpen.
So, you’re the M’s, people are telling you to go for it, and you’ve got a SP prospect with elite size and velo and you go to Antiques Roadshow and it’s apparently a fairly recent copy, not an original. Meanwhile, a banged-up Ian Desmond, with dog-chewed shortstop ability, gets enough for several people to retire on. The market is strange, and fickle, and potentially Wrong, but the M’s can’t use Gohara (or Alex Jackson) to get a franchise-changing player. What do you do then? Wait it out, carry Gohara on the 40-man and try and find a SP somewhere? Or just rip the band-aid off and take what you can get if you think it makes the club better? Jerry Dipoto made his mind up, and Gohara will join Alex Jackson in the Braves system.
The return is an odd one, given what we’ve seen in the past week. The headliner coming back is CF/OF Mallex Smith, a former Padres prospect that went to Atlanta in the Justin Upton trade a few years ago. After a brilliant 2015 in the Braves’ system, he played in 72 games at the major league level in 2016, hitting .238/.316/.365 and playing a solid CF. However, he suffered a broken bone in his hand after being hit by a pitch and the Braves seemingly moved on. They acquired Ender Inciarte, then Matt Kemp, and now have IF/OF/UTIL Sean Rodriguez on hand. Smith is a much better defender than any of them, save perhaps Inciarte, but offers less at the plate. A left-handed hitter, Smith is decent against right-handers, and has a very good batting eye, but makes less contact than, say Jarrod Dyson. Little power and less contact means high risk with very little reward.
Dipoto has stressed often that he wanted to make the M’s more athletic, and this latest trade accomplishes that. But just as with Dyson, it’s really hard to see how the specific pieces the M’s picked up fit together, however athletic they are. The M’s now have *three* left handed hitting/righty throwing CFs in Smith, Dyson and Leonys Martin. As I mentioned the other day, it’s already difficult for the M’s to best use Dyson and Martin, which makes how to deploy Smith even more of a challenge. Smith’s ZiPS projection shows a 78 OPS+ batting line, a bit worse than Dyson’s 84, and Dyson’s elite glove might already need to waste its time in an outfield corner. To get full value from an all-glove, not-much-stick outfielder, you need to play them in CF, and the M’s can’t use three lefty CFs, with CFs Guillermo Heredia and Mitch Haniger flanking them. This trade only makes sense if one or more of the M’s CF bounty goes away in yet another trade. I’ve said before that Jerry Dipoto tends to identify a player type and then buy in bulk. That’s probably appropriate/smart when sorting through middle relievers, but when you’re trading fairly interesting pieces for identical – and flawed – CFs, it looks less like strategy and more like OCD.
The second piece is right-handed reliever Shae Simmons, an undersized righty reliever who missed all of 2015 and most of 2016 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. That’s…that’s not encouraging, but I’ll say that I was intrigued by Simmons’ potential since seeing him against the Mariners back in 2014. He throws hard from a lower arm slot and has some gyrospin on his four-seam fastball, which has made it a great ground ball pitch. His slider has extreme sink as well, and gets plenty of swinging strikes. He hasn’t thrown very much of his change-up, but I love the look of it; its serious sink means it could function more like a splitter and work against same-handed hitters (he hasn’t used it that way in his handful of big league innings).
While he’s struck out plenty of righties – and with that solid slider, that doesn’t seem like a fluke – he’s had tremendous success against lefties. Again, tiny sample, and LHB’s BABIP is under .150, so it sure *looks* like good luck, but there’s something more interesting in his splits: lefties just can’t hit the ball in the air off of him. That held true in A ball and in AA, and his stuff seems likely to get GBs in the future.
I’m glad the M’s got Simmons, who’s probably undervalued after pitching all of 6+ big league innings in the past 2 years, but that doesn’t make this deal any easier to understand. The M’s themselves say that they need a SP and a LH reliever. Others would argue that they need to upgrade their offense. Over the past week, the M’s have almost certainly traded some amount of offense for improved OF defense – and it’s cost them the club’s best pitching prospect and a SP with a modicum of upside in Nate Karns. I appreciate the willingness to push their chips in and attempt to improve the 2017 club, but the execution of that improvement looks bizarre at this point.