This Team…Just..hold on :catches breath: M’s Acquire Drew Smyly for Mallex Smith+Prospects
For the second time in a week, I hit publish on one trade recap and news of another trade hits twitter. If you’ll remember to, oh, a half hour ago or so, I said that the M’s simply couldn’t keep ALL of Mallex Smith, Leonys Martin and Jarrod Dyson – one or two of them had to be traded on. We didn’t need to wait long. Jerry Dipoto’s found his solid #3 starter by acquiring lefty Drew Smyly from Tampa in exchange for Smith, SP prospect Ryan Yarbrough and IF Carlos Vargas.
After a series of trades that seemed to offer questionable upside to the 2017 M’s, it’s nice to see one that I can pretty enthusiastically endorse. The M’s nearly acquired Smyly 5 years ago in the Doug Fister trade; Smyly was rumored to be the PTBNL, but the M’s instead got Chance Ruffin, who retired a while ago. Instead, Smyly came up with Detroit and then moved to Tampa in the first big David Price trade. He worked out of the bullpen in 2013, but has worked as a starter since.
Armed with a low-90s four seam fastball with incredible vertical ‘rise’ and a big curve ball, Smyly was somewhat unheralded as a prospect, but enjoyed some immediate success in Detroit thanks to consistently above-average K- and strand-rates. Upon arriving in Tampa, Smyly targeted the very top of the zone and increased both his K rate as well as his fly-ball rate. He’s the last guy you’d go to if you needed a ground ball, but his 2016 GB rate of 31% is nearly off the charts – only the drain-circling Jered Weaver posted a lower mark among qualified pitchers.
As you might expect, this has brought with it a fairly severe problem with the long ball. His HR/FB rates are just about average, but that’s still problematic if you give up fly balls like Smyly does. He pitched around it in 2015 thanks to the best K rate of his career and a great strand rate. In 2016, though, his strand rate collapsed and that turned a lot of solo HRs into big innings, and his ERA and FIP rose substantially. Of course, even last year, in a sub-par year that saw his turn in the rotation skipped to clear his head, he was worth 2 fWAR. This is a pitcher with an admirably high floor, even if Safeco goes homer-happy again.
If you’ve been a reader here for a while, you probably know that I’m a fan of Smyly’s, and I think I’ve written more about him than most non-M’s pitchers. I’m excited by his production – when healthy – in Tampa, and I think he’s still got some potential to be unlocked. I mentioned it last year, but the cutter he uses against righties was atrocious, and getting a decent third pitch to righties would help him ameliorate his platoon issues. I’m aware of his flaws, but think this is an absolute coup for the M’s, given Smyly was openly being shopped by the Rays and many, many teams wanted him.
So why did the Rays want to move him? The slide last year may have contributed, but so too does his escalating salary. Because he pitched enough innings in Detroit in 2012, Smyly was a super two player, giving him essentially an extra year of arbitration. With raises in arbitration (he prevailed in his arb case last year), he was starting to get…well, not expensive for most teams, but Rays-expensive. The club has shown a willingness to capitalize on their pitchers’ surplus value around this time, as the trade that brought Smyly to Tampa demonstrates. Chris Archer seems to be on the block, and that’s another great example. This time, though, the Rays are giving up *2* years of club control, as Smyly’s arb eligible in 2018, too. That boosted Tampa’s return in trade (though I would’ve made this trade for 1 year), but it’s obviously better for Seattle as well. I’m glad to see that the M’s were able to capitalize in this case, even if I’m not quite sure why Mallex Smith was such an important get for the club that employs Kevin Kiemaier. That’s their problem, of course.
The rest of the package going to Tampa was SP prospect Ryan Yarbrough and IF Carlos Vargas. Yarbrough was just named the Southern League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher after posting a 2.92 ERA and leading the team to a title. That said, he wasn’t seen as the kind of impact prospect that the Rays’ own Brent Honeywell or the Braves’ Sean Newcomb thanks to velocity that’s a bit below average (and which has been somewhat inconsistent across his M’s tenure). He’s got well above-average command, and walks few enough that he’s almost sure to have some sort of MLB career. Still, there are those who see him as a 5th starter at best, and thus he wasn’t included in BP’s 2017 M’s prospect list…a list that mentioned that the team was very short on starting pitching. In any event, the M’s had a very similar player in Andrew Moore, who *also* pitched well at the AA level last year and who is also seen as a back-of-the-rotation candidate. Ryan Yarbrough is not an org-level player, and has some value considering the 6 years of club control the Rays will get. But he wasn’t untouchable, and I’m frankly a bit stunned to see what he produced in trade considering what the M’s got for Luiz Gohara.
Of course, as the return for Gohara became a piece of this deal, it’s better to view them together. Gohara/Yarbrough and stuff for Drew Smyly? I’m more than OK with that.