A Hater’s Guide to the Recent Trade

Jay Yencich · July 21, 2017 at 4:54 pm · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues 

One probably shouldn’t write analysis while still somewhat angry, although that’s what I find myself doing as a means of processing. In the hours following this morning’s trade, I’ve had a lot of back and forth with fellow fans, so I thought I might take the opportunity to share my thoughts since I technically have a platform to do so. I want to disclaim at the outset a few things that I think will help clarify my position a little. One is that I have been a Tyler O’Neill fan since he was drafted and regard him as a player who has a high potential to be Fun and this trade has depleted important Fun reserves. We all overvalue our own assets, particularly relative to what’s previously unknown to us, and time is necessary develop a coherent assessment that isn’t tinged with our own personal fondness. The second is that I don’t at all intend this as an attack on Gonzales, whom I hope does well. My problem with this trade tends to be more around the philosophies behind it.

A good starting point for commentary here would be Dave’s piece at FanGraphs, which has some important information I’d like to borrow. This trade, as Dave identifies, is part of a larger constellation of trades that has involved far too many pitchers: Miranda, de Jong, Bergman, Weber, and guys that are no longer even in the organization like Overton and Heston. Another helpful point I’d like to point to is that DiPoto admits to his involvement with the trade market and how the demand for pitching, with a good many teams clustered around the wild card standings, has resulted in a situation where you have a seller’s market. It’s easy to say we should go out and knock on our interleague rival’s doors and ask what they might need in exchange for Cahill or Chacin, but harder still to come up with something that works as a solution because so are maybe a dozen other teams of various strengths who are similarly making calls in their Sunday best. In this sense, it’s good that we saw one of DiPoto’s favorite qualities, team control, crop up in this particular exchange, as I think a lot of us would be more miffed if we were going all in and giving up prospects for impending free agents, especially since we follow a team with an aging core.

The Mariners in their present, healthy configuration don’t appear to be all that bad, or at least not so bad that making moves looks necessarily foolish. The team has been strong on offense and most of its liabilities there, Martin, Vogelbach, Gosewich, are no longer with the club nor necessarily expected to help in the stretch run. The value we’ve gotten from pitching, however, is of a far different nature and our position is more to hope and pray that the same guys we used in April and May are not integral to our playoff chase. As Greg Johns noted, the team has used a historic number of pitchers so far, breaking established team records, and we’re not even into August yet. Thus, while on average, our pitching looks pretty vulnerable, those averages are also dependent on guys that are not on the team right now, your Hestons and your Overtons and your Fiens. The superficial take is that it’s Paxton + maybe good Felix again? + Vincent/Diaz + mooks, but it’s not really as bad as all that and we appear to have gotten into something more stable that could also be productive. That being said, it’s not wrong to want to look around and try to come up with someone who isn’t Sam Gaviglio to start every fifth day.

The philosophical problems I have with this is the general sensation that we’re trying to throw good money after bad. The team was interesting enough coming out of the offseason, as we expected Smyly to solidify the rotation and maybe we’d get bounce-backs elsewhere and Paxton would figure out his stuff. Paxton has been pretty rad, but otherwise our luck has been terrible. Not only did Smyly’s injury leave us scrambling (the injury to Shae Simmons shouldn’t be undersold either, even if it’s not something we pay much lipservice to), what options we’ve had to replace him and others have done as much harm as good. If any of these pitchers had managed to contribute at a competent level, we probably wouldn’t have to make this trade today. Mind you, even with the rep as a minor league analyst, I don’t have as much of an issue with the Zach Littell for James Pazos trades as long as they contribute, what I take issue with are the trades that resemble Enyel de los Santos for Joaquin Benoit. From my vantage, we’re giving away good assets in an attempt to patch over bad luck. All playoff teams need good breaks in order to get where they’re going, but buying at a premium to offset a series of bad breaks doesn’t seem to be the right way to go, particularly when the market has already set its own premiums.

Beyond the rather curious use of internal resources, there’s the matter of trying to evaluate O’Neill versus Gonzales in their respective prospect statuses. O’Neill is very much a boom or bust prospect who has been booming lately. He’s often been portrayed as one-dimensional for that by outside evaluators, a guy who is going to be striking out a lot and maybe get you some longballs in exchange. He could be anything from a middle of the order hitter who plays competent defense for a slugger to a guy that you keep as a platoon hitter whom you sometimes use as a pinch-hitter and cross your fingers. What Gonzales provides you is more stable, in theory, because pre-injury he was regarded as a potential plus #3 starter, but those qualifiers are awfully important. Gonzales has already had Tommy John surgery, and while a version of Tyler O’Neill that doesn’t reach his potential can still be somewhat useful, a version of Gonzales that is injured and unable to pitch is not.

Furthermore, the Cardinals will be getting three option years with which to figure out what they need to do with O’Neill and are in no rush to get him into the lineup. Last I checked, Gonzales is out of options after this year and if his recovery or the development of a viable breaking ball takes some time, it’s something that we’d have to let him do in the major leagues. This doesn’t even touch on the likelihood that we will have to use him soon while simultaneously trying desperately not to overwork him and screw up his arm again. I’d like to hope that this year has helped demonstrate the virtues of patience in player development, as there’s only so much you can teach a guy who is trying to help you win games now.

The Mariners were operating under a series of constraints both internal and external. They’d had bad luck in the major leagues, a farm system that has ranked in the bottom third for a long time, and needed pitching at a time when pitching was going to go for a premium. In light of this, they still decided to send off one of their more interesting assets in a swap of skillset risk for injury risk. That’s not an exchange I feel terribly confident in us coming ahead on, and it’s telling that even with a farm system that rates ahead of ours, most flash analysis put O’Neill higher internally with the Cardinals than Gonzales is rated with us.


4 Responses to “A Hater’s Guide to the Recent Trade”

  1. Westside guy on July 21st, 2017 8:41 pm

    That was pretty well thought out for a supposed angry rant, Jay.

  2. HighBrie on July 22nd, 2017 11:12 am

    I think its a reasonable rant. I’m just curious if you think there *was* a more productive way forward for Dipoto, or if they were better off just standing pat and waiting for the offseason to try to leverage O’Neill for a trade target with better options, health, and ceiling than Gonzales? Do you think the Dipoto mantra of finding pitchers with athleticism, good control, and the ability to generate weak contact (that the team can then control for a number of years) is a flawed strategy, or merely that he is not able to identify those pitchers that are undervalued (either because it is the nature of dumpster diving to fail, or because the traits he’s scouting are repeatable/predictive)? Or, has he also been unlucky? I guess I understand you to say that this is bad process. What does good process look like?

  3. leftfield limey on July 22nd, 2017 2:33 pm

    Must say while I agree largely with the direction Jerry has taken the club, I don’t see the point of this trade. It does not look likely Gonzales will help much this year and he looks like the kind of pitcher you would be able to pick up in the rule 5 draft. After Smyly’s demise and the cost of pitching that will make a difference at the deadljne my thoughts were the Ms pitching will need to fluke a good run to make the playoffs and the Ms simply do not have enough assets to bring in someone who can move the needle. I still feel the same but now no O’Neill. Admittedly I am a fan of O’Neill and know he might not make it but what he does have which the Seattle system (and Gonzales) sorely lack is upside. I am not sure the process here is sound.

  4. don52656 on July 23rd, 2017 9:02 am

    I agree that this is a well-reasoned response to the trade, but I’d like to add a couple of points…first of all, the rankings of minor leaguers in a system are almost completely based on the possible ceiling and are less-focused on the likelihood of success. So while O’Neill may have a higher ceiling than Gonzales, his chances of failure are probably judged by DiPoto as quite a bit higher. Of course, this argument is counterbalanced by the increased chance that any pitcher will get injured and never reach his potential, and indeed Gonzales has already proven susceptible to this. Second, fans (and analysts, I think) tend to regard power, both in hitting and pitching, very highly. O’Neill certainly has power, but he has struggled to hit with much average. Even with his recent hot streak, his average continues to be below .250. It’s very possible that his ceiling turns out to be similar to Chris Carter, a very-powerful batter who actually led the NL in HRs last year and yet was recently released and just signed with Oakland. Third, who was O’Neill going to displace in the lineup? This is his second year in AAA and it seems to me that our OF is in reasonably good shape with young, cost-controlled players, not only in Seattle but throughout the system. While it may be fair to criticize the return for Tyler O’Neill, it seems to me that we traded from strength a player who is reasonably questionable to succeed in the majors for a player who may not be as sexy, but who offers a better chance to contribute to a team that sorely lacks MLB quality starters. Whether Gonzales was the best potential starter we could have gotten is debatable, but what seems clear is that we traded what we have plenty of to pick up something we don’t have much of, and I think I’m okay with that.

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