More Thoughts Than You Need on That Trade

Jay Yencich · July 27, 2017 at 3:18 pm · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues 

Being of a somewhat ruminatory disposition without the requisite number of stomachs to make that useful, the trade of last Friday has remained stuck in my craw. I’d like to use a new, off-day post, then, to address some comments that came up in the original post, because visibility and all sorts of marketing buzzwords that belie the fact that I haven’t been paid to do this in years.

One comment that came up was that we have the appearance of an outfield that looks fairly set with young cost-controlled players, ergo, who would be displaced? Were we not trading from one position of strength into an area of dearth? I mentioned some of my misgivings with that type of analysis earlier, specifically that Gonzales (who again, I’m not here to trash) has no options remaining after this year and still has some endurance and breaking pitch repertoire questions which he would invariably have to answer in the major leagues on a competing team rather than in a lower-stress, controlled environment.

But to speak more specifically to the point of “where would we put O’Neill?”, this is the type of question that needs to be answered with an assessment of what we have. It goes without saying (but here I go saying anyway) that to assess the strength of one position area, the outfield, is going to present different roster construction issues than those that led us to trade away Jason Vargas and Doug Fister because we had a bunch of high-quality pitching prospects on the way of which only Paxton remains. However, one ought to be careful not to overvalue present configurations. For one thing, we need a center fielder. Dyson is effectively a rental, we may never see Leonys Martin again (we may though!), and Guillermo Heredia will likely remain a fun player but not exactly a starting CF on a contender. Both Gamel and Haniger can fit in CF and have done so in the past. It’s not perfect, but it does allow you to maneuver an O’Neill into a corner without much loss as he’s a pretty decent defender on his own there. If it doesn’t work right away, you still have three option years! Neat!

As a corollary to this point, we ought to be careful not to overvalue our major league assets simply because they’re in the majors. Haniger has had a small sample size of success where he remade his swing going into this year. I would argue that what we’ve seen of him slumping (hey, his OPS is still better than former RotY contender Andrew Benintendi) is probably brought about by the oblique issue he had more than any other physical deficiencies, but we should bear in mind that nailing down swing mechanics may only be slightly less difficult than nailing down pitching mechanics and once muscle memory gets involved, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Haniger will have to work hard when/if he puts the oblique issue behind him to get back on track again. To speak to Gamel, he’s been great so far. My mom even knows his name and uses it to try to talk to me about baseball and I don’t know that she’s been able to recognize anyone post-Ichiro. But Gamel also is running a .420 BABIP right now and there are risks involved. I could tell you about the troubles of expecting long-term positional security based off a sample size even of a year, but you should know this. After all, I am speaking to Mariners fans.

The tertiary point that I want to bring in was really the one that I came for, which is that if I’m setting myself as being against the “trade volatile upside for more modest, predictable returns,” then what exactly is the alternative that I’m proposing as a course of action. I do believe that constantly emphasizing something resembling safety is a quick way to get you a roster which will yield you regular season wins and a post-season whooping, but I really want to take a look at this in terms of the field of DiPoto’s transactions so far.

Not all trades are going to burn us. Sending Elias and Smith for Miley and Aro ended up being okay because we spun Miley off into Ariel Miranda and Smith has been hurt. Trading away two rookie league pitchers for Ben Gamel, whatever he is going forward, looks smart now. I still like the trade in the offseason with Arizona. It doesn’t immediately look like Chase de Jong for Drew Jackson and wild thing Aneruys Zabala is going to be the subject of lament. The results have sucked with Smyly, but the process made sense. However, when you give volume away and scatter your talent over a number of transactions, you’re going to get burned eventually.

Carlos Herrera and Freddy Peralta got us the frustration that was a season of Adam Lind. We turned Enyel de los Santos into Drew Storen after an intermediary period of Joaquin Benoit, and then decided we weren’t going to keep Storen. Zach Lee for Chris Taylor didn’t look bright even when Taylor was still only a competent defender who could control the zone. Chris Heston sort of turned into Tyler Herb and it’s debatable which would have been better to start. Alex Jackson and Tyler Pike turned into Max Povse and Rob Whalen. Jason Goldstein was flipped for Dillon Overton. And now, in a higher profile move, we have O’Neill for Gonzales. MLB trades are not Baseball Mogul or name-your-simulator where you can send off an amount of “stuff” that reaches a certain threshold and, bam, here’s your good player. However, you can look at other recent transactions like what the Royals did with the Padres a few days ago to get Cahill and more or even the Twins getting Jaime Garcia and wonder about the differences in return. Odds are, if we had kept certain talents for longer and developed them more, we would now be in a position to make a good trade that would damage our farm system but give us a more certain short-term contributor without emptying us out completely. If you’re committed to trading guys off to improve your team regardless, you may as well target good players as opposed to several different versions of something that you can hope patch the back end of the rotation.

To return to my earlier quip of last week’s post about sending good money after bad, it’s a lot of talent that we’ve sent away, mostly for potential back-end starters but also the occasional first base project and veteran relievers for added stability. Last night over twitter feeds, there came Ken Rosenthal’s rather dour prediction of a Sonny Gray trade to the Mariners that included another needle: ““I’ve never gotten it,” one rival executive says. “It feels like he has made 348 trades to turn a .500 team into a .500 team.”” Like most snappy and strongly-worded opinions built on hyperbole, it’s not accurate, but neither is it entirely false. It’s been a risk-averse approach that leaves us hoping to occasionally find a diamond and then sending more resources away when we fail to get that diamond. I can’t help but think that if we had just stood by our resources over the past several years rather than compulsively making transactions, we would have enough now to pick Gray and Alonso or your trade of choice without totally wrecking our future outlook. Instead, we may make a desperation move that will leave us without rebuilding materials once our window closes. That’s not the type of process that I find comforting.


11 Responses to “More Thoughts Than You Need on That Trade”

  1. HighBrie on July 27th, 2017 5:08 pm

    My main question to you is whether you think a) Dipoto’s strategy is wrong (e.g., we shouldn’t sell prospects for short term gains); b) his identification of useful pitching prospects is systematically flawed (too much mediocre cost-controlled pitching for good prospects; c) or that he is stuck in a suboptimal situation and is prepared to accept a fairly high amount of risk (failure) in trying to build an athletic team around the aging core and shop for bargains in the starting pitching market? It could be none of the above, but if it is some version of C, what should we have done differently? Is it a problem of identifying talent, or some other issue?

  2. Jay Yencich on July 27th, 2017 5:44 pm

    I’ll try to respond to these various points as I can.

    a) I don’t think that DiPoto is necessarily trying to sell prospects for short-term gain or at least what he’s doing can’t be typified so easily. He seems to value continued team-control, like us having Phelps for a couple of years and Segura, initially, for a couple of years, and having Gonzales for ~six years. What I would say is that he often trades prospects whose value is limited because they don’t have long track records for players who have more established track records but a more modest ceiling. Out of all the trades we’ve seen DiPoto make, the one that attempts to ACQUIRE more long-range, lower-level prospects of boom or bust potential, has not been common among them.

    b) It’s hard to claim a systemic thing because we’re working with something that I don’t properly know how to evaluate right now. DiPoto’s front office more than any other seems to talk about “spin rate” of a fastball which can lead to a perceived velocity that’s better than actual velocity. I don’t know right now whether that will catch on as a thing, but Andrew Moore had it, and Brandon Miller had it before we traded him, and it’s talked about in terms of our system more than I ever hear elsewhere. The other identifiable “quirk” is getting flyball pitchers and hoping that putting them in Safeco can mitigate some of the damage, which isn’t necessarily wrong, but you’re not going to take a borderline pitcher from a hitter’s paradise and turn him into an ace pitching half his games in Safeco because stuff doesn’t really work out like that. All that being said, the flyball thing has been something that we’ve drawn on mostly with the marginal acquisitions anyway, extra bullpen arms, rotation depth, and for as much as I hate the situation we’re presently in, I can hardly claim that DiPoto expected to be using all the pitchers he has. Smyly and ‘Kuma getting long-term injured really messed up the depth chart projections.

    c) It does seem that we are stuck in a cycle where we’re trying to build around an aging core while hoping for success elsewhere, which is what DiPoto inherited but it remains troubling to me as I remember the Gillick years and remember that once that window was up, we had a front office that wasn’t eager to actually rebuild and nothing to rebuild with. Thus we keep getting into these cycles where we’re not bad enough to sell or lack the assets to make selling meaningful, or we’re not good enough and lack the resources to buy. The current state of the front office reminds me of the Gillick era except that instead of punting development by signing free agents and never having adequate picks or smart selections, we’re refusing to sign high-end FA and then maneuvering what draft picks we develop into for trades for some gold but mostly dross and commonly before we’ve developed a good read on what they can or ought to be. Two different routes to the same bottom third farm system. Personally, I think that we would do better to 1) spend more time on development and not be in a rush to trade every low-level lotto ticket we encounter and 2) consolidate so that as we develop talent, we use more of it for bigger trades rather than scattering it among lower impact targets in one-for-ones.

  3. HighBrie on July 27th, 2017 6:12 pm

    Thanks a lot Jay for the thoughtful answer. I’m with you in your takeaway points.

  4. deflated on July 27th, 2017 9:00 pm

    I’d say thanks for a nice piece of analysis but that Rosenthal article is too depressing. Reading the KATOH top 100 on Fangraphs; O’Neill is ahead of all remaining Mariners prospects. The current team does not feel good enough to contend and there doesn’t seem to be much of a future either.

  5. Steve Nelson on July 27th, 2017 9:22 pm

    The narrative when Bavasi swapped Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez, is that Bavasi rather suddenly made the deal with the Braves, without letting other teams know that Soriano was available. Which led to some stunned reactions about how little the Mariners received. IIRC, one team (perhaps the Red Sox?) commented that if they had known Soriano was available they would have offered something better than Ramirez.

    With Jerry D, though, we know that his index finger has an itch and the only thing that can scratch it is more calls to other GMs. So I think we can be sure that, unlike with Soriano, every team in MLB knew that the Mariners were willing to deal O’Neill. If that’s the case, then the Mariners must have had a good sense of what return they could get for O’Neill, and that Marco Gonzalez is a reasonable proxy for the upper level of the value assigned to O’Neill by other MLB teams. The specifics of an actual deal could be shaded by the Mariner’s FO preferences. Perhaps there were other offers for lower level prospects, flawed but with greater upside. Or maybe some team was willing to offer a middling 24th or 25th man off their roster, with several years of control remaining and an established level of mediocre performance.

    But at that point we’re just quibbling over nuances. It seems to me that Tyler O’Neil simply wasn’t very highly prized as a prospect by other MLB organizations. And if that is the value that MLB assigns to the #2 prospect in the Mariners, that says much about the state of the Mariners minor league system.

  6. borris_g on July 28th, 2017 7:23 am

    The point for me is that if O’Neill was not valued by other organizations and Marco Gonzales was the best offer you got, then Dipoto should not have traded him. He could have waited for O’Neill to increase his value with more time and better results at AAA or keep him for the future.
    There wasn’t a mandate to trade him for the best offer, if it is not good enough just don’t do it.

  7. Steve Nelson on July 28th, 2017 10:18 am

    Or the Mariners felt that he was being appropriately valued in the market. The Mariners should be more familiar with him than any other team, and they may have felt that his stock wasn’t going to get any higher.

  8. deflated on July 28th, 2017 10:24 am

    Yeah, no reason to trade him if the market isn’t there. O’Neill still has a chance (15-35%?) to be a useful regular OF. Gonzalez at this point has a lower chance to become a useful SP.

    After 15 years of the Mariners struggling to mediocrity only to fall back to the basement it would be nice to think we can break the cycle at some point. Trading potential for depth just keeps the fuels the cycle.

  9. marc w on July 28th, 2017 11:50 am

    Steve said, “and that Marco Gonzalez is a reasonable proxy for the upper level of the value assigned to O’Neill by other MLB teams.”

    That seems like it ought to be true, but I’m not sure it is. I don’t think the real issue is with how the league valued O’Neill – i think the issue is how Dipoto values Gonzales, and other pitchers like Gonzales. We’ll never know what options Dipoto, and you’re right that I’m sure every team knew they could get O’Neill if they wanted. But I just have my doubts that most GMs would look at the list, pick up the injury-riddled command guy and say, “That’s the one.”

  10. marc w on July 28th, 2017 11:51 am

    “Carlos Herrera and Freddy Peralta got us the frustration that was a season of Adam Lind.”

    And the headliner of that deal was SP Daniel Missaki, a guy I always liked, but who had TJ surgery in late May/early June of 2015 and doesn’t seem to have picked up a baseball since. Hope he’s OK.

  11. LongDistance on July 28th, 2017 11:59 am

    Sitting and watching, and watching, and wondering. Bad wonderings if things weren’t done because they should, but just because they could. Mid season doldrums with a team doing Brownian Motion around .500, unfortunately, it seems, always one below rather than one above. One beer too many at the local sports bar has me having the same burn-and-churn reactions with the peripherals. That isn’t comforting.

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