Game 80, Orioles at Mariners – Counterfactuals

marc w · June 21, 2019 at 5:14 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Mike Leake vs. Paul Fry/Sean Gilmartin, 7:10pm

A few days ago, some folks were musing on what the Mariners would look like if they somehow missed out on Felix. Take away one of the only redeeming qualities of some painful M’s teams, and what do you have? Is it even really baseball at that point? Living through 2010-2014 was tough, but at least Felix was a light in the darkness. We also fell hard for some prospects who didn’t quite pan out, so presumably in addition to the near-term hopelessness, we’d have had our medium-to-long-term hopes dashed repeatedly enough to be as cynical as…well, as cynical as I am now.

But wait, said PNW Vagabond: maybe the team would’ve been better. Heresy! I thought, but then he pointed out that without Felix in 2006, the M’s may not have felt close enough to the division lead to perform their two-step, self-inflicted disaster of trading Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera for nothing much. And without that, they probably don’t pull the trigger on the Bedard deal a year later. What would the team look like in 2010 if none of that had happened? You can quibble with any individual element (at the time of the trades in 2006, Felix was 9-9 with and an ERA of 4.60; it was just starting to come down after a brutal April and May), and you can quibble with the entire counterfactual process, and what possible value it has. I get it: there’s not really a point to imagining an M’s team without Felix, because thankfully, we got Felix. But it’s interesting to think about what decisions would’ve changed and why.

Today’s game against the Orioles is meaningless in isolation, so weird flights of fancy are all we can really do while checking Jarred Kelenic box scores. And thankfully, today’s pitching match-up gives us a chance to counterfactual one of the most minor trades of the Jerry Dipoto era: the trade that sent today’s starter/opener Paul Fry to Baltimore. In 2015, Fry – a late draft steal by the M’s out of a Michigan JC – struck out 113 in 80 relief innings across high-A and AA. He hit the AFL and struggled mightily with his control – a problem that persisted the next year in Tacoma, and then again in early 2017. In April of that year, the M’s flipped him to Baltimore for an international bonus pool slot. Baltimore hardly ever utilized their pool, and thus had a cottage industry of selling it off in exchange for so-so prospects. Just days before acquiring Fry, they got former Milwaukee SP prospect Damien Magnifico, another veteran of the 2015 Arizona Fall League with Fry. Magnifico was more of a known commodity, and thus the “slot value” that Milwaukee picked up was over $800,000. Fry, as a not-particularly-hard-throwing reliever, went for a later slot valued under $150,000. But still: the Orioles had a plan, the M’s valued that pool value, and a deal was struck.

At the time, I was pretty unimpressed. I know some of the prospect shine was off of Fry by 2017, but he seemed like a perfectly decent lefty reliever, one with a really good slider that – at least in the minors – was effective against lefties AND righties. Plus, he had an intriguing sinker that would make him into a big-time ground ball pitcher. Dipoto had picked up James Pazos, though, and there was Marc Rzepczynski on a two-year deal. Would Fry even get a shot? Moreover, what we didn’t know at the time was what the M’s would do in that year’s J2 signing period. Presumably, they had worked out deals with a bunch of prospects, and maybe they needed the flexibility to work something out with a kid they were really high on.

There’s definitely no one-to-one accounting for where this particular slot went in the M’s J2 spending spree, but we do know this: the M’s signed a kid who’s now one of their very best prospects, and one of the best players in the Sally League: Julio Rodriguez. Does that change our appraisal of the Fry trade? On the one hand, the M’s already had nearly $5 million to spend, and gave Rodriguez less than $2M. They signed Juan Querecuto and several other players on July 2nd itself, and still didn’t spend their pool. I presume they signed some players a bit later, so maybe it helped sign one of them. But who knows, maybe it helped them as they negotiated with not one but two of the top-30 international prospects. Or maybe it never got spent at all. It’s really hard to say. All I know is that in the most tenuous, perhaps dubious way, I kind of connect Julio Rodriguez, teenage phenom, and Paul Fry, lefty reliever on one of the worst teams in recent memory, and one-time M’s relief prospect. Would the M’s still have Julio without this trade? I think the odds are overwhelmingly high, but I wasn’t in the room, so I can’t say for sure.

The primary pitcher for the O’s is Sean Gilmartin, the one-time 10th overall pick by the Braves out of Florida State. This was a classic high-ceiling pick, as Gilmartin didn’t throw hard, but mixed his pitches and just looked like someone who’d be a solid, unremarkable 4th starter for a decade. He stalled out in the Atlanta system, but got a chance out of the Mets bullpen after he was popped in the Rule 5 draft. He was very effective in 2015, but then when the M’s wanted to move him back to the rotation, the wheels sort of fell off. He’s been a well-traveled guy since, without finding a lot of success. He was decent in AAA this year, so the O’s will call him up and see what he looks like in a longer stint. Gilmartin throws 88-89, and uses a change and slider (both in the high-70s) quite frequently. There’s nothing much in his movement profile that looks all that amazing, but that’s what you’d expect from looking at his stats.

Fry, for his part, sits in the low-90s with a sinking four-seamer that’s arrow-straight but with less rise than most. His best pitch is his slider, a fairly hard pitch at 84 MPH that gets tremendous sink and gloveside movement. Despite the low arm-slot and the repertoire that screams LOOGY, he didn’t exhibit big platoon splits last year (he’s doing so this year, though). The slider’s generally been an equal-opportunity pitch, and he’s struggled to miss bats more against lefties; this makes me think he’s got a deceptive delivery. But then, you can have deception and not take full advantage if your pure stuff isn’t good enough. I think Fry can be a perfectly cromulent bullpen piece, but I don’t think he’ll be much more than that.

1: Smith, CF
2: Crawford, SS
3: Santana, RF
4: Vogelbach, 1B
5: Murphy, C
6: Narvaez, DH
7: Seager, 3B
8: Moore, 2B
9: Williamson, LF
SP: Leake

“Openers” certainly haven’t worked for the M’s, with Tayler Scott having a rough go yesterday. The M’s openers now have a collective ERA of 19.50, which isn’t great (thanks to Ryan Divish for the stat), but it’s not that the strategy itself is bad – it may just be the M’s personnel/implementation. That said, I’m always kind of confused when a team chooses to go lefty/lefty or righty/righty with their opener and primary pitcher. That’s exactly what the O’s are doing here, with two soft-tossing lefties. The M’s used hard-throwing righty Tayler Scott to open for classic lefty junkballer Wade LeBlanc, and while Scott scuffled, LeBlanc was great. The whole strategy seemed to start when the Rays used Sergio Romo – a righty specialist – to start games against the Angels to get the first PA against Mike Trout and maybe Andrelton Simmons out of the way before a lefty like Ryan Yarbrough pitched the next 5-6 IP. I’m not sure what the O’s are doing here.


7 Responses to “Game 80, Orioles at Mariners – Counterfactuals”

  1. 3cardmonty on June 22nd, 2019 1:43 am

    Funny enough, this blog absolutely loved the Choo/AsCab trades when they happened. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Bedard trade was obviously a disaster from the jump. Adam Jones probably would have had a good career for the M’s but Choo and Cabrera weren’t highly regarded and it’s entirely possible they would’ve been failed by the Mariners player development, much like basically every other position player prospect we’ve had since then.

  2. Steve Nelson on June 22nd, 2019 8:31 am

    Not the way that I recall Dave Cameron writing about it. IIRC – Dave said the trades made the team better immediately, but that the Mariners vastly overpaid.


    In my opinion any counterfactual narrative that would look significantly better would have to include Bavasi not being GM. Because while those specific deals might not have been, made it’s likely that other crippling deals would have been done.

  3. Westside guy on June 29th, 2019 8:05 pm

    BTW I just watched Shed Long hit an inside-the-park grand slam on

  4. Stevemotivateir on June 30th, 2019 8:30 am

    ^And shortly before that, Sheffield was working on a no-hitter for Arkansas.

    Yesterday was a fun day on the farm.

  5. Westside guy on June 30th, 2019 1:47 pm

    3cardmonty, please link to any USS Mariner post which “absolutely loved” the Choo trade. I can’t actually find much of anything other than the following bare-bones announcement stating the trade happened – and, even there, DMZ didn’t seem particularly thrilled with things (although during that general timeframe he seemed to mainly be stewing about Chris Snelling’s bad fortune, which had nothing to do with trades).

  6. Westside guy on June 30th, 2019 1:52 pm

    And, regarding Cabrera, Steve Nelson is exactly right – Cameron said he helped the team immediately, but the price was way too high:

    Also note that, in the comments on that specific post, Dave made the following statement:

    “Once again, no one is saying that Eduardo Perez isn’t a good addition. Bavasi did a fine job acquiring a guy with a skillset that the Mariners lacked and who can help fill a team need.

    The question is whether 100 at-bats of Eduardo Perez is worth 6-7 years of Asdrubal Cabrera. I don’t think so.”

  7. LongDistance on July 1st, 2019 9:37 am

    Go ahead and put up an open thread post, Marc. There’s plenty of (albeit numbed) vitriol, irony and dogged obligation as USSM diehards to carry on while you take a well-earned break. The season being what it is, we’ve no choice but to see it through as best we can, wherever we can.

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