Note: we're also receiving Maikel Cleto, Ezequiel Carrera, and Jason Vargas. Vargas is a soft-throwing lefty starter with middling stuff and extreme flyball tendencies. Carrera's a speedy center fielder who hasn't seen AA. Cleto's an untested low-minors teenager, so expect to hear him referred to as a "live arm". Interesting players, the lot of them, but none of them guarantees. Zduriencik seems excited by Carrera and Cleto and I'm happy to defer to him on this sort of stuff.
I'm still kind of taken aback. I mean, I've known for a while that trading JJ was a possibility, but I didn't expect it to come together so fast, and I certainly didn't expect it to be this big. This is a blockbuster. Not a blockbuster as high-profile as the Manny trade from the deadline, but a blockbuster nonetheless. It's been a long time since the Mariners were involved in one of these. They're difficult to wrap your head around.
I suppose what people are most interested in is the package of players that the M's are set to receive. Franklin Gutierrez, Endy Chavez, Mike Carp, Aaron Heilman - the two most familiar of these names are the two names about which I'm the least excited, and it's the other two, the two that you may not have heard before, that really pull this trade together and make it worth making.
Like Russ Branyan, I've mentioned Endy Chavez before as a guy I'd like to have around, and sure enough, Zduriencik went out and brought him in, presumably to replace Jeremy Reed. Chavez isn't going to fool anyone into thinking he can hit, but what he brings is the sort of three-position defense that makes him an asset and a real valuable role player. Honestly, he's the perfect fourth outfielder for a team to have - he can play left, right, and center with remarkable ease, and there's just enough in his bat to keep him from being a problem in the event that he gets forced into regular action for a little while. On days when he starts next to Gutierrez and Ichiro, I don't know that you'll find a better defensive outfield in the league. And as Wlad insurance, you could do a lot worse. A neat addition, if an unexpected one.
Aaron Heilman is a hard-throwing righty who recently demanded a trade from New York because he wants to start. He subsequently got traded to a team with too many starters. I don't know what Zduriencik's intentions with him may be, and it's possible that he might not even be in Seattle for more than a few weeks (or days), but for the time being, he's one of the newest Mariners, so he's worth discussing. His repertoire consists of a mid-90s fastball, a strong changeup, and a slider that he had previously put on the shelf. The slider wasn't there in 2007, but he started throwing it again in 2008, and one has to wonder if this is correlated to his dramatic walk rate increase, which prior to this year was trending in the other direction. Anyway, the Aaron Heilman of 2006/2007 and the Aaron Heilman of 2008 are very different pitchers. One of them is well-suited to relieve, but more importantly, neither of them is very well-suited to start. With rare exception, an effective starter needs at least three functional pitches, and I just don't think Heilman's slider is good enough to get him there. I dunno, I could be wrong. Maybe Heilman's repertoire is sufficiently polished to get him through five or six innings at a time. But based on his results last season, he thinks too highly of his own abilities. I like him better as a power reliever capable of missing bats, especially if you can convince him to go back to two primary pitches. He's got a little upside out of the rotation, but he's probably a better fit in high-leverage relief. Under team control through 2010 in the event that the Mariners keep him around.
Now on to the really interesting players. Mike Carp's a 22 year old first baseman coming off a .299/.403/.471 batting line in a repeat season at AA. It was a breakthrough year for Carp, as he had his first sustained success against legitimate competition. He hasn't yet been tested in AAA, much less the Majors, and he's not an upper-echelon prospect, but what he is is the best first baseman in the system and the potential long-term solution that we talked about when Zduriencik brought on Branyan as a stopgap for 2009. Carp's not going to set the world on fire, and he has only limited upside, but with a ceiling of ~Lyle Overbay's offense with decent enough glovework, he's a good player to have hanging around. If he carries his 2008 success over into Tacoma in 2009, then tadow, you've got your Branyan replacement without ever having to talk to another agent or GM. And if he doesn't, then (A) there's still time, and (B) oh well, it was a nice idea.
Finally, Franklin Gutierrez. Though it may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you see an outfielder with a .691 OPS, Gutierrez is the gem of the trade return, and here's why - he's one of the best defensive outfielders on the planet. PMR likes him. UZR loves him. Plus/minus had sex with him on Adam Everett's coffee table. Franklin Gutierrez has played 284 games in the Major Leagues, and in pretty much every single one of them he has provided extraordinary defense. Based on the data we have, it is not a stretch to call him a legitimate +20 corner outfielder, which in turn means that he's more than capable of handling center and still being +5 or +10 runs with the glove. +5 --> +10 in center. It's almost unthinkable. He doesn't have a great bat, and offensively speaking his ceiling is probably somewhere just beyond league average, but even if he checks in with a low OBP, a dozen homers, and a wOBA* around .325-.330, you're still talking about a really good value. While the casual fan may not like him, unless something horrible happens and his career goes down the shitter, the thinking fan should come to appreciate everything he provides. It's like taking what we thought of Yuni's defense in 2005 and putting it in the outfield every day. Four more years of cheap team control.
Mind you, with all of that said, I'm not sure that we really "won" the trade; I think I would've rather gone Putz/Joyce straight up given the opportunity. But I don't think we necessarily lost it either. Jeremy Reed's nothing special. Sean Green has his uses, but his skillset is replaceable, as evidenced by Roy Corcoran. JJ can be really good but he's really risky, and as I wrote last night I thought now was a good time to cash him in.
The player whose loss we might feel the most, I think, is Luis Valbuena. I liked Valbuena as a future Jose Lopez replacement, on account of he plays strong defense around the bag with good range and soft hands, and his approach at the plate should make an easy transition to the big leagues. At no point did I expect to hear his name surface in trade rumors this offseason because he struck me as one of the simplest solutions to the blossoming problem that is our middle infield. However, I suppose if the front office is committed to keeping Lopez around, then Valbuena didn't serve much of a long-term purpose, making him expendable. Besides, it's not like we just traded Carlos Truinfel. Valbuena's nice, but he's never going to be a superstar. I just wish we could've held on to him is all.
Overall, it's a whale of a trade that rather significantly re-shapes the team's roster. Sliding Gutierrez into center and flanking him with Wlad and Ichiro gives us a talented outfield trio that could stay together for a long, long time given a little development. Chavez provides better defense than Reed without sacrificing any of the stick. I don't know how the pitching staff's going to shake out, but either Heilman takes over the 8th or 9th innings, or room is made for him to fit into the rotation (or he's traded). I pray, of course, that this doesn't mean the end of the Brandon Morrow: Starter transition, because I still think giving him an extended opportunity is in everyone's best interests, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there, and we'll have to evaluate it separately. That's not really what's important right now.
I miss JJ Putz. I felt a knot in my stomach as I listened to Thunderstruck a little while ago, and I'm incredibly disappointed that I never got to see his Safeco entrance for myself. He's given us so many memories and provided so many of our '06/'07 highlights that I can't imagine ever getting used to seeing him in a different uniform. In my head, he's still a Seattle Mariner. The cockpunches. The Bonds at bat. Back to the cockpunches. We've been through a lot with JJ. Bidding him farewell isn't easy. Over the years, I've wanted to see him succeed more than almost anybody else on the team, so this is a bit of a punch in the gut.
But it's also a signal of change, and as much as I came to love individual players over the past few years, I'm prepared to say goodbye to some of them if it brings me closer to being able to love an entire team. A team that competes. A team that wins. A team that lets me wear my Felix jersey outside without feeling a little embarrassed. Jack Zduriencik may be old, and he may be bald, but he couldn't be a more different GM than Bill Bavasi if he tried. In but a short while Zduriencik has demonstrated an understanding of both freely-available talent and the importance of team defense, and he's made moves to improve the organization while having to sacrifice very little in the way of future value. That's huge. That's exactly what we all wanted him to do. The GM of the Seattle Mariners is doing exactly what we all wanted him to do.
The Mariners didn't rip anyone off tonight, but they followed a series of good thought processes and wound up making a pretty good trade that addresses at least two of the organization's most pressing needs.
These are good times to be a fan of the Seattle Mariners. Good times, indeed.