Learning From What Didn't Happen

exchanging congratulations on not being Mariners - Ezra Shaw

A couple things had popped up on Twitter that I intended to write about, and then never actually wrote about. They're still relevant today, though, and with this morning's trade of Justin Upton to Atlanta, I'm doing this, because better late than never. Unless you're referring to a heart attack. One would hope that you'd never have a heart attack! My goodness!

Both tweets are from Buster Olney. We begin with one of them:

Before Michael Morse, before Justin Upton turned down the proposed deal, the Mariners had serious talks about getting Jason Kubel. (source)

In case you thought Michael Morse was special, or that Justin Upton was special, here we have word that the Mariners got involved on Jason Kubel before the other stuff. It might be untrue, but that would be a curious thing to lie about in the aftermath of another transaction. We'll proceed under the assumption that Olney isn't wrong, and that his source isn't wrong.

Kubel, like Morse, is effectively a one-year player, and he's 30 years old. He's an outfielder, but he's an outfielder that the Diamondbacks DH'd when they had the chance, and he DH'd pretty often for the Twins before switching leagues as a free agent. The numbers tell you one thing about Kubel's defense, the eyes back them up, and Kubel's usage pattern backs them up even more. Jason Kubel is not really an outfielder; he's a hitter who's played in the outfield.

And he's a hitter without Morse's upside. For his career, according to FanGraphs, Kubel has averaged 1 WAR per 600 plate appearances. According to Baseball-Reference, he's averaged 0.7. But he's slugged in the high-.400s, so he would've fit the Mariners' desire for a guy who looks like and plays like a slugger. And if the Mariners had given up value to bring Kubel in, we would've responded in much the same way as we responded to the Morse deal. Kubel would offer little flexibility. At least Morse can play first, at least Morse is excited to be here, and at least Morse is a year removed from a 148 wRC+. Kubel doesn't interest me, and I'm glad nothing here wound up happening.

I wonder if you can try to connect the Kubel negotiations with the Bourn rumors. If the Mariners were to sign Bourn, they could move Morse to first and do something with Smoak. But had the Mariners acquired Kubel, and still gone for Bourn, they couldn't move Kubel to first, because he's never played there. Wedge doesn't want to put Kendrys Morales in the field very often. A Bourn acquisition under those circumstances would've required moving one of Franklin Gutierrez or Michael Saunders in some way. Which means that might still be the preference. It's possible that I'm reaching, and it's possible that the Mariners aren't actually looking at Bourn anymore, if they ever were.

Jason Kubel allegedly could've been a Mariner. It feels mean to say I'm glad he's not, so let's put it like this: I'm glad that trade didn't happen. I don't think it would've been a good trade for the Mariners to make, based on what Kubel would offer to this roster of players.

As for the other tweet:

If the Justin Upton trade with the Mariners had gone through, Seattle would've dealt John Jaso to OAK as part of that deal, as well. (source)

Again, we can't confirm the veracity of the rumor, but again, it would be a strange thing to lie about. We should proceed assuming Jaso would've been involved in an Upton trade; we should proceed assuming it would've been a three-team deal.

Which means it would've been more complicated than has been reported, which means we haven't been given the whole truth. If the Mariners had traded four players and Jaso, they would've gotten more back than just Upton. I've reason to believe the Mariners would've additionally received another high-level player, which would make it more palatable for those of you who thought the rumored package was too steep. Most generally: we thought we had all the details on the Mariners' trade for Upton. In reality, we didn't and don't, making the trade pursuit and eventual agreement more difficult to evaluate. Executives around the league thought the Mariners were giving up too much, based on reports. The reports didn't contain all the information, so those executives were opining based on incomplete knowledge. So were we.

An additional angle: the Jaso part. The Mariners recently traded John Jaso. Previously, they tried to trade John Jaso. In hindsight, now we have more reason to believe in the Jaso/Pirates rumor from December. The Mariners were planning to use Jaso as a part-time player, and they've made a big deal about turning a part-time player into a regular in Morse. The way it reads to me, the Mariners made Jaso very available in trade talks, ultimately arriving at the Michael Morse destination. It might not be that the Mariners simply traded Jaso for Morse; it might be that Morse was the most the Mariners could find in exchange for Jaso.

My issue isn't that the Mariners traded Jaso, because, yeah, he was going to be a part-timer. My issue is that, to me, it seemed like they didn't get enough back for him, even if he did have to go. But maybe nobody's that big on Jaso, Oakland excepted, and maybe there are valid reasons for that. Maybe the Mariners sold Jaso about as high as they could. It's not like he stood to gain value by sticking around, starting every so often but mostly deferring to Jesus Montero. That argument exists.

Just because the industry might not think a lot of a player doesn't mean the industry is correct. There's a whole famous book written about this. But Jaso's stock was only going to drop, barring some sort of Montero injury, so it made sense to cash Jaso in, so it made sense to get the most they could, if Morse is the most they could. There were ways around this, ways in which Jaso still could've played pretty often with Seattle, but those ways became impossible and now we're here. Rationalizing a John Jaso trade because maybe it wasn't as bad as it seemed in the immediate aftermath.

Sometimes I'm fascinated by the things that don't happen. Sometimes I'm more fascinated by the things that don't happen than I am by the things that do happen. Especially if those things that do happen involve Joe Saunders.

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