The Mariners may have balked at the asking price for Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and others, but they've solved their outfield solution by acquiring Seth Smith from the Padres in exchange for Brandon Maurer. Smith, 32, is coming off a near-career year in which he posted 2.6 WAR in a heavily platooned role for San Diego, spread across 521 PA. In the two years previous to that, Smith combined for 2.3 WAR in Oakland over 851 PA, all equally platooned.
Smith represents a lot of things Michael Saunders is not. He's been far more consistent at the plate through his career, but he's also past his prime. He's also been a lot healthier, and he has more clear platoon splits. Smith has hit RHP to the tune of a 123 wRC+ over his career, and while his career lines against LHP have historically been inept (63 wRC+), he's hit them better in the past few years, though small sample sizes play a major part of that. Since leaving Colorado in 2011, Smith hasn't had more than 100 PA against lefties in any of the last three years.
At the plate, Smith is essentially the left-handed version of Justin Ruggiano, which is what makes him such an ideal platoon partner. As long as both stay healthy, it's not unreasonable to think the M's could get 2-3 WAR out of the position, all for significantly cheaper than the cost of buying that production from a single player -- whether it be via trade or in the free agent market. Ruggiano carries a 128 career wRC+ against righties to pair with Smith's 123 wRC+.
Smith has defensive limitations. He's graded at as an average defender in left field (where he's mostly played) over his career, but his limited sample in RF looks worse at -7.4 UZR/150. There's also the issue of his arm, which is below average. That will ding his value in right field, and you know Dustin Ackley isn't about to take his noodle arm to right. Whatever Seth Smith has in the hose department, it'll be better than what Ackley would do, but he's got his own range and arm worries.
Steamer projections for Smith are wonky at only 54 games, but he's projected for a 114 wRC+. Dan Symborski already ran ZiPS projections for Smith and came in at .245/.328/.396 -- but stated that a platoon with Ruggiano has a lot to like, and that it's ideal usage for both players. It's not sexy, but there's a very good chance this provides the same (or better) production in right field than the Mariners would have been able to find in the free agent class, or by playing Michael Saunders (and his inevitable cast of replacement players) every day.
We've talked about Seth Smith a lot on the site, so it's no surprise that it's a move worth endorsing. Maurer has the makings of a dominant reliever -- as Andrew wrote about back in October, his transformation out of the rotation was spectacular. But the Mariners do have a massive surplus of a volatile position where futures are far from guaranteed, and Maurer, who's already been wildly up and down in his career, is no exception. Of course this could backfire -- welcome to being buyers. Maurer is supremely talented, but he's still a reliever. It's a clear position of depth for the M's, and in a win-now window Carson Smith is, in theory, ready to step in and fill the gap. It's a classic swap with both sides dealing from positions of strength.
It's fair, and it's something the M's can stomach, even if it's filling a self-inflicted hole. They've still miraculously managed to hold onto their long-term assets, and have (in theory) filled right field for multiple years. Jack Zduriencik said he wouldn't sell out for one-year rentals, and both Ruggiano and Smith are controlled for a minimum of two more years. It's admirable, but we'll see if holding on is enough for 2015.
This also keeps Brad Miller out of the outfield, at least for the time being. That's a great thing, as it keeps Miller's teasing upside at its highest, but also affords them Chris Taylor insurance -- or, depending on how things play out, the other way around.
There will inevitably be complaints that the Mariners didn't have to trade for Smith while Nori Aoki and Colby Rasmus are still free agents. But that operates under the assumption that both players want to play for Seattle, and that they could sign for reasonable money. It also means the M's could watch Smith get dealt somewhere else, see Aoki and Rasmus choose other locations, and be left in the cold. This was a huge hole that had to be filled, even if said hole was self-inflicted. It's not ideal, but that doesn't mean it's bad.
It's interesting to see the process here from start to end. One thing the Mariners clearly desired this is reliability, something the players they've chose to depart with were not. We pretty much know what Seth Smith and J.A. Happ are, and while Saunders and Maurer have nice future upside, they're both extremely volatile going forward. Maurer's upside is good -- for a reliever, which is by it's own definition capped. Viewing the Mariners in a 2015-2016 context, Smith/Happ is safer, but less upside-y than Saunders/Maurer. It might be smart yet unsexy, it might come back to haunt them, but for the sake of looking at the immediate win-now mindset of the M's, they're probably about the same.
Either way, the Saunders move is in the past, and they had to fill the gap they created. The first step was Ruggiano, this is the corresponding move. Given what they've already done, this is the right sequence of events. And still, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brad Miller, and Chris Taylor remain.
There's still room for more to put the M's over the top. But their last gaping hole has been filled.