Every player is now a Seattle Mariner. All of them. I know what you're thinking: "What about that one guy? Doesn't that one guy play for the Cubs?" No, he doesn't. He plays for the Seattle Mariners. Ok, that isn't technically true, but it sure does feel that way. Heck, just this morning, it was announced that the Mariners signed closer/regression candidate Steve Cishek to a two year deal. When Winter Meetings launched, Jerry Dipoto had already made 13 moves, including 6 trades and 4 free agent signings. It's a lot to sort through and analyze. Taken in concert, Dipoto's approach thus far suggests fidelity to a clearly articulated strategy of lengthening the line-up, shoring up the most obvious black holes on the roster by improving defense and on base percentage, and finding value in buy low candidates. Will it work? Time will tell. But based on what we know so far, which moves are our favorites and least favorites? Some members of the Lookout staff got together to offer their opinions.
WARNING: Baseball often baseballs, so please don't hold us to these when everything ends up being different than we thought.
Alright, favorite and least favorite?
For me, the favorite is the move to get Leonys Martin. Jerry started by saying he was going to build a team to fit the ballpark, and this move fits that idea as much as any. Safeco's a different place, and the Mariners are a different team, when they have an elite defender roaming center. While the bat was terrible last year, Martin's just 27, and there's room for a tiny bit of advancement past the regression we hope for. The time was right to deal Wilhelmsen and, while including Kivlehan stings, he's only 21 months younger than Martin.
Least favorite is hard to say. There aren't any that stand out to me as being "bad," but man, the rotation is scary. James Paxton has suffered lengthy injuries each of the past two years and, as of mid-Decembr, he already has a rotation spot locked down. Of the the two moves in the rotation, the one that gives me the most pause is the Wade Miley deal. 200 innings is 200 innings, but acquiring any pitcher for health and durability can be dicey. I think now was the time to move Carson Smith but I'll always be curious about that return. Again, there's nothing that Dipoto's done that I genuinely dislike, but the state of the rotation is disconcerting. But if Walker and Paxton can somehow stay healthy, I think the run prevention unit as a whole will be where it needs to be.
Best: Leonys Martin
Picking up a defensive ace of a center fielder who is coming of a year with multiple, hit-tool limiting injuries is a slick move for Jerry and the Jets (I'm giving this a try for now) and the sort of business we hope to see for years to come. Personally, I believe Leonys becomes a catalyst for some basepath fun and it will be wonderful to see a capable talent patrolling the Safeco grass.
Worst: Dealing Mark Trumbo
What the hell are you doing to me, Jerry? To us?
Move the Best:
I actually liked most of Dipoto's moves this offseason, although I completely understand there is a reasonable reason against the majority of them. Looking over the vast swath of destruction he carved through this roster I can't help but really feel like parting with Brad Miller for Nate Karns and Boog Powell was move with the least ability to harm the 2016 roster, and potentially help it the most.
The Mariners rotation, particularly give the context of the rest of the offseason (no Iwakuma/Elias) is going to need solid production from many new faces and the idea of grabbing a late-bloomer like Karns, with solid K/BB rates and oodles of club control, is the kind of move that can help this team for not just 2016 but the rest of the decade.
Brad Miller may well blossom in Tampa's excellent player development machine, becoming Erasmo Ramirez 2.0, but what he becomes for another team doesn't concern me, as I'm fairly confident he wasn't going to reach his ceiling in Seattle for a variety of reasons. Dipoto traded from the closest thing the Mariners had to a surplus of talent for a position of great need, and increased assets under club control. Me gusta.
Move the Worst:
In the end the decision to not go a 3rd year for Hisashi Iwakuma feels, well, it feels cheap. Iwakuma was well liked in Seattle, and appeared to reciprocate the sentiment. His production when healthy was among the American League's best and, again, the rotation is terrifyingly thin. I don't know why Dipoto and Co. felt the need to stand so firmly on 2 years for Hisashi, but of all the moves this one feels the most shortsighted and the most likely for me to easily point to in June and yell, "SHOULDN'T HAVE DONE THAT DUMMIES!"
Had a yelling match with a guy about how stupid and boring it was to watch Hisashi Iwakuma hit, and before that I never knew I was so pro-DH— Michael Barr (@michaelcbarr) April 15, 2015
Favorite transaction: Seattle Mariners sign free agent C Chris Iannetta.
We're all painfully aware of this fact, but I'm going to remind everyone anyway: Mariners catchers in 2015 were complete and utter garbage at the plate. They combined for a wRC+ of 27. TWO. SEVEN. (For reference, Chone Figgins had a wRC+ of 37 with the M's in 2011.) Even with their above-average defense, M's catchers were more than two wins below the next worst team in MLB (-2.0 fWAR for the M's vs 0.1 fWAR for the Nats). This was one of the deepest, darkest roster holes in all of baseball. Thankfully, Jerry addressed this by going out and signing Chris Iannetta.
Iannetta is coming off a down year that saw him put up a wRC+ of 80 (24 points below his career average) in about 300 PA. BUT THAT DOESN'T REALLY MATTER. Even if his struggles continue, he almost certainly represents a massive upgrade over what the Mariners had at their disposal last season. And with a guaranteed salary of only $4.2M (with a team-friendly option for 2017!), this feels like a classic buy-low deal. Add in the fact that Iannetta plays solid defense behind the plate and you have a pretty nifty catcher.
Least favorite transaction: San Diego Padres trade RHP Joaquin Benoit to Seattle Mariners for RHP Enyel De Los Santos and SS Nelson Ward.
I understand that the M's bullpen was shaky last season and that bringing in a veteran presenceTM may help stabilize things, but I just don't know about this move. Benoit is a righty reliever who will turn 39 years old midway through 2016. He'll also make $8M; this certainly won't break the bank, but it's currently tied for the 4th largest salary on the M's payroll in '16. Benoit has been a solid setup man for much of his career, but a few of his peripherals dipped last year. His K/9 fell to 8.68 (50th percentile among the 137 qualified relievers in 2015) and his BB/9 increased to 3.17 (39th percentile). Also, a lot of his success in '15 seems to have been derived from his low strand rate (85.9%, 14th lowest) and his microscopic BABIP (0.182, the lowest in all of baseball); these are both super unsustainable. If Benoit doesn't do something to improve his strikeout/walk numbers, he could be in for a long 2016.
Additionally, the Mariners also had to give up some talent for the right to pay a 39-year-old $8M. Chances are that Nelson Ward won't ever break free from the minors, but (assuming he stays healthy) Enyel De Los Santos has a realistic shot of pitching for a big league club somewhere down the line. His departure adds a not insignificant cost to this transaction. It should probably be noted that a lot of not-top-tier relievers have signed multi-year contracts for AAVs around $8M this off-season. However, given the extreme volatility of relievers, this strikes me as a dumb trend that I'd sooner the M's avoided.
It's hard to pick out my favorite move that Jerry Dipoto has made this offseason, because they've all served a very specific purpose, and he's been very candid about those purposes. When viewed in that light, each move gets the Mariners closer to his ideal, and it's hard to divorce them all from the rest of their context. If I had to choose one, it would be trading for Wade Miley. I think it was a perfect example of selling high and buying low. Yes, Carson Smith was fun to watch, had a great year with the Mariners, and probably will continue to have great success in the majors. But relief pitching is the most fungible asset in baseball, even elite relief pitching. Miley on the other had has some clear upside, fits Safeco Field to a tee, and will be paid very reasonably over the next two or three years. It's never easy to see the team give up value to get value, especially when much of that value is wrapped up in emotional ties to players, but I think Dipoto did well to not overpay for a mid-rotation starter with upside (*cough* Diamondback *cough*).
Favorite Move: Chris Iannetta
I like this move a lot, albeit for different reasons than Andrews. A lot of Jerry's moves this offseason have seem directly pointed at contending in 2016, without sacrificing future contention by shackling the club to long term contracts or inflicting long term damage. Given where we are with the roster, that's a great strategy. The thing I like about Iannetta is that the move is as much about the future of the club as it is the present. We had to sort out catcher. But getting Iannetta also gives us a shot at shoring up the position long after ‘16. If Mike Zunino is going to be the catcher of this organization's future, it means him not being its everyday catcher in 2016. Iannetta lets Mike develop in Tacoma without a huge defensive downgrade in Seattle, and with plenty of potential for an offensive upgrade.
Favorite (and Least Favorite) Move: Acquiring Regression.
Ok, this is cheating a little bit. I shouldn't get two favorites. This one is tad qualified though. I wonder what number Regression will wear for the 2016 Mariners. Hopefully all the numbers that were previously bad, and none of the numbers that were already good. We didn't have much in the way of either talent or treasure to spend to fill holes, but Jerry still managed to churn the bottom of the roster, and dispel the worst ghosts by replacing them with buy low candidates. That isn't easy to do. We know that things tend to regress. Still, we're counting on this all going the direction we want: bad to good or at least passable, and good to hey you're still good. If it works out, Jerry is a genius. If it doesn't? I still think the process is sound. But please work out.