Yesterday, the Mariners sent shortstop Chris Taylor to the Dodgers, for pitcher Zach Lee. It was a trade made out of desperate need. The Mariners’ rotation is a mess, and another starter going down with injury could be the death blow to any hopes of salvaging what was, really just a few weeks ago I swear, a really fun season.
By acquiring Lee, and parting with Taylor, the Mariners have made the decision, at least for the rest of 2016, that Ketel Marte is their starting shortstop, and Luis Sardinas will come up from Tacoma in case of injury. It’s not a particularly controversial decision. Marte is an athletic, exciting, switch-hitting perpetual motion machine. Chris Taylor is a year and a half from 2014, the only time he has acquitted himself in anyway in the major leagues. In his one start in 2016, he went hitless, and made two key errors. Despite that, however, Taylor had a 130 wRC+ in Tacoma this year, and his glove projects at least to be average at shortstop.
For the first time, at least as Mariner General Manager, Jerry Dipoto appears to have sold rather low on an asset. Chris Taylor is no sleeping star, no Asdrubal Cabrera or Carlos Guillen, but there is a decent chance that he carves out a big league career as a sort of poor man’s Jack Wilson. He’s a low ceiling player, but the kind that fits on many teams around baseball.
As for Marte, for all the stuff that we love (and to be clear, I like Ketel Marte a lot), his inability to regularly get on base is starting to drag down his overall value. The 9.7 BB% he put up in 247 plate appearances last year felt like a fluke compared to his minor league numbers, and sure enough, he is all the way down at 3.7% in 2016. Thanks to a June wRC+ of 31 his OBP all the way down to .292. Here’s a glimpse of where that ranks in the American League among shortstops (min. 150 PA):
12 - Jimmy Rollins: .295
13 - Ketel Marte: .292
14 - Brad Miller: .291
Given that his defense is, at its very best, a league average tool at shortstop, and that he has never shown an ability to regularly drive the ball, and Marte's weaknesses are beginning to threaten to overwhelm his strengths. A slap hitting, so-so fielding, never-walk shortstop with plus speed, contact ability, and an ok arm isn't the worst package, and at league minimum salary Marte's performance is hardly killing the team. However, his 0.0 fWAR isn't doing a whole lot to win them games, either.
Luis Sardinas, despite his youth, and shiny prospect pedigree, has never hit, at any level, in his professional career. I see it as highly unlikely that he is able to contribute more on a daily basis than Marte. Shawn O'Malley, though I love him and root for him, is largely over his head starting games at any position in the major leagues. The present and future of the shortstop position is in the hands of a 22 year old currently sporting a 74 wRC+.
Like Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and others, Ketel Marte showed over his initial callup that he can succeed in a Mariner uniform. Like them he has also largely fallen flat in his second season in the majors. With baseball being an unceasing ebb and flow of adjustment, and readjustment, the Mariners are now doubling down on Marte's ability counter whatever weakness pitchers are now exploiting, and reclaim his identity as an exciting, slashing hitter. Oh, and drawing a walk once in awhile wouldn't hurt either.
With Chris Taylor gone, so is the safety net. The Mariners need Ketel Marte to be better. If he isn't they will, yet again, go into the offseason wondering what went wrong with one of their young, exciting players. For a franchise that has failed to develop cheap positional talent as a tradition, it's a scary and all too familiar feeling.