Jerry Dipoto, the current GM of the Mariners, was a reliever, and he was a pretty good one. He had the thankless job of pitching in pre-humidor Coors Field, and he finished his Rockies career with a 129 ERA+. In 1998, he was their closer and pitching well for an 87-loss team. I would imagine there were teams calling about him at the deadline.
My goodness, what a stressful time for a major leaguer. Was he going to have to uproot his family? Was he going to leave his teammates from the last three years? How would he respond to the expectations? You would think memories of this uncertain time would, even subconsciously, inform how he approached building a major league roster.
You would be wrong. Dipoto tried his first transaction, a small trade, at an office party when he was a young GM. That led to some waiver claims — nothing big, he could handle it — and some DFAs. Soon he was making three-way trades, blockbusters, and inscrutable minor deals from the second he woke up. That first small trade was a gateway transaction, and now he’ll trade your cat, Snaggles, the second you look away. Dipoto needs help, and you’re just sitting there.
It’s actually really fun! The Mariners have made 11 trades this offseason, claimed two players on waivers, signed six players, and designated seven players for assignment. They are a walking Rosenthal tweet, and bless them for it.
But are they better?
Before I attempt to answer that, please know that I don’t know a prospect from a suspect, and that I couldn’t pretend to be a prospect expert. The Mariners might have traded premium (fake) prospects like Fetz Gormand and Darfyl Hester, and they might rue these trades for years. But I’m not here to inspect if these were good trades. I’m here to see if the Mariners’ current lineup and rotation are better than the 86-win team with which they ended the season.
Position by position:
In: Carlos Ruiz
Out: Chris Iannetta
This is a backup catcher swap, which shouldn’t matter too much. Chooch is Chooch, but he’ll be a 38-year-old catcher, last year’s resurgence be damned.
Steamer says: .8 WAR in, 1.1 out. It’s a wash.
In: Dan Vogelbach
Out: Adam Lind
This wasn’t a trade from this offseason, but it’s worth pointing out, as the Mariners are committing to the younger first baseman. Unless they sneak a $50 million Mark Trumbo deal under the wire, which would be very, very funny.
Steamer says: .5 WAR in, .6 WAR out. It’s a wash.
In: Jean Segura
Out: Ketel Marte
Segura’s bounceback last season was magnificent, and the Mariners are right to be intrigued.
Steamer says: 2.2 WAR in, 0.3 out. This is a very nice upgrade, and that’s even if Segura regresses a little bit.
In: Jarrod Dyson
Out: Norichika Aoki
Dyson can run and field and field and run. He’s a lot of fun to watch, even if he’s older than you think. Aoki is also fun to watch! Just in a very, very different way.
Steamer says: 1.8 WAR in, .4 out. That’s a conservative estimate for Dyson, but you can be sure that the Mariners’ pitchers are excited. Not sure if the plan is to move Leonys Martin to left, but either way, the team defense is much improved.
In: Mitch Haniger
Out: Seth Smith
Haniger was a Triple-A dynamo last year in the Diamondbacks’ system, hitting .341/.428/.670. That was in a hitter-friendly environment, but those are still absurd numbers. Smith was pretty OK, and he will probably remain pretty OK.
Steamer says: 1.5 WAR in, 1.5 out. Considering Haniger’s youth, it’s a big boost for the long-term, but for 2017, the odds are good that nothing’s changed.
In: Yovani Gallardo, Drew Smyly
Out: Taijuan Walker, Nate Karns
It wasn’t that long ago that Gallardo was a sneakily effective pitcher, strikeout rate be damned. Once he shed the expectations of a future rotation-topper, he put together solid season after solid season. Until last year. Gulp.
Smyly’s effectiveness jumped exponentially when he joined the Rays, possibly because he was instructed to live up in the zone. When the super-bouncy home run ball came into play, though, he started struggling (along with the rest of the Rays’ rotation). What does that mean for 2017, in Safeco Field? Dunno. It’s an upside worth gambling on, though.
Steamer says: 3.3 WAR in (1 for Gallardo, 2.3 for Smyly), 3.2 out (2.2 for Walker, 1 for Karns). The low mark for Karns doesn’t reflect a 32-start season, so adjust it as you see fit. You won’t be laughing when the Mariners win the AL West by .1 wins.
We have disclaimers before we reach a conclusion.
- This doesn’t account for the long-term value of young players like Segura and Haniger
- Projection systems are but a candle in a dark cave, my child
- WAR is a fickle mistress
- This doesn’t account for the financial implications of the deals
- The Mariners also made 472 other moves to add depth, which might prove important
- The Mariners have parted with some quality prospects, though certainly not all of them
- I didn’t include bullpen projections because I’m not an idiot
- Using statistics in an apples-to-apples swap like this is sloppy, at best
Still, we have the early returns from Steamer, and it’s giving the Mariners an extra three wins from the new rotation and lineup. An extra three wins to last year’s team would put them in the Wild Card Game, perhaps. It seems like a lot of shell-shuffling for a modest upgrade, but modest upgrades for a team in the Mariners’ position could mean quite a lot.
Of course, the Mariners probably could have added three wins by replacing Aoki with Jose Bautista, and the prospects they would have kept could have made up for the loss of a first-round pick. But that would have been boring. That’s just one transaction. What kind of offseason is that?
As is, the Mariners are likely a better team, and that’s all that matters for 2017. Just how much better, and at what cost, are questions we can revisit after the season.