Colton Swanson, Online Reporter
With Mariners FanFest now just a few weeks away and Spring Training a mere month away, general manager Jerry Dipoto is still making changes to his big league roster he inherited just over a year ago. In his first act, Dipoto acquired Yovani Gallardo in a deal with Baltimore in exchange for out fielder Seth Smith and proceeded to trade Nathan Karns to the Royals for Jarrod Dyson a few hours later.
On the surface, the two deals look as if the Mariners simply traded a fourth outfielder for a fourth starter and vice versa but the motivation behind the moves serve as Dipoto’s main justification.
Gallardo, who will be 31 on Feb. 27, posted the worst year of his career statistically speaking. His 5.42 ERA in 2016 was well above his career mark of 3.79. He pitched just 118.0 innings due to a shoulder injury that held him to only 23 starts. His walk rate skyrocketed to a career high 4.7 BB/9 while his K/9 rate fell to the second lowest of his career.
After just one year in Baltimore, Gallardo will now find himself pitching at the backend of the Mariners rotation. Dipoto believes that Gallardo could be a potential bounce back candidate after leaving the powerful AL East and pitching in Safeco Field instead of Camden Yards.
While the pickup received mixed responses, the acquisition of Gallardo serves as a sign of what Dipoto would like to instill his team on. It’s no secret that the Mariners aren’t going to be the highest spending team in the majors. For what was already a weak pitching market, the cost of a quality starter was astronomical on the free agent market.
By trading Smith to the Orioles for Gallardo, Dipoto not only acquired a bounce back candidate pitcher, but also opened up avenues in the outfield for young players to get in the mix while sending only an outfielder in return. After the Chris Sale deal made by the White Sox, the prospect cost of any relatively good starting pitcher was one that the Mariners could not pay due to a lack of upper tier talent in the minor leagues.
The Mariners added only $1 million in payroll after the Gallardo move, which then allowed them to approach other moves with an open mind. So, to avoid an outfield where Ben Gamel, Leonys Martin and Mitch Haniger were slotted to start, Dipoto went out and sent one of his first acquisitions as the Mariners GM, Karns, to Kansas City in exchange for speedy outfielder Jarrod Dyson.
This was another move that received mixed reactions because of Dyson’s limited playing time in KC and also the depletion of a rotation that had already suffered the loss of Taijuan Walker. Dyson now figures to be the starting left fielder and move around between the 8-9-1 spots in the lineup. Dyson had a career high in plate appearances in 2016 with 337 and fared well in his opportunities. The lefty hit .278 with a .340 OBP, both of which were career highs.
Dyson has been in the big leagues since 2010 but has only 1,365 at bats in that time span. While this may seem worrisome, Dipoto’s original plan was to use Gamel, who has only 48 major league AB, as the everyday leftfielder. Dyson also helps complete the image Dipoto claimed he wanted with the team, which was to become more athletic in the outfield, as well as the combination of Dyson, Martin, Haniger, Gamel and Heredia is one of the most athletic outfields in the game today.
On the surface, the trades don’t seem like much more than a salary swap. The trade of Karns, even after acquiring Gallardo, seemed like a hit to the rotation (although Dipoto would address that less than a week later) and the addition of Dyson removed Gamel from a starting role and also could limit at bats for the newly acquired Danny Valencia. Of course, Valencia’s ability to play multiple positions will help him see regular playing time however the prospect of him receiving 500+ PA in 2017 could be in jeopardy.
A few days after the trade, after the new rosters were constructed and everyone was cooling down with the analysis, Dipoto decided to pour a gallon of gasoline on a hot stove in the form of another trade.
One of the Mariners top pitching prospects, Luiz Gohara, along with Thomas Burrows, was sent to Atlanta in exchange for RHP Shae Simmons and highly touted outfielder prospect Mallex Smith. The original reaction to this was one of confusion, as the Mariners were acquiring another outfield prospect to add to their already loaded minor league outfield system while sending away one of their best pitching prospects from a thin crop in the minors.
Smith proved himself as a successful player in the minors, stealing 88 bases in 2014 but didn’t figure to be a member of the 2017 Mariners. One scout described the trade to reporter Ken Rosenthal by saying “Giving up Gohara, worst move EVER!!”
It was clear that the Mariners gave up a lot for this trade but Dipoto, as he always does, had another move up his sleeve.
Less than 20 minutes after Smith was acquired by the Mariners, Jerry Crasnick tweeted “Jerry Dipoto isn’t done yet. He’s working on another deal that could include Mallex Smith, the OF he just acquired from the #Braves.” Dipoto was at it again.
The GM flipped Smith to Tampa Bay along with Carlos Vargas and Ryan Yarbrough, another top Mariners pitching prospect, in exchange for LHP Drew Smyly. Smyly will then slot into the rotation along with Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma and Gallardo. This in turn kicks Miranda out of the rotation and likely sends him to the bullpen as the Mariners second lefty. Smith’s hour with the Mariners was well spent.
Smyly sported a career high in innings pitched with 175 in 2016 but also allowed an alarming 32 home runs over those innings. His 4.88 ERA was also the largest of his career that he’s spent with the Tigers and the Rays. Smyly was a part of the David Price trade to the Tigers a just a few offseasons ago and now will pitch in Safeco Field where he owns a 0-2 record with a 9.00 ERA in nine innings since 2014.
Dipoto believes that Smyly, an extreme flyball pitcher, can thrive in Seattle nonetheless and notes that a great defensive outfield will help. The lefty will turn 28 in June and will join fellow lefty James Paxton as the two youngest pitchers in an aging rotation.
“This is our team.” Dipoto said in an interview with The News Tribune.
After making 11 trades in the last few months and 35 trades since taking over 16 months ago, Dipoto seems content with the product that will take the field every day for the Mariners. The GM still plans to add depth at the minor league level but the Major League team is set.
Mike Zunino plans to receive about 60 percent of the playing time at catcher with Carlos Ruiz filling in the rest of the time. Dan Vogelbach and Valencia will share time at first base. Robinson Cano, Jean Segura and Kyle Seager will be the everyday starters at 2B, SS and 3B respectively.
Dyson will man LF, Martin in CF, and the rookie Mitch Haniger will see regular at bats in RF. Nelson Cruz will stay at DH in 2017 and Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia and Shawn O’Malley will fight it out for the last few bench spots.
The Mariners bullpen figures to be better than last year after the emergence of Edwin Diaz and Dan Altavilla. Steve Cishek will begin the year on disabled list but plans to be a big part of the pen 2017. Newcomer Marc Rzepczynski and Miranda will take over the two left handed spots and Nick Vincent and Evan Scribner are locks to make the roster in a middle relief position.
The 2016 Mariners finished nine games back of the Rangers and two games back in the Wild Card race. Dipoto has made plenty of moves to help bolster this team and help push them to the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
The Houston Astros also made a ton of moves this year with the acquisitions of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick and are expected to be towards the top of the division with the Mariners and Rangers. The AL West is expected to be one of the best divisions in baseball in 2017 and Dipoto’s done his part in trying to end what’s become the longest playoff drought in the game of baseball.
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