Just over a month into his new job as GM of the Seattle Mariners, Jerry Dipoto has started off the 2015 MLB offseason with a bang. On Thursday evening, the Mariners agreed to send SS/OF/2B/3B (utility man), 1B Logan Morrison, and RHP Danny Farquhar to the Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Nate Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, and OF Boog Powell. This trade seems a bit questionable from the Mariners perspective, as they have committed to shipping out Brad Miller for little return after such a promising 2015 season. In 144 games, Miller posted a .329 OBP, .402 SLG, and 105 wRC+, all far above average numbers for shortstops. However, Miller was displaced at shortstop by Ketel Marte, one of the Mariners top prospects. Miller’s bat was simply too good to hold out of the lineup on a daily basis, so management attempted to put him in the outfield, but a poor range, arm, and overall lack of natural outfield talent displayed no signs of promise in the future.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 6, 2015
While the Mariners were more than likely going to move Miller, it’s a bit of a surprise that they got so little in return. Nate Karns enjoyed a nice 2015 season in Tampa Bay, as he pitched to a 3.67 ERA over 27 games. Karns has a power arm that will fit in nicely alongside Taijuan Walker‘s, and the shift to Safeco Field should only help him. Additionally, Karns was the Nationals Minor League Player of the Year in 2012 but was traded to Tampa Bay prior to the 2014 season. Dipoto’s main motive for this trade may have been to capitalize on Karns’ five remaining years of club control, as the Mariners already have a highly committed payroll and may be tight when it comes to adding pitching via free agency. While Karns did post nice numbers in 2015, he rarely pitched past the fifth inning, and that’s something that will certainly hurt the Mariners given their terrible bullpen.
In order to improve the bullpen, Dipoto flipped 2014 standout Danny Farquhar for C.J. Riefenhouser. Farquhar enjoyed tremendous success in the latter half of 2013 after being promoted and a phenomenal 2014 campaign where he recorded a 2.66 ERA. Farquhar struggled mightily in 2015 and spent a good portion of the season in Triple-A Tacoma. He experienced a higher walk rate, lower K-rate, and a far higher HR rate, ultimately causing his ERA to ascend to 5.12. Riefenhauser, however, had very little success at the Major League level in 2015 as well. He recorded a 5.52 ERA in 17 games and allowed an abnormally high .370 batting average to left-handed hitters. Riefenhauser has a had a ton of success in the minors, but there is a very little indication that he’ll be able to convert it to Major League success.
The key piece to this trade is up-and-coming prospect Boog Powell. Acquired from the Athletics in the trade for Ben Zobrist, Powell has all the makings of a potential leadoff hitter for the Mariners in the near future. He posted a .360 OBP last year in Triple-A (.408 in Double-A) and stole 18 bases over 117 games in 2015. He’s additionally played tremendous outfield defense; something more than necessary when building a winner in Safeco.
Some suggest that this trade signals the start of the rebuilding process for Seattle, but why? Miller certainly was one of the most underrated shortstops in the game, but assuming Marte is here to stay, Miller had no use in Seattle’s system. Karns will certainly help boost the Mariners back-end of the rotation that struggled so much last year while Powell may see Major League action in 2016.
As for the Rays, Brad Miller could very possibly blossom into the next Ben Zobrist-type player, as he hits for power, draws walks, plays good infield defense, can hit anywhere in the lineup, and can play anywhere in the field if needed. Farquhar was a perfect arm to buy low, as his potential is still there although it may never again be touched. Logan Morrison struggled for the majority of his two seasons in Seattle but has been known to be hotter than hot when he starts seeing the ball.
This trade is certainly not franchise changing for either organization, so Mariners fans can relax at the thought of another Adam Jones for Erik Bedard trade, but must also hope that Ketel Marte is the real deal at shortstop.
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