Looking At Your New Best Friends, The Seattle Mariners

December 8, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Posted in James Paxton, Nick Franklin | Leave a comment
Well, he sure looks like a ballplayer. (via)

Well, Franklin sure looks like a ballplayer. (via)

In the days since Seattle signed Robinson Cano, one thing has become clear: The Mariners can’t stop now. You don’t make a move like that merely to take your team from 91 losses to 86, not when you’re in a division with the Rangers, A’s, and Angels, and not when your front office may be certifiably insane.

That may or may not mean they’re the team that goes crazy to add David Price, which has been the hot rumor, but it absolutely means they’re going to get an outfielder. Or two. Or three, since only center fielder Michael Saunders was worth even 1 WAR for them last year, and .236/.323/.397 is hardly anything to get excited about. Last year’s primary left fielders were Raul Ibanez and Jason Bay; the right fielders Mike Morse and Endy Chavez. So yeah, they need some help, badly.

Since Oregon native Jacoby Ellsbury decided to head to New York, that probably means they’re going to lavish the terribly overrated Nelson Cruz with a huge deal. But it also might mean that they try to fill one of these holes via trade, since it’s long been difficult to get free agents to choose to come to a place with the team is lousy, the weather is questionable, and the travel is difficult. (You may remember Justin Upton using his no-trade clause to block a move there.)

So you know what that means: How do the Dodgers and Mariners fit for potential deals? Right off the bat, we should state two things: 1) Knock it off about Kyle Seager right now, since it makes no sense for Seattle to part with a young, productive, cost-controlled asset who they can’t easily replace; and 2) Ned Colletti, quite properly, indicated that he doesn’t have to trade an outfielder.

But let’s say that they do, especially since it was pretty well known the two teams were involved in talks last winter. Maybe it’s Matt Kemp, maybe it’s Andre Ethier; for the moment, it doesn’t matter, because the return for either would be so much defined by money. Still, the Cano signing changes the equation both in terms of what the Mariners will do and what they can give up, so let’s take a look at what they have that might be of interest to the Dodgers. (No, not Taijuan Walker, who isn’t going anywhere other than possibly to Tampa Bay, or Danny Hultzen, who probably misses all of 2014 after October shoulder surgery, or Brad Miller, who will start at shortstop in Seattle, or Justin Smoak, who isn’t a fit in Los Angeles or any good, or D.J. Peterson, who can’t be traded yet, or Mike Zunino, who Seattle expects to be their catcher for the next decade.)

2B Nick Franklin — Franklin is the Mariner most immediately impacted by Cano, since the 22-year-old second baseman looks like he just lost his job after playing 102 games in his rookie season. Franklin was a 2009 first rounder who was a Top 100 Baseball America prospect in each of the last two seasons; he actually played more shortstop than second in the minors, but is probably limited to second base defensively in the big leagues.

The good news is that he’s still just 22, showed some surprising pop in the minors (.287/.360/.459 career line) and hit 12 homers in the bigs last year. The bad news is that he was essentially replacement level overall, showing an alarming 27.4% strikeout rate as he was eaten alive by breaking pitches, a poor .225/.303/.382 line, and average-to-slightly-below defense. Unsurprisingly, he’s likely to be traded, and I’d like him in the system, but I can’t say I’m comfortable giving him a starting job on a contending team in 2014.

Those are some slick Rainiers throwbacks. ((via)

Those are some slick Rainiers throwbacks. (via)

2B/UT Dustin Ackley — part of the reason Franklin got the call is because former #2 overall pick Ackley saw his up-and-down career implode once again. Ackley showed some of his excellent on-base skills (.397 career minor league OBP) in a nice partial 2011 for Seattle (.273/.348/.417), but then fell off the cliff in 2012 (.226/.294/.328). It didn’t get a whole lot better in 2013 (.253/.319/.341), though at least this time there was something interesting about his year.

At the end of May, barely hitting .200, he lost his job to Franklin and was sent back to Triple-A. When he returned a month later, he was an outfielder. Playing mostly center field, along with eight starts at second and some time in left field and at first, Ackley showed signs of life, hitting .285/.354/.404 in 256 plate appearances.

But before we get too excited about that

So to put a value on his ability, he just doesn’t have a bunch of upside. After being promoted in 2013, he basically hit the same as his rookie season which isn’t really that good. And more importantly, he as a ton of downside.

He turns 26 in February, and there’s some value to a guy who can play second and center without being terrible at it. (Hi, Skip Schumaker!) But that’s a pretty long way off from what you’d hope out of a #2 pick.

SP James Paxton — 25-year-old Canadian lefty Paxton made a brief debut last year and might be the team’s #5 starter if the season started today, so they might not be super motivated to move him. Most see him as a likely #3 with the ceiling of a #2 if everything goes well, so there’s definitely value there, and he brings three pitches, with a plus curve, a fastball that has some life, and a decent change.

He can miss bats (9.6 K/9 in the minors), but he’ll need to improve his control (4.0 BB/9), and while you know as well as I do that PCL ERA’s aren’t worth much, a 4.45 mark in 145 innings certainly isn’t impressive. Mariners fans like him, though:

Naturally, the thing with Paxton’s always been about the inconsistency. He’s done that thing where he’s alternated brilliance with unwatchability. Over a seven-start stretch this year in the minors, he had eight walks and 43 strikeouts. Over his next five starts, he had 17 and 13. He followed that with a gem against Salt Lake. With Paxton, it’s been hard to tell what’s coming next, and that’s why people have thought of him as occupying a tier below Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen. But what we have is a lefty starter in the bigs who can touch 98, and he just had a game with ten strikeouts and zero walks. There’s a good pitcher in there. Maybe a real good one. I’ve never been afraid of the Erik Bedard comparisons, because Bedard had a lot of success in between the DL stints.

While he’s a good talent, there’s also the question of where he might slot into the Dodger system, since I’m not entirely sure the team wants to give up on Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley, and we all want to see Zach Lee get his shot. Then again, there’s no such thing as too much pitching. 

Okay, on to the lightning round…

P Tom Wilhelmsen — Wilhelmsen has a pretty fun backstory that includes him walking away from baseball for years and serving as a bartender before surfacing with the Mariners in 2011 and stealing Brandon League‘s job in 2012. He then lost the closer’s role to Danny Farquhar in 2013, as he stopped missing bats, but we know Ned Colletti wants relief arms, loves “closer experience,” and… hey, maybe any deal can include League going back to Seattle?

SS Chris Taylor — Honestly, I had legitimately never heard of him before today, but I found his name come up in a Beyond the Box Score article about potential Seattle/LA trades that referenced my FanGraphs piece on the Dodgers having too many outfielders. Taylor’s a 23-year-old shortstop with a nice .316/.411/.449 line in two minor league seasons. You know as well as I do not to simply scout the minor league stats, but as I said I’m not familiar with him, so I don’t have a lot to go on.

Baseball Prospectus had him as the #7 Seattle prospect last month, while FanGraphs had him as #9:

Taylor is an all-glove shortstop who is doing a great job at shoving that label up the backsides of clubs who passed on him for that reason. The hands and feet are terrific and Taylor’s arm strength grades out in average to above-average range, suggesting he’s at least a utility candidate in the majors. He’s made some swing adjustments in his quick ascent through the minors, but more are needed if he’s to hit for enough extra-base power to warrant any consideration for a long-term starting role. His patience and all-around plate skills are superb, but he will strike out, and that will be a challenge for him in Triple-A, which is where he’ll start 2014.

Not someone who will help the Dodgers right now, but certainly a nice piece to add to a system that has little up-the-middle infield talent other than Corey Seager.

P Charlie Furbush — A name I had heard the Dodgers were interested in last year, he would help fill the lefty bullpen position by bringing big strikeout rates (9.2/9 career) and is death on lefties (.206/.283/.278 career). Unfortunately, since Oliver Perez is a free agent, the Mariners may prefer to simply hang on to Furbush themselves.

C Tyler Marlette — Blocked, probably, by Zunino in Seattle, and we all know the Dodgers have little catching depth. Marlette’s a 20-year-old who just hit .304/.367/.448 in the Midwest League, and was ranked as #9 by Baseball Prospectus and #12 by FanGraphs. BP lauds his makeup and his chances of being a plus defender with some pop, while FG saying:

Marlette made huge strides behind the plate in 2013, which caused his prospect value to increase significantly. The 20-year-old Florida native is a strong hitter. He isn’t afraid to take the pitch where it’s offered and go the other way. He showed flashes of his raw power potential in ’13 but needs to be a little more selective to continue having success as he reaches the upper levels of the minors.

So the Mariners definitely have some interesting pieces, but remember this: Tampa Bay isn’t taking Walker for Price straight up, and so Seattle may need to use some of these prospects in order to pry Price away from the Rays. But they still remain as one of the most intriguing potential trade partners for the Dodgers, one that is more than likely to do something big over the next few weeks.

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