Who won the offseason’s first significant trade?
The Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays completed a trade on Thursday. The trade was the first significant move made in the new offseason and it became official just four days after the completion of the World Series. So, while the new World Champion Kansas City Royals were still celebrating, the executives of the Mariners and of the Rays were already preparing for 2016, with the Mariners’ execs seeming to have the upper hand. Well, at least they got the better end of the deal.
Both the Mariners and Rays had underwhelming seasons in 2015. Both finished fourth in their respective divisions, the AL West and the AL East, while the Mariners had been labeled World Series favorites back in April and the Rays were expected to at least be in the postseason mix. It makes sense that with big expectations that were not met, big moves followed.
The move the two teams made was a definitely big one, at least in terms of number of players involved. It was a six-player trade that sent first baseman Logan Morrison, utility-man Brad Miller and right-handed reliever Danny Farquhar to Tampa and brought right-hander Nathan Karns, left-hander C.J. Riefenhauser and minor-league outfielder Boog Powell to Seattle.
The Mariners appear to have gotten the better end of the deal, trading some of their more experienced players for youth, while also adding to their pitching staff. A pitching staff, by the way, that allowed 726 runs to the 656 scored by their offense in 2015. Clearly, pitching was a huge part of the Mariners problems last season. They appear to be preparing for the long-term future while the Rays appear to be trading away their future for a trio of older players who had played on a team that went 76-86. Maybe that’s exactly how it will end up once 2016 gets underway, maybe not. But it certainly seems like the Mariners won the trade.
Nathan Karns, a rookie with just five major league games under his belt going into 2015, made 26 starts for the Rays, going 7-5 with a 3.67 ERA on a team that didn’t finish much better off than the Mariners. The Rays finished with a record of 80-82. With just 12 decisions on the season, it seems safe to assume he did not receive a lot of run support. In fact, at just 3.5 runs per game of support per baseball-reference, Karns ranked fifth-lowest in baseball.
Karns still had a lower ERA than anyone on the Mariners’ pitching staff except for “King” Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, and Iwakuma was injured for a good portion of the season. Acquiring Karns, 27, from the Rays makes a lot of sense for Seattle, who has a much more potent offense but struggled with their pitching in 2015.
The same case can be made for the left-handed reliever Riefenhauser, who is just 25 years old, started out the 2015 season in the minor leagues and made 17 appearances for the Rays by the end of the season. Riefenhauser didn’t have very much success in the big leagues, pitching to a 5.52 ERA. His numbers in 29 games at Triple-A Durham were much better. He posted a 2.86 ERA in Durham, meaning his small sample of games in the big leagues is, hopefully, not signs of things to come and that he should improve. Plus, it is always good to grab another lefty for your bullpen.
Boog Powell spent 2015 between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. He’s a left-handed bat, so losing lefties in both Morrison and Miller won’t hurt the Seattle lineup. He hit .295 in a total of 117 games between Double-A and Triple-A. Powell can take a spot in the outfield for Miller if needed, and he could be a boost to the Mariners on-base percentage, which was .311 as a team in 2015 – ninth-worst in baseball. To go along with his .295 batting average, Powell had a solid .385 on-base percentage.
The Mariners got three younger players who, while they have less big league experience, have overall better statistics and potential than the three they gave up. It’s hard to see how the Rays truly benefited from this trade.
Morrison, 27, hit just .225/.302/.383. Miller, 25, wasn’t much better than Morrison at the plate, hitting .258/.329/.402. While Farquhar, 28, has had better seasons in the past, he did not help the Mariners’ bullpen in 2015. He posted a 5.12 ERA. An argument can be made for Farquhar’s experience as well as his 2.66 ERA in 2014. He could absolutely bounce back in 2016.
It will be impossible to know who really won this trade until Powell and Riefenhauser gain more experience in the majors, but Karns proved himself to be a good middle-of-the-rotation starter in 2015 who is also under the age of 30 – something the Mariners sorely needed.
Perhaps Morrison and Miller will prove their 2015 stats wrong and Farquhar will bounce back to his 2014 form, but until those things happen, it appears that the Mariners made out like bandits in this first big trade of the offseason.