Mariners, Orioles Swap Declining Role Players

The Mariners, after trading Taijuan Walker away in the Jean Segura deal, have been looking for a back-end starting pitcher. How desperate were they? Well, desperate enough to take a pitcher that the Baltimore Orioles — who have one of the worst rotations in baseball — didn’t want to keep around.

The deal, as announced by both teams, is a straight-up swap of Seth Smith for Yovani Gallardo, with the Orioles including some cash in the deal, though Dan Connolly reports the Orioles save about $4 million in the deal, so the cash doesn’t offset the price differences. In Smith, the Orioles are getting a guy who can play right field against right-handed pitching; he doesn’t field well or hit lefties enough to justify an everyday job, but as the strong side of a platoon, he’s a decent role player. Given that the Orioles current right fielder was Joey Rickard, Smith is an upgrade over a replacement level hole, and picking him up at a reasonable price makes plenty of sense for Baltimore.

For the Mariners, this is a bit weirder. Yeah, they needed another arm for the rotation, since the back-end was pretty thin, but it’s not entirely clear that Gallardo is actually much better than what they already had. After a nice run with Milwaukee at the beginning of his career, Gallardo transitioned more into an innings-eater in 2013, and things have been steadily downhill since then.

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As the strikeouts disappeared, Gallardo survived by avoiding walks, but even that went away last year, when he posted the second highest walk rate of his career. His stuff has diminished to the point that he’s now a nibbler, but he doesn’t get swings and misses out of the zone anymore.

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His in-zone contact rates are fairly steady (though worse than in his prime), but the lack of whiffs out of the zone means that Gallardo doesn’t really have any way to put batters away anymore, and so now he’s just a pitch-to-contact guy who doesn’t throw enough strikes.

If you want to be optimistic, you can look at his prior track record of success and his age, and hope that maybe Gallardo can get some of his prior stuff back, but the trends here are all negative. As a guy who throws 90 and doesn’t have an out pitch or plus command, he’s really nothing more than a #5 starter at this point, and even that might be generous. And toss in the elbow problems that turned his initial three year deal with Baltimore into a two year deal following his physical, then landed him on the disabled list last year, he’s not even necessarily an innings sponge you can count on to stay healthy.

Perhaps when your internal options are Ariel Miranda or Nathan Karns, even Gallardo looks useful, but for a team looking to win in the short-term, they should probably do better than hand the ball to Gallardo every five days. Smith isn’t a huge loss, especially with the team having younger outfielders worth taking a look at, but this feels like moving a useful-but-flawed outfield for a less-useful-and-flawed pitcher. Sure, the Mariners needed a pitcher more, but unless they know how to get Gallardo’s velocity back, I’m not sure this is the arm they needed.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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abailey
6 years ago

Are all the free agent starting pitchers asking for a ton of cash or something?

srpst23
6 years ago
Reply to  abailey

Well from what I can tell the list of free agent pitchers projected for more than YoGo’s 0.9 fWAR is T. Ross, J. Hammel, D. Fister, and J. de la Rosa. I guess if Ross isn’t totally broken and Hammel’s age doesn’t catch up they’d be better. There aren’t a ton of options for pitching depth out there.

abailey
6 years ago
Reply to  srpst23

Fister and de la Rosa were the two guys that struck me as interchangeable with Gallardo. I guess it’s not like Seth Smith has significant trade value anyway and they seemed like they decided he had to go.