The Mariners Are Making All the Trades Again

On Monday, I wrote about how the Mariners were moving towards the model used by the Kanas City Royals the last few years, putting a heavy emphasis on outfield defense to help prop up a mediocre rotation. GM Jerry Dipoto added Jarrod Dyson to Leonys Martin and Mitch Haniger, giving the team a starting outfield of three guys capable of playing center field, plus a couple of reserves who have some defensive abilities. So, it was pretty weird when the team announced that they’d traded one of their best prospects, lefty Luiz Gohara, to Atlanta for center fielder Mallex Smith and reliever Shae Simmons.

Smith, like Martin and Dyson, is a speed-and-defense center fielder who has some real offensive question marks. As a low-power guy who ran a 73% contact rate in the majors last year, it’s tough to see him ever developing into more than just a below average hitter who tries to make up for his offensive weakness with stolen bases and diving catches in the outfield. It’s the Billy Hamilton profile, just with a 10 percentage point reduction in contact rate and normal earth-person speed, instead of whatever Hamilton got his ability to run from from.

On a team without a real center fielder, Smith would probably be a useful piece, a flycatcher who could hit at the bottom of the order and hold down his spot while making the league minimum. On the Mariners, though, he made little sense, because he’s not good enough to supplant any of the team’s three starters, and because the team’s starters are already good defenders, there isn’t much room for a late-game defensive replacement. So why would Dipoto trade one of the team’s best young arms for another copy of what he already has? Well, there’s this.

So, apparently, like Friday’s series of trades that went together, the Mariners made a move that allows them to make another move. Speculatively, Cleveland could certainly use a guy like Smith, allowing them to push Tyler Naquin back to a corner outfield spot, or perhaps the Tigers would like Smith as an alternative to Anthony Gose, even though Gose is a warning about getting too excited about speed-and-defense prospects who can’t make contact. There are teams out there who Smith makes sense for; Seattle just isn’t one of them.

Right now, turning a left-handed pitching prospect with premium velocity into a 4th OF and a reliever doesn’t look like a great idea, but we’ll apparently have to wait and see what Smith fetches in this apparent second deal.

If you’re the Braves, though, you have to be pretty thrilled about this. Even if Simmons might have some real value as a potential high-end reliever, turning him and a guy blocked by Ender Inciarte into another high-upside pitching prospect is a pretty nifty move. While we don’t know exactly what the Mariners are doing, it seems pretty clear that the Braves saw a chance to turn a couple of spare parts into a potential core piece, and jumped on it when they could.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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7 years ago

And if Mallex is a 2 WAR starting caliber CFer, the Braves just gave up ~$50M in surplus value for another FV 50 pitching prospect. Count this Braves fan among the many who think this was a poor use of Mallex Smith.

7 years ago
Reply to  n_scheffel

Mallex Smith’s player page projects a FV 45, just FYI.

7 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

That scouting profile is from 2014, FWIW

7 years ago
Reply to  n_scheffel

If Mallex is just a 4th OFer with speed then his value is only going to go down. Right now he has the shine of the possibility of being a starter, the longer he plays and proves that possibility isn’t there the less trade value he has. If the Braves have internally made that assessment, that he won’t ever be a quality starter, then this is probably the best use of him.

7 years ago
Reply to  deadpool

Speed, defense, and walks. 1 WAR feels like a reasonable floor for him and you don’t have to squint to see some modest upside beyond that. I don’t think Smith’s value is going to go down whereas it could increase significantly if he makes more contact or more authoritative contact. Rather than this being about his downside, I think this move is about Gohara’s potential upside. He might have a radically different value a year from now, which is the type of gamble a rebuilding Braves club should be taking.

7 years ago
Reply to  n_scheffel

It would have made more sense if they weren’t already loaded with pitching and had a ton of outfielders in their system. But that’s not the case. I found it odd, too.

But Gohara’s a pretty interesting player. It’s entirely possible he could be flipped for a better corner outfielder at some point if he isn’t needed in Atlanta.