The Seattle-Pittsburgh Deal

It’s no secret that I’m both a Mariner fan and an Ian Snell fan, as I’ve been lobbying for the M’s to acquire the guy from Pittsburgh for the last two months. I laid my reasons for liking Snell at the time, and his Triple-A performance hasn’t lessened my enthusiasm.

So, when the Mariners actually go out and trade for Snell, you would think I’d be a happy man. However, my first reaction when I heard about the deal that sent Jeff Clement, Ronny Cedeno, Brett Lorin, Aaron Pribanic, and Nathan Adcock to Pittsburgh for Snell and Jack Wilson was “yuck”.

Let’s start with what the Mariners are getting. Wilson is a really good defensive shortstop who can hit well enough to justify his place in the line-up. Despite a lack of power and an aggressive approach at the plate, he’s still been a +1.5 to +2.5 win player for most of his career. He’s essentially a league average shortstop, and at $7.25 million in salary for 2009 with a team option at $8.4 million for 2010, he’s not overly expensive for what he is. He’s a solid role player who does enough things well to earn his contract and won’t hurt the team he’s playing for.

But he’s also 31 years old, and while he’s not overly expensive, he’s not a bargain either. Adam Everett is a similar player and signed a 1 year, $1 million deal with the Tigers last winter. Wilson’s salary makes him a small asset, not a big one. He’s not the kind of player the Mariners should be giving up significant pieces to attain.

So, that leaves Snell as the main piece of value coming back. While I’m a fan, I also saw him as a buy-low opportunity, as he was done in Pittsburgh and everyone knew it. He’s not an ace – he’s a guy with good stuff and average to below average command and some well documented issues with his prior organization. I don’t like the word headcase, but when you’re talking about a guy who would rather pitch in Triple-A than the majors, it’s hard to argue with.

Snell’s contract is better than Wilson’s, as he makes just $4.25 million next year and then has two club options for 2011 and 2012 that could be bargains if he rebounds to prior form. But there’s obviously the risk that he won’t, and then you’re looking at getting one year of Snell and letting him leave. He may be a long term asset… or he might be a one year flop.

For two guys with minimal value, the Mariners parted with five young players.

Clement’s the big name of the bunch, as a LH DH/1B/C? with power who had no future with the Mariners. He can hit righties, but his ability to do anything else is questionable. His knee problems have kept him from catching, and the bat might not be good enough to make him more than a solid 1B/DH type, especially if he can’t figure out LHPs.

Cedeno is a solid utility infielder who plays good defense at SS/2B, but can’t hit. He’s a nice role player, but basically the definition of replacement level.

It’s the three pitchers that the team gave up that pushes the deal in Pittsburgh’s favor. Pribanic and Lorin were the teams 4th and 5th round picks in 2008, and both had impressed in their first year as professionals.

Pribanic’s an extreme groundball guy who throws strikes but lacks an out-pitch, so he profiles as a #5 starter or a good reliever. If his breaking ball improves, he could beat that upside, though.

Lorin’s a good command guy with a nice breaking ball and an average fastball, plus some projectability as a big guy (6’7/250) who hasn’t had much experience on the mound. If he adds a couple of MPH to his fastball, he could be a mid-rotation starter.

Adcock had struggled of late with his command, but as a 21-year-old with a decent fastball-curveball combination and the ability to get groundballs, he’s also an interesting arm. Getting him out of High Desert should give Pittsburgh a better idea of where he stands right now.

They’re all just decent pitching prospects instead of good ones, so the M’s gave up quantity over quality, but the old cliche about building a rotation by getting a ton of arms and seeing who sticks is really true. The M’s had done a good job of collecting an inventory of decent arms, and they just depleted that fairly heavily, while also giving up a LH power bat, for two guys with marginal value.

Pittsburgh is the easy winner of this deal, as they get some interesting young talent and shed some salary without losing much that will hurt them. The Mariners could still salvage this by moving Wilson before Friday’s deadline for a younger SS with more long term potential, but if they stand pat with Wilson as the team’s shortstop for 2009 and maybe 2010, color me disappointed.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Jed MC
14 years ago

If there is cash going to Seattle as part of the deal, does it change your opinion?

How much would have to go to even out this deal from your perspective?