At the offset of this most recent offseason, it was clear that the Seattle Mariners would need to add some outfielders. It was also clear that they had relief arms to spare if it’d help them in their cause. Indeed, there was the Brandon Maurer for Seth Smith trade – which, by the way, is working out smashingly for the club thus far. But even to this day the M’s have a fairly thin outfield. Brad Miller‘s not out there because it’s where he profiles best defensively, you know.
The Boston Red Sox are in Seattle for a four-game series right now, so it seems only appropriate that we’d get word on some Mariners/Red Sox trade rumblings while the two teams are sharing a building. It appears, according to this Gordon Edes tweet, that the during Spring Training the Mariners were offered a chance to acquire Jackie Bradley Jr. for Charlie Furbush. And that Seattle was the one who turned this swap down.
Ben Cherington, for what it’s worth, is now denying the report, but take that for what you will. It’s in his best interest to do just that, and Edes cited one of the involved teams as his source. Maybe there’s something to this, maybe there isn’t. We’ll proceed, of course, under the assumption that yes, there really was something here at one point.
On the whole none of this is really all too surprising – Boston has had extra outfielders for some time now, and Seattle has been short on outfielders since the beginning of recorded time. Boston would have been right to worry about their now-28th-ranked bullpen, and Seattle was right to hesitate before dealing away another key component of their now-27th-ranked bullpen. Makes sense why it was proposed, makes sense why it was rejected.
Except that there’s more to players than simply their roles on a team. Furbush is playing for $1.3 million this year, and will be arbitration eligible another two years after this one. He’s a 29-year-old lefty reliever who’s been worth 2.4 WAR over the last four-plus seasons. Bradley Jr. is a 25-year-old center fielder who was a fixture on top prospect lists as recently as a year ago. He’s an absolutely sterling defender, but owns a ludicrously bad 49 wRC+ over 539 MLB plate appearances.
Tempting. Definitely tempting. The Mariners have shown in the past that they love to gamble on former (or current) top prospects, though they’ve certainly been burned badly by giving prominent roles to the likes of Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and Dustin Ackley, among others. But Fenway is a hitter’s park, and Safeco is a pitcher’s park. Bradley doesn’t seem like a good bet to just start hitting all of a sudden, and a move to the Pacific Northwest wouldn’t have been much help.
What it boils down to, from the M’s perspective, is that this wouldn’t have been a win-now move. The bullpen, which had already been weakened by the loss of Maurer, was widely known to be a serious area for expected regression. Bradley is almost certainly a more valuable piece than Furbush, but his odds of helping a team win in 2015 are probably a bit lower. If the M’s aren’t contenders they take this trade in a hurry. But the goal for the M’s this year is to win the World Series. JBJ probably doesn’t help achieve that goal as much as Furbush does.
Even so, the deal might have been a go had it not been the acquisition of Smith for Maurer. Reliever-for-outfielder is a good idea, and had the M’s not already made this move, then sure, they might as well have made this move. Basically, spring training was a pretty lousy time to propose this swap, and the timing no doubt played a significant role in the Mariners’ decision to hold.
Of course, defense is a problem for the Mariners, and Bradley Jr. would have been a big help in center. His defense was so good that it almost countered out his anti-offense last year. He was a 0.5 WAR player with a .198/.265/.266 batting line. The defense really raises the floor, and even the projection systems like him for a much better offensive contribution than the one he’s provided over the last year and change.
Ultimately this was a tempting idea, but not quite tempting enough. Boston’s moved on to Rusney Castillo and Mookie Betts, squeezing out a cost-controlled elite defender who might yet be something with the bat, but probably not. All it would have cost Seattle was a sturdy reliever, and given the stakes of this season, Seattle said no. It’s understandable why the Mariners did what they did, and given how Furbush and Bradley’s respective seasons have gone it would probably be a decision we’re criticizing today. But it’s still fascinating, as rejected trades always are.
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