The Seattle Mariners, like most every other team, make a habit of protecting their prospects from being taken in the rule five draft by adding them to their forty-man rosters each winter. One such winter many years ago, the team decided that it just had to make room for some guy named Yoervis Medina. He wasn’t much of a prospect, and then he just kind of sat on the forty-man for a while, never losing his spot despite constant speculation every time a guy was added. Medina was the survivor, and nobody really knew why.
After a late-May demotion followed by four outings of a very similar caliber at AAA, Medina has finally found his way off the Mariners’ forty-man roster. His exit, of course, comes by way of trade, as he’s off to the
Chicago Iowa Cubs in exchange for Welington Castillo. That’s not a bad note to end on – Castillo’s an MLB catcher who was worth 5.5 WAR over his last two seasons.
Medina, you could say, accomplished much more than anyone could ever have expected from him when he was unexpectedly thrown onto first the forty-man and then the active roster. He leaves the M’s with 137 innings pitched and a 2.82 ERA. He struck out 9.2 batters per nine innings as a major leaguer, which is certainly useful, to say the least. He had his successes. He got a lot of things done.
But then there was the 3.74 FIP – still a fine mark, sure, but almost a full run worse than his ERA. That’s largely because of walks – Medina has walked nearly five batters per nine innings in his career. The walks were there in the minors, too, and presumably they’ll be there in Iowa. And Chicago, when he gets there. Assuming he gets there, which he probably will. Because of the strikeouts, not the walks.
Medina was a guy who you loved or you hated, and it generally came down to Ks and BBs. You like strikeouts and mid-nineties velocity? Sure you do, everyone does. But do you hate walks? And if so, how much do you hate walks? Enough to look past the things a guy does right and declare him a frustrating mess? Medina was kind of the “how much do you hate walks” test. The less you like free passes, the less you like Yoervis Medina. These are the same people who don’t even trust Fernando Rodney at his best.
During his time with the Mariners, there were infrequent but ever-present suggestions that Medina was a true back-of-the-bullpen talent, a closer-in-waiting, even. He does have two career saves, you know! But that also might have to do with Rodney. If he can succeed despite that BB/9, why not Medina? Again, Medina’s got a career ERA that starts with a two. These suggestions weren’t entirely out of left field.
But this is the era of strikeouts. Everyone can strike batters out. Chris Davis, a first baseman, can strike batters out these days, and has. A reliever striking out nine per nine just isn’t as impressive as it was before. But a walk’s still a walk, and Medina’s problems with handing out bases were eventually just not rosterable. The M’s recognized this and demoted him, despite the bullpen’s struggles as a whole and, more importantly, despite his 3.00 ERA.
With the demotion and then the trade, the Mariners showed that they cared more about Medina’s 4.47 FIP than they did his 3.00 ERA. The strikeouts were down to 6.75 per nine this year, and that is what pushed Medina over the edge and out of the picture. The strikeouts were never Medina’s calling card, but rather they were the one thing that made him acceptable. Strikeouts down? Walks up? Not a player the Mariners were interested in keeping, despite success keeping runs from scoring.
It’s the right move. Medina, with more walks and less strikeouts, is not a major league player. They turned him into a major league player at a different, more crucial position, and the guy they got for him has been a much better player over the course of his career. This was a good trade, but it’s also a positive sign from the front office. They had a guy who was potentially going to be valued for something he did well that just barely masked something he did not so well. They flipped him at the right time.
To the Seattle Mariners, Yoervis Medina was a guy who walked too many batters. By trading him, they showed where they stand in the “are the strikeouts worth the walks?” debate. No, the strikeouts are not worth the walks. Good relievers can walk batters, but it’s better if they don’t. The Mariners made a trade, and that trade made them a better baseball team. But they also showed us that their heads are in the right place, and that might be more valuable than anything at this point.