The Seattle Mariners are out of contention. They’re closing in on the worst record in the American League, which is why it had been frustrating to hear of their unwillingness to start taking this team down and preparing for another run at the playoffs in 2016. Sure, it’s nice to see Jack Zduriencik without the keys to the car, but… come on! Surely there were some things they could easily flip for youth, right?
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Turns out that yeah, there was another move coming in the wake of Dustin Ackley being dumped on the New York Yankees. It’s another swap with an AL East contender, though this one will bring back three minor leaguers as opposed for two. And it’s not for a former top prospect who could play every day in the right environment – it’s for a 32-year-old reliever having a flukey-great season.
The trade is Mark Lowe to Toronto in exchange for three young left-handed pitchers: Jake Brentz, Rob Rasmussen, and Nick Wells. None of them are big-time prospects, but all of them are interesting arms. Brentz is something of a project, while Wells and Rasmussen carry strong draft pedigrees and some success in the minor leagues.
First let’s look at exactly what it is the Mariners are giving up in Lowe. Originally signed to a minor league deal, Lowe excelled to a 1.00 ERA in seven games with Tacoma before earning a call-up. Over 36 MLB innings this year, Lowe’s sitting on an ERA of… 1.00. It’s been one hell of a season for the 32-year-old righty, who’s been playing this year for the league minimum.
On the year, Lowe has a 11.75 K/9 and 2.75 BB/9. Both of those numbers are far and away career bests, which is kind of incredible considering that this is the pending free agent’s tenth season in the major leagues. He’s added back long-lost velocity to his fastball and emerged as something of a ‘pen ace. But he’s a free agent-to-be, and old relievers with checkered histories are rarely good free market investments.
The Blue Jays had to put together a nice package in order to entice the M’s. They needed Lowe, who’s microscopic salary was one of the few that would fit on their team after trading for expensive stars David Price and Troy Tulowitzki. The three prospects who head to Seattle are all lefties who profile best out of the bullpen. And none of them are obviously terrible!
Of the three players coming over, the one who has the most immediate interest to the M’s is Rasmussen. A second-round pick of the Marlins in 2010, the 26-year-old has seen time in the bigs with Toronto this season and last, though a vast majority of his work over that time has come at AAA. He’s been successful this year, working to a 2.36 ERA/3.01 FIP in Buffalo.
Rasmussen’s success has been due to home run suppression and a good number of strikeouts: he’s running a 8.57 K/9 out of the Bisons’ bullpen this year, though that does come with a 4.29 BB/9. It’s the walks that keep the projection systems from seeing him as anything but replacement level in the majors (which is what he’s been over a tiny 12.1 inning sample). But you know the drill with these guys: you stock up and wait for one of them to stop throwing out of the zone so much. Maybe Rasmussen’s that guy. Even if he isn’t, he could probably be a slightly-less-maddening version of Yoervis Medina as soon as today.
Wells was picked in the third round of last year’s draft. The 6’5″ 19-year-old has so far pitched 66.2 innings as a professional, all at rookie ball. This year he’s got a 4.78 ERA/4.31 FIP, though his strikeout (8.72 K/9) and walk (3.09) numbers make it clear that he’s not exactly flailing down there. He was a recent top 100 draft pick, and checked in as Toronto’s 23rd-best prospect prior to this trade. Remember his name and check his stats once every few months. He’s obviously quite a ways away, but there’s talent there.
Brentz is the least-heralded of the trio, a 20-year-old 2013 eleventh-rounder who hasn’t had much success in any of his three professional seasons. As of late he’s been a starter, though he started out his career in the bullpen. Walks have been his biggest problem, but they’re down this year… to 4.5 per nine. That’s corresponded with a disappointing drop in strikeouts, too. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the M’s put him back in the bullpen if he can’t get it together down the stretch. Like Wells, Brentz has never pitched above rookie ball.
Overall it’s a nice return for a guy who’s success cheap and unexpected. An aging free-agent-to-be reliever netted the M’s a ‘pen lefty for the now, a ‘pen lefty for the future, and another arm to monitor in the minors. Not bad, not bad. Now that they’ve gotten rid of their only competent non-Carson Smith reliever, one would think the focus is firmly on the future. The next hour and a half could get crazy.