Mariners Trade Miller, Morrison, Farquhar For Karns, Riefenhauser, Powell


Jerry Dipoto is in charge of the Seattle Mariners now. You knew that, right? Jack Zduriencik was fired some months ago, and was replaced by the guy who used to run the Angels. We here at ECS support the move, as we find Dipoto to be better at running a baseball team than Zduriencik. Dipoto just made his first major move to re-shape the M’s roster, and it’s not at all a move Zduriencik would have made. To say the least.

The Seattle Mariners have traded Brad Miller, Logan Morrison, and Danny Farquhar to the Tampa Bay Rays. In exchange for those three – three prominent members of the last two Mariners’ teams, no less – Dipoto received Nate Karns, C.J. Riefenhauser, and Boog Powell. Those guys are a starting pitcher, lefty reliever, and MiLB center fielder, respectively. Odds are you’ve never heard of any of them.

Name value out, new faces in. Classic blunder, right? The M’s wanted pitching depth, and so they overpaid to get it. Because they have no idea how to make deals and evaluate players, right? No, not exactly. You could say that this trade breaks down to three simple one-for-one swaps, and that the Mariners won all of them. Or you could just say the Mariners traded three useful players for three players who seem likely to prove more useful than the ones they gave up.

The M’s swapped out a shortstop-turned-utility guy for a cost-controlled starting pitcher. Those are the two main assets, the guys who you build a trade around. While all four other guys are valuable, this trade is most about Miller and Karns. These are the guys who were surplus pieces to their then-current organizations, and are now centrally important figures for their new teams.

Meet Nate Karns! Karns is about to turn 28, and last year was his rookie season. Not encouraging… but that’s why we look at things like performance in order to determine if a player is valuable, and not just their birthday. Karns threw 147 innings last year, putting up 8.88 K/9 and 3.43 BB/9 en route to a 3.67 ERA and 4.09 FIP. That’s pretty good! Karns is pretty good!

Sep 12, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Nate Karns (51) throws against the Toronto Blue Jays in the sixth inning at Rogers Centre. Tampa Bay defeated Toronto 1-0. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The thing about Nate Karns is that he’s got an awesome curve. His fastball is a fine pitch, and it’s not like his changeup sucks or anything, but the curveball is his calling card. It kind of clicked for him last year, and he had a strong season. All told, the full package makes him a middle-of-the-rotation starter, even if he were to take a step backwards. And given the minimal wear and tear on his elbow – not to mention his relative youth – it seems plenty likely that he might not yet be his best self.

Brad Miller is the primary piece the Mariners shipped out, and Brad Miller is awesome. A rangey shortstop with power? Let’s move him to the outfield! And everywhere! And bench him for a slap-hitting glove wizard! The Mariners of old had no idea what to do with Miller. They saw a valuable asset, a talented, productive player and said, “hmmmm, we should try to screw this up.” And how they tried! Yet he turned out alright anyways.

Here’s the thing – for as good as Miller is, Ketel Marte is better. And younger. And under club control for longer. Marte won the starting shortstop job last year, and there’s really no reason to take that from him now. Miller, as a hypothetical 2016 Mariner, was going to again be a utility guy. Except the positions he’d be backing up were ones that were manned by strong starters, and Chris Taylor is a good backup for Marte at short. Miller’s best fit was as someone else’s Ben Zobrist lite. And so, fittingly, he gets to do just that with the team that introduced us to Ben Zobrist in the first place.

The big guns are a classic you-need-this, I-need-that kind of deal. The rest of the involved players are where this gets to be more interesting, not to mention a telling indication of the way Dipoto views his roster. There was, for the longest time, reasonable speculation that the Mariners were going to roll with Morrison at first base, likely seeking to get rid of expensive thumper Mark Trumbo. Thing is, Morrison sucks, and having him as the starting 1B makes it harder to field a good team. Dipoto saw the situation, and decided to ship Logan out of town. And so he did just that.

Feb 27, 2015; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Boog Powell (79) poses for a photo during photo day at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Boog Powell isn’t a lumbering first baseman, but he is a position player, and oddly I find that he correlates best to Morrison in terms of value. LoMo (still, somehow) maintains a glimmer of prospect shine, despite a surprisingly imminent free agency and having only accrued 1.7 career WAR. It’s easy to squint at his career stats and claim to see signs of something useful. This has now twice made him a player a Major League team felt comfortable trading for. Yet he still hasn’t done much in the majors.

Powell is similarly valuable because he’s the exact type of player who’s just always going to be underrated. Only 22 years old, Powell is a defense-first center fielder with a slappy hit tool. He’s a speedster who takes his walks. He’s never not hit, and reached AAA last season. Like what you see? Yeah, me too. Yet he’s way underpowered, and so he’s going to be forever underrated. Just like how Morrison will be forever overrated because he’s perceived as being a powerful guy.

This isn’t the only area where I see the Mariners as having grabbed the clear better player. Farquhar, in 2013 and 2014, was one of the best relievers in baseball. He had double-digit strikeouts! But last year he fell flat, failing to reach anywhere close to his previous K heights in either the majors or minors. Add some tall fly balls, and you had a pitcher who was well in the negative in terms of overall value.

C.J. Riefenhauser has a career 6.30 ERA in the major leagues. But he also has excellent control – something that has never been true of Farquhar. Pitchers who limit walks have an easier road to success, and Riefenhauser also has youth on his side. Considering that he’s guy without an overpowering fastball, these are the kind of skills he’ll need in order to succeed.

And what’s he done in AAA? Succeed, that’s what! He’s exclusively been awesome in the high minors, suggesting that there’s a chance his stuff will translate to big league results one day. The Mariners decided they’d rather take a chance on a guy on the upswing that keep clinging to a guy who just bombed out (while throwing a huge innings total, no less). Even if Riefenhauser doesn’t have an MLB track record, I’m inclined to think the team made the right call here.

Sep 26, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher C.J. Riefenhauser (54) pitches against Toronto Blue Jays in the third inning at Rogers Centre. Jays beat Rays 10 – 8. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports

Miller was out of place and redundant on the Mariners. Morrison was redundant, and also a lousy player. Farquhar had about run his course. The Mariners didn’t trade anything they needed. And what did they get? Five years of a starter who just led all AL rookies in strikeouts, an exciting CF prospect, and a new lefty reliever to throw on the pile. These pieces fit much better than those old pieces ever would’ve, and there’s reason to believe the Mariners ended up with the best of the six traded players.

This trade is fascinating, and also probably a win for Seattle. Miller’s upside makes me hesitant to call it an outright victory, and it wouldn’t really surprise me to see the Tampa Bay Reliever Factory turn Farquhar back into a stud closer type. But that’s not the right way to evaluate trades, and after a hard glance this sure seems like a good deal for the Mariners.

Most importantly, I see where Jerry’s coming from here, and I love it. And he acted so fast, kicking off the offseason by jumping in with MLB’s first major trade! This is a roster that needs to be re-shaped, just like so many previous Mariners rosters. Except this time, the re-shaping is actually going to happen. So far, so good.