Two weeks ago the Mariners Twittersphere (ugh) was abuzz about the potential for the Mariners to acquire a big-name outfielder. Visions of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp and Wil Myers in blue and teal excited the very loins of many Mariners fans, but alas, the Mariners didn’t trade for Myers, Upton, or Kemp.
Seth Smith is a Mariner and Brandon Maurer is no longer a Mariner. This is directly related to them being swapped for each other, and also very closely related to the notion that they were surpluses on their former teams.
Maurer, for his part, became a reliever who pitched very well in half of a season in the role in 2014, and who was mostly pretty mediocre as a starting pitcher. At one point the trio of Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton was expanded to include a new band member, the aforementioned Maurer, as elite starting pitching prospects. Maurer and Hultzen went the George Harrison and John Lennon route. Hultzen’s shoulder Yoko’d his way out of the Mariners long-term plans, while Maurer’s skills did something analogous to Harrison for which I’m unqualified to analogize.
In short, Maurer reduced his potential value by becoming a reliever because relievers pitch less innings, and often less important innings. Maurer has potential to be a closer. In fact, at some point last season I predicted he’d one day be the Mariners closer. Considering the Padres will be boasting all 37 years of Joaquin Benoit at closer this season it appears, it may be sooner rather than later that he takes over the role.
But the Mariners have a bunch of right-handed relievers with the stuff to miss a lot of bats, and considering the typical profile of a relief pitcher, they shouldn’t have a hard time fabricating late-inning relievers from undervalued assets. The Padres have the same home ballpark advantage, but have spent much of this offseason piling up poor-fielding outfielders and young relievers, for some reason.
Because of those poor-fielding outfielders, Smith made the most sense as a trade piece for the Padres. Both Wil Venable and Cameron Maybin are capable center fielders, and though the Padres are planning on playing Wil Myers in center field and Matt Kemp has a ton of experience there, neither figures to be good in center. Smith is a corner outfielder, and roughly an average one. His bat and average glove make up for quite a bit of the loss of Michael Saunders, and the $13 million he’s guaranteed over the next two years is quite reasonable. The Mariners will also have a $7 million club option on Smith in 2017 with a $250K buyout, which puts the total contract size at less than $20 million if the Mariners were to keep Smith for three years.
Of course, Smith really only makes sense as a platoon mate with a guy like Justin Ruggiano, as he’s been quite awful against lefties in the limited plate appearances teams have been willing to give him against southpaws. If Smith were able to match his career 123 wRC+ against righties and Ruggiano matched his 128 career wRC+ against lefties, the Mariners may have created a better version of Melky Cabrera. Of course, this value is split among two roster spots, but it costs less, fields better, and doesn’t come with the residual PED concern.
Seth Smith isn’t sexy. I mean, I’m sure his wife finds him attractive, but his inclusion on the 2015 Mariners isn’t inspiring vigorous love making. It’s not even going to inspire anyone to buy season tickets. But Smith improves the Mariners in a way that very few players of his price range could have, and the Mariners gave up only a small part of their future to acquire him.