Diamond Exchange: A Duo of Deals

Trade Background: A busy Wednesday for the Mariners ended in two trades and moving several key members of their farm system. The first deal with Atlanta sent Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows to them in exchange for Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons. The second with Tampa Bay sent Smith on to his second team of the day along with Carlos Vargas and Ryan Yarbrough. for Drew Smyly.

It has been no secret the Mariners are targeting veteran starters to shore up their rotation and it appears they have their final piece as they head towards spring training. The M’s are also taking a chance that Simmons is healthy and could add him to the bullpen mix this spring or by mid-season.

For the Braves this is all about acquiring arms with upside and both Gohara and Burrows have some, especially Gohara.

The Rays, content to move on from Smyly, also chased young talent. Smith fits a theme amongst Rays outfielders in terms of speed and defense rather than power. Carlos Vargas has the potential to be the steal of the deal but is only 17 and it may be years before he is relevant, if at all. Yarbrough contrasts against Vargas as near major league ready journeyman who gives the Rays another in-house option that they could put to use as soon as this season.

Roster Impacts: The deal contains relatively few MLB roster impacts despite the number of players changing hands. Smyly, health permitting, slots into a Mariner’s rotation slot that Ariel Miranda and Chris Heston might have competed. One of the two will now vie for a long-relief role while the other will likely be held in reserve in Triple-A.  Shae Simmons will be given a look in spring training for a relief role and may, if healthy, have some upside as a setup man or more. The Braves acquisitions are both slated for the minors while Mallex Smith and Ryan Yarbrough should see some MLB action, but neither appears to be opening day roster candidates. Colby Rasmus, Kevin Kiermaier, and Steven Souza man the Rays’ outfield with Corey Dickerson at DH, plus they’re likely to also carry Mikie Mahtook and Nick Franklin on the roster. Yarbrough also faces an uphill climb with a number of pitchers with either more experience or greater upside likely to appear on the AAA roster. Carlos Vargas, meanwhile, will likely only play in short-season level ball.

Player Analysis: 2016 was the first season Smyly made 30 starts in a season. He has also yet to throw more than 175 innings in a single year. All this came last season and was after throwing fewer than 100 innings in the previous season. So, right off the bat, Smyly considering his injury history and usage history is someone who has to be handled carefully and that a fifth starter’s role, regardless of his skill level compared to pitchers such as Yovani Gallardo, may be a good idea. A fly-ball pitcher who regularly posts fairly high HR/FB and HR/9 numbers, Smyly may not benefit as much as one might think at first glass from to Safeco as Tropicana Field has been somewhat comparable in terms of home runs regardless of handedness. Smyly does to his credit still have above average command and can still miss bats high rates, but as long as the long ball issue remains it is hard to see him as a sub-4.00 ERA pitcher.

Shae Simmons has taken a long while to work his way back from Tommy John surgery. He remains a hard thrower averaging over 95 mph on his fastball. He generates plenty of groundballs and has a slider that flashes plus at times, but struggles to consistently command either of his pitches. Simmons is a reliever with a wide range of outcomes from possible closer to Triple-A roster filler but should get a few opportunities this season to showcase his stuff.

Mallex Smith is a bit buried on the Rays depth charts at the moment, but at a minimum because of his speed and defensive skills should receive a cup of coffee or two in the Majors. At best, he could challenge for the starting left field job. Smith’s main draw is his speed which is well above average and his minor league career shows a history of someone who is willing to both draw walks and who tries to play within his game as a more contact-oriented hitter fully aware of his limited power potential as clearly seen in his 60% groundball rates at the MLB Level. Smith, 23, has yet to translate the walk rates from the lower minors to even Triple-A and did not show his contact-making skills during his MLB stint with the Braves. There is .280+/40+ stolen base potential here, but he’ll have to improve his contact, show a better batting eye, and make major improvements against left-handers after hitting .080 against them in a small sample (50 at-bats) with the Braves.

Ryan Yarbrough, a former fourth-round pick, is a 25-year old left-hander known for his good command and ability to induce groundballs at high rates. He’s a pitch to contact type likely to end up a back-end of the rotation inning eater or long man out of the bullpen.

Carlos Vargas will turn 18 less than a month before opening day. He is currently listed as a shortstop and will remain there for now. In time though he may move to the hot corner or an outfield spot given his plus arm. Vargas handled rookie ball quite well showing an advanced feel for the strike zone, a quick, contact-making bat, and already emerging power. There is some reason for excitement here but on the other hand, at his age, it is difficult to justify drafting him except in keeper/dynasty leagues with deep minor league rosters.

Luiz Gohara, 20, was one of the better young arms in the Mariner’s system. A left-hander, Gohara is regularly in the mid to upper nineties fastball and compliments that plus pitch with a plus slider, striking out well more than a batter an inning. He topped off his season by impressing in the hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League, striking out over 14 batters per nine innings as one of the youngest players in a prospect-heavy league. He should move up to full season A+ ball this year.

Thomas Burrows, a college closer and a 2016 4th round pick, has the potential to move quickly through the Rays’ system. However, he does not project to his college role in the majors, lacking a power pitch or a dominating strikeout pitch for that matter, but does at least have more than enough to be more than a situational lefty.

Final Thoughts: The overall impact of this trade for fantasy leaguers may not be all that great, at least in 2017. Gohara would have first appeared on dynasty/keeper league radar this season, but AL-only players now lose that opportunity. Smyly’s value is not hinged to his team so much as it is linked to his health and gopheritis. Vargas is worthy of consideration, as mentioned, for dynasty leaguers. Simmons and especially Smith have sleeper potential and are both worth keeping eyes upon in the near and far future. Smith’s proximity to the majors and stolen base potential alone make him a prime target in late rounds/minor league drafts in AL-only leagues. The fact that it is Colby Rasmus and other journeymen ahead of him on the depth charts makes taking a flier on him all the more reasonable.

Diamond Exchange: The Mariners Keep Busy

Trade Background: The Mariners did not sit still for long deciding they did not want to go with a multiple-rookie outfield acquiring veteran speedster, Jarrod Dyson from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Nate Karns who due to injuries and 2016 effectiveness issues had become a surplus arm without a clear path to a rotation spot.

Roster impacts: Dyson’s arrival, as mentioned, places him as the opening left fielder and possible leadoff hitter with Leonys Martin returning in centerfield, and newly acquired Mitch Haniger in right field. The winner in this scenario will certainly be the pitchers with the upgraded all-around outfield defense. Ben Gamel goes from possible starter to bench player and quite possibly to Triple-A where he will get every day at-bats. Danny Valencia will be a super sub, seeing time at 1B, 3B, and in the OF when the team faces a left-hander.

Nate Karns is still on the outside looking in at a roster spot, let alone a rotation spot. His best path to the rotation is through Matt Strahm who was used entirely out of the bullpen, but effectively for the Royals last year. He’ll return to his starting roots and is penciled in as the fifth starter despite his lack of Triple-A experience.

Player Analysis: Dyson, 32, may be coming of a career year in which he made contact about 88% of the time while posting a respectable .278/.340 line with 30 steals. The lefty is currently in line for the most at-bats of his career as a regular in the Mariners outfield. So, on the one, hand 40-plus steals is a possibility. On the other hand, we are talking about someone who has yet to top 337 plate appearances in a single season who could quickly find himself overexposed. His 2016 contact rate is out of context with the rest of his career, so a regression for him is quite possible. I’d put my sights on a 35-pus stolen base season, but possibly at the expense of a sub .250 batting average, 1 to 2 HRs, 50 to 60 runs and fewer than 35 RBIs. That could still make him go for around $18 to $20 on draft day in AL only leagues, albeit with risk.

Nate Karns, 29, after making some solid process in the strike-throwing department gave away all his gains when he posted a 4+ BB/9 last season. Things got worse in the second half as he missed significant time due to a back injury and he lost all feel for hitting his spots (6.4) K/9 in the second half. On the plus side, Karns doesn’t appear to have lost any velocity and may simply have been pitching injured or seeing his health decline over a longer time span his DL stay especially considering his solid start to the season in April and May. Keep an eye on his velocity and command this spring.

Final Thoughts: Dyson’s speed will continue to gain him value and a double digit bid in AL only leagues, but he is already past his prime years and comes from a platoon-background with a .231/.308/.285 line against lefties. Karns has upside and still managed to strike out around a batter per inning despite his injury, but currently lacks a role making him a $1 days or reserve round pick.

Diamond Exchange: The Gallardo/Smith Trade

It’s a new year, time to get my baseball hat back on! The news front has been quite quiet lately, but today’s deal of Yovanni Gallardo and cash by the Orioles to the Mariners for Seth Smith provides something to analyze.

Trade Background: Yovanni Gallardo had become expendable for the Orioles because of bringing Wade Miley on board. Meanwhile, their right-handed heavy hitting lineup needed another left-handed bat. For the Mariners, the trade of Taijuan Walker created an innings pitched void. They also will be giving left-hander Ben Gamel a shot at the everyday right-field job which made Smith theoretically expendable. (Update this all changed with the acquisition of Jarrod Dyson later in the day shifting Gamel to a backup role, Haniger to right field and keeping Leonys Martin in center.) I’ll have more on that deal later.

Roster Impacts: As mentioned, losing Gallardo does not impact the Orioles rotation given the presence of Miley. Smith’s role will be pretty much unchanged from his career-long role of platoon outfielder. As the left-handed half, he’ll likely consume his usual 425 to 450 plate appearances. Right-handed platoon mate possibility include Joey Rickard and Christian Walker with minor leaguers Dariel Alvarez, Adam Brett Walker, and Mike Yastrzemski dark horse candidates for that honor.

In Seattle, Gallardo appears to be the #4 starter on opening day. As mentioned, Ben Gamel will get first crack at the right field job. Danny Valencia is also a potential platoon partner or could in theory win the right field job outright from Gamel with prospect Mitch Haniger (acquired from Arizona in the Walker deal) likely to open the season in left. (Update: again, Haniger is now expected to start in right with Gamel in a back-up role and Dyson/Martin manning left and center field respectively). Valencia may end up in a supersub role.

Player Analysis: Seth Smith, 34, has been rather consistent over the course of his career though his strikeout rates have gone up over the last few years and a batting average in the .240s to .250s are now the norm. Smith’s HR/FB rates were well above normal in 2016 at over 18% compared to his normal 11 to 12% mark. However, the move from a below average HR hitters park to an above average one in Camden yards may mitigate some of the regression especially when you consider Camden Yards consistently rates as one of the better places for left-handers to hit the longball. In other words, instead of dropping back to the 10 to 12 HR range, Smith might remain in the 14 to 16 HR range. It may also help a tad in the batting average department too.  A .254 15 HR line seems quite reasonable.

Gallardo’s 2016 campaign was bar-none the worst of his career with the metrics backing up the fact that he deserved an ERA over 5.00 with an xFIP of 5.22 and the highest walk rate and home run allowed rates of his career. It should be noted that his velocity has dropped over recent seasons, losing a mph off all his pitches with his fastball dropping below 90 mph. His 2016 season also was notable in terms of his splits with right-handers, who he handled effectively in the past holding them to a sub .400 SLG over his career, slugged .469.

To be fair, Gallardo battled a shoulder injury for much of his season and may never have been fully healthy. He’ll only be 31 on opening day, so a return to full health (if that was the sole reason for the off-year) is not out of the question. Pitching in Seattle will help, and if healthy, a return to career norms should help in the walk, groundball, splits, and home runs allowed department. The combination, however, still suggests barring a massive improvement in velocity and strikeout rates, an inning eating pitcher with ERA into the 4’s and at most a $1 end game type pick.

Final Thoughts: The Mariners acquired, health permitting, an inning eater, but given that they are tentatively slated to use rookies in their outfield in lieu of Smith, they may lose lineup stability/predictability. As far as from a fantasy perspective, this is not a deal that will substantially change either player’s draft day value.

Blake Snell Gets the Call

The Tampa Rays will call up their top pitching prospect, Blake Snell, to make what appears to be a one-time spot start against the Yankees tomorrow. While Snell’s short-term value is suspect particularly since he has yet to work beyond five innings in Triple-A season, he’s certainly a grab and stash type if available in redraft leagues given that he could get a more extended look later this season. It would be highly unlikely to find him available in keeper or dynasty league formats on the free agent market.

Background and Analysis: Snell was a supplemental first-round draft pick back in 2011 by the Rays. The left-hander was considered a fairly middling prospect for the earlier portion of his professional career, battling command issues and owning a fairly unrefined, though projectable, arsenal of pitches. 2015 was a complete break-through. Snell increased the velocity on his fastball, regularly touching the mid-nineties, and elevated his changeup to become possibly his best pitch. That pitch, in combination with what was already a plus slider, gives him multiple swing and miss pitches. All of this occurred as he simultaneously improved his command, dropping his walk rates to the sub 4.0 range at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels.

The end result was a pitcher with a four-pitch repertoire including three-plus offerings including multiple weapons against right-handers, improved command, and the plus sinker to keep the ball on the ground and in the park. As a result, Snell leaped on the prospect radar becoming one of the better pitching prospects in the game today.

Fast forward to 2016, Snell has been fairly dominant in three Triple-A starts with a 13.2 K/9 over 14.1 innings. It should be noted, however, that in two of his three starts he walked 3 batters in under 5 innings of work in each outing and has a teeny sample size walk rate over the 4.0 mark.

Overall there is a tremendous amount to like about Snell, but his control after only a single season of showing some improvement still remains at least a yellow flag to be cautious for those considering activating him or using him in DFS immediately.

Colabello Suspension

In light of the 80-game PED suspension for Chris Colabello, one can expect Jesus Montero to have his contract purchased from Triple-A to become Justin Smoak‘s platoon partner at first base.  As I discussed earlier this season, Montero is a player who could do some damage given the opportunity. This could be that opportunity for the former Yankee to finally establish himself as a big-leaguer.