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.

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