Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto must have woken up Wednesday morning with a scratch in his throat and an itch in his finger, because the cure was to make two more trades. First, he acquired center fielder Mallex Smith and reliever Shae Simmons from the Atlanta Braves for minor league lefties Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows. Then he flipped Smith, minor league lefty Ryan Yarbrough and shortstop Carlos Vargas to the Tampa Bay Rays for lefty Drew Smyly to help restock his rotation.
This was on the heels of this past Friday's moves, which brought in Yovani Gallardo and Jarrod Dyson to Seattle in trades with the Orioles and Royals (in exchange for Seth Smith and Nate Karns, respectively). Dipoto has made 11 trades this offseason and has changed the dynamic of his team in one obvious sense: He has added speed to one of the slowest teams in baseball. Dyson is one of the fastest players in the game, swiping 30 bases last season in a part-time role with the Royals, and new shortstop Jean Segura stole 33 bases for the Diamondbacks. The Mariners stole just 56 bases in 2016, with just two players stealing more than six.
You can see how the lack of speed has hurt the Mariners in recent years when we look at outfield Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and the team baserunning metric used at FanGraphs.
2016: minus-27 DRS (27th)
2015: minus-46 DRS (30th)
2014: plus-2 DRS (13th)
2013: minus-67 DRS (30th)
2012: minus-10 DRS (23rd)
2016: minus-12.5 (26th)
2015: minus-22.8 (29th)
2014: plus-2.4 (11th)
2013: minus-6.6 (22nd)
2012: minus-1.3 (16th)
The Mariners now have Leonys Martin, Dyson and Mitch Haniger (part of the Segura-Taijuan Walker deal with Arizona) all capable of playing center field for them. Dyson is coming off a tremendous plus-19 DRS season across all three outfield positions. Ben Gamel also played center field in Triple-A for the Yankees. This essentially gives manager Scott Servais four center fielders to play with, and that should help a pitching staff that had the seventh-highest fly ball rate in the majors in 2016.
I really liked Smyly heading into 2016, but as an extreme fly ball guy -- he ranked 11th among qualified starters in fly ball rate -- he was one of those most hurt by the rabbit ball of 2016 and allowed 32 home runs in 175⅓ innings. He also ranked near the bottom in strand rate. Some of that was his own doing; he allowed a .316 average with runners in scoring position, although pitching from the stretch hadn't been an issue with him before.
So there's some real upside with Smyly if he cuts down on the home runs and if his strand rate normalizes. Safeco Field has always been especially kind to left-handed fly ball pitchers, although the park wasn't as pitcher-friendly in 2016 for whatever reason. Smyly essentially replaces Walker in the rotation, and although he has never been hyped the way Walker was, I don't know if there's much difference in what to expect from the two pitchers in 2017. Indeed, FanGraphs projects Smyly at 2.5 WAR and Walker at 2.2, so the Mariners haven't necessarily downgraded the rotation and acquired Segura in the process.
Coming off an 86-76 season, their 15th in a row without making the playoffs, are they better? The lineup looks like this:
DH Nelson Cruz
3B Kyle Seager
RF Mitch Haniger
The big three probably won't mash another 112 home runs, which makes Segura's presence vital -- was his 5.7 WAR in 2016 a fluke or the result of changing how he started his hands in his swing? They should get more production from first base than Adam Lind provided, and Haniger is coming off some big numbers in the minors, although he struggled in the majors.
The key guy here is Paxton, who blossomed after returning from Triple-A with a different arm slot, started throwing fastballs in the upper 90s and recorded a 3.19 ERA over his final 11 starts with a 71/9 strikeout/walk ratio. He slots in as the No. 3 guy right now, and he has had nagging injuries throughout his career, but if he can go out there for 30 starts, there's top-of-the-rotation potential to help back up the declining Hernandez and aging Iwakuma.
Diaz emerged as a potential elite closer as a rookie, and Simmons could be a sleeper acquisition. He soared through the Braves' system and looked good in the majors in 2014 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He returned last September and was averaging 95.9 mph on his fastball. Like most bullpens, this one could go in any direction, but it can't be any worse than last year's pen, which struggled to close out games before Diaz took over.
More than anything, Dipoto has loaded up on depth throughout the 40-man roster. For years, the Mariners were plagued by a thin roster and call-ups who would hit .198. Check out the negative WAR on recent Mariners teams:
2013 (71-91): minus-10.1
2014 (87-75): minus-5.1
2015 (76-86): minus-12.4
2016 (86-76): minus-3.6
As I wrote earlier this offseason, the 2016 Mariners won 86 games, "not just because Cano and Cruz had big seasons, but simply because they had fewer crummy players."
They have even more depth now, although they're still relying on that aging core to hold their star power another season. I think the Mariners are better than when they entered the offseason, but as one of the oldest teams in the majors and with the unpredictability of Segura, Paxton and Smyly, they are also one with a volatile range of results. Let's be optimistic and predict that King Felix will pitch in the first playoff game of his career.