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The Status Quo Is No Mo’: Seattle Mariners Offseason Update, Part One

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Joaquin Benoit during his time with the Detroit Tigers; via wikimedia commons

It’s certainly been a busy week for our vaunted protagonists, the Seattle Mariners. After the trade that netted Nate Karns and C.J. Riefenhauser for Brad Miller, Logan Morrison and Danny Farquhar, the team made two more deals that should put them in a much better position come Opening Day 2016. As the new front office continues to wheel and/or deal, we’ll keep tabs on the moves they make.

First, the M’s swung a swap with their interleague “rival”, the San Diego Padres, which brought erstwhile closer Joaquin Benoit to Seattle in return for two prospects, starter Enyel De Los Santos and infielder Nelson Ward. The two new Padres didn’t spend much time or make much noise in the Mariners’ system: De Los Santos played his first professional season this year while Ward was drafted in the 12th round of the 2014 draft, and neither was ranked among the franchise’s top 20 prospects entering 2015. That the club managed to acquire Benoit for such a low price smacks of San Diego GM A.J. Preller’s desperation, but his loss is Seattle’s gain. 

Benoit has consistently provided spectacular stats out of the bullpen, although last season he posted his highest ERA (2.34) since 2012 and lowest K/9 (8.68) since 2008. There is little cause for concern, other than what’s standard for a 38-year-old pitcher. He hasn’t missed any significant time over the years – other than the entirety of 2009, following surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff – and has always provided strong peripheral numbers. Benoit hasn’t allowed more than one home run per nine innings since that anomalous 2012 season, his strand rate has been above 80 percent each of the last four seasons, and he hasn’t walked more than 10 percent of the batters he’s faced since 2008. Few things are sure in baseball, but Benoit seems like a safe bet to right the relief corps.

It’s a good thing Benoit is so reliable, because the deal made this past Monday puts even more strain on the Mariners’ bullpen. In a surprising intra-division trade, the Texas Rangers acquired longtime Seattle reliever/former bartender Tom Wilhelmsen for displaced center fielder Leonys Martin. Outfielder James Jones and the always enigmatic Player To Be Named Later (PTBNL) will also head to Dallas, while reliever Anthony Bass will join Martin as new Mariners. 

Although Wilhelmsen has seen his ERA (and, proportionally, his responsibilities) fluctuate wildly since taking over as closer full time in 2012, he’s always posted relatively strong strikeout numbers while keeping the ball in the yard (career 0.52 HR/9). He was pushed off the closer spot when the team signed Fernando Rodney, and now Tom has been shown the door in favor of Benoit. Unceremonious? Maybe, but if the pattern holds (this being baseball, it probably won’t), 2016 could easily be a down year for Wilhelmsen. He’s moving to the launch pad that is Globe Life Stadium, so his fly ball and homer numbers will likely take a sizable hit. At least there are a ton of bars in Texas.

Speaking of hits, Leonys Martin didn’t get many of those last season. His .219 batting average was by far the lowest of his career, although that was due in large part to his .270 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play, a stat that measures how many times a batted ball drops in for a hit), well off his career mark of .313. While the power may not play as well at Safeco, with just a little luck Martin won’t be a vacuous black hole at the plate going forward. Due to his speed, he is a strong triples threat if not a homer hopeful: He has 15 career triples against 20 career long balls. The embattled outfielder, who lost the starting gig in Texas to Delino DeShields, stole 14 bases last year after consecutive campaigns of 30+ swiped bags. The Mariners ranked 22nd in stolen bases in 2015 with 69 as a team; Martin’s total alone would have tied them for 16th. Nobody is mistaking Martin for Mike Trout, but his all-around game and tantalizing potential should put the fear of God into Mark Trumbo and Seth Smith.

Fans and coaches alike shouldn’t expect much out of Bass: His 4.50 ERA last season was the lowest he’s posted since his rookie year of 2011. FIP had him pegged slightly better at 3.73, but that still doesn’t make up for his 1.34 WHIP. When a reliever can’t command his pitches, things can get ugly. Thankfully Benoit is around to make up for Bass, and middle relievers are always in abundance, so another trade/signing can easily cover for him.

Finally, in a much less heralded move, the team re-signed outfielder Franklin Gutierrez to a one-year deal. That sentence would also be true if said this time last year or the one before, as this is the third consecutive one year pact the club has made with Guti. I understand he’s a fan favorite, but at what point does practicality beat out sentimentality? For all of Gutierrez’s strong points, he’s only appeared in 232 games since the start of the 2011 season, including a whopping zero games played in 2014. He posted a .974 OPS last year in just 59 games. He’s a strong defender, but what does that matter when he can’t stay healthy enough to even play 100 games? They say there’s no such thing as a bad one year deal, but this is effectively five full years of production that have been more or less wasted. The more things change…

That stove is finally getting a little warmer, although the temperature outside continues to drop. Spring is still quite a ways off, so keep checking this space for any and all Mariners moves.

All stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com, current through the conclusion of the 2015 season.

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


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