Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto got the pitcher he targeted in the offseason -- lefty Drew Smyly -- in a four-player trade with the Tampa Bay Rays.
When Jerry Dipoto looked at his starting rotation made thin by the trade of Taijuan Walker in November and a trade market lacking in viable and experienced starting pitching depth, the Mariners’ general manager immediately targeted Tampa Bay left-hander Drew Smyly as an ideal fit.
But with a farm system limited on prospects, finding the right package of players to send to the Rays in return made the trade efforts go from difficult to impossible.
“I’ve probably spent more time throughout the course of our offseason trying to acquire Drew Smyly than any other thing that we’ve done,” Dipoto said.
So on Wednesday, Dipoto created that package that would land Smyly by making an earlier trade to have something to offer the Rays in return. Less than an hour after acquiring outfielder Mallex Smith in a four-player trade with the Braves, Dipoto sent the speedy outfielder, along with left-handed pitcher Ryan Yarbrough and infielder Carlos Vargas to the Rays in exchange for Smyly, giving him the pitcher he’d always coveted.
“It became apparent to us over the last two or three days that we were able to access Drew Smyly by making the deal with Atlanta that tapped into Mallex Smith,” Dipoto said. “So effectively these were two deals that were interlinked.”
The two separate trades made by the Mariners — No. 10 and 11 this offseason — could essentially be viewed as a modified three-team deal. It was a similar strategy to Dipoto’s two trades that he made on Friday with the Orioles and Royals, netting him pitcher Yovani Gallardo and outfielder Jarrod Dyson in separate deals for outfielder Seth Smith and pitcher Nathan Karns.
Smyly, 27, made a career-high 30 starts in 2016, posting a 7-12 record with a 4.88 ERA. In 175 1/3 innings, Smyly struck out 167 batters with 49 walks. His 2.52 walks per nine innings were seventh lowest in the American League. Over his final 12 starts, Smyly posted a 5-1 with a 3.73 ERA. In five Major League seasons combined with Detroit and Tampa, Smyly is 31-28 with a 3.74 ERA in 156 appearances, including 85 starts. He is second-year arbitration eligible and projected to make around $6.9 million for this upcoming season.
The two years of club control was a big draw for Seattle.
“We felt he was a really attractive target for us in a market where there were few pitchers available,” Dipoto said. “We felt he was a particular highlight. And we focused on him from the get go.”
Admittedly, there were times where Dipoto felt that no deal would come to fruition.
“On multiple occasions, I basically assumed we weren’t going to be able to get there,” he said. “But I stayed in touch with (general manager) Erik Neander of the Rays and continued to talk through it and never really let it drop for too long. We just generally stayed in touch. The combination of events of today made this possible. We were able to connect the dots on this trade as a result of staying in touch with those two teams. Maybe my hyperactivity perhaps paid off.”
The Mariners rotation projects: Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Smyly and Yovani Gallardo with right-handers Chris Heston, Rob Whalen and Max Povse ticketed for Class AAA Tacoma. Left-hander Ariel Miranda, who finished the season in the starting rotation, could compete for a spot in the bullpen this spring as the second left-handed reliever.
Smith, 23, was also an early target of the Mariners in the offseason, but with separate deals that netted Mitch Haniger and Jarrod Dyson, the need for Smith lessened. Dipoto turned that work into another deal with the precursor trade needed for Smyly. Seattle acquired Smith and Simmons in exchange for minor league left-handers Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows.
Simmons, 26, appeared in seven games for the Braves this past season, pitching 6 2/3 innings, allowing one run on six hits. He opened the season on the disabled list, having undergone Tommy John surgery on his elbow on Feb. 12, 2015. He made 17 appearances in the minor leagues as part of the rehab before joining the Braves. He’s appeared in 33 big league games, posting a 1-2 record with a save and a 2.54 ERA. In four years in the Braves system, he has 41 saves in the minor leagues and a 1.80 ERA in 107 appearances with 172 strikeouts in 120 1/3 innings pitched.
“He’s a pretty big key as well,” Dipoto said. “Shae has four years of control. He missed 2015 with Tommy John surgery but was back in the big leagues last year. He sits 96-100 mph with the fastball and has a wipeout slider. We’re really excited to plug him in. He joins a bullpen we feel has chance to be a pretty good group as well.”
With the two deals on Wednesday, the Mariners came away with Smyly and Simmons and essentially gave up four minor league prospects — only one of which played above the High A level.
The Mariners part ways with the talented, but enigmatic Gohara, who was rated as the No. 3 prospect in the organization by Baseball America, going into 2017. The 20-year-old lefty posted a 7-2 record with a 1.81 ERA in 13 starts between Everett and Clinton. He had fastball in the mid 90s and obvious talent. But issues with his maturity and conditioning have followed him through his career. Gohara was signed as a non-drafted international free agent in 2012 out of Brazil. He pitched in parts of four minor league seasons, posting a 12-19 record with a 4.40 ERA. He compiled 228 strikeouts in 204 1/3 innings pitched.
“We did feel like he was one of our more talented pitching prospects in terms of physical upside,” Dipoto said. “We were obviously wiling to cede that for a guy that we feel fits in the middle of our rotation and a bullpen piece that can really make an impact for us.
Yarbrough, 25, had a breakout season in 2016 and earned Southern League Pitcher of the Year honors after going 12-4 with a 2.95 ERA (42 ER, 128.1 IP) in 25 starts with AA Jackson in 2016. A fourth-round selection in the 2014 draft out of Old Dominion, Yarbrough went 16-13 with a 3.09 ERA in 61 games, 57 starts. With the offseason acquisitions of Heston, Whalen and Povse, it allowed the Mariners to move Yarbrough without destroying their upper level depth.
Burrows, 22, was a fourth-round pick in the recent 2016 draft out of the University of Alabama. He went 0-1 with six saves and a 2.55 ERA with 37 strikeouts and 11 walks in 20 relief appearances and 24 2/3 innings with short-A Everett last season.
Vargas, 17, hit .242 (52-for-215) with 41 runs scored, 11 doubles, seven home runs, 35 RBI, 32 walks and two stolen bases in 62 games during his rookie campaign with the Dominican Summer League Mariners last season. He was signed as an International Free Agent on July 2, 2015. Scouts like his power potential and project him more as a corner infielder in the future.
So will there be more activity from Dipoto going forward with pitchers and catchers scheduled to report on Feb. 14?
“You may not hear from us again,” he said. “I am 100 percent certain we will now look toward minor league deals, bringing guys in to compete in camp for depth roles. But what you see now is what you get. This is our team.”