New Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto wasted little time in the official baseball offseason before making a major move to retool the Mariners' 40-man roster.
Jerry Dipoto has ignited the fire of the hot stove season and it wasn’t just a little spark. The new Mariners general manager wasted little time in the official baseball offseason before making a major move to retool the Mariners’ 40-man roster.
On late Thursday evening, he completed a six-player trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, acquiring right-handed pitcher Nate Karns, outfielder Boog Powell and left-handed reliever C.J.Riefenhauser in exchange for utility player Brad Miller, first baseman Logan Morrison and reliever Danny Farquhar.
“As I said when I was hired, we need to get more flexible, more athletic and build pitching depth,” Dipoto said. “This trade allows us to do all three. Powell brings speed, defense and on-base percentage to the table and could be ready to help us as soon as 2016, while Karns and Riefenhauser give us young, but experienced, pitching options.”
While a trade of this nature seems to be a bit early in the offseason, this didn’t happen fast. Dipoto said discussions with the Rays have been on-going.
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“We’ve actually talked to the Rays pretty consistently for four weeks,” Dipoto said. “The first contact on the Rays on this particular subject was shortly after the regular season ended. It began as kicking the tires on the possibilities. I think our strengths and their strengths and their surpluses really lined up well. The two things that the Rays had quite a bit of were starting pitching that was major-league ready and they had a lot of athletic outfielders throughout their system.”
Dipoto said Karns, who will turn 28 this season, enters into the Mariners’ starting rotation “immediately.” The hard-throwing right-hander posted a 7-5 record with a 3.67 ERA in 27 games (26 starts) last season. He struck out 145 batters in 147 pinnings pitched – the most of all American League rookies.
“We feel like he’s a very strong upgrade in that regard,” Dipoto said. “He’s a power arm with power stuff, coming off a really solid season in the big leagues.”
The addition of Karns doesn’t affect the Mariners desire to re-sign Hisashi Iwakuma.
“I don’t think we had a complete starting rotation to begin with,” Dipoto said. “This was addressing a need. It doesn’t change anything in our desire to bring Kuma back. This gives us the required the depth to make it through a major league season.”
Powell could be the Mariners’ starting center fielder of the future. The 22-year-old hit .295 with 16 doubles, nine triples, three home runs and 40 RBI between Class AA and Class AAA. He also walked 61 times to post a .385 on-base percentage while stealing 18 bases. The Rays acquired Powell from the A’s as part of the trade that sent Yunel Escobar and Ben Zobrist to Oakland during the 2014 season.
“Whether it be in 2016 – April, July or September – we feel like Boog Powell becomes a pivotal piece of this trade for us as well,” Dipoto said. “It gives us a top of the batting order, on-base, speed, center field option that we should return a lot of returns from for years to come.”
Dipoto has lamented the Mariners’ overall athleticism since taking over as GM. Powell helps address the lack of it.
“We know he can play center field, and we feel like he can play all three positions,” Dipoto said. “There are a lot of players that I’ve seen through the years that are similar to Boog. Basically if we need a left fielder, he’ll play left. If we need a center fielder, he will play center. He’s athletic. He’s rangy. He can go get the ball and he’s a gamer. He’s hit wherever he’s gone. He gets on base wherever he’s gone. The thing that appeals to us most about Boog is the top of the lineup skill set. The patience, the hit ability and the speed are really attractive to us.”
Riefenhauser, 25, had four separate stints with the Rays this season as a left-handed specialist out of the bullpen while dealing with some shoulder inflammation. He appeared in 17 games, posting a 1-0 record with a 5.52 ERA. Lefties hit .177 against him in Class AAA this season.
“He’s neutralized left-handers throughout his minor league career,” Dipoto said. “At 25, he still turned the corner in the big leagues, but it gives us a nice flexible bullpen option as well.”
The Mariners gave up three regular contributors from the last few seasons in Miller, Farquhar and Morrison.
Miller hit .258 with 22 doubles, four triples, 11 home runs and 46 RBI in 144 games in 2015, while seeing action at five different positions in the field. He was the opening day starting shortstop, but eventually lost the job because of inconsistency at the plate and in the field. With the emergence of Ketel Marte as the Mariners’ every day shortstop in the final two months of the season, Miller was going to be relegated to a full-time utility or outfield role in the future.
“Brad’s been an attractive player for the other 29 teams in the league for a number of years,” Dipoto said. “He’s been a trade target and a guy that others have come after. Obviously this year with the emergence of Ketel Marte and how well he played the final couple of months of the season, it gave us the ability to put Brad in play to answer other needs. Brad could have surfaced for us as a super utility player or surfaced as a regular outfielder, but we would have been asking him to do something that was an entirely new learned skillset for him. In Tampa, he’s going to get the opportunity to return to shortstop. It’s a good move for Brad. It’s a good move for us.”
Morrison started the season as the Mariners’ every day first baseman – a job he ultimately lost from lack of production at the plate. He hit .225 with 15 doubles, 17 homers and 54 RBI in 146 games. With Mark Trumbo and Jesus Montero also on the 40-man roster, Morrison became expendable and there was a chance he wouldn’t have been tendered a contract by the Mariners if he hadn’t been traded.
“With Seth Smith and Mark Trumbo and Nelson Cruz and LoMo and Jesus Montero, we did have an area of surplus there,” Dipoto said. “With one year of control with LoMo and area that matched up with some of Tampa’s needs, it allowed us to address some current and longterm needs.”
After a stellar 2014 campaign that helped the Mariners have one of the best bullpens in baseball, Farquhar, much like the Seattle bullpen overall, was abysmal in 2015. He posted a 1-8 record with 5.12 ERA and one save in 43 games while riding the shuttle back and forth to Class AAA Tacoma.
“It’s a good baseball trade,” Dipoto said. “They answered needs. We answered needs. Everyone walks away happy.”
Dipoto said that it’s “very likely” they will extend a qualifying offer to Iwakuma before the 8 p.m. deadline on Friday. The qualifying offer is one-year at $15.8 million. Iwakuma has until 8 p.m. on Nov. 13 to either officially accept or turn down the offer.”
The Mariners’ coaching staff has yet to be finalized. Dipoto and manager Scott Servais are still finalizing their third base and bullpen coach positions.
“We are in discussions with a variety of different candidates,” he said. “We are closer than we were yesterday but not as close as we will probably be tomorrow.”
Dipoto will head to the Major League Baseball general managers meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., on Nov. 9-12. In the past few years, the GM meetings have become a place where some moves get done as the offseason schedule has been fast-tracked.
“To me the market is always moving,” he said. “The general manager meetings years ago used to be where everything got set up for the winter meetings. Now quite frankly, the GM meetings are where we culminate and bring to fruition a lot of the conversations we’ve been having since the season ended. Every time you set a new deadline, the game changes and shifts. It’s a fast-moving game. The season ended for a lot of teams in the first week of October therefore we’ve moved on and started planning for 2016. Now that the World Series has ended, we can start putting our clubs together.”