Free Agent Watch: Mariners Trade Vargas For Morales

Well, yeah, duh, it’s not a “free agent” type of transaction, but I’m too stubborn to stop now with this theme I’ve created.

So, yesterday I had this post all written out.  It was titled, “The Mariners Make Me Sad” and I think you can guess the subject matter.  Essentially, I was lamenting the market as it stands; how would the Mariners ever get better without trading away the whole farm or giving a billion dollars to the likes of Nick Swisher?

Overpaying.  That’s the theme of this (and every) offseason.  If you’re a team in desperate need (and, believe you me, the Mariners are in desperate need), and everyone knows you’re a team in desperate need, then they’re going to take advantage of you.  As I said before, these other general managers and player agents, they’re NOT your friends!  They’re out to swindle you every chance they get!  The smart agents & GMs prey upon the weak, so they can have praise heaped upon them in large shovelfuls by the media.  And they knew:  either the Mariners were going to have to trade a bunch of prospects in the high minors (because they don’t have any good prospects who have already reached the Major League level), or the Mariners were going to have to shell out a huge, crippling contract to whatever free agent is leftover.  The Nick Swishers of the world (mainly, just Nick Swisher).

That was, essentially, a depressing thought.  That no matter what the Seattle Mariners did this offseason, they were guaranteed to jeopardize the organization for years to come.  Either by way of a burdensome contract to overcome for a player not worth the salary, or by depleting your prospect reserves, or by simply doing nothing, sucking for another year, and coming one year closer to death without a Championship.

And then this trade fell in our laps.  And it rendered a few hundred words completely obsolete.

First, we say goodbye to Jason Vargas.  He’s a #3 starter who was thrust into the role of a #2 starter and performed admirably for the Mariners.  I honestly can’t say enough good things about the guy, and not just because he’s leaving.  Over the last three years, he’s given you around 200 innings per and he’s been either 2:1 or 3:1 in strikeouts-to-walks.  Are his home/road splits pretty glaring?  Sure.  Does he tend to give up homers in bunches?  What flyball pitcher doesn’t?  But, you’re talking about a Mariners team which, for the last three years, has been known for its pitching.  If they’ve been in (or won) ANY games, it was because of their pitching.  Yes, Felix has a lot to do with that.  But, on the very next tier down, you have Jason Vargas.  He’s been a big reason why this team has had ANY success lately.  He won’t be remembered as one of the greats in Mariners history, but at least he’ll be remembered fondly.  When you consider how bad this team has been over the last decade, just being remembered fondly is a pretty rare thing.

His numbers with the Mariners:

36-42, 4.09 ERA, 119 Games, 110 Games Started.  6 Complete Games, 3 Shutouts.  702.2 IP, 691 hits, 192 BB, 442 Ks, 91 homers.

I’m sure Vargas will settle down that Angels starting rotation and if they make the playoffs, I think you look at this deal as a major reason why.  What were the Angels lacking last year?  Pitching help behind Jered Weaver.  Off the top of my head, I can’t remember exactly who else they’ll have starting for them, but to know that 40% of your rotation is set and somewhere around 450 of your innings are in the bag, that’s gotta be a good feeling.  Vargas by no means scares the bejesus out of an opposing lineup, but he figures out a way (more often than not) to get the job done.  That’s all you can ask out of a mid-rotation guy.

As for who the Mariners got, let’s take this holiday season to tear through the wrapping paper and play with our new toy.

Kendrys Morales.  He was somebody that you used to be able to plug into a corner outfield spot.  But, these days, thanks to that ankle injury that caused him to lose a year and a half, he’s strictly a DH/1B.  That’s where he’ll play for the Mariners.

I’m not interested in his numbers pre-injury, but they at least give a glimpse of the potential for Morales.  His 2009 season:

152 games, .306 BA, 34 homers, 43 doubles, 108 RBI, 86 runs, .924 OPS

Essentially, that’s as good as it gets for Morales.  I don’t think he’s ever going to put in a season that’s BETTER than that.  I’m not saying that because I think his injury has forever worsened him as a player.  I’m just saying that feels to me to be as good as it gets for him.  He’s 29 right now, he’ll be 30 next June.  That’s about the time most guys start declining.  Sure, there are exceptions, but just look at the human body in general:  you’re as fit and as athletic as you’re ever going to be in your 20s.  It’s all downhill from there.  Your 20s is where athleticism meets wisdom and that’s where you have your prime.  After that, your athleticism declines and you’re forced to rely on your wisdom to get you by.  See:  Raul Ibanez (seriously, how is he still playing?  He’s got all the athleticism of your Great Aunt Mildred trying to ice skate!).

Just because I don’t think he’ll be any BETTER than that doesn’t mean I don’t think he can still approach those numbers.  Let’s look at his more-relevant 2012 season:

134 games, .273 BA, 22 homers, 26 doubles, 73 RBI, 61 runs, .787 OPS

Taking a look at the 2012 Mariners, when you compare his numbers to players who were involved in a comparable number of games (so, excluding John Jaso, because he only appeared 108 times, and who knows how his numbers would look with another 161 plate appearances tacked on), you see a guy who is better than just about anyone we had last year.  To wit, his .273 batting average out-classes everyone on the Mariners last year.  His 22 homers would’ve led the team.  His 26 doubles would’ve been 3rd on the team (behind Seager & Saunders with 35 & 31 respectively), his 73 RBI would’ve been 2nd to Seager, and his 61 runs would’ve been 4th.  His OPS would’ve been tops (again, not counting Jaso).

So, what does this mean?  Essentially, it’s reinforcement.  We don’t necessarily have to abandon the rebuilding plan we’ve got going now.  Essentially, we just slide him into the lineup and replace whoever happens to be struggling.

Last year, that would’ve been Justin Smoak.  If we had Morales doing his thing, with Smoak simply backing him up on an occasional basis, this team would’ve been a lot better.

This year, who knows?  Will Smoak come out of the gate sucking ass again?  No matter!  We’ve got Morales to play first!  Or, will Smoak’s adjustments take hold and finally transform him into the middle-of-the-order hitter we’ve been lacking for so long?  Then, maybe we play Morales at DH and have a strict platoon at catcher with Jaso & Montero.  Regardless, it means we don’t have to be the same team we were last year.  We can count on at least ONE guy to be that thumper in the middle of our lineup.  That’s one more guy than we’ve had in AGES.

For the time being, I’m going to ignore the Vargas-shaped hole in our rotation and instead focus on all the good things we’ve got going on in our starting lineup.  As you can plainly see, this Mariners lineup is going to be QUITE formidable:

  1. Jaso – Catcher
  2. Seager – 3rd Base
  3. Morales – 1st Base
  4. Ackley – 2nd Base
  5. Ryan – Short Stop

Hot dog!  How about THAT, huh?  I can already smell the runs being scored … like Great Aunt Ibanez’s Mildred’s apple pie cooling on the windowsill.  Who needs Josh Hamilton?

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