The Mariners Traded Michael Saunders For J.A. Happ

The Mariners completed a trade that’s not only alarmingly bad in and of itself, but what it represents for our offseason plan going forward.

For starters, I’m going to go ahead and pump the breaks myself on Michael Saunders.  He’s not an MVP candidate waiting to happen.  He’s a solid 4th outfielder and a fringe starter.  Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much – so why are all of our collective panties in a bunch – but you have to look at it like this:  right now the Mariners barely have ONE viable starting outfielder.  We’re currently banking on the last half-season’s worth of Dustin Ackley carrying over; and I’ll believe in Austin Jackson’s potential when he SHOWS me something.  And, assuming you’ve been paying attention to the Seattle Mariners over the last few years, you’re well aware that we have CONSISTENTLY struggled to run out three quality outfielders.  That’s WITH Michael Saunders on the roster!  Yes, he struggled for a long time when he first came up, but he slowly improved to the point where he was useful and potent as a corner outfielder.

But, he suffered some minor injuries, especially the last couple seasons.  That apparently soured the organization on him, which strikes me as odd.

It’s odd because as soon as Lloyd McClendon took over as manager, he seemed to have it out for Saunders.  Saunders never even had a shot at competing for a starting outfield spot.  The team would rather hand over right field to the creaky knees of LoMo and Corey Hart.  And, while I agree that Saunders really doesn’t have any business playing centerfield, the team also doesn’t have any business giving Abe Almonte a starting job over Saunders.  So, what was going on there?  It’s like Jackie Z told Lloyd when he first got here that Saunders is no good.  And, even as the regular season started out, and we were struggling, Saunders often found himself benched in favor of losers.  Unfortunately for all, when Saunders finally DID get his crack at starting, he found himself on the DL on two separate occasions.  I guess that sealed his fate, but I would argue his fate was sealed long before.

Which is REALLY weird because – going into Spring Training – the biggest disappointment in the organization, Justin Smoak, was being touted as THE starting first baseman as well as a potential league leader in doubles.  Why were they pumping up a fucking trainwreck who never showed ANYTHING outside of random hot spurts in the month of September, while they dismissed a truly valuable outfield rotation player?

It boggles the mind.

While Saunders’ value may be inflated among his staunchest supporters, his injury woes are also inflated by the Mariners (and, apparently, other organizations around baseball, who didn’t have what it took to provide us with a better trade).  It’s not like he’s a pitcher coming off shoulder surgery.  Most of his maladies were of the fluke variety.  He doesn’t strike me as a living, breathing Bumblebee Man, with misfortune hiding around every corner in more hilarious and creative ways.  He just strikes me as someone who has had some misfortune.  But, once he’s able to stay on the field for a full season, you’ll all see that Michael Saunders is really special.  And the Mariners will feel pretty damn foolish in the process.

In return, we get J.A. Happ.  A soft-tossing lefty veteran who doesn’t do anything well, but who also isn’t so horrible that he’s been drummed out of the league.  He’s earning upwards of $7 million and this is the last year of his deal (whereas Saunders still had a couple years left, at a much cheaper rate).

You can’t ignore the fact that the Mariners traded away from a position of weakness.  We already needed another starting outfielder BEFORE we let Saunders go to Toronto.  Nothing changes there, although now what we’re looking at is a drastic reduction of the quality of our depth.  Saunders is really the ideal 4th outfielder.  He probably deserves better – and will get it, by starting in Toronto this year – but as long as we had him, we had some real security in case shit hit the fan (which it usually does, because this is Seattle).

Granted, the Mariners also needed to pick up a veteran starter, because I think we’re all in agreement that to count on Paxton, Walker, and Elias to last the full season in the Majors is asking a lot.  Beyond that, it’s not like we’re sitting on a mountain of pitching depth in the minors.  Hell, even Erasmo Ramirez is out of options and will either need to be carried as a long reliever, traded, or DFA’d!  And, considering the strength of our bullpen as it’s currently constructed, it’s not like we can afford two long relievers.

I mention that because, in an ideal world, Paxton, Walker, and Elias would all crack the starting rotation, and Happ would be relegated to being a long reliever.  I’m sure Happ is nice.  I’m sure he’s got a little Chris Young in him.  I’m sure, playing half his games in Safeco, he’ll be okay as an innings eater.  But, he’s no one you want to COUNT on!  He’s no one I necessarily want to see out there every fifth day, wondering whether or not this is the day he’s going to implode in the second inning.  There’s real honest to goodness upside with Paxton, Walker, and Elias.  What you see with Happ is what you get:  a .500 pitcher with an ERA over 4.  He’s not going to all of a sudden turn it on.  At best, he’ll manage an ERA under 4, but that’s going to require dominant performances at home, with a bunch of Hold Your Breath performances on the road.  Great, just what I never want to see.

See, what really troubles me about this trade – aside from the loss of Saunders and the gain of Happ – is what we’re looking at going forward, with the rest of our offseason moves.  We still need an outfielder.  Maybe a couple outfielders.  And there isn’t a lot left on the free agent market.  So, does this make a trade more of a certainty?  And, if we decide to trade for a quality outfielder, does that mean the days are numbered for one or more of the triad of Paxton, Walker, and/or Elias?  You all know the rumors.  You’ve all heard who Taijuan Walker is connected to.  Is that really what you want?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

But, with Happ, it sounds a little more plausible, doesn’t it?  I would argue we could’ve gotten a Happ-like starting pitcher in free agency, without giving up Saunders, but what the fuck do I know?  Either way, he’s here now, and he could REALLY make things terrible.  I don’t even want him on our roster, but I understand the need for depth.  Teams almost never get to enjoy the same five starters playing all the way through, uninterrupted, for a full season.  But, once we trade Walker, or one of our other young studs, that just means Happ goes from Depth Piece to being locked in as one of our starters, regardless.

There are strengths and weaknesses to being in Win Now mode.  Obviously, if that’s your mode, then your team is pretty damn good already.  But, oftentimes, it leads to ownership making questionable decisions.  I was on board with Nelson Cruz, because we didn’t have to give up anything but money (and, I guess, a 4-year committment).  But, now?  Consider me VERY concerned about the next major move the Mariners make.

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