In a Thanksgiving Eve shocker, the Mariners and Diamondbacks made a 5-player deal. The Mariners essentially gave up on Taijuan Walker ever being an ace starting pitcher because they felt they couldn’t wait for Ketel Marte to finally develop into an everyday, starting short stop.
Walker was drafted in 2010, had a couple cups of coffee with the Mariners in 2013 & 2014, then got a rotation job in 2015. For the last two seasons, he’s flashed brilliance, but more than anything has wallowed in inconsistency. There’d be games where he’d overwhelm the opponent, followed by games where he struggled to get to three innings. When he was coming up through the organization, in large part he was overshadowed by other starting prospects like Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, but Walker always had the highest ceiling. With his make-up, his fastball, and his devastating change up, many had him pegged to be the heir apparent to Felix Hernandez. In many people’s eyes, he was as untouchable as Felix Hernandez himself, which is why this trade was difficult for a lot of people to stomach.
You can’t help but remember the prospect, and how highly he was rated within this organization and among the best in all of Major League Baseball. Walker was always talked about in terms of the king’s ransom he could get for us, but we always opted to keep him because he was more valuable than anything we could get back for him.
Well, here he is, 26 years old (he’ll be 27 next August), after two years in the Majors, and it turns out he’s worth … this.
Part of me thinks we’re giving up too early on the kid, but at some point you have to ask: how long should we wait for him to make the jump? The main problem with this team the last couple years, as we brought in Cano and Cruz, and as Seager proved himself to be one of the best third basemen in all of baseball, is that for a team THIS CLOSE to reaching the playoffs, we were trying to have it both ways. We were a veteran team, but we were also trying to break in a bunch of young players. We over-spent on some veterans, and so we were trying to cut corners at some pretty high-profile positions to get by. When you’ve got so much of a core that’s ready and capable of making a deep playoff run, you can’t be waiting around for all these young guys to take it to the next level.
Taijuan Walker might very well develop into an Ace of sorts. It’s been alluded to that a lot of his issues are related to maturity and/or confidence and/or work ethic. That’s aside from the obvious issues with his mechanics breaking down, and his frequent injuries (that probably helped in throwing off his mechanics in the first place). I mean, you don’t just send down your third or fourth best starting pitcher to Tacoma – in the middle of a Wild Card chase – unless the kid has some real issues to work out. If it is by and large related to maturity, then obviously in a few years he should be ready to truly break out. Or, maybe it’s this trade to Arizona – with his first ballclub essentially giving up on him – that’s the wake-up call for him to finally bloom. Maybe, if we’d kept him forever, he’d never take stock of his career and make the changes necessary to be great. We’ll never know.
It’s also highly likely that he’s already reached his ceiling, and 2015/2016 is as good as it gets for him. That he’ll be some variation of what he’s been for the next 5-10 years and then call it a career. I tend to believe, with the switch to the National League, that should be good for a moderate boost to his numbers. They have the fucking pitchers batting and everything; that’s a free out 9 times out of 10. But, I’m more inclined to believe that Walker might top out as a #3 type pitcher, but not really a dominant Cy Young contender.
In which case, I think we’re selling on him about as high as we could’ve hoped. If you’re like me, and you don’t believe he was primed for a huge improvement in 2017 – if you think he pretty much would be this up-and-down guy we’ve seen the last two years – then the longer we would’ve kept him, the lower his value would’ve gotten.
Quite frankly, getting a starting short stop, who’s a whiz with the bat at the top of our lineup, for even an improved version of Taijuan Walker, is well worth the swap.
That’s because there was no way in hell Ketel Marte was ever going to make the leap, ESPECIALLY not in 2017. Let’s face it, the Mariners are in Win-Now mode. Cano is still great, but he’s getting up there. Cruz has probably peaked, so the question now his how fast will his decline torpedo his career? King Felix was decidedly off his game in 2016, so who knows that that means going forward? The Mariners might just have this one shot in 2017 to get to the playoffs and see what happens. Come 2018, everything might fall apart.
So, enter Jean Segura. He was one of the best players in all of baseball last year, and we get him for a couple of prospects. Even if he doesn’t quite reach his lofty peak of 2016 – which, not for nothing, I wouldn’t expect him to – he’s still bound to be better and more consistent than Ketel Marte. He hits well, gets on base, steals bases, and has some pop in his bat. And, you gotta figure he won’t be so prone to the bone-headed fielding mistakes, which gives me peace of mind already!
If Walker and Segura are the main components of this deal, Marte and Mitch Haniger pose as the high-level prospects of the deal. Marte definitely has all the tools, but like Walker, I think he needs a few more years’ worth of maturity to take his game to the next level. One would hope Haniger doesn’t have that problem, but he’s also not necessarily someone we’re counting on. I’m told he’s a good defensive outfielder, who gives us depth in case Leonys Martin gets injured. He’ll be thrown onto the pile with Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia and Shawn O’Malley and whoever else in this team’s outfield battle.
Speaking of, you figure Martin is a lock for center, so that’s nice to not have to worry about. Seth Smith is locked into at least a platoon job in one of the corner outfield spots (likely left field); Danny Valencia has experience playing outfield and should find himself there when he’s not covering first base. I still sort of expect Guti to come back and maybe take over the other half of the Seth Smith platoon, as well as probably another cheap veteran signing to compete for a spot. Otherwise, in effect, we traded one inexperienced spot (short stop) for another (right field).
But, at the very least, we’ll be athletic. With all the studs in our infield, we can really maximize our defense in the outfield. I just hope that one or two of these younger outfielders can show SOMETHING in Spring Training.
The final piece of the deal is lefty reliever Zac Curtis. It’s pretty blatant how hard the Mariners have gone after trying to bolster their bullpen from the left side. Consider Curtis another arm on the pile. He’ll get a shot in Spring Training, but in all likelihood he’ll need to go to Tacoma to start out. It’s depth, which is nice, but he’s really just a throw-in guy. The Mariners gave up a lot of potential upside in this deal, so you figure getting one bona fide regular, one upside guy back in Haniger, plus a reliever, is a pretty good return value.
This sets us up for a nice little lineup, that could look something like this:
- Jean Segura – SS
- Seth Smith – LF
- Robinson Cano – 2B
- Nelson Cruz – DH
- Kyle Seager – 3B
- Danny Valencia – 1B
- Zunino/Ruiz – C
- Leonys Martin – CF
- Right Fielder
From top to bottom, that’s not bad. The first six guys in the lineup are proven veterans; the catcher position is both veteran with some pop; Leonys Martin had a great first year for the Mariners and if he continues to give us that, we’d all be ecstatic; and you figure the right fielder will at least have some speed and some on-base ability, so if nothing else he’ll help give the top of our order someone to hit in on occasion.
Of course, on the flipside, the pitching staff is very much in flux. I won’t try to cobble together a predicted bullpen – as everything is still WAY too fluid right now – but you figure Edwin Diaz and most likely Steve Cishek will feature pretty prominently. It’s the rotation that’s currently the cause of most concern though.
- Felix Hernandez
- Hisashi Iwakuma
- James Paxton
- Ariel Miranda
That 4-hole was vacated by Walker in this deal, so who fills it? For what it’s worth, I think this bolsters Miranda’s chances of making the Opening Day roster, so long as he doesn’t completely fall apart in Spring Training. Even so, he’s no more than a 5th starter right now, and we’ll likely be looking for a right hander to fill that gap between Paxton and Miranda.
There’s obviously Nathan Karns, but he ended the 2016 season in a bad way with injuries, and I still have yet to hear about whether he’s recovering and whether he’ll be ready for Spring Training or not. Beyond that, the cupboard would appear pretty bare. Dipoto is already on record as stating that starting pitching is his next target, likely via free agency to start. But, I wouldn’t expect a huge splash in this arena. Figure some sort of mid-range deal, maybe for a guy looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued or just plain down 2016 season. And, you figure, a few smaller deals to bolster our starting pitching in Tacoma, as I don’t feel like there’s too much coming up through the system at the moment.
Considering you figure the hitting is going to be improved in 2017, barring injuries, and it was already pretty good (at least, good enough to keep us in contention) in 2016, the 2017 Mariners will only go as far as its pitching can take it. This was also true in 2016, so what I’ve said to you just now isn’t anything you didn’t already know. But, you have to think that we’re coming from a stronger starting point than we were last year.
Last year, we weren’t sure Iwakuma could stay healthy for a full season; now we know he can (whether that just means he’s more likely to get injured in year 2 remains to be seen, but that’s neither here nor there). Last year, Paxton started out the year in Tacoma; this year, you figure he’ll be ready from the jump to build upon an exciting breakout season. And Miranda showed a lot in a lot of high-pressure situations, while still being coddled a little bit in his innings counts; it’ll be interesting to see how he fares when the reigns are loosened a bit.
Regardless, the Mariners were always going to go out and get a veteran starter to compete in Spring Training (or, at least, force some competition at the bottom of the rotation among Walker, Paxton, and Miranda). With Walker now gone, this changes nothing. The Mariners could very well go out and sign TWO guys, leaving them with the option to start Miranda in Tacoma until he’s needed, because as I always like to remind everyone, it’s damn near impossible for the same five guys to make ALL the starts in a single Major League Baseball season.
As always, it’s best to look at all the moves as a collective, when we get to Spring Training. On its surface, I like the Walker deal mostly because I have my doubts about the pieces we gave away, and I also like shoring up a prime spot like short stop. But, if this means we’re only able to bring scrubs into our starting rotation, then obviously you have to look at the Walker trade in a different light.
And, like I always say, I don’t want no scrubs!