The Mariners Traded Away Mike Zunino

The unpleasant Mariners news freshest in our minds right now is the racism and sexism accusations by former employee Lorena Martin.  Obviously, if true, it’s fucking terrible.  Even if they’re total lies – as the team alleges – then the Mariners essentially were swindled into hiring a con artist for a made-up position within the organization that did absolutely nothing to improve the on-field success of the team in 2018 or beyond.  If that isn’t he epitome of the Seattle Mariners, I don’t know what is.

For now, this:

The Mariners sent Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia, and minor leaguer Michael Plassmeyer

The Rays sent Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley

So, that’s it.  Mike Zunino – drafted 3rd overall in 2012, was rushed to the Majors in June of 2013, played in 6 mostly-mediocre seasons – is now a Tampa Bay Ray.

This sucks, obviously.  It actually sucks in a lot of different ways.  For starters, Zunino goes down as yet another highly-drafted bust for the poorly-managed Seattle Mariners.  He was supposed to be our Catcher of the Future, solidifying a position of extreme need for years to come.  And, in a lot of ways, he succeeded.  He was a wizard defensively.  We haven’t had a defensive catcher this good since Dan Wilson, who last played in 2005 (and who was last worth a damn in 2002).  He also crushed a lot of dingers – 95 in his career to date, which has seen a lot of shuttling between Seattle and Tacoma – which is a huge plus when you consider the catcher position.  Really, he did everything you’d ever want from a catcher … except hit for average.

His career slash:  .207/.276/.406/.682.  If he batted .250 (like he did in 2017, when he was worth a whopping 3.3 WAR in only 124 games) he’d be an All Star.  But, more often than not, he was around .200 (or worse), and you just can’t have that black of a hole in your lineup, no matter how many dingers he mashes.

He was great with the pitchers, he was great throwing out would-be base-stealers, he was great blocking pitches in the dirt, and he was one of the best guys in the game at framing pitches and stealing extra strikes.  He did so much for this pitching staff that doesn’t show up on your traditional stat sheets.  All of that is going to be drastically worse, and most people really won’t understand why.  When Marco Gonzales and Wade LeBlanc and the rest of those soft-tossing jokers see huge upticks in their ERAs, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

At the same time, again, you can’t have a .200 hitter in your lineup every single day.  I can see why the team made a move.  Of course, as I wrote about earlier when talking about blowing up the Mariners, you’re not going to get anything of value back, and lo and behold!

The Mariners famously once had Mallex Smith for a little over an hour before flipping him from the Braves to the Rays.  This was all a part of the Drew Smyly deal which, yeah, the less said about that the better.  So, instead of buying low on a guy we all thought was destined to be a 4th outfielder, we’ve bought considerably higher on a guy who still might be nothing more than a 4th outfielder.

Smith was a reserve in 2016 with the Braves and in 2017 with the Rays.  He became their starting centerfielder in 2018 and did this:  .296/.367/.406/.773 with a 3.5 WAR.  That’s all pretty good, I guess, but can we count on it going forward?  Or, was that as good as he’ll ever be, and he’s destined to revert to a .250 hitter going forward?  I’ll take that from my power-hitting catcher, but not from my single-slapping outfielder.

Because yeah, there’s no power coming from Mallex Smith’s bat.  2 homers last year in 141 games.  27 doubles, and I have to believe a lot of those were because of his speed.  It’s not smart to compare him to what he’s not, so I’m not going to lose my shit about this.  For what he is – if he can replicate those numbers for the duration of his deal – he looks like a fine player.

Good defense, hits for average, can take a walk, he stole 40 bases last year.  On top of those doubles, he hit 10 triples.  Every part of that is an upgrade over what we had in centerfield last year.

Which makes saying goodbye to Guillermo Heredia all that much easier.  He never developed beyond being that 4th outfielder, floundering HARD in a starting role.  Those guys are a dime a dozen and I’m sure we’ve got a ton of them already in our system.

Also, the other guy we got back – Jake Fraley – is probably another.  Fraley was drafted in 2016 and figures to start off 2018 in AA.  He’s another defense-first outfielder who will probably never hit for power and my hunch is he’ll top out as a 4th outfielder type.  Neat.

It’s always hard to say who won or lost a trade when it first happens, but I’m giving the nod to the Rays.  From what I understand, they have plenty of quality outfielders on their team, so they didn’t really need Mallex Smith.  Heredia will be a fine reserve for them, and might even find some more pop in his bat with that bandbox they play in down in Tampa.  Zunino already has the defensive bona fides, so if they can just tweak his bat a little to hit for a higher average, then they’ve got a stud for many years to come.  A stud who’s still on a cheap deal, so if he does figure it out, he could be flipped to the Yankees or someone rich for a windfall of prospects.

Meanwhile, I guess the Mariners get a top-of-the-order hitter who will probably struggle at first, before yo-yo’ing up and down between that and the bottom of the order.  At least they’re bringing in guys who fit the mold they profess to desire (as opposed to Dee Gordon, who can’t take a walk to save his life).

Speaking of which, I guess this means Dee either moves to 2nd base full time, or gets traded for more pennies on the dollar.  My bet would be on the latter.  This obviously won’t be the last move the Mariners make this offseason.  Once we get closer to the 2019 season, and we’re able to put all the puzzle pieces together, we can view this trade in the larger context of what exactly the Mariners are doing.

From just this deal, it’s impossible to see what the plan is, vis-a-vis tanking for the future vs. going for it now.  Really, it looks like almost every other Jerry Dipoto deal, trying to have it both ways.  Straddling the line, playing for the wild card, call it what you like.  In the end, it means the Mariners will continue to suck for the foreseeable future, with no hope in sight.

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