This is the first post from new OTBB contributor Andrew Pool:
The Seattle Mariners are just about in the race for a playoff berth. An improbable 6-5 win over the White Sox in 11 innings last night, after having been down 5-2 in the 7th, leaves the team 6.5 games behind the slumping Rangers in the AL West and 5.5 behind the final Wild Card spot.
For most clubs at this time of the year this would dictate aggressively approaching the trade market in an attempt to force their way into the postseason. Yet with yesterday’s trade between the Mariners and Cubs, with Mike Montgomery heading to Chicago in return for Triple-A slugger Dan Vogelbach, have the Mariners just revealed their hand?
The instant reaction to the trade has been one of quiet satisfaction on both sides, the Cubs got their high-leverage lefty out of the pen without having to pay an astronomical price for Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees. Vogelbach also represents good value for the Mariners, offering insurance for a declining Adam Lind and plenty of upside on top of that. Furthermore, Vogelbach’s route to the Majors with the Cubs was blocked by Anthony Rizzo who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Yet still – has a seemingly even and mutually beneficial swap signaled the Mariners’ intentions that 2016 is not to be their year, thereby positioning themselves as sellers come the deadline on July 31st? To answer this question, 3 factors need to be considered:
- Just how good is Mike Montgomery?
- Can Dan Vogelbach improve the Mariners this year?
- Finally, does the Mariners current record of 48-47 reflect their potential?
Let’s start with the centerpiece of this trade, left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery. The Mariners can be congratulated for shipping Montgomery at his peak market value; Montgomery has enjoyed a strong 2016 with a 0.9 WAR, 2.34 ERA, down from 4.60 in 2015 and 3.20 FIP similarly much reduced from 4.67 in 2015. Specifically, versus lefties Montgomery has been lights out with a .162 AVG and giving up just 1 homer to 78 hitters faced.
In Montgomery, the Marines lose an above-average specialist bullpen arm, with the tools to act as an emergency starter as he has done twice this season. Whilst not a crippling blow to the Mariners. who have good bullpen depth still, Montgomery is exactly the type of arm needed to go deep into the postseason. The Cubs know this; Montgomery will have a reduced role in Chicago but one, as shown by the above stats, he can execute well. Being willing to trade Montgomery perhaps indicates the Mariners do not expect to pursue a playoff run.
But what did the Mariners get in return? In the words of Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto Vogelbach offered “left-hand offense that… was too appealing to pass up.” For Dipoto the reasoning behind the trade was “getting younger and deeper”, implying the Mariners have an eye on 2017 and beyond for a realistic shot at the World Series. Vogelbach offers premium Minor-league pedigree, with a .318/.425/.548 line in Triple-A this year that included 16 homers, 36 extra-base hits and an ISO of .230. Vogelbach offers hitting with power, playing average defense with below-average speed. Vogelbach appears to be Adam Lind’s younger cousin now ready to take his spot. Concerns for Vogelbach include a lack of Major-League experience with the Mariners primed to give him his first look at the Show as well as a K% of 18.4%, a rate that will surely rise given Vogelbach’s hitting style coming into direct contact, or lack of it, with Major League pitching.
Despite the possibility of some bonus upside in the second half of the season, Vogelbach’s greatest contributions in Seattle will not come in 2016. He is one for the not too distant future who can be blooded in this year. If Seattle were to make a run for it in 2016, they would not be necessarily looking to upgrade the offense first. The Mariners already score at a 9th best 4.75 runs per game, just below AL West leaders Texas at 4.85 runs per game but comfortably above the rest of the division. Instead an improbable 2016 run would rest, as it so often does, on solidifying the back-end of the rotation by securing upgrades over Wade LeBlanc and Wade Miley.
Despite the pleading words of GM Jerry Dipoto following yesterday’s trade it would appear that the Mariners are indeed sellers at the deadline. But is this such a bad thing? As the Red Sox have recently discovered, the asking price for starting pitching is almost ridiculous, with the asking price for Rich Hill supposedly being Anderson Espinoza, a deal even Dave Dombrowski couldn’t stomach. At 6.5 games out of the division and 5.5 behind the Wild-Card, FiveThirtyEight give the Mariners just a 16% chance of making the playoffs, hardly odds worth starting to bet the farm. The anguish for Mariners fans will surely lie in a seeming lack of ambition, 6.5 games can disappear over a strong fortnight of play. However, Dipoto’s strategy of exploiting a firmly tilted seller’s market with an eye on the next couple of years seems to be the percentage play. Mariners fans may just have to sit tight for another season.