Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Mariners, Pirates make seven-player deal (and M’s chip in another trade)Posted by Evan Brunell
The Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates pulled off what could be considered a surprising trade Wednesday. The Pirates shipped out shortstop Jack Wilson and starter Ian Snell for (deep breath...) shortstop Ronny Cedeno, first baseman Jeff Clement and right-handed pitching prospects Aaron Pribanic, Brett Lorin and Nathan Adcock.
Jack Wilson is obviously the biggest name in this deal. Making $7.25 million total this year with a $8.4 million club option, Wilson is quite simply overpaid. Yes, he's currently ranked as the best defensive shortstop in the game, but Adam Everett isn't all that far behind and Everett's making $1 million. Wilson is hitting .267/.304/.387, which certainly suggests he will hit near the bottom of the Mariners' order. So why make this deal? The free agent shortstop crop next year is tepid at best, with the best name being Marco Scutaro. "This was an opportunity for us to acquire a veteran shortstop, a former All-Star player, with leadership qualities and above average defensive skills," said GM Jack Zduriencik. With the Mariners 52-48 in a tepid AL West, the M's think they have a shot to compete next year. It's obvious to me that Zduriencik is focused on putting a competitive ballclub on the field today without sacrificing his long-term prospects after former GM Bill Bavazi razed the farm system for Erik Bedard.
Snell finally forced his way out of Pittsburgh. Citing the clubhouse as a hotbed of negativity, Snell took his 2-8, 5.36 ERA down to Triple-A Indianpolis where he chalked up a 0.96 ERA in six innings. Only 27, Snell is two years removed from a 3.76 ERA in 208 innings, so Snell gives the Mariners a great young arm they can throw into the rotation and see what happens. The Mariners don't have any long-term stability in the rotation past Felix Hernandez, and Jarrod Washburn is turning in a year certain to get him overpaid on the free agent market. For a team trying to rebuild on the fly, Snell is a great get.
So why did Pittsburgh do this?
Clement had clearly fallen out of favor in Seattle despite being just 25 and possessing home-run power. In Triple-A, Clement cranked out 14 home runs and 33 doubles for a .288/.366/.505 line. It marks the third straight season Clement has demonstrated he is finished proving himself at the Triple-A level. His failed experiments in the big leagues can be traced to inconsistent playing time thanks to the head-scratching extension of Kenji Johjima. His .701 career OPS in 243 plate appearances certainly isn't indicative of his true talent level. He'll report to Triple-A Indianapolis and work on becoming the Pirates' first baseman for 2010 and 2011.
Cedeno is a band-aid on what is a problem for the Pirates: middle-infield depth. With recently-acquired Argenis Diaz (shipping Adam LaRoche to Boston), Chase D'Arnaud and Jordy Mercer, the Pirates are stockpiling future options. For the next few years, however, shortstop is a veritable black hole (and probably second base if/when they deal Freddy Sanchez to the Giants, too). Ronny Cedeno does not solve this problem. On defense, Cedeno ranks exactly zero in John Dewan's Plus/Minus system, which is good enough for 22nd out of 35. Jack Wilson, he is not. In 186 total at-bats, Cedeno is hitting a paltry .167/.213/.290 and on 0-26 slide. Yes, he's better than this, but the 27-year old will never be confused with Hanley Ramirez, let alone Ryan Theriot. All the Pirates can hope for is that Cedeno gives them a couple years of above-average defense. My guess is this time next year he's a backup infielder.
Pribanic, 22, has a mid-90s fastball that he flashed in Single-A Clinton, striking out 54 in 87 innings. He posted a 3.21 ERA and walked 26 batters. Pribanic has a two-seam fastball that generates groundballs -- given that he has generated 63.5 percent groundballs on the season, one would subscribe to this theory. If Pribanic wants a chance to succeed in the majors, he'll need a solid infield offense behind him. Pedro Alvarez's defense at third is an issue, so I have to wonder about Jeff Clement's long-term status in Pittsburgh.
Lorin, also 22, stands 6'7" tall. He was Pribanic's rotation-mate in Clinton, and posted a 87/25 K/BB ratio in 88.2 innings. Reports have his fastball as underwhelming, but when a K/BB ratio is that solid, it's obvious the pitcher has found other ways to get hitters out. He has a 2.44 ERA, which is actually an indictment as Lorin was at 1.97 back on Memorial Day, leading the league in innings pitched and second in strikeouts. Lorin has tired as the season has gone on; his FIP has risen four straight months (3.49, 3.61, 4.32, 5.53.) Lorin is already well over 30 innings past his 2008 totals, so it's not a surprise that he's tiring as the season goes on.
The last pitching prospect, Nathan Adcock, is the youngest of them all at 21. He stands 6'5" at a reported 190 pounds -- talk about needing to pack weight on. Adcock was drafted in the fifth round in 2006, making his his fourth professional season. He's taken a step back at High-A High Desert, a level above Clinton. On one hand, Adcock is one year younger than the other two prospects and is pitching in the ever-tough California League, where home runs are more common than singles. (Okay, maybe not.) Adcock was 5-7 with a 5.29 ERA and has dealt with the yips this year, posting a 71/54 K/BB ratio in 102 innings. In 2008 for Low-A Wisconsin, his K/BB ratio was 82/29 in 77.1 innings.
The three pitchers don't qualify as any great shakes and the odds are certainly against them at ever making the big leagues, as it is against every player. However, Neal Huntington did rather well acquiring three projectable arms. Usually, when a deal is as large as a two-for-five trade, one of the teams is inevitably taking quantity over quality. To Huntington's credit, while he didn't get an high-impact pitcher, the quantity he amassed to stock the minors with new arms comes with quality as well.
With Lastings Milledge and now Jeff Clement added to their bats, the Pirates are doing very well acquiring bats that have fallen out of favor with previous teams but still have a great likelihood of succeeding. The risk is certainly there that Milledge and Clement could frustrate their new organization, but given the situation the Pirates are in, it's their only real chance at acquiring young, major-league ready impact bats.
A lot of people have been raving on how impressed they are with the trade. To me, two of those pitching prospects easily equalize the value of Ian Snell. That leaves another pitching prospect, Clement and Cedeno as the return for Jack Wilson. To me, that makes the trade rather dead-even. Given the Pirates free up significant amounts of money here, however, it could turn into a significant win if they can put the money towards their draft prospects or international signings like Miguel Angel Sano.
For the Mariners, I'm chalking this up to Ian Snell for Jeff Clement -- a swap of players whose future in the organization was ticking down -- and Cedeno and three prospects to give the Mariners a top-flight defensive shortstop that can bail out their pitchers. Wilson might cost a nice penny, but Seattle is miscast as a mid-market team: they can pay like a large market. With that kind of ability on your hands, it stands to reason a deal should be made. (Note: It's also entirely possible the Mariners and Wilson agree to a new contract that brings that $8.4 million number down.)
Zduriencik also cleared out another disappointing prospect in Wladimir Balentien, who was designated for assignment a couple days ago. It wasn't too long ago that Balentien was the reason why Adam Jones was considered movable in the Bedard deal. Just 24, Balentien could benefit greatly from heading to a hitter's park and could make 'Z' rue the deal. In his defense, Balentien simply wasn't working out for them. The Mariners acquired Robert Manuel, a 25-year old middle reliever made his debut earlier this year, tossing 4.1 scoreless innings. He has a chance to be a long-term middle reliever for the Mariners. Given Balentien's alleged talent, it's a lousy return. Given Balentien's numbers with the Mariners, the Reds are the ones taking the risk here.
It's clear that there's a new man in charge in Seattle, and he's sending out the failed, hyped prospects to cleanse the system. It's also clear that he's intent on making Seattle a competitive ballclub instead of completely stripping it down, and he's doing so without touching his Top 10 prospects.
All in all, not bad.
Evan Brunell is currently editor of Fire Brand of the American League, a Red Sox blog he began in 2003. He also scores games at Fenway Park for MLB. He was the co-founder and president of MVN, an independent sports media web site.