Seattle Mariners, Pitcher Salesman

Prospect trades are incredibly difficult to evaluate. Trades of this ilk often depend on the future production each team receives from their acquisitions, making it nearly impossible to know for sure which team will come out on top without the benefit of hindsight. In order to deal Michael Pineda, the Seattle Mariners had to consider many factors; including the current state of their franchise and the cost of developing young pitchers. While it will take years to know definitively which team won the deal, trading one of the best young pitchers in the game was the right decision for the Mariners.

As evidenced by the fact that Adam Kennedy received 103 plate appearances in the third spot in the batting order last season — and the fact that the team only scored 556 runs — the Mariners were in desperate need of more offense. In order to acquire that offense, the Mariners had to give up a stud 23-year-old pitcher that they signed and developed. While it’s tough to part with a pitcher this talented, the Mariners can afford to make this move based on their park.

Due to the spacious Safeco Field, pitchers are more prone to success in Seattle. Because the park allows the Mariners to develop pitchers easier, it’s in the Mariners best interests to use their ballpark to their advantage.

This strategy has been prevalent in every major deal involving a young pitcher this off-season. San Diego, Oakland and now Seattle have all traded away young pitchers recently. Not surprisingly, each team has the ideal ballpark to employ this type of strategy.

Park Effects (LHB/RHB) K BB 1B 2B 3B HR
Safeco Field 107/110 105/104 104/100 84/100 62/89 95/82
O.co Coliseum 101/96 101/102 96/96 88/94 114/86 89/90
Petco Park 107/110 103/108 98/97 86/72 116/94 59/95

Since each team plays in a pitcher friendly ballpark, these three organizations have a competitive advantage when it comes to the development of young arms. Balls that might fly out of smaller parks hang up for outfielders to run down, and young pitchers (often in need of confidence) learn that they can be rewarded for throwing strikes in the big leagues. Rather than having to nibble on the corners, the safety net of their home ballpark allows them to challenge hitters and trust their stuff – one of the lessons that often takes young arms the longest to learn.

Due to the current state of each team’s financial situation, the trade market and the draft are the best way these teams to acquire good young power hitters – generally, the most expensive asset in all of baseball to try and buy in free agency. Additionally, these teams run into the downside of playing in a pitcher’s park when they do try to lure bats to come play in their spacious parks, as hitters are aware that moving to one of these west coast cities will likely put a damper on their overall numbers, and could cost them money in future contracts down the line.

So, the Mariners, Padres, and A’s have all seemingly settled on the same plan – develop arms, then flip them for young bats that don’t have a choice in the matter.

In each deal, the teams that dealt away pitching managed to receive strong offensive pieces in return, and to help perpetuate the cycle, each aimed to get a pitcher in return that could benefit from transitioning to a bigger ballpark. Few teams were in a better position to take the risk on Edinson Volquez this off-season, but Petco Park gives San Diego hope that they’ll be able to curtail his home run issues and turn him into a valuable piece, either for their staff or as a rejuvenated trade chip next off-season. If he’s able to churn out a successful season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Padres turn around and deal him for more hitters next year, thus re-starting the cycle.

Following that logic, the Mariners decision to move Pineda is a bit easier to understand. There’s always going to be a market for starting pitching, and teams that have the benefit of helping develop young pitchers can walk away from these deals with some major talent in return. While these teams often have to part with premium pitching, their ballparks make it much easier for them to replace these premium arms, as they can get value from less impressive pitchers while using the trades to fill their line-ups with hitters who are good enough to survive in their home ballparks.

For Billy Beane, Josh Byrnes, and now Jack Zduriencik, this winter presented an opportunity to consolidate risk and upgrade the overall stock of young talents in their organization. While parting with good young arms is never an easy thing to do, each know that their home park will make it possible for those arms to be replaced. And for these GMs, their best plan of action to keep the talent pool flowing is to act as salesman of young pitchers.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

21 Responses to “Seattle Mariners, Pitcher Salesman”

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  1. The Ancient Mariner says:

    Well argued, with this additional note on the M’s and Safeco: where the park really kills power is to left and left-center, because of the wind patterns. It’s not bad at all to right — and actually, you can have success pulling the ball just inside the left-field foul pole. As such, it doesn’t hurt LH hitters much, but it eats many righties alive. That’s why Zduriencik has been loading up on LH bats at atypical positions — moving Ackley to 2B, trading for Jaso, drafting two left-hitting shortstops. But you still need RH power to balance the lineup, and for a righty power hitter to have success at Safeco, he’ll need to have at least one of two things: mammoth power overall, or significant opposite-field power. If what I’ve seen is correct, Montero has both, which would make him an exceptionally good fit for the M’s, and more valuable to Seattle than to other franchises for which that combination (while good) is less critically important.

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  2. wahooo says:

    off-topic, but….

    something I don’t understand and I’m curious about people’s thoughts–I wouldn’t expect parks that greatly suppress HRs to also suppress 1B and 2Bs, since moving fences back should give more OF space for the ball to land. However, Oakland Coliseum and Petco, both suppress singles too–so what gives? Is it that the ball just doesn’t travel well either? Similarly, how do parks effect K-rates and BB-rates. Does it correlate inversely with the amount of foul territory?

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    • Colin says:

      I believe single suppression has mostly to do with foul territory. I too would be interested to see correlation to doubles and triples. The main problem is that fly ball BABIP is so low to begin with because most outfielders are capable of tracking a lot of balls down that sending it over the fence is really the only good way to avoid outs. As a result, even if the walls move back it would probably be hard to find a decipherable correlation to doubles and triples simply because 1. they are rare 2. they can just as easily happen on LD or GB and 3. hit suppression due to foul ball territory.

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    • joser says:

      There seems to be park effects for virtually everything — even walks and strike-outs — and in some cases nobody really has a good explanation. If you’re interested in park effects and batted balls, this THT article is fascinating.

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  3. Jay says:

    It’s an interesting theory but I don’t see any evidence here to support it. The basic premise that having a run-suppressing park makes it easier to develop pitchers seems very suspect. Is there any data behind that?

    And I’m not sure it’s even been established here that there’s a trend being exhibited by these three teams. Three trades doesn’t seem like an significant sample size. If these teams are employing an overarching “develop pitching trade for offense” strategy, wouldn’t that be apparent in their draft strategies? Or in their minor league organizations? The argument that these teams forego the offensive part of the game in the minor leagues doesn’t seem plausible to me.

    Honestly, I just don’t buy it. These three teams are just trying to put the best talent on the field for the least amount of money just like every other team in the league. All three teams are in very different competitive and financial situations and all three trades I think are better evaluated with respect to those factors than any common strategy to game the trade market.

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  4. Ken says:

    wahoo – Oakland has an enormous amount of foul ground. So more pop fouls (into the stands everywhere else) turn into outs in Oakland. This diminishes the chances of all other offensive results. If park factors calculate singles as a percentage of plate appearances they show up depressed. I don’t know about Petco.

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    • wahooo says:

      Oakland is the one of the three that doesn’t seem to have a significant park factor for K’s/BB’s–so that works against my theory for how those factors come about.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        How many strikeouts have a foul ball before them? If a guy pops out 1-1 instead of fouling it off, you can’t strike him out. Thus, the K opportunity is gone.

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  5. Bad Bill says:

    Rule number one of FanGraphs: The Mariners Can Do No Wrong. Before reading this article, I was quite sure that the authors would find some way of spinning a trade of a big-time power arm for a fungible, if young, DH into a Mariners success. I was not disappointed.

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  6. MadMc44 says:

    I applaud the Mariners and the A’s in the West for what they have done this off-season. You have sold off some players to get players you feel in a couple of years may be more suited to providing a more competitive team.
    What is the point of trying to compete with Texas and the Angels after their decision to go big in payroll. I fully expect both Texas and LA to make the play-offs along with the Yankees/Rays and Detroit/KC.
    There may be that one team that makes a major run like the Royals or the Indians do for two months. I think this year the Royals may be getting a little closer to being competitive for 3/4 of the season.
    I wish the Red Sox would put Ellsbury on the market to see what kind of interest he might draw as he has two years til FAgency and it appears he will not sign with the Sox.

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    • ole custer says:

      “I wish the Red Sox would put Ellsbury on the market to see what kind of interest he might draw as he has two years til FAgency and it appears he will not sign with the Sox.”

      A boat is a boat but the mystery box could be anything. It could even be a boat! Yikes…

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  7. harmony says:

    Over the past 26 months the Seattle Mariners have traded away a decent starting rotation:

    Cliff Lee
    Michael Pineda
    Doug Fister
    Brandon Morrow
    Erik Bedard

    … with Carlos Silva in the mop-up long-relief role.

    Lee and Bedard were short-term rentals, but Pineda, Fister and Morrow were homegrown products who came with at least four years of team control.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Good point.

      In return for Morrow, they received J.Chavez and B. League.

      In return for Fister, they received F. Martinez, C. Furbush, C. Wells, and C. Ruffin.

      Fister provided incredible value for 400K, and they didn’t much in return.

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    • cable fixer says:

      Wow. Just wow.

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  8. maqman says:

    And the Devil doesn’t wear Prada but rather a Yankees cap.

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