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November 6, 2015

Transaction Analysis

Dipoto Makes It His Team

by R.J. Anderson, Christopher Crawford and George Bissell

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

SEATTLE MARINERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Nate Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, and OF-L Boog Powell from the Rays in exchange for SS/OF-L Brad Miller, 1B/OF-L Logan Morrison, and RHP Danny Farquhar. [11/5]

The key to the deal from the Mariners' perspective is Karns, a cost-controlled starter coming off a fine rookie season. He's big and physical and pairs a quality fastball and curveball with a developing changeup. The blemishes with Karns are that he's older than most pitchers with equivalent service time (he turns 28 later in the month), and that he's had numerous health woes in the past, ranging from shoulder surgery to forearm tightness that ended his season prematurely. The Rays kept him on a short leash as part of a questionable team-wide effort, but the best-case scenario here sees him develop into an innings-munching mid-rotation starter.

This trade ensures that Ketel Marte is going to be the starter at shortstop or in center field come spring, depending on what the Mariners do with the rest of the winter. Given the respective free-agent pools for each position, the smart money is on Marte opening the season at short.

The other part of the M's return that has big-league experience, Riefenhauser used to look like a plausible sixth- or seventh-inning arm with a promising three-pitch mix. He's since dealt with various injuries, including shoulder trouble that nixed his inclusion in previous trades. By the end of last season, Riefenhauser was using a slider-first approach and pitching in the upper-80s with his fastball. That combination, along with his crossfire delivery, has led him to a great deal of success in the minors. It seems unlikely to translate in whole to the majors, however, which means he's probably looking at a future as a second lefty as a best-case scenario. —R.J. Anderson

This will be the third organization Powell has been with in the past 14 months, but Seattle should be his final landing spot—provided they protect him from the upcoming Rule 5 draft, anyway.

Powell's best tool is the hit tool—a good best tool if you're going to be a hitter—and he sprays line drives all over the park using a quick, compact swing. His frame and swing path make him a 30-grade power hitter at best, though there's enough bat speed to put the ball into the gap, where his plus speed allows him to turn singles into doubles, etc. He's an assertive hitter who will swing at first-pitch fastballs, but will also draw his fair share of walks to put his wheels on the bases.

Defensively, Powell has the speed to play center, and while the arm isn't anything to write home about, it's competent enough that he can handle all three outfield positions. This is the type of player who can make a long living as a fourth outfielder, but there's also a slim chance that he becomes an everyday top-of-the-order guy. —Christopher Crawford

Fantasy Impact

Nathan Karns

Switching homes from Tropicana Field to the even more spacious dimensions of Safeco Field won’t have much impact on Karns’ fantasy value. But what does make Karns' transition tantalizing from a fantasy perspective is that he will no longer have to deal with the hitters paradises and the fearsome lineups that occupy the venues in Boston, New York, Toronto, and Baltimore.

While losing “The Outlaw” in center field is a bummer, Karns' rather extreme propensity for inducing flyballs should play just fine in the AL West. Of the 96 starting pitchers who threw at least 140 innings this past season, only 12 generated a higher percentage of flyballs than Karns (24 percent), whose 4.09 Deserved Run Average ranked 49th out of that same collection of starters.

His arsenal, which enabled him to strike out nearly a batter per inning (8.9 K/9), comprises a pair of fastballs (four-seam and sinker) along with a pair of deadly off-speed weapons (curveball and changeup), both of which are currently generating whiff-per-swing rates over 30 percent.

As a fantasy pitcher Karns earned $10 in 2015, finishing as the 36th most valuable starting pitcher in AL-only formats. The strikeouts alone are enticing, and he’s a solid candidate to improve across the board in Seattle. Firmly entrenched in the Mariners rotation, the 28-year-old possesses plenty of fantasy upside (a potential top-40 starter in mixed leagues) and is likely to be among the most coveted starters in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts in 2016. —George Bissell

TAMPA BAY RAYS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired SS/OF-L Brad Miller, 1B/OF-L Logan Morrison, and RHP Danny Farquhar from the Mariners in exchange for RHP Nate Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, and OF-L Boog Powell. [11/5]

Long rumored to pique the Rays' interest, Miller makes the long trek from Seattle to St. Pete, just as former and future teammate Nick Franklin did before him. As with Franklin, there's uncertainty about Miller's defensive home. For now, the expectation is that he'll become the Rays' starting shortstop. That assumption is based on the fact that Asdrubal Cabrera is on his way out, leaving the Rays with riveting choices like Tim Beckham and, well, Franklin. Yikes.

Miller is a plus runner who hits the ball over the park. He doesn't have the firmest grasp on the strike zone, and his production against same-handed pitching has been putrid—suggesting, perhaps that a platoon with the righty-swinging Beckham could be in order—but overall he's been an above-average hitter who contributes some average, some walks, and some pop. Defensively, Miller will need to continue to work on his technique—particularly his internal clock, as he has a tendency to rush or over-complicate plays—if he's to remain playable at shortstop. It seems unlikely that he'll be able to stick there for the long haul, but the Rays will settle for him filling in there until Daniel Robertson is ready.

Morrison had also been a rumored target of the Rays for years. Naturally, they go out and get him right when you think their prediction for perceived boneheads had passed. He's around to take John Jaso's place as the designated hitter against right-handed pitchers. Morrison's overall numbers don't suggest he's a good fit for that role, but that's because his plate appearances have never been micromanaged. His True Average against righties over the last three seasons is .280 (Jaso's is .302, for reference), while his mark versus lefties is .220. So why then was Morrison allowed to face same-handed pitchers in 30 percent of his plate appearances? Who knows. Expect Kevin Cash, whose Rays led the majors in pinch-hitters used in place of non-pitchers by a wide margin, to deploy Morrison more optimally—and for Morrison, a free agent to be, to receive a better paycheck next winter because of that improved usage.

Farquhar, listed at 5-foot-9, has a deeper arsenal than most relievers. He's reliant on his upper-80s cutter, which is peculiar within itself since his boring fastball touches into the mid-90s and grades as a plus offering. In addition, Farquhar uses his spike curveball exclusively as a chase offering, and also deploys a below-average changeup. He can miss bats; the question is whether his lack of size and command will allow him to fill more than a middle-relief role heading forward. The Rays have had some success with the similarly sized Steve Geltz by having him challenge batters up in the zone, so don't be shocked if Farquhar takes a liking to the high fastball in the coming year. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy Impact

Brad Miller

Wait. Please, no. That’s Nick Franklin’s walkup music, isn’t it? The former Mariners shortstop tandem is re-united once more, this time in the Sunshine State. Unfortunately, due to the presence of veteran Logan Forsythe (.290 TAv over 615 plate appearances this past season) at the keystone, they will most likely be forced to battle against one another for a starting gig at shortstop, again.

The 26-year-old has shown flashes of considerable fantasy upside for brief stretches during his three years in Seattle, but leaves town the owner of an unimpressive .248/.312/.394 slash line with just 29 home runs and 22 stolen bases in 1,243 career plate appearances. With each passing season, it’s become increasingly clear that Miller isn’t destined for fantasy greatness in mixed leagues.

However, it’s not all bad news, especially in AL-only formats. According to Mike Gianella’s end-of-season rotisserie valuations, Miller, who hit .258 with double-digit home runs (11) and steals (13), finished as the ninth-most valuable shortstop in junior circuit, earning $15 this past season.

Assuming he can overtake Franklin for everyday playing time, migrating away from the cavernous ballparks located within the AL West and into the launching pads of the AL East is a reason for optimism in deeper mixed leagues and AL-only leagues, heading into 2016.

Logan Morrison

The move to a slightly better home park for southpaws and a much friendlier assortment of venues for left-handed power (most notably Yankee Stadium) bode well for Morrison’s power potential moving forward. Unfortunately, the power bar is set so high at first base that he remains a low-end option, even in a best-case scenario.

The presence of established singles enthusiast James Loney and a crowded Rays outfield will likely limit Morrison, who slugged 17 long balls last year in Seattle, exclusively to the designated hitter spot in the near future. Still, the increase in playing time (without the injury risks associated with the outfield), combined with the appetizing environment in the AL East, make Morrison an intriguing AL-only end-game option (if you can live with the unsightly batting average) in 2016. —George Bissell

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Christopher Crawford is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christopher's other articles. You can contact Christopher by clicking here
George Bissell is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see George's other articles. You can contact George by clicking here

Related Content:  Seattle Mariners,  Tampa Bay Rays

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