Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has shown no signs of slowing down as he made his third trade in the last 11 days on Monday, sending reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, outfielder James Jones and a player to be named later to Texas for center fielder Leonys Martin and right-handed pitcher Anthony Bass.
In Martin, Dipoto gets the athletic center fielder he was looking for. On a conference call with the media, Dipoto called Martin one of the “premier” center fielders in baseball and said that Martin had been a target of his all along. That Martin put up his worst year offensively and was coming off wrist surgery made him that much more acquirable.
“Coming off a down year, frankly, that’s when you acquire guys,” Dipoto said. “There was a soft spot in the ability to go acquire Leonys and we took advantage of that.”
It was a rocky year for Martin with the Rangers. He hit just .220/.265/.314/.578 before injuring his hamate bone and missing the majority of August and September. He was not put on the playoff roster and refused an assignment to instructional league to stay ready in case he was needed. With the emergence of Delino DeShields and top prospect Lewis Brinson on the near horizon, Martin was expendable and clearly what Dipoto was looking for. He leaned on former Ranger Nelson Cruz as well as bench coach Tim Bogar, who spent 2014 with Texas, to get a better picture of what Martin could bring.
“Tim obviously helped out a great deal. Leonys obviously performed very well for Bogey while he was in Texas and he knows the player’s makeup, how he is wired,” Dipoto said. “It also helps that we have some players here that I had a chance to speak to. I spoke to Nelson about Leonys and he had some very positive things to say.”
Dipoto also took a look at the numbers and believes Martin can bounce back.
“Some can be attributed to plain bad luck,” Dipoto said. “He did not have a very high batting average on balls in play, which is typically an indicator that it will turn around. But he’s healthy, ready to go. This is a guy who put up about 9.5 (wins above replacement) these last three years, which is not an insignificant number.”
While Martin has good speed â€” he stole 81 bases over the last three seasons â€” his aggressiveness at the plate will keep him from the top of the order. While Dipoto thinks it will benefit Martin to work with Edgar Martinez and alongside Robinson Cano, he most likely will slot into the lower third of the lineup.
“He impacts the game on the bases and defensively,” Dipoto said. “Good swing and plus, plus bat speed. The ballpark should allow him to accentuate his strengths â€” tremendous throwing arm, runs bases well. If he can bring that skillset to the table here at Safeco, it fits naturally what we are trying to do.”
Dipoto is still looking to add an outfielder.
“We are starting to see a semblance of an outfield. Seth Smith and (Franklin) Gutierrez in left, Leonys in center field, Nelson Cruz in right. Now we just need to continue to have the glue around them to fill in the blanks.”
Dipoto would not commit to how much we would see Cruz in right field but made it clear that he would play there some.
“It would be unfair to take the defense away from Nelson altogether but he performed very well last year (whether playing in the outfield or serving as the designated hitter). Either way, that requires that we have additional of flexibility and we would like to go get that. We are probably not done with our outfield either.”
Dipoto is also not done with the Mariners’ bullpen. He admitted that acquiring Joaquin Benoit helped make the Martin trade possible. Texas has had interest in Wilhelmsen for some time but Dipoto had to make sure he was covered before trading from what was an area of weakness last year.
Bass gives the Mariners an established right-handed reliever who can go multiple innings, but Dipoto is intrigued about what he could possibly do in shorter stints. He also allowed for the possibility of Bass starting, saying he could fill a swing role or compete for the fifth starter spot. In other words, Bass brings right-handed versatility, something that was seen as a need.
It’s another interesting trade for Dipoto, another trade where both teams appear fill needs and a trade where major dollars are not involved. MLBtraderumors.com projects Martin, who is first-year arbitration-eligible and has no options remaining, to earn $1.6 million in 2016. Mlbtraderumors.com has been spot on with most of their arbitration figures but I am not sure they are with this one. Martin earned $3.75 million in 2015, the final year of his original 5 year $15 million deal with the Rangers and I don’t see that number going down. Regardless, Martin should not put a big dent in Dipoto’s budget. Bass, who has one option remaining, is projected to earn $1.1 million. The website has Wilhelmsen, who is in his second year of arbitration eligibility coming in at $3.0 million.
On a personal note, the Mariners are losing two guys that I always looked forward to seeing in the clubhouse. I will miss Wilhelmsen’s sense of humor, dancing and outlook on life in general having taken a very different path to the big leagues than most.
I will always remember the first time I saw him. It was on Field 1 in Peoria, Ariz. about an hour after the day’s activities had finished in spring training. This tall, gangly, wild-haired pitcher(?) was playing catch with a member of the training staff. Wilhelmsen looked like he had just come in from the beach in shorts and a T-shirt. If there was a surf board strapped to a car in the parking lot, it had to be his. Catch turned into long-toss, which turned into a flat-ground session. He clearly had some zip on the ball, but who was he? I asked a scout, who told me that it was a kid from the Brewers organization who was in for a tryout.
“Interesting story,” the scout said with his eyebrow raised.
Jones will be missed as well. This is a guy who kept things light in the clubhouse. He mixed well with every crowd and was never afraid to throw an arm around a teammate or break out into a song or a dance, which would have everyone around him smiling. Solid, solid person and another interesting story as well. I wish both players well.