Early in the offseason, the Mariners targeted left-handed starting pitcher Drew Smyly, as a perfect fit for a starting rotation in need of an experienced talent upgrade. But with a farm system limited on prospects, finding the right package of players to send to the Tampa Bay Rays in return made the trade go from difficult to impossible.
"I've probably spent more time throughout the course of our offseason trying to acquire Drew Smyly than any other thing that we've done," general manager Jerry Dipoto said.
So on Wednesday, Dipoto created that package that would land Smyly by making an earlier trade to have something to offer the Rays in return. Less than an hour after acquiring outfielder Mallex Smith in a four-player trade with the Braves, Dipoto sent the speedy outfielder, along with left-handed pitcher Ryan Yarbrough and infielder Carlos Vargas to the Rays in exchange for Smyly, giving him the pitcher he'd always coveted.
"It became apparent to us over the last two or three days that we were able to access Drew Smyly by making the deal with Atlanta that tapped into Mallex Smith," Dipoto said. "So effectively these were two deals that were interlinked."
It was the 11th trade for Dipoto this offseason and one of his most important, giving him a proven starter to place in the middle of the starting rotation.
Smyly, 27, made a career-high 30 starts, posting a 7-12 record with a 4.88 ERA this past season. In 1751/3 innings, Smyly struck out 167 batters with 49 walks. His 2.52 walks per nine innings were seventh lowest in the American League. Over his final 12 starts, Smyly posted a 5-1 with a 3.73 ERA. In five major league seasons combined with Detroit and Tampa, Smyly is 31-28 with a 3.74 ERA in 156 appearances, including 85 starts. He is second-year arbitration eligible and projected to make around $6.9 million for this upcoming season. The two years of club control was a big draw for Seattle.
"We felt he was a really attractive target for us in a market where there were few pitchers available," Dipoto said. "We felt he was a particular highlight. And we focused on him from the get go."
Admittedly, there were times where Dipoto felt that no deal would come to fruition.
"On multiple occasions, I basically assumed we weren't going to be able to get there," he said. "But I stayed in touch with (general manager) Erik Neander of the Rays and continued to talk through it and never really let it drop for too long. We just generally stayed in touch. The combination of events of today made this possible. We were able to connect the dots on this trade as a result of staying in touch with those two teams. Maybe my hyperactivity perhaps paid off."
The Mariners rotation projects: Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Hisashi Iwakuma, Smyly and Yovani Gallardo with right-handers Chris Heston and Rob Whalen ticketed for Class AAA Tacoma. Left-hander Ariel Miranda, who finished the season in the starting rotation, could compete for a spot in the bullpen this spring as the second left-handed reliever.
Smith, 23, was also an early target of the Mariners in the offseason, but with separate deals that netted Mitch Haniger and Jarrod Dyson. The need for Smith lessened. Dipoto turned that work into another deal. He made his MLB debut this past season, playing in 72 games and hitting .238 (45-for-189) with a .316 on-base percentage, seven doubles, four triples, three home runs and 22 RBIs while recording 16 stolen bases. He is capable of playing all three outfield positions, spending most of his time in centerfield in his professional career. The Rays could start him in left field or use him a fourth outfielder. He also provides depth.
Yarbrough, 25, had a breakout season in 2016 and earned Southern League Pitcher of the Year honors after going 12-4 with a 2.95 ERA (42 ER, 128.1 IP) in 25 starts with AA Jackson in 2016. A fourth-round selection in the 2014 draft out of Old Dominion, Yarbrough went 16-13 with a 3.09 ERA in 61 games, 57 starts. With the offseason acquisitions of Heston, Whalen and Povse, it allowed the Mariners to move Yarbrough without destroying their upper level depth.
Vargas, 17, hit .242 (52-for-215) with 41 runs scored, 11 doubles, seven home runs, 35 RBIs, 32 walks and two stolen bases in 62 games during his rookie campaign with the Dominican Summer League Mariners last season. He was signed as an International Free Agent on July 2, 2015. Scouts like his power potential and project him more as a corner infielder in the future.
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