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2015 Trade Deadline Belongs to Sellers

I wrote a month ago about how the Mariners could exploit the trade deadline market. The Mariners have a number of impending free agents, who often do not command much in deadline deals, but there was a belief a month ago that this deadline market would favor sellers. This was because of simple supply and demand: few teams would be selling, many buying, given the parody in the American League.

The M's impending free agents aren't really stars. Their most interesting pieces are probably Austin Jackson and Hisashi Iwakuma. Players with value, but not at the same level as fellow rentals David Price and Scott Kazmir. However, many non-stars have already been traded. Did a seller's market emerge? Here are the trades of non-stars, mostly with expiring contracts, so far:
  • 1B Brandon Moss for LHP Rob Kaminsky - Moss might have more appeal than a guy like Austin Jackson, but that's debatable. Moss offers power and little else this season. Kaminsky is a lefty who was a first round draft pick in 2013 out of high school, and while he's still a ways away from the major leagues, he has a 2.15 ERA in 217.1 career minor league innings. He is a bona fide prospect.
  • 3B Aramis Ramirez for RHP Yhonathan Barrios - Ramirez is a 37-year-old impending free agent with just enough of a bat left to make him a nice bench option or below-average starter. Barrios is a diminuitive 23-year-old reliever with less-than-ideal control. Most likely provides organizational depth.
  • OF Yoenis Cespedes for RHP Michael Fulmer and RHP Luis Cessa - Cespedes is in the middle of his best year yet, and has incredible power, to say the least. He is also a free agent at the end of the year. Fulmer is a 22-year-old working his way through the minors with a heavy sinker that makes him a fairly safe bet to reach the majors as an effective starter. Cessa just reached AAA, and has decent minor league numbers. He could crack an MLB roster at some point, but may also linger in AAA as organizational depth too. The jewel here is Fulmer for sure.
  • OF Gerardo Parra for RHP Zach Davies - Parra is an underrated outfielder enjoying his best hitting season of his career and slated to hit free agency this offseason. Davies is a legit starting pitching prospect who might be ready for the majors right now.
  • OF Shane Victorino for INF Josh Rutledge - Victorino is an aging outfielder who the Angels hope they can platoon to squeeze some value out of. He will be a free agent at the end of the season. Rutledge should not be a starter, but is a decent option as a reserve middle infielder. Might be a AAAA player though.
  • OF David DeJesus for RHP Eduar Lopez - DeJesus is a 35-year-old best suited for the bench or maybe a platoon role. He will either be a free agent after this season or not. He comes with a $5 million team option for 2016. He's probably a rental though. Lopez is a 20-year-old hurler with high strikeout and walk totals in Rookie league. A raw project with some upside.
  • RHP Mike Leake for 3B Adam Duvall and RHP Keury Mella - Leake is a young, dependable innings-eater who will hit free agency at the end of this season. Duvall is probably a AAAA slugger at this point. Mella was considered the Giants best pitching prospect and is enjoying a strong season in A ball.
  • RHP Dan Haren for INF Elliot Soto and RHP Ivan Pineyro - Haren used to be great, but now is more of an innings-eater at the end of a rotation. He will be a free agent at the end of the season. Soto is the definition of a scrappy middle infielder who projects as organizational depth. Pineyro is 25 years old with solid AA numbers. Maybe he's a middle reliever, maybe he's organizational depth.
  • RHP Tyler Clippard for RHP Casey Meisner - Clippard's best days are likely behind him, but he is still an above-average reliever. He is also slated for free agency. Meisner is a tall, lanky, 20-year-old, though one with a career 2.89 ERA in over 200 minor league innings. He's a ways away, but a legitimate pitching prospect.
  • RHP Steve Cishek for RHP Kyle Barraclough - Cishek is a candidate to rebound from a disappointing season after being one of the better relievers in baseball the last few seasons. Barraclough has excellent minor league numbers, though he has been old for his league at every stop. Hard to tell if he is MLB material or not, though we should find out very soon.
  • RHP Jonathan Broxton for OF Malik Collymore - Broxton has a bloated ERA though peripheral stats that suggest bad luck, plus a long history of decent-to-great bullpen pitching in previous seasons. He will likely be a free agent after this season, though he has a $9 million option year for 2016 that theoretically could get picked up. Collymore is a 20-year-old outfielder yet to make it out of Rookie league. He's the definition of a raw, long-term prospect.
There aren't many veterans on this list with contract guarantees beyond this year. These are true rentals. I also omitted the blockbuster deals that involved stars and/or younger players with several years of team control. These are the deals that involved contending teams acquiring rental role players to round out their rosters.

The returns aren't eye-popping, but indicate a seller's market. Trades routinely included players producing in AA and AAA. A few deals involved players in A ball that are heralded prospects (Kaminsky and Mella). Overall, the going price for a rental was clearly a bona fide MLB prospect - maybe not a sexy, impact, upper-level prospect, but a prospect nonetheless.

I wouldn't say sellers fleeced buyers in this market. All of the players "sold" provide value to contenders. However, these are some abnormally nice returns. Impending free agents on non-contending teams have virtually no value for their current teams. This is why they fetch meager returns many years. There is little reason for non-contending teams to hold on to these players, so it tends to take a minimal prospect package for a contender to pry them away.

This year was different though. The most logical explanation would be all the teams contending. There were many more teams looking to bolster their rosters, and once a few players went last week the flood gates seemed to open. More contenders had more motivation to acquire players. The evidence is in the deals.

The Mariners took some advantage of this mark, dealing away Dustin Ackley, Mark Lowe, and J.A. Happ. Good on them for doing this. It seems like they could have gone even farther, but maybe not. We will never know what kind of interest there was in Iwakuma or Jackson (or others).

Happ to Pirates

News of another Mariners trade broke just after the deadline. Happy trails to LHP J.A. Happ. Pittsburgh acquired him by giving the Mariners AAA RHP Adrian Sampson.

Happ has struggled mightily his last few outings, but put a string of solid ones together at the start of the year. He remains, overall, a decent lefty in all likelihood. However, there was a good chance he would get moved to the bullpen and he is a free agent at the end of the season. Happ was another likely player to go today simply because...why not trade him?

Adrian Sampson is a more interesting return than one might expect for a guy like Happ. For one thing, he is a local kid, born in Redmond and drafted out of Bellevue Community College. He is in AAA just two and a half years into his pro career, and while he hasn't posted amazing numbers at any one minor league stop, he has held his own. Sampson gives the Mariners some pitching depth at the end of their staff, either as sixth/seventh starter or long reliever.

There is no word on cash involved in this deal, but I would not be surprised if the Mariners are picking up Happ's remaining salary. Sampson seems a little too good of a get without some cash involved. This is another small, but pleasant, move from the Mariners - unless you go back and remember the M's got Happ for Michael Saunders straight up. But Saunders has been hurt all season, so I guess everybody lost that offseason trade. True to the blue.

Lowe Traded to Jays for Three Prospects

Mark Lowe, from back in the day
(Keith Allison, Flickr via Wikimedia Commons)
The Blue Jays acquired RHP Mark Lowe from the Mariners for LHP Nick Wells, LHP Jake Brentz, and LHP Rob Rasmussen. Some hot takes:

Mark Lowe: Enjoying a stunning season, maybe not for the ages, but certainly one of the more heartwarming reclamation projects in recent memory. Lowe was once a hot M's prospect throwing blazing fastballs. His career was derailed by arm problems, and he bounced around for a few years, mostly toiling in the minor leagues. Somehow his velocity returned this season and he emerged out of nowhere to arguably be the M's best reliever. He seems like a legitimately good guy, and the fan in me is sorry to see him go. However, he makes all the sense in the world as a trade target. Lowe's value was never supposed to be this high, and it certainly won't go any higher. Great set-up relievers aren't all the necessary on a non-contender too, especially impending free agents like Lowe.

Nick Wells: 19-year-old lefty in rookie ball, so he's a long-term project. He has a projectable frame at 6'5" and 190 pounds. He was a third-round pick in 2014, which speaks to his prospect status coming out of high school. Wells has struggled early on in his pro career, but we are only talking about 66.2 innings, and the struggles aren't catastrophic.

Jake Brentz: 20-year-old lefty yet to make it out of rookie ball. Significant control issues, though he also has allowed less than a hit an inning and gets almost one strikeout per inning. The stats suggest that Brentz has some decent stuff but he hasn't figured out how to fully harness it yet.

Rob Rasmussen: 26-year-old lefty, and a former first second round pick, with solid minor league numbers that is yet to break through in the majors. He has some MLB success though in very limited opportunities. Rasmussen was a starter at UCLA, and has worked mostly as a starter through the minors, but transitioned to relief the past couple seasons with solid results. It will be interesting to see what the Mariners do with him - Mike Montgomery was also considered lefty reliever as a former first-round prospect as recently as March of this year.

Though we still don't know the third minor-leaguer involved, it appears the Mariners prioritized upside over certainty in this trade. I would expect the third player to be similar to the first two. That's a bit different than other deadline deals within the marketplace, though not necessarily bad.

This is a heck of a return for Lowe, though in line with other deadline deals. The deal probably would have made sense most years even if it was for just Rasmussen or Wells. Acquiring both, plus a wild card like Brentz, is nice. Two thumbs up from me.