Seattle Mariners new Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Dipoto made his first player move for the club tonight, completing a big trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, with each side parting with and adding three players to their rosters.
The M's added two big leaguers in right-hander Nate Karns and left-hander C.J. Riefenhauser and one prospect in 22 year old outfielder Herschel Mack "Boog" Powell IV. The cost to acquire those three was former starting shortstop Brad Miller, reliever Danny Farquhar and first baseman Logan Morrison. Miller had lost his gig as the club's starting shortstop to Ketel Marte, while Farquhar struggled in a year spent up-and-down between Tacoma and Seattle following a breakout in 2014, and Morrison failed to show much improvement at the plate while seeing his most extensive playing time as a big leaguer.
Karns, a 27 year old originally signed by the Nationals in 2009, got his first chance at extended big league action with the Rays this past season, making 26 starts and tallying 147 innings. The 6-foot-3 right-hander put up solid numbers, posting a 3.67 ERA (4.09 FIP), 1.28 WHIP and 8.9 SO/9, working 6+ and allowing two earned runs or less in nine of those games. He works with a fastball that is 91-94, a power curve and a changeup, with those two offspeed pitches being responsible for most of his swings-and-misses and the curve the offering that is clearly his best pitch. He doesn't get a huge number of ground balls, but Safeco's outfield dimensions (assuming better outfield defense) should be a check mark in his favor in that regard.
Riefenhauser, who the Rays selected in the 20th round in 2010, made it into 24 games at the big league level for Tampa Bay in 2014 and 2015 combined. The 25 year old lefty was actually hit quite hard by left-handed batters this season, surrendering all three of his homers and a 1.229 OPS to them in 31 plate appearances while holding right-handed batters to a .497 OPS in the same number of trips. That may just be small sample size in action, though, as lefties were only 16-for-118 (.136) off of him in the minors the past two seasons. C.J. has a sweeping, two-plane breaking ball and a hard sinking fastball (88-91) as his primary weapons.
While Karns gives them rotation depth and Riefenhauser figures to be in competition for at least the second bullpen lefty spot (depending on the health of Charlie Furbush), Powell, who grew up as an Angels' fan, is the piece that could end up being the key to this deal for Seattle. No relation to the "real" Boog Powell -- the former Orioles' slugger from the '60s and '70s -- the 22 year old left-handed hitting outfielder impressed in his first season in the Rays' organization after coming to the team as part of the Ben Zobrist deal this past January, hitting a combined .295/.385/.392 while playing at both the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
Powell -- who himself was originally a 20th round pick, in 2012 by Oakland -- doesn't hit for a ton of power, but he had the second most walks in the Rays' system (61, 11.7%) and had one of the better strikeout rates for players at the upper levels for them, too (15.1%). The left-handed hitter was rated as having the best strike zone discipline in the Midwest League in 2014 in Baseball America's post-season poll, and his defense in all three outfield position has been well regarded, too.
For what it's worth, this first move by Dipoto is exactly the type of move that he said at his introductory press conference that he'd like to do to Seattle's roster. "As I said when I was hired, we need to get more flexible, more athletic and build pitching depth,” Dipoto said in today's release. "This trade allows us to do all three. Powell brings speed, defense on on-base percentage to the table and could be ready to help us as soon as 2016, while Karns and Riefenhauser give us young, but experienced, pitching options."
Whether or not Karns, Riefenhauser and Powell help make the Mariners a winner in 2016 will only be revealed with time. But the fact that Dipoto added pieces that clearly follow his stated vision is encouraging as he begins his tenure as Seattle's lead baseball man.
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