Entering this offseason, there was a sizable contingent of Orioles fans who thought that the way the team lost in the wild-card game, and got to the postseason in the first place, was so flawed that anything short of a full reshuffling on the fly would constitute lack of progress in the offseason.
There was the matter of the team’s speed and outfield defense problems, to say nothing of the thin farm system that could be injected with talent if they took advantage of a possible trade market for stars Zach Britton and Manny Machado.
Instead, they held the fort, bringing back Mark Trumbo, adding Welington Castillo and trading for Seth Smith in an offseason that is proving to be business as usual. But nearly 3,000 miles away in Seattle, such a rebuild was happening. And it’s unclear which team, at this point, is better off.
Last year, the Mariners were like the Orioles in that their offense was built on power and not much else. Though their pitching staff ranked third in the American League with a 4.00 ERA, they had the fourth-worst outfield defense in terms of ultimate zone rating per 150 games (UZR/150), meaning their fielders didn’t have the range to cover the expansive ground in Safeco Field’s outfield.
So in the continuation of a series of moves that really began back when the Mariners dumped Trumbo to the Orioles in December 2015, general manager Jerry Dipoto spent the offseason doing what some seem to think would be a good path for the Orioles — he got faster, and younger, at key spots.
Though they made minor moves earlier in the offseason, the first one that made waves was a deal that sent right-hander Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for infielder Jean Segura and center fielder Mitch Haniger. Segura had a breakout year at the plate last year, and Haniger is considered a good defensive outfielder whose just beginning his career.
In a pair of deals on Jan. 6, the Mariners sent Smith to the Orioles for Yovani Gallardo, who will take the rotation spot of Nate Karns. Karns was traded to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Jarrod Dyson, who while not young fits the speed and defense mold Seattle wants in its outfield. While Gallardo struggled in Baltimore, the thought is a defense that covers a lot of ground in the outfield could make his fringy stuff playable. Smith, meanwhile, was the type of bat-first player that wouldn't fly in Seattle's new outfield, though that's never stopped the Orioles before.
And less than a week later, the Mariners executed a series of trades that saw them send pitching prospects to the Atlanta Braves and acquire left-hander Drew Smyly from the Tampa Bay Rays, who received outfielder Mallex Smith as the centerpiece coming back their way.
In addition to all that, the Mariners added bullpen pieces and a platoon corner infielder/outfielder in Danny Valencia. They also strip mined their farm system, including a deal shipped out former first-round draft pick Alex Jackson. And what for? For a cast of characters around stars Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano that’s different from last year. The problem is no one around the game knows if it’s any better.
Seattle won 86 games last year, and is projected to win 84 this year by FanGraphs. Before all their deals, it wasn’t much different than that. By contrast, the Orioles’ initial projection was to win 78 games, and now it’s at 79.
Whether it was the Orioles or Mariners whose plan will be rewarded will be decided in the summer. But for now, if anyone knocking the Orioles’ offseason wants to point to the flurry of activity in Seattle, it’s not as if that’s looking particularly inspiring now, either.