The Hot Stove never stops burning. Just four days after the conclusion of the World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays and Seattle Mariners swapped trios of young talent. SS Brad Miller, 1B/DH Logan Morrison, and RHP Danny Farquhar are heading from Seattle to Tampa. RHSP Nathan Karns, LHP CJ Riefenhauser, and OF Boog Powell will make the reverse trip up north. We’ll give you a quick report on what to expect from these six players and offer some thoughts on the winner of this trade at the end of the piece.
Rays' Newest Additions
No longer a shortstop, Brad Miller brings value to the Rays in his above-average bat and versatility around the diamond. Only 26 years old, Miller has a chance to get better as he nears the peak years of his career. Brad already owns a good bat (106 OPS+ in ’15) and has shown marked improvement in strength. Miller’s 37 extra base hits 2015 topped his 2014 total by eight. The Florida-native is not exceptional in any area, but is a solid all-around player who can run (13 steals in ’15), hit for average and some power, while not hurting his team too much in the field.
On the scouting side, I really like Miller’s swing. He has an excellent load, stays inside the ball, and uses his quick hands to generate elite bat speed. Miller keeps his hands at a constant level throughout his load, but even so, his swing has a natural lift to it. That means Miller should be able to hit for power while keeping his pure, line drive stroke intact. He has already taken strides in that area with his solid performance in 2015. I would not be surprised if Miller blossoms with the Rays. He fits the prototypical do-it-all Rays profile and will have plenty of opportunities in an offensively-starved Tampa lineup. The 26-year-old is under team control until after the 2019 season.
The only reason I worry about the Rays’ acquisition of ‘LoMo is James Loney. Even though Loney posted a forgettable .685 OPS last year, the Rays still owe the 31-year-old $8M in 2015. Morrison is making $4.1M, and $12M is far too much to pay for two mediocre lefty first baseman, especially considering the Rays’ economic woes.
Looking past the potential logjam, Morrison could actually be a good player for Tampa. Logan’s numbers from 2015 are better than they look on the outset. Though he slashed just .225/.302/.383, that line is bogged down by a pitiful .190/.253/.246 performance against lefties. Against right-handers, Morrison was a different ballplayer, slugging all 17 of his home runs and posting a .767 OPS in 315 ABs versus righties. The Rays are a smart organization. If Loney is traded, expect Morrison to fill the left-handed platoon at first base and be a consistent contributor in an improved offensive attack.
A three-year MLB vet, Danny Farquhar is coming off an awful 2015 season in which he limped to a 1-8 record and a 5.12 ERA. But it has not been all bad of Farquhar during his brief career. In fact, just one year ago, the righty reliever threw 71 innings to the tune of a sparkling 2.66 ERA. The Rays will try to rekindle that 2014 magic as the 28-year-old heads into his first year of arbitration. A former side-armer, Farquhar throws a low-to-mid 90s cutter along with a nasty curveball that has quick, late diving movement. He mixes in an average curveball to keep hitters off-balance.
Farquhar’s HR/FB rate nearly doubled from 8.8% to 15.3% from 2014 to 2015. Realistically, that number should come down closer to his 10.1% career rate. Farquhar’s xFIP also reveals he was victim bad luck last year; it was more than a full run lower than his ERA in 2015. Given the statistical anomalies and Danny’s great stuff, I would not be surprised if the righty bounces back with the Rays in 2016. He will likely not return all the way to his 2014 form. But he should provide quality innings for Tampa in some capacity.
Mariners' Newest Additions
Nathan Karns, clearly the headliner of this deal on Seattle’s side, will look to continue his excellent rookie performance for the Mariners. Over 147 innings (26 starts), the burly 6-3 righty worked to a solid 3.67 ERA, and struck out opposing batters at an 8.9 K/9 clip. The advanced metrics don’t like Nathan’s 2015 season as much as the traditional stats, but his xFIP still stands at a 3.90. Plus, with half his home starts in the pitching-friendly Safeco field and another year of experience and development under his belt, Karns is poised to at least match, if not exceed, his numbers last season.
Karns’ fastball, which moves into righties and away from lefties, hovers in the mid 90s. He compliments the heater with a hook that looks like a mix of a curve and a slider. It has quick, tight break down and late in the zone. He also occasionally throws a sinker and change-up. Looking forward to 2016, Nathan should slot into the No. 3 or No. 4 spot in the Mariner’s rotation. The big righty offers the best combination of readiness and upside of any player in this deal.
Teams can never have enough quality young relievers. And although Riefenhauser struggled a bit in a cup of coffee with the Rays last year, he is a big league ready arm who can help the Mariners ‘pen right now. CJ has an awkward arm windup. He starts with a high set like many lefties, but then he bends down as far as possible, into what resembles a cross between a squat and a lunge, before releasing the pitch. As a reliever, though, we do not have to worry as much about repeatability, so I like Riefenhauser’s motion. It helps him get maximum extension towards the plate and adds deception that lets his stuff to play up.
Riefenhauser’s bread and butter pitch is his slider. It checks in at 78 mph — approximately 12-14 mph slower than his fastball — and has extreme movement down and into right-handers and away from lefties. Sometimes CJ struggles to get on top of this pitch and leaves it flat and hittable low in the zone. The 25-year-old’s fastball sits in the low-90s and does not have much movement to it. CJ also throws a decent change-up against right-handers. Right now, with one above-average pitch and two below-average to average ones, Riefenhauser is a lefty specialist. He will need to better his changeup and be more consistent with his slider, though, if he wants to assume a bigger role on the Mariners.
Rated Tampa Bay’s 13th best prospect by MLB.com, Boog Powell has a knack for getting on base and can effectively play all three outfield positions. Splitting time between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, Powell slashed .295/.385/.392 with three home runs and 18 stolen bases. A stocky 5’10, 185lb ballplayer, Boog looks exactly like the kind of ballplayer he is. The lefty outfielder has a pesky attitude at the plate, doing whatever he can to get on base and wreak havoc with his legs. Powell’s base-running ability (18/32 on SB attempts in ’15) will need to improve if he wants to carve out a major league career. I could see him working out as a third/fourth outfielder, Sam Fuld type player. That’s not a bad prospect to add to your farm system.
Both teams filled long-term needs in this trade, so there is certainly a case to be made on each side. However, I think the Rays win this trade because they acquire three players who could have huge roles on their major league team right from the get-go. Seattle has to be satisfied with improving an incredibly top-heavy rotation, but it appears the ball club may have sold low on a young and improving Brad Miller, a fixable Logan Morrison, and a Danny Farquhar who is primed for a rebound. This deal, though, fully depends on Karns. If he grows into an established No. 2 starter or even a reliable No. 3, Seattle easily wins this trade. If not, the nod will go to Tampa for parlaying a 26-year-old rookie’s solid 150 inning performance into three legitimate contributors. Who do you think got the better end of this trade?