An interesting trade occurred today between division rivals when the Angels traded first baseman Kendrys Morales to the Mariners for pitcher Jason Vargas.
From either a real or fantasy standpoint, this may not seem like a massive deal. But in reality, it has potential to be a pretty significant trade for the values of Kendrys Morales, Jason Vargas, and a few others.
There’s no doubt that if he stays healthy, Morales will get more playing time in Seattle than he would have in Anaheim. With Josh Hamilton and Mark Trumbo likely occupying the corner outfield slots and Albert Pujols at first base, at bats were going to be a little hard to come by, even with the designated hitter.
The competition is a little less fierce in Seattle. The Mariners technically list Smoak as the second-string first baseman and designated hitter, but the wall he has to jump over for playing time isn’t anywhere near as big as it would have been in Anaheim.
At first base, he’ll be competing with Justin Smoak. Smoak has some potential, but he’s had plenty of time to develop as a well-rounded hitter and it just hasn’t happened. As their 2012 numbers prove, he really doesn’t compare to Morales.
- Smoak: 535 plate appearances, 19 homers, .217 batting average, .290 OBP.
- Morales: 522 plate appearances, 22 homers, .273 batting average, .320 OBP.
Morales isn’t an elite fantasy first baseman by any means, but he should see playing time over Smoak.
Even if Smoak really comes on, John Jaso is a catcher who’s never played 110 games in a season and has alternated between being pretty good at the plate and pretty terrible. If he slumps or has to miss time, the natural move would be to move Jesus Montero from DH to catcher, which would open the DH position to the odd man out at first.
The bottom line is that the Mariners were one of the worst hitting teams in baseball in 2012, ranking dead last in average, OBP, and slugging, which is really bad for an American League team. Even terrible teams like the Astros and Cubs were better than the Mariners in those categories, despite having a virtually automatic out every time through the lineup.
So, Morales won’t have the help around him that he had with the Angels, but he should see more playing time and bat in a better part of the order. That means more at-bats, which means more fantasy value.
Vargas has actually been one of baseball’s best hidden secrets over the last few years. It’s easy to be overlooked when you’re on a bad, west coast team and share a pitching rotation with Felix Hernandez. Still, over the last three seasons, Vargas has composite ERA of 3.96, WHIP of 1.245, and 33 wins. He won’t replace Jered Weaver as the team’s ace or anything like that, but that is pretty solid fantasy production.
The move of home parks shouldn’t be too significant here, as both favor the pitcher in pretty big ways. What will really help Vargas now is in potential the potential to get more wins.
Yes, Vargas won a solid 14 games in 2012. But as I said about R.A. Dickey when speculating on a trade to Toronto (that’s now happened), you can’t rely on a guy to win a lot of games on a bad team year in and year out. When a team doesn’t really threaten .500 and doesn’t score runs, you can’t count on their best pitchers to win anything more than about 12 games year in and year out. When it does happen, it’s more of a statistical anomaly.
Now that Vargas is on a team with Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and a wealth of very good role players, run support will not be a problem. Even in a good year last year, he still had fewer wins than guys like Barry Zito, Phil Hughes, and Ian Kennedy, who all had higher ERAs.
Again, if he was going to a good team in a pitcher’s yard like the Rangers or Yankees, I wouldn’t be sold that this is an overall good move. But as it stands right now, I can’t see how this will hurt Vargas’ value.
For everyone else
I’ll touch on Smoak again and say that I don’t think this will help his value. But at first base, I couldn’t imagine how deep a league would have to be for you to be relying on him anyway.
The guy I really want to take a look at here is Peter Bourjos. Nash stuck his neck out and predicted that Bourjos would have similar numbers to Mike Trout in 2012. He later had to eat those words. But right here, I am going to defend Nash for that for three reasons.
- I’ve missed predictions in before. I remember saying that Jacoby Ellsbury would be the 2012 fantasy baseball MVP, and then having to eat those words. But more to the point here.
- Nobody was expecting Mike Trout to do what he did last season.
- Bourjos did have a bad year in 2012, but I really like this kid going forward.
This trade will likely open a spot for him in the lineup, especially if Vernon Wells is moved (which I expect). I imagine that Trumbo will either become more of a full-time DH, or play more games at third, especially if Alberto Callaspo hiccups a little. Trumbo can also play first if the older Pujols needs to DH.
Wherever they go with Trumbo, he’s not as good in the field as Bourjos. So, if they can find a place for Trumbo’s bat, Bourjos shouldn’t need to do much to stay in the field.
What I really like about Bourjos is his speed. He won’t give you much power. But in 2011, he did hit .271, which isn’t unattainable by any means. Once he’s on base, there are fewer players in the league faster than him, which will translate to many steals. Also, while batting at the bottom of the lineup will hurt his at-bats, when he’s on base, the lineup will be turning over to Trout, Pujols, and Hamilton, which will mean a lot of runs scored.
It’s on Bourjos to make the most of the opportunity, but he should get a chance to be in the team’s regular lineup. When he does, I am looking at him to bring similar fantasy value as you get from guys like Coco Crisp, or Rajai Davis.