The key function of a team’s General Manager is to acquire talent in the most efficient way possible – that is, spending the least amount of money or previously acquired talent in order to upgrade the team in both the present and the long run. When Jack Zduriencik took over as GM of the Mariners prior to the 2009 season, he was somewhat of an unknown. He had never held the GM position with any other ballclub and his biggest successes were through his eye for talent – he was a key member of the Milwaukee Brewers’ front office that drafted both Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
Upon arrival in Seattle, however, Jack did not waste time in making his mark through a big splash in the trade market. Coming off a 2008 season where nearly everything that could go wrong did, Jack found himself a nice trade chip in closer J.J. Putz. An All-Star only two years prior, Putz was just coming off a season filled with injury in which he only pitched 46.1 innings. His ERA dropped from an outstanding 1.38 to 3.88, but Jack was still able to use the ‘proven closer’ perception to his benefit.
Jack pulled the plug on a three-team mega-trade that sent Putz, reliever Sean Green and outfielder Jeremy Reed to the New York Mets and shortstop Luis Valbuena to the Cleveland Indians. To complete the trade, the Mets sent Mike Carp, Ezequiel Carrera, Endy Chavez, Maikel Cleto, Aaron Heilman and Jason Vargas to the Mariners, the Indians gave the Mariners Franklin Gutierrez and the Mets shipped Joe Smith off to Cleveland. The following is an analysis, three years after the trade was completed, of how each team fared when comparing what they gave up with what they received.
Note: The ‘Total WAR’ stat that I have included is the total Wins Above Replacement accumulated (according to Fangraphs) of the player in his tenure with the respective club, in addition to players that were obtained through future trades.
New York Mets
The biggest name in the trade, Putz went on to pitch just one season with the Mets. The closer job already belonged to one Francisco Rodriguez, so Putz was relegated to standard bullpen duty. He pitched only 29.1 innings from the pen, going 1-4 with a K/9 that dropped from his career rate of 9.4 to 5.8. He became a free agent at the end of the year and was not re-signed by the Mets. Putz found success in 2011 when given a chance to close for the Arizona Diamondbacks and he looks to repeat in 2012. Total WAR with the Mets: 0.0
Another reliever sent to New York from the Mariners, Green was starting to look like a consistent option in the bullpen and the Mets were hoping to take advantage. Unfortunately for them, Green never lived up to his potential, posting a 4.44 ERA over the next two years before being granted free agency. Green signed a minor-league contract with the Texas Rangers but is not expected to make the team. Total WAR with the Mets: -0.3
Once looked at as one of the shining prospects in the Mariners’ system, Reed overstayed his welcome in Seattle. For some prospects, a change of scenery means increased playing time and a chance to prove themselves – Reed didn’t take advantage of it. In 126 games in 2009, he hit .242 and put up an OPS+ of 63. For comparison, in Chone Figgins’ past two seasons in Seattle, his OPS+ was 70. After his disappointing campaign with the Mets in 2009, Reed was released and he may be done with the game altogether as he is still a free agent. Total WAR with the Mets: -0.6
In this three-team trade, Smith was the only player to actually be exchanged between the Indians and Mets. In both 2007 and 2008 with the Mets, Smith put up a WAR of 0.3. After being traded to Cleveland (where he is still playing), Smith has been adequate if not promising. Last year he pitched in 71 games and finished the year with an ERA of 2.01. Smith is still a member of the Indians’ bullpen. Total WAR with the Indians: 1.4 and counting
Valbuena, Valbuena, Valbuena. He had a cup of coffee with the Mariners in 2008 and was bad. He played in 103 games for Cleveland in 2009 and was okay but declined in 2010 and 2011. Impressively, Valbuena was the 5th worst position player in baseball in 2010 according to WAR, only beating out Pedro Feliz, Akinori Iwamura, Brandon Wood and Casey Kotchman. Valbuena will at least start 2012 in the Blue Jays’ organization, as his contract was purchased by Toronto this past offseason. Total WAR with the Indians: -1.7
Mike Carp is one of the players that brings some hope for contention in Seattle in the coming years. With New York, he was just a minor-leaguer that had never reached higher than AA and had never hit above .300. In 2009 he joined the Mariners and in only 21 games put up a WAR of 0.7, which would equate to about 5 over the course of a regular season. Granted, Mike Carp wasn’t (and probably isn’t going to be) a 5-win player, but he has potential. In 79 games with the 2011 club, Carp hit .276 with 12 home runs. Carp is still a member of the team and looks to be for a long time to come.
Total WAR with the Mariners: 0.9 and counting
Carrera never made it to the show with Seattle and was eventually traded to the Cleveland Indians in 2010 in a trade that brought former Mariner Russell Branyan back to Seattle. Branyan put up 0.6 WAR in his third of a season that he played with the Mariners, while Carrera has yet to produce.
Total WAR with the Mariners (including trade): 0.6
Chavez was the Mariners’ starting left fielder to start the 2009 season and it appeared as if he was going to finally be the one to solve the Mariners’ franchise-long lack in that position. In 54 games Chavez put up a WAR of 0.7 through stellar defense and a .273 batting average. Plans were derailed when he was run into by Yuniesky Betancourt in the field, ending his Mariner career.
Total WAR with the Mariners: 0.7
Cleto is still young and never played for the Mariners as he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in return for current M’s shortstop Brendan Ryan. Even through injury, Ryan proved a serviceable if not solid option at short and, if healthy, could continue to produce for the team for years to come.
Total WAR with the Mariners (including trade): 2.6 and counting
Heilman was traded to the Chicago Cubs mere days after acquired by the Mariners. That trade brought Garrett Olson and Ronny Cedeno to the Mariners. Heilman put up 0.2 WAR in the remainder of his contract while Olson and Cedeno combined for -1.9 WAR.
Total WAR with the Mariners (including trade): -2.1
Vargas was never looked at as a serious pitching prospect and had already been to the majors a couple of times with the Marlins and Mets. He permanently joined the Mariners in the big leagues in 2009 and hasn’t looked back since. He has become the #2 starter on the team and although he hasn’t put together a winning season yet, he looks to have many good, productive years ahead of him.
Total WAR with the Mariners: 5.4 and counting
Two years ago, Franklin Gutierrez was looked at as the crown jewel of this trade. He had just completed his first full season in the big leagues as a starting center fielder and put up an astounding 6.3 WAR. He finished the year hitting .283 with 18 home runs and defensively put together one of the best seasons in baseball history. He earned himself a long-term extension, sticking with the Mariners through the 2013 season with a $7.5 million team option for 2014. Although his 2010 and 2011 were significantly less impressive due to injuries, Gutierrez has been an asset to the team. If he can stay healthy, he is another player that could impress for years to come.
Total WAR with the Mariners: 18.9
What do all of these numbers mean? Sure, it seems clear that the Mariners came ahead in the trade, but by how much? The players the Mariners traded away ended up being worth a total of -2.6 WAR while they obtained players worth a total of 16.8 WAR either with Seattle or via the players that they were traded for. The Mets traded away 11 WAR and received -0.9 WAR back and the Indians traded 9.3 WAR away in order to obtain -0.3.
It is common knowledge that Jack made away like a bandit in this trade, but the numbers are nothing short of staggering. The Mariners improved by 19.4 WAR and the Mets and Indians both ended up worse, by margins of -11.9 and -9.6 WAR. Jack Zduriencik is unfairly criticized for not bringing a world championship to Seattle by now, but fans too often forget how bare the cupboards were when he arrived. Jack started with almost nothing and was able to trade liabilities for assets, and huge ones at that. I think the Mariners’ franchise is in good hands.