On Wednesday, Erik Neander finally made the pitching deal long expected of the Tampa Bay Rays, trading lefty Drew Smyly to Seattle for center fielder Mallex Smith — who was just acquired by the Mariners in a trade with Atlanta — along with minor league lefty Ryan Yarbrough, and minor league infielder Carlos Vargas.
Smyly has been a solid, back-end southpaw since his acquisition by Tampa Bay at the 2014 trade deadline, although was sidelined for much of the 2015 season by a torn labrum. He followed with a career-worst 4.88 ERA over 30 starts in 2016. He, however, posted career highs in starts (30) and innings (175-1/3), and managed an 8.6/2.5 K/BB rate. And while he lowered his groundball rate to a career low 31.3%, he allowed a career high 1.64 home runs per nine innings — for a grand total of 32 homers. To his credit, Smyly has consistently thrown strikes and limited walks throughout his career.
The former Ray joins fellow recent acquisition Yovani Gallardo, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton in the rotation. Seattle has control of Smyly for two years, and he is projected to earn $6.9MM via arbitration for the coming season.
Tampa Bay received three minor leaguers in return, one of which — Mallux Smith — has 72-games of big league experience under his belt.
When the Mariners traded for Smith earlier today, in a trade that cost the team a pair of prospects, they did so with the intent to flip him to Tampa Bay. According to Jeff Todd (MLB Trade Rumors), Smith was targeted by the Rays, despite the continued presence of Kevin Kiermaier in center and the recent signing of Colby Rasmus.
The 23 year-old Smith was Atlanta’s number eight prospect entering the 2016 season, and is valued for his defense and base running. As Scott Grauer (DRaysBay) wrote, Smith’s minor league career stolen-base percentage is 79.3 percent (230-for-290). In 1,795 career plate appearances in the minors, he owns a 10.8 percent walk rate and 17.0 percent strikeout rate. He is a career .296 hitter across parts of five minor league seasons, including a .287 mark across 72 games at the Triple-A level with Gwinnett last season.
Smith appeared in 72-games with the Braves last year when Ender Inciarte hit the disabled list. He wasn’t productive early on, slashing a lackluster .238 BA/.316 OBP/.365 SLG/.681 OPS in 215 plate appearances overall, although he rebounded to hit .272 BA/.338 OBP/.440 SLG/.778 OPS in 43 games from late April to mid-June when he suffered a fractured thumb. Smith boasts an 80-grade speed, while his defensive prowess finds him projected as a potential future Gold Glove winner.
Yarbrough, a fourth round pick by Seattle in 2014, was rated as the Mariners’ number 11 prospect by MLB.com. His fastball sits in the 91-93 mph range — topping out in the mid 90’s — and he also features a devastating changeup. The lefty profiles as a ground-ball inducing (51% more groundouts than pop-outs over his career) long man, or a spot starter pending the development of his slider. Even if it doesn’t come along, he has a future as a lefty reliever who can coax ground balls in double-play situations. He will likely start the 2017 season at Triple-A Durham.
According to Todd, Vargas ranked as one of the top international prospects on the market two years ago:
Vargas is still just 17 years of age — he’ll turn 18 in March — and ranked as one of the top available international prospects on the market a couple of years ago. Cooper tweetsthat he was set to rank 26th on Seattle’s forthcoming top 30 prospect list, and there’s reason to believe he could carry even more upside than that most ranking would suggest. Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, for instance, tweets that there’s “sneaky” value in Vargas, whom he tabs as eventual third baseman with “big pull power projection” and a good approach.
In writing about Vargas last spring, BA’s Ben Badler noted that he has too many moving parts in his swing but has displayed a strong baseball IQ and an impressive ability to make adjustments at the behest of the Mariners’ staff. Badler also credited Vargas with above-average raw power, an ability to hit the ball the opposite way, and an above-average arm with a quick release. In 62 games/256 plate appearances in the Dominican Summer League last year, Vargas batted .242/.344/.391 with seven homers, 11 doubles and nearly as many walks (32) as strikeouts (35).
Tampa Bay also claimed outfielder Jason Coats from the Chicago White Sox, designating Dylan Floro for assignment to clear roster space.
The 26-year-old Coats hit 27 home runs over 200 Triple-A games between 2015 and 2016, however, he batted just .200 with a .298 OBP and .340 SLG in his first 58 major league plate appearances. Baseball America notes that he can cover all three outfield spots.
Floro made his big league debut with Tampa Bay in 2016, posting a 4.20 ERA over 15 relief innings.