The verdict: Trader Jack wins

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One thing is for certain: The Rangers are going for it.

They better be, because they just gave up quite a haul for a rental. Meanwhile, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik successfully turned Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies and JC Ramirez into Justin Smoak and three other prospects. Impressive, to say the least.

As Craig just mentioned, Larry Stone of the Seattle Times is reporting that the Mariners will also acquire right-handers Blake Beavan and Josh Lueke and second baseman Matt Lawson. Beavan, a former first-round pick in 2007, was ranked as the organization’s No. 17 prospect by Baseball America over the winter. Neither Lueke or Lawson ranked inside Baseball America‘s top 30 for the Rangers, however the latter is averaging 14.6 K/9 this season while the former has an 809 OPS at Double-A Frisco.

The other prospects are intriguing in their own right, but Smoak is the real prize here. The 23-year-old first baseman is batting .209/.316/.353 with eight homers and 34 RBI in his first taste of the big leagues — and just .148 (4-for-27) this month —  but the young switch-hitter put together a .293/.411/.461 batting line over 599 plate appearances in the minor leagues.

Smoak is viewed as a top hitting prospect with a polished approach for his age, but he still has a lot to prove against left-handers. He batted just .215 with a 635 OPS against southpaws in the minors and those struggles have translated to the big leagues, as evidenced by his .139 batting average (11-for-79) and 473 OPS. It’s a small sample, to be sure, so while I don’t think Smoak is overmatched, he’s not exactly a finished product yet, either.

It’s a great deal for the Mariners in that they were able to take advantage of a vulnerable franchise, but keep in mind that this isn’t what their fans had in mind at the start of the season. They expected to compete for the playoffs. In essence, now the Mariners have essentially handed the Rangers the keys to the American League West. This isn’t something to be thrilled about in the short-term. And it will hurt if Lee plays playoff hero once again. But several months from now, after Cliff Lee signs with the Yankees or some other high-payroll team, the M’s will be primed to torture the Rangers with Smoak for years to come. Meanwhile, the Phillies will be fortunate if even one of Aumont, Gillies or Ramirez turns into an impact player in the big leagues. 
   

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.