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. 
   

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.