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Red Sox steal Carson Smith from the Mariners, lose Wade Miley in process

Jerry Dipoto has his AJ Preller moment.

Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports has reported that the Seattle Mariners have acquired Wade Miley and minor league reliever Jonathan Aro from the Red Sox in exchange for Roenis Elias and Carson Smith. On the surface, this is a rather pedestrian trade. It isn't the will they-won't they of the Aroldis Chapman saga or the potential world-shattering earthquake of a Jose Fernandez trade. This is the Mariners filling the void left by the departure of Hisashi Iwakuma, the Red Sox shoring up their bullpen, and both teams acquiring depth pieces.

When you look under the hood, though, things start getting fishy. Very fishy.

Wade Miley is a perfectly serviceable starter. He peaked in his rookie year in Arizona when he threw 194.2 innings of 3.33 ERA ball. Ever since then he's been a steady if uninspiring mid-rotation innings eater. Not everybody can be Chris Sale, so this is fine. There's value in pitchers like him. Bullpens quickly turn to ash without innings-eaters. The spacious confines of Safeco Field should help Miley stay in the ballpark, and he's left-handed, which is always a plus. In a vacuum, this is a good pitcher for the Mariners to add.

Cason Smith just completed his rookie season in the Seattle bullpen. Here is the list of every qualified reliever that posted a higher fWAR than Smith:

  • Cody Allen (2.6)
  • Aroldis Chapman (2.5)
  • Dellin Betances (2.4)
That's it. He also tied Zach Britton in fWAR at 2.1, so there's that. Here is a brief sampling of the relievers that Smith outperformed:
  • Andrew Miller (2.0)
  • David Robertson (1.8)
  • Jeurys Familia (1.6)
  • Craig Kimbrel (1.5)
Carson Smith is good. Carson Smith is extremely good. He also won't be a free agent until 2020. He struck out 32.4 percent of the batters that he faced, and a whopping 64.3 percent of the balls he allowed in play were on the ground. He faced 284 batters and walked just 22 of them. He's 26 years old and may not be finished in growing as a stupendously talented relief pitcher.

Not only have the Mariners given away one of the most desirable relievers in all of baseball, but they've further gutted their bullpen. Tom Wilhelmsen, Danny Farquhar, and C.J. Reifenhauser have already been shown the door in trades. While Dipoto has acquired Joaquin Benoit to pitch at the back of the bullpen and Tony Zych showed great promise (11.78 K/9, 2.04 FIP) in his brief cameo at the end of the season, this is a devastating blow and makes the relief corps even more threadbare. There's quite a bit of offseason left to address this, but Smith was a highly valuable long-term asset.

Dipoto knows a thing or two about the Red Sox from his brief stint in the Boston front office this summer. He may know that Aro, who has good numbers from his time in the minors, could be a true impact reliever in the majors. That's all well and good. But when you look up "unremarkable starter" in the dictionary, you find a picture of Wade Miley. When you look up "excellent young power reliever," you find Ken Giles and Smith.


This is to say nothing of the fact that the Mariners still need at least one more starter. Taijuan Walker and James Paxton both come with injury concerns, and Felix Hernandez finally showed signs of looking disturbingly human in 2015. If Nate Karns is pushed to the bullpen or minor leagues by another starting pitcher, it would be far from the worst thing in the world for Mariner fans' sanity.

We've seen great teams like the Tigers and Dodgers struggle because of poor bullpens. The Mariners are getting dangerously close to reaching that status, but there's quite a bit of offseason left. Dipoto is trading at a mile a minute; when all is said and done, the Mariners may very well have themselves a strong group of relievers. Roster analysis at this point in the winter is not an exact science.

That doesn't change the fact that the Mariners just got fleeced, and fleeced badly. There are relievers, and there are super-relievers. Smith has had just a season and change in the big leagues. Relief pitching is as volatile as a third-world dictatorship. One second it's oppressive and dominant, and the next second everything goes down in flames. There's no guarantee that Smith will continue to be a super-reliever for Boston. Yet between his minor league performance and utter supremacy in Seattle, he's got a very good shot to do just that.

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Nicolas Stellini is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. He also covers the Yankees at BP Bronx. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets.