Somehow, Yovani Gallardo is only 30 years old, despite his varied career. After spending one season in the Chesapeakean pitching hellscape that is Camden Yards, Gallardo is on his way to Seattle, in exchange for the “somehow only 33” Seth Smith.
In the deadest stretch of a very dead winter on the Hot Stove, a confounding trade such as this is almost welcome. The Mariners, as usual, are engaged in a constant struggle to find starting pitching, with last offseason’s bizarre Wade Miley deal a classic moment in their Sisyphean quest. Miley ended up in Baltimore when the Mariners and Orioles hooked up on a midseason trade, but this time the pitching is flowing the other direction. Gallardo was bad for the Orioles; although he was able to start 23 games, he clocked in an ERA of 5.42, and his walk and strikeout rates continued their troubling trends in the wrong directions. The righty only struck out 16.2 percent of hitters while walking 11.6 percent, both second-worst over his career. His 44 percent groundball rate was a significant departure from his 50-plus rate of the three previous seasons, and four points below his career average. It was the death knell for Gallardo’s season.
Last offseason, the Orioles inked Gallardo to a two-year, $22 million deal. $11 million a year for a pitcher with an ERA north of five is, well, bad, but the Mariners hope that they’ll be able to morph Gallardo back into the pitcher he was in 2015 with Texas. He’ll likely never regain the great strikeout rate he boasted in Milwaukee, but a strikeout rate in the high teens with a walk rate closer to his career average of nine percent would make him a fine fifth starter. He posted a three-WARP season as recently as 2014, with last season’s -0.3 a career outlier. Gallardo is now a nibbler, dependent on weak contact, and pitching at the spacious Safeco Field could aid him. Perhaps the kindest thing one can say about Gallardo is that he’s only had one truly bad year, and it’s hard to get worse while escaping the clutches of an organization that couldn’t help a pitcher find their way to the ballpark, let alone fix Gallardo’s real issues.
On the other side of the ledger, the saga of Mariners legend Seth Smith comes to a close after two seasons of almost-average play. His 2016 was a bit worse than the two seasons previous, as his slugging dipped and his defensive value continued to deteriorate. If Smith can replicate his .280-ish career TAv, he’ll be a fine pickup for Baltimore. The curious aspect of the trade is on Baltimore’s end: like Seattle, they’re always searching for starting pitching (due to their lack of any ability to develop their own), but they have a surfeit of corner guys. With Mark Trumbo out the door, they were looking for a placeholder, but dealing away a starting pitching bounceback candidate seems counterproductive with other outfield options surely available. The Orioles will regret the deal quite a bit less if Gallardo is truly done, since Smith is Gallardo’s antithesis: pretty damn boring in his consistent okay-ness.
Jerry Dipoto hasn’t exactly put together a banner offseason for his Mariners club, but this could be a small boon for them. The deal won’t alter American League divisional races in either the West or the East, nor the wild card, but it could give Gallardo a good environment in which to rediscover what made him fine in Texas, and provide Seattle with some rotation depth.