A trade idea and (hopefully) a discussion with Mariners fans: Jarrod Washburn

Hello VEB readers (and guests!),

I'm posting this on VivaElBirdos because it's my home site, but I want to try to get some Mariners fans involved, too, so I'm going to post a link to this fanpost on Lookout Landing as well and see if I can lure some of you Seamen here for discussion. (Is there a nickname for Mariners fans? M-Heads or something?)

This thread centers around a trade idea, specifically for Jarrod Washburn. I know that such trade ideas generally belong in the Hot Stove Thread, but considering that I'm doing a fair amount of research, hoping to provide a forum for inter-SB-Nation-site discussion, and the general slowness of the baseball universe right now, I figured this was permissible. I hope I'm right, because I'm usually a stickler for the rules and things being in their proper places (man, I wish people would start using and paying attention to FanShots...but I digress), and I don't wanna look like a hypocrite.


Back in July, our revered and since-departed site founder lboros wrote about the possibility of trying to acquire Jarrod Washburn from the Mariners. I'll give you the excerpt from his main-page post that day:

now, let me cycle back around to jarrod washburn. the more i think about this guy, the more i like the idea of picking him up. the first thing to like about it is that, reportedly, the mariners aren’t asking for much in return; they just want a team to pick up his salary, which is about $4m for the balance of 2008 and $10m in 2009. as i said above, i now believe the cards can afford a $10m pitcher next season --- and the obligation to washburn would end after 2009, when the cards’ farm system is ready to produce solid replacements. unlike the make-believe 3-year commitment to lohse, this one is of an acceptable length, and --- better yet --- it makes the team better this year, when they’re fighting for a playoff spot. if the cards can acquire him without losing any prospects who matter, it is almost the equivalent of getting a free-agent signing midseason --- it would cost the team money but not talent. and the opportunity cost wouldn’t be particularly high, either --- ie, it probably wouldn’t block a deserving youngster from promotion.

is jarrod washburn a good pitcher? a lot of you think he sucks, but i refer you again to his FIPs --- mirror images of lohse’s and suppan’s. but he has compiled them in the dh league, which means he’s actually been slightly better than those two. for those of you who don’t really like FIP, check out washburn’s actual era’s --- again, very consistent. once you adjust for the dh, he’s been the nl-equivalent of a low-4.00s pitcher for 6 years in a row. and that includes this season, in which his numbers have been distorted by terrible defense. in his career, washburn has given up a .220 batting average on groundballs, which is right around average. but this year, batters are hitting .273 against him on grounders --- that’s a freaky stat and not likely to continue. and a good cardinal infield is likely to turn some of those groundball base hits into outs. if we apply washburn’s career average on grounders (.220) to his current-year line, he yields 7 fewer base hits, which translates to 5 fewer runs --- and an era of 4.40, rather than 4.83. again, that’s a 4.40 era in the dh league; in the nl, it’s more like 4.00 to 4.15. in other words, jeff suppan . . .

in every area that lies partly or wholly under a pitcher’s control --- k rate, bb rate, hr rate, gb rate, ld rate --- washburn is at or near his career averages; he’s not pitching worse this season than usual, he’s just getting worse results. but his results are due to improve as long as he keeps throwing the ball the same way. indeed, they are already improving. washburn had a dreadful stretch in may, which ended with a 2-inning, 9-run pounding at the hands of the tigers on may 21. but in 9 starts since then, washburn has an era of 3.02 and an opponent ops of .732. while the cardinals do have more talented pitchers in their organization --- including boggs, garcia, maybe mortensen and todd --- they don’t have more reliable pitchers than washburn; it often takes time for talent to translate into big-league performance. boggs might be better than washburn some day, but he clearly isn’t at this moment in time --- witness his upside-down k/bb ratio (12 ks, 17 bbs) in his short stint with the cards. we’ll find out soon enough how readily jaime garcia's talent translates to the big leagues. (for what it’s worth, john sickels agrees with azruavatar that garcia probably needs some more time at triple A.)

it is reasonable for the cards to give garcia a chance and see how he fares; if he does well, then maybe there’s no need to add a veteran for the stretch run. but if jaime struggles --- and if washburn can be acquired for a second- or third-tier prospect such as, let’s say, mke parisi --- then i think he’d improve the team in the short run without hamstringing them in the long run.

I liked the idea back then, but it didn't happen for reasons I didn't remember off the top of my head -- I think I remember Washburn being "available" (for what that's worth), but he didn't end up going anywhere. Considering the state of the Mariners, I couldn't understand I checked MLBTR to see if I could figure out the reasons that Washburn is pitching in Seattle for $10 million this season. I know for a fact that there was buzz around Washburn at the trade deadline. From an article from July 29 demonstrating that there was talk about the lefty:

The Yankees had been involved in ongoing talks with the Seattle Mariners about lefty Jarrod Washburn, who would have given the New York rotation another lefty starter. Washburn may be a back-of-the-rotation pitcher at this point and besides, reports last night indicated the talks had hit a snag. The Mariners were in talks with other teams involving Washburn.

So the Mariners were talking to the Yankees, as well as the ever-mysterious "other teams" (I think we're all getting tired of the mystery team thing, as it's been employed liberally this offseason). So that's where we'll start. July 29, M's and Yanks talking Washburn.

The next day, Rosenthal apparently noted that the Mariners were having trouble stirring up interest in Washburn, though the link to the Rosenthal piece no longer works. The New York Star-Ledger suggested the Mets could've used him with Maine's injury, but Jason Stark shot that down, saying the Mets preferred a power arm and weren't interested anyway.

Later that day, the talks with the Yankees broke down. The Rockies showed interest, but nothing came of it. Evidently, the Yankees believed the Mariners were asking too much and that he'd eventually make it through waivers in August and they'd be able to wait the M's out. Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees offered to pay the rest of Washburn's salary and send a middling prospect, but that the Mariners didn't accept and were asking for a lot for Washburn:

They just asked one National League team for two of its top prospects for a pitcher most teams think should have been traded to the Yankees by now.

Could that team have been the Cardinals? Maybe. Might have been the Rockies. If it was the Cards,, then obviously it's a good thing the Cards weren't biting -- as I bolded above, lboros was thinking that we'd be able to give the M's a B- or C-level prospect for the privilege of taking on Washburn's rather hefty contract. The M's obviously wanted more. The Yankees refused to give up a "good prospect" as well. He wasn't traded before the deadline.

Washburn was put on waivers and reportedly passed through, though there were conflicting reports on the matter. Later, it was discovered that he'd actually been claimed off waivers by the Twins, who wanted to pick him up and move one of their then-starters to the bullpen to solidify 8th inning issues. True to their price, however, the Mariners evidently asked for a player off the Twins' 40 man roster. Evidently Nick Blackburn was discussed, but that was "pulled." The Mariners wanted Bonser, or at least would have taken a swap for him. By the way, Washburn had a no-trade clause...however, he lives 90 minutes outside the Twin Cities, and would have loved to pitch for the Twins:

"It would have been ideal," he told the Seattle Times. "It would have been perfect. I would have gotten to go to a place that’s contending, and it’s in my own backyard."

Importantly, the Mariners expressed a willingness to eat some salary to get a better player.

The date is August 15th. Washburn is 4-12 with a 4.58 ERA. The Mariners are 46-75 and 29.5 games behind the first-place Angels in the AL West. The Twins expressed a willingness to take on $13 million for a pitcher with those stats, and the Mariners turned them down. Seems...odd, no?

Washburn was never traded. You now have the long, long story of how he wasn't moved, which is important in considering a) what the asking price for Washburn was and might now be and b) whether the Mariners will be willing to eat some of his contract.

A few days later, Geoff Baker, who seems to be the D-Goold of the Seattle Times, wrote an interesting piece detailing Washburn's performance in 2008 -- he was roughed up early in the year, but settled down. Indeed, looking back now, after May 25, Washburn started 16 games, went 3-8 (poor guy), and posted a very nice 3.69 ERA. Baker says that Washburn attributed his returned success to a) trusting his splitter as an out pitch and b) getting a feel for his changeup for the first time ever, but also points out that such claims don't always lead to prolonged success. Baker thinks that Washburn started allowing "weaker" fly-balls, not reducing his fly-ball rates, but perhaps reducing the number of well-hit fly balls and thus causing his OPS-against to plummet. The guy even uses FIP! In the end, he says that the "M's should have traded Washburn by now."

Baker wrote another piece in September, looking back briefly on the trade, and implying that the Mariners may have botched the Twins situation.

So that's where things stood at the end of the 2008 season. Washburn was still with the Mariners.


We jump forward all the way to mid-January, and another piece by Baker titled, omniously and quite bluntly: "Washburn hand was misplayed."

Baker, now clearly displeased with the front office about the whole situation, unhappily writes the following things:

...the 2009 Mariners sit poised to trot out a $10.3 million, fairly-average lefty with only one contract year remaining at a time they have at least two other southpaws trying to crack the rotation...

...I just don't understand the logic behind holding on to Washburn at this point and not shedding the $13 million. We talked about this going back to May, June and July. And we were saying 'Hey, if you can get rid of Washburn's money, with even a living, breathing body coming back in return, then the Mariners should be popping champagne corks because that's quite an accomplishment -- offloading that much money for a player who puts up league average numbers at the best of times and really doesn't have a role for a 2009 team that's not going to contend for anything...

...Team president Chuck Armstrong cleared up the mystery a few weeks later, telling me he was the one who blocked a Washburn trade...Armstrong told me he felt he could get more value back for Washburn at the winter meetings and wanted to give the incoming GM a chance to do that...It's now Jan. 14 and things have changed. The winter market for Washburn never materialized and he now looks more overpriced than ever...

...This smacks of poor planning by the M's...

... It's one thing for a team to tell a GM to cap payroll at about $90 million or $95 million. Quite another to do that after the team's president balks at a golden chance to shed a $10.3 million contract that's been made somewhat redundant by another young pitcher on the team...

So there's the story -- the team president, Chuck Armstrong, decided not to trade Washburn because he thought he should give his new GM a chance to unload him at the winter meetings. Unfortunately, the economy took a real dive and now you can't just give other teams $10.3 million starters middling starters anymore, and you're certainly not going to get anything decent in return. Oops.

Finally we come to today, or nearly today. Ken Rosenthal took a look at the Mariners yesterday and found that they now need to shed some payroll. He notes that the Yankees are still interested, but there's been little progress. Ditto with the Twins. He also says that the Mariners have told Abreu's agent that they don't have the money to pay him now, but they're "trying to make room" -- actively cutting payroll seems to mean exploring a trade, right?


So there you have the back story. Mariners want to trade Washburn, Mariners decide to wait to trade Washburn, Mariners regret it and are now stuck with Washburn.

The Cardinals, as we all know, have too many outfielders who are capable major leaguers (or should/could be, anyway): Ludwick, Ankiel, Rasmus, Barton, Duncan, Schumaker, and Mather. We're short on starting pitching.

The Mariners, meanwhile, need to dump salary and would probably like to move a starting pitcher to make room for Rowland-Smith in the rotation. Bedard and Rowland-Smith are both lefties, so Washburn's left-handedness isn't going to be an issue for them.

The Mariners' starting outfield is currently composed of Ichiro, Franklin Gutierrez, and presumably Endy Chavez. Not exactly mind-blowing. There's a lot to like about Gutierrez (only 25, plus defense, his ability to play center). Chavez is also a strong defender. But let's be honest, neither one of these guys is going to hit the cover off the ball. Gutierrez hit .248/.307/.383 in 400 ABs last year, and Chavez managed only .267/.308/.330. Coupled with Ichiro in right or center, there's not much power to be had there (though they'd certainly catch a lot of fly balls). I don't know much about the backups or the incoming young guys, but they don't have a Rasmus-type of player coming in.

The Mariners rotation options, in no particular order: King Felix, Bedard, Morrow, Silva, Washburn, Batista, Rowland-Smith, Feieraband, Olson. Doesn't it seem like they'd want to get rid of Washburn?

The considerations I wonder about are these:

  • Which outfielder would the Cardinals send to the Mariners? Keep in mind that they are in a rebuilding phase, at least in theory. They might not be all that interested in a player like Ankiel.
  • Considering the salaries of each of the Cardinals outfielders, how much would the Mariners have to kick in? Frankly, the Cardinals aren't going to be willing or able to take on Washburn at $10.3 million.
  • What are the Mariners asking for, and how available is Washburn? After all, they asked for a whole hell of a lot last year. Are they going to try to get that kind of talent again?
  • Should they even trade Washburn? Washburn suffered last year from a terrible defense. This year, their outfield defense appears to be outstanding. How much will Gutierrez/Chavez help? Ibanez was a -12.6 UZR in left field last year, and Mariners RFers were a combined -7.3 UZR. Gutierrez, on the other hand, posted a stellar 17.1 UZR last year, and Chavez a 14.2. So they've picked up two elite defenders. But how are they going to score?

Would the Mariners trade $4-5 million and Washburn for Brian Barton? I like Barton a lot, but he seems not to have a place on the team as long as Schumaker is around. He hit .268/.354/.392 in 2008, but never really got consistent time at the plate. He definitely showed patience and UZR likes his fielding in the small sample that last year provided.

That's just my initial idea, but I'm open to suggestions and discussion. Hopefully some Mariners fans will be able to chip and maybe help us out with how their perceive Washburn, whether they think he's expendable, what they'd like to get back, and so on.

Thanks for reading.

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