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Seth Smith Trade Completes Outfield Makeover for AL West-Hopeful Mariners

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistDecember 31, 2014

USA Today

Taken in isolation, the trade that landed Seth Smith on the Seattle Mariners won't rock the baseball world.

Taken in the context of Seattle's offseason outfield overhaul, however, it could shift the balance of power in the American League West.

The swap, per ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, will bring Smith to the Mariners and send 24-year-old right-hander Brandon Maurer to the San Diego Padres

Jerry Crasnick @jcrasnick

Seth Smith for Brandon Maurer deal is done, source says.

The trade makes sense for San Diego, which had a glut of outfielders after acquiring Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton in separate deals. 

But it also benefits Seattle, which scored the fourth-fewest runs in the American League last year. "Our No. 1 goal this offseason was to improve our offense," general manager Jack Zduriencik told MLB.com's Greg Johns. 

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: Seth Smith #12 of the San Diego Padres rounds third base to score against the San Francisco Giants in the top of the six inning at AT&T Park on September 26, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henders
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

And that's exactly what they've done.

Smith figures to platoon with Justin Ruggiano, acquired by the M's in a Dec. 17 trade with the Chicago Cubs.

The left-handed Smith owns an anemic .205/.291/.314 slash line against southpaws but has tagged righties to the tune of .277/.358/.481.

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Ruggiano's splits aren't as extreme, but he has fared better against lefties over his career. 

Joining them in the outfield will be Austin Jackson, who came over from the Detroit Tigers as part of the David Price deadline deal last season. Jackson hit an unimpressive .229 in 54 games with the Mariners but posted a .256/.308/.347 slash line overall with 20 stolen bases.

Then there's Nelson Cruz, who should see significant time at designated hitter but can also play the outfield. Cruz signed a four-year, $57 million deal with the Mariners in early December and was the only player in baseball to crack 40 home runs last season while driving in 108.

Nelson Cruz should add needed thump to the middle of the Mariners' lineup.
Nelson Cruz should add needed thump to the middle of the Mariners' lineup.Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The soon-to-be 35-year-old comes with warts—most notably his PED past—but he'll provide thump in the middle of the order and needed protection for Robinson Cano.

Even with its subpar offense, Seattle finished with an 87-75 record in 2014 and stayed in the playoff picture until the season's final day. Would these new additions, paired with the Mariners' superlative pitching led by King Felix Hernandez, have been enough to get them over the hump?

Larry Stone of The Seattle Times thinks so, writing after the Cruz signing, "It’s not hard to imagine how the addition of a hitter like Cruz to stick between Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager could have made up the one-game deficit that kept the Mariners out of the playoffs." 

Speaking of Seager, Seattle inked him to a seven-year, $100 million pact this winter, locking up the All-Star third baseman and gritty fan favorite for the long haul.

Add it all up, and surely M's fans are imagining big things. Like, say, Seattle stepping into the role of division favorite?

The Los Angeles Angels ran away with the AL West last year and remain dangerous. But the Oakland A's, who narrowly edged Seattle for the second wild-card spot, are in full-on fire-sale mode, while the injury-bit Texas Rangers and young, small-market Astros figure to tussle at the bottom of the pack.

It's been 13 seasons and counting since the Mariners last played a postseason game, and during that span they've endured seven last-place finishes. So a return to relevance would be a ray of sunshine in the soggy Pacific Northwest. 

Maybe they'd even compete for attention with the Super Bowl champion Seahawks. 

Count manager Lloyd McClendon among the believers. "I told you guys when I took the job this was a golden era for the Seattle Mariners, and they haven’t let me down," McClendon said after last season, per The Seattle Times' Jerry Brewer. "And we’re only going to get better."

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.

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