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Fortunes cross in center field for the A’s and Mariners

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When wheeling and dealing goes wrong.

BOOOOOOOOOG!!!
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Last winter, the hot commodity was outfielders, specifically center fielders. If you had one, you could ask for the world in exchange. If you were one, you could expect to become quite wealthy. If you needed one, then it was time to start selling kidneys to raise funds.

The Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s were two teams looking for a CF during that seller’s market. The clubs were on opposite ends of the contention spectrum, with one pushing their chips all-in and the other committed to rebuilding, and as such they employed different strategies in their pursuits. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, we can look back on how it all worked out, and how their stories became interwoven.

Seattle took the bold approach, as has become their compulsion under GM Jerry Dipoto. They traded for defensive wizard Jarrod Dyson, at the expense of pitcher Nate Karns. To translate that into Oaklandish, it was like dealing something in the Graveman/Hahn range in exchange for peak 2012-14 Craig Gentry.

The Mariners got exactly what they hoped for out of Dyson, with excellent glovework dragging a nothing bat up to 2-3 WAR value. Not a star or a serious game-changer, but a good player at a position of immediate need. Still, they’re below .500 and looking up at four teams in their way for the second wild card spot in mid-September, meaning that (barring a miracle) any 2017 rentals will have been for naught. Meanwhile the Royals have three more years to make something out of Karns, even after he spent most of the summer on the DL.

On the other hand, the A’s weren’t having any part of the offseason’s outfield circus. They weren’t trying to compete, so they picked up Rajai Davis for whatever was in the petty cash drawer and called it a day. The 36-year-old was a stopgap meant to catch some flies, steal some bags, and give us all some sentimental warm fuzzies, and he did exactly those things for precisely the right amount of time before fading off into the August sunset. It was time to try out some rookies for the rest of the summer.

One of those rookies had just arrived in a separate August trade. The A’s dealt away All-Star Yonder Alonso’s expiring contract for whatever they could get, and that whatever turned out to be spare outfielder Boog Powell from Seattle. The contending Mariners didn’t have the time to develop a rookie, especially with the CF position covered adequately for the year, but in Oakland there was nothing but opportunity for an overlooked youngster with big minor league numbers to match his strong scouting report.

Boog has taken that chance and sprinted with it. His fielding has looked wonderful, and his small-sample advanced metrics are on a Dysonian pace. At the plate he’s broken out with a 150 wRC+ in 81 plate appearances -- some of that is due to his bloated BABIP, but another portion is due to his trademark strong plate discipline (11.1% BB, 21.0% Ks) plus some surprising power (3 HR, .183 iso). Even if you figure he’ll wind up being a .260 hitter with a bit less pop over the long haul, that might make him a close comp for … Jarrod Dyson.

And therein lies the tragic irony for Seattle. In their flurry of activity trying to cram together a playoff roster, perhaps some Zenlike patience would have yielded a better result, certainly in the long-term and perhaps in the short-term too.

Their acquisition of a safe, productive veteran in Dyson, no matter how justified for a legitimately contending team, may have blocked them from seeing what they already had on the farm in Boog. As they tried ever harder to force their way into an October that doesn’t seem to want them, they stepped further by giving up on Boog altogether, in an effort to bolster the first base position for which they’d already so recently spent young pitcher Paul Blackburn (via Danny Valencia trade). Now they’ll have to refill holes in both CF and their rotation yet again next winter, while Boog and Blackburn play those roles in Oakland for league minimum salaries.

My point here isn’t to mock the Mariners for being stupid. Overzealous, perhaps. Unlucky, certainly. Indeed they have a true sense of urgency with some aging superstars they’d like to take advantage of now, and so they deservedly aren’t trying to spend a year auditioning fringe prospects next to Cano and Cruz and Felix. But dang, the essence of the Mariners is looking back on what could have been, and once again that’s interesting to do here. Let’s give it a try!

What if. What if the Mariners hadn’t rushed around doing so much trading? What if, instead of losing a prospect for Danny Valencia, they’d just signed a cheap free agent 1B like Mitch Moreland or Mark Reynolds or Mike Napoli? And, instead of losing a pitcher for Dyson, they’d signed a solid stopgap like Carlos Gomez or Jon Jay or even Rajai, who would then give way midseason for Boog to become an even better Dyson? Their rotation needed its first replacement by April 30, and on May 27 they used their 12th starter of the year. What if they’d still had Nate Karns and Paul Blackburn? (Albeit both wound up injured as well; Blackburn’s was a fluke, though.)

Seattle could have short- and long-term answers in CF and the back of their rotation, and at worst they’d get the same participation ribbon they’re already bracing to receive at the Wild Card also-ran party. And through all that, I’m not even sure that I’m suggesting the Mariners did anything wrong or dumb. They tried their best, in appropriate fashion, but the individual moves all soured in the worst possible ways.

Reminds me of something. Anyone else get the vibe of the 2014-15 A’s, pushing just a little bit too hard and having it all blow up in their face over and over? All I know is it feels good to be back on the advantageous side of the paradigm, silently darting away with the spoils while the other guy regretfully falls through a trapdoor on his way to what he thought would be glory. Kind of feels like Beane, Forst, and company might be back on the right track after all.