Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Blue Jays, Mariners finalize trade
SEATTLE -- Citing the need for more experience in their bullpen, the Seattle Mariners finalized their trade of former No. 1 draft choice Brandon Morrow to the Toronto Blue Jays for more veteran reliever Brandon League and minor league outfielder Johermyn Chavez.
"We acquired a very talented arm, and we gave up a very talented arm," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said on a conference call Wednesday. "They just fit different roles in each organization."
Zduriencik called it a tough decision that he and his staff debated for almost two months and through perhaps as many as 15 conversations with Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
Morrow had shown flashes of brilliance with the Mariners but was slowed as Seattle converted him from a starter to a reliever and back. Seattle often forced him into on-the-job training while he was still in the major leagues.
"Looking back on it, it may not have been the greatest thing in the world for Brandon," Zduriencik said of the constant shuffling, which began under the regime of former GM Bill Bavasi. "But it's a double-edged sword. He did gain major league experience that was invaluable for him."
Morrow was sharp as a fill-in closer in 2008. Then that September against the New York Yankees, he came within four outs of joining Bobo Holloman as the only pitchers since 1900 to throw no-hitters in their first major league starts.
The 25-year-old Morrow began the 2009 season as Seattle's closer. But after Morrow blew saves at the end of the final two games of a 1-7 trip in mid-May, the Mariners replaced him with David Aardsma and sent Morrow to Triple-A to convert back to a starter. He returned to Seattle's rotation in September.
Anthopoulos said from Toronto that the Blue Jays will use Morrow as a starter.
Aardsma went on to earn his first 38 saves of his five-year career over the final 4½ months of last season in Seattle, making Morrow expendable.
It also made the 26-year-old League's experience -- he debuted in 2004 and has 168 career appearances with the Blue Jays -- more attractive for a setup role in a bullpen that Seattle is thinking shouldn't need to cover as many innings in 2010. That's because co-aces Felix Hernandez and newly acquired Cliff Lee are atop the rotation.
League, who was en route to his native Hawaii for the holidays on Wednesday, appeared in a career-high 67 games last season. The Blue Jays' second-round pick in 2001 out of Honolulu's St. Louis High School was 3-6 with a 4.58 ERA in 2009.
The Mariners, who have revamped their player evaluations with more statistical analysis in the 14 months with Zduriencik and his staff in charge, liked his 76 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings, with just 21 walks. They also liked that League, whom Zduriencik said has a "power arm with a great sinker and a swing-and-miss fastball," had 2.33 ground balls to every fly ball. That ranked eighth among American League relievers, and his career rate of 3.25 grounders-to-fly balls is second-best among relievers over the last six seasons. He also had a 2.30 ERA on grass.
Seattle's spacious Safeco Field is grass and would appear to better fit League's strengths than the artificial turf in Toronto.
"We were a little bit uncomfortable with the current status of our bullpen, and last year that was a huge part of our success," Zduriencik said of the Mariners' riser for 101 losses in 2008 to an 85-77 season.
"It was not an easy decision. When you acquire talent, you have to give up talent. ... It's difficult to give up on a very talented young pitcher like a Brandon Morrow. We do feel Brandon will become a good major league pitcher," he said.
Chavez turns 21 next month. Zduriencik noted the powerful, 6-foot-3, 220-pound native of Venezuela has been Toronto's minor league player of the year with the rookie-level Gulf Coast Blue Jays in 2007 and with Class A Lansing last season.