Thursday, March 3, 2011
For the fifth straight off-season, the Mariners have acquired a left-handed pitcher with hopes that he will be a productive starter. First, the Seattle Mariners traded Rafeal Soriano for Horacio Ramirez for 2007, next the Mariners sent Adam Jones and a host of others to Baltimore for Erik Bedard for 2008, before 2009 the M's sent Aaron Heilman to Baltimore (again) for Garrett Olson, before 2010 the Mariners surprised all by getting Cliff Lee from Philadelphia, and for 2011 they got Aaron Laffey from Cleveland. Hopefully this time the Mariners got it right; Horacio Ramirez, Garrett Olson, and to some extent Erik Bedard have been awful while Lee was a fleeting joy, gone all too soon. Olson and Bedard are the only two pitchers still with the team; Olson will likely get cut before the season and it would be a miracle if Bedard pitched more than five games.
The newest lefty, Arron Laffey, came for the modest price of Matt Lawson who the Mariners acquired as a throw-in when they traded the stud Cliff Lee to the Texas Rangers. The price is so slim that it is easy to right Laffey off as a guy who will not ever throw a pitch at Safeco, but there is one reason he was so cheap to trade for; the Cleveland Indians were going to have to cut somebody (or trade) somebody off their 40-man roster to make room for Chad Durbin. So, instead of releasing Laffey they swapped him for the first offer, even if it was a player who as a 2y year old in AA only hit .293.
Laffey has pitched a total 320.1 innings in his four year career in 79 games, 49 of which are starts. His stats are rather mediocre, he hits 88 mph with his fastball, and mixes in a slider; the pitch he throws most often at 38 percent and a change-up which is often about 6+ mph slower than his fastball. His career ERA is 4.41 which is pretty run of the mill for a fifth starter candidate. Laffey real doesn't strike many guys out, only 4.35/9.
In his career he has made two trips to the hill in Safeco field (obviously against the Mariners). The most recent, in July 2009, was a seven inning gem. Laffey only allowed three hits, he struck out seven while walking three. He won, the M's he struck out included Ichiro, and the usual suspects for 2009; Hannahan, Branyan, Langerhans, Cedeno, and even Chris Shelton. His other appearance, in 2009, was not so smooth. He got chased from the hill after surrendering eight runs, five unearned in just 3.2 innings. Hopefully we can see more performances like his last one in 2008. However, Lackey will not be helped by Safeco field as much as some pitchers are, because of the high percentage of ground balls he throws.
Laffey has an option left, so if he doesn't win the fifth starter job, or a bullpen spot he can slide back down to Tacoma without the M's having to release him. However, I imagine that Laffey will start the fifth Mariners game solely for one reason; so that they can keep star prospect Michael Pineda from being a "super two" player, which makes Pineda vastly more expensive.
I expect that Laffey will be decent, probably a little better than former Mariner Ryan Rowland-Smith. Laffey very well could be bumped to the bullpen though, in favor of either Erik Bedard or Michael Pineda at the outset of the season. Unless he pitches well, he will likely be the guy who losses his job when Pineda is ready for the show, assuming Pineda starts the season at Tacoma. Arron Laffey profiles well in the 'pen though because he handles left-handed hitters very well. He K's left-handed batters at almost double the rate that he does right-handed hitters so if he does end up in the bullpen he could be above average.