Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto believes he has found the athletic center fielder he wanted for Safeco Field.
And with the acquisition of Leonys Martin from the Texas Rangers on Monday, he also sees something like a workable outfield taking shape.
“We feel like (Martin’s) a legitimate starting center fielder, and we’re starting to see the semblance of an outfield,” Dipoto said in a conference call following the announcement of the deal. “With Seth Smith and (Franklin Gutierrez) in left, and Leonys in center, and Nelson Cruz in right, now we just have to continue to add the glue around them to fill in the blanks.”
Martin, 27, and right-hander Anthony Bass, 28, arrive in exchange for right-handed reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, outfielder James Jones and a player to be named.
And just as Dipoto likes what Martin brings to the outfield, he also sees Bass as a useful addition to the staff. Bass went 0-0 this past season in 33 relief appearances with a 4.50 earned-run average.
“Anthony Bass brings us a multi-inning reliever who’s also started in his career,” he said. “Gives us some flexibility and depth on our pitching staff, and lends a right-hander to a group that was becoming decidedly left-handed. I’m very excited about his addition, as well.”
Dipoto praised Bass’ ability to go multiple innings, and didn’t rule out the possibility of his serving as a spot starter or even competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. On the other end of the spectrum, he also seemed intrigued about how regularly Bass might hit the upper 90s if used for the first time in shorter roles.
For all that, Martin projects as the centerpiece.
“I think we get one of the premier defensive center fielders in baseball,” Dipoto said. “He’s been among the best in the league over these last three years. He’s coming off of a down year, and frankly that’s when you acquire guys. There was a soft spot in the ability to acquire Leonys, and we took advantage of that.”
Martin’s down year included a .219 batting average in 95 games with Texas. That, in turn, contributed to the loss of his starting job to Delino DeShields.
Martin was sent to Triple-A Round Rock, where he suffered a broken hamate bone in his right/throwing hand, which required surgery. He returned for just one September at-bat with the Rangers and was left off the American League Division Series roster. Martin then refused the Rangers’ request to continue work in Arizona in case he was needed as an injury replacement in another playoff round.
Dipoto said Martin’s hand “checked out healthy.”
Even at that, he is a .255 career hitter who strikes out a lot. Dipoto said he projects into the bottom part of the order.
“He’s got a little bit of power, where he can get out front and hook it to the right side,” he said. “He’s got a good swing, and he’s got plus-plus bat speed. We (believe he is) getting into a ballpark that will allow him to accentuate his strengths — and that is the defensive prowess. He’s got a tremendous throwing arm — one of the best throwing arms on a center fielder that you’ll see. And he runs the bases well. If he can bring that skillset to the table here at Safeco, it fits naturally with what we’re trying to do.”
Martin defected from Cuba in 2010 and established residency in Mexico before signing with the Texas organization.
Over the past three seasons he ranked fourth among major-league center fielders in runs saved (44). He has 81 stolen bases over the past three seasons, ranking sixth in the American League.
Wilhelmsen 31, was 2-2 last season with a 3.19 ERA and was 13 for 15 in save opportunities. Jones, 27, played 28 games in center with a .103 average.
Dipoto said the trade for veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit last week increased his comfort in parting with Wilhelmsen.
“There is a (bullpen) group already in hand that we feel very strongly about,” Dipoto said. “But we are going to continue to try to add to that group. … We’re probably not done with our outfield, either.”