Trying to gauge the impact that newcomer Drew Smyly will have on the Mariners’ rotation pretty much comes down to the this: How much do you trust general manager Jerry Dipoto and his staff?
Dipoto makes no secret that Smyly, a 27-year-old lefty, is the player he coveted more than anyone else in an off-season that saw the Mariners make 12 trades involving 36 players.
"On multiple occasions," Dipoto said, "I basically assumed we weren’t going to be able to get there. But I stayed in touch with (GM) Eric Neander with the Rays and continued to talk through it. I never really let it drop for too long."
The trade occurred Jan. 11, when the Mariners shipped outfielder Mallex Smith, infielder Carlos Vargas and left-handed pitcher Ryan Yarbrough to the Rays just a few hours after they obtained Smith as part of a four-player trade with Atlanta.
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The move, had it come a week earlier, would not have surprised Smyly.
He knew the Rays were shopping him and saw the Mariners as a possible landing point — that is, until the Mariners acquired veteran right-hander Yovani Gallardo in a Jan 6 trade from Baltimore for outfielder Seth Smith.
"I thought, `Oh, I guess I’m not going to get to go to Seattle,’" Smyly said. "Then a week later, I did. I was excited to come here. It’s always been one of my favorite places to play. The city, I’ve always loved coming here.
"I was really excited when I finally got the call."
Spring workouts start Wednesday for Smyly and the rest of the Mariners’ pitchers and catchers at the organization’s year-round complex located northwest of downtown Phoenix. Full-squad workouts begin Feb. 19.
Smyly and Gallardo project as the back elements in a rotation that contains three holdovers in Felix Hernandez, James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma. Smyly and Paxton are left-handers.
"That’s a nice balance that we’ve got," Dipoto said. "We don’t feel like we’re incredibly reliant on one guy to carry the load."
Smyly is a five-year veteran who is 31-27 with a 3.74 ERA in 156 career games, including 85 starts, for Detroit and Tampa Bay. All but eight of his 71 relief appearances came as a kid in 2013 when squeezed out of a deep Tigers rotation.
"We felt this was a really attractive target for us," Dipoto said. "In a market where there were very few pitchers available, we felt he was a particular highlight. We focused on him from the get-go."
The Mariners see a lefty poised to reach his prime after making a career-high 30 starts and view his career-worst 4.88 ERA as an anomaly that resulted largely from allowing 32 homers. They point to his 3.24 ERA over four previous seasons.
That homer rate was a 60 percent increase over Smyly’s previous allowance. The expectation is that a typical regression to the mean, combined with pitching at a more-spacious home park, should alleviate the problem.
"He fits our ballpark well," Dipoto said. "He’s an extreme fly-ball pitcher with low walks and high strikeouts who, in our ballpark with improved defense, fits us like a glove."
Smyly offered another explanation for his bloated ERA.
"I think in the middle of the season," he recalled, "I had that rough stretch with my off-speed pitches. I just kind of lost the feel for them for a little bit. When you limit what pitches you can throw up there, it makes it harder on yourself."
Smyly compiled an 8.03 ERA in nine starts from May 26 to July 18. He then allowed three or fewer earned runs in nine of his last 12 starts.
But, yes, Smyly agrees that pitching his home games at Safeco Field, which is far more spacious than Tropicana Field, should provide a boost. So, too, should the move away from the American League East and its hitter-friendly dimensions.
"The AL East, they’re small ballparks," he said. "They’re meant for hitters. There are no excuses. I had some great games, and I had some bad games.
"This will be my first time in the AL West. So I’ve got all of the AL divisions covered. I started out in the Central. I think Safeco can definitely help me. I’m obviously a fly-ball pitcher. I give up more fly balls than ground balls.
"With our outfield defense, and how big this field can play, I think it, for sure, is going to help me."
Bob Dutton: @TNT_Mariners