Mariners Insider Blog

Mariners acquire pitcher Nate Karns from Tampa Bay in six-player deal

Right-hander Nate Karns was the key acquisition Thursday for the Mariners in a six-player deal with Tampa Bay.
Right-hander Nate Karns was the key acquisition Thursday for the Mariners in a six-player deal with Tampa Bay. AP

How’s this for the start of the Mariners’ much-anticipated roster makeover under new general manager Jerry Dipoto? A six-player deal with Tampa Bay that nets a promising young starting pitcher and a future leadoff hitter.

The Mariners acquired right-handed pitcher Nate Karns in a Thursday swap that sent utilityman Brad Miller, first baseman Logan Morrison and reliever Danny Farquhar to the Rays.

Karns, 27, went 7-5 with a 3.67 ERA last season as a rookie in 26 starts. He allowed two or fewer runs in 19 of his starts, although he didn’t pitch after Sept. 8 because of a strained forearm.

The Mariners also got minor-league outfielder Boog Powell, who projects as their future leadoff hitter, and lefty reliever C.J. Riefenhauser. Powell could be in the lineup by opening day.

"It was a good baseball trade," Dipoto said in characterizing his first major deal. "They addressed needs. We addressed needs, and everybody walks away happy."

Dipoto said Karns will move immediately into the rotation, while Powell, 22, will get a chance to win a job next spring after compiling a .385 on-base percentage in 117 games at Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham.

Riefenhauser, 25, will battle for a bullpen role after logging a 5.52 ERA last season in 17 outings over four big-league tours.

Nate Karns in action against Kansas City.

Karns admitted he was surprised by the trade.

"I’m excited about it," he said. "It's one of those things that just happened so it really hasn't hit me yet. I look at it as the team felt that they needed to make moves and the way they felt best was to trade me away.

"At the end of the day it's a business, and this is part of it…I’m excited to go on to the next chapter and see what happens."

Dipoto said acquiring Karns doesn’t affect the Mariners’ efforts to retain free-agent Hisashi Iwakuma.

"I don’t think we had a complete starting rotation to begin with," Dipoto said. This was addressing a need, but it doesn’t change anything in our desire to bring Kuma back."

Dipoto said "it’s very likely that we will" tender a qualifying offer — a one-year deal for $15.8 million — prior to Friday’s deadline to do so.

While Iwakuma is expected to reject the offer, the two sides can continue to negotiate. The offer also provides protection: The Mariners would receive a compensatory draft pick next June if Iwakuma signs elsewhere.

Dipoto said discussions with Tampa Bay began shortly after the season ended and the deal, he contends, addresses the plan he outlined at his introductory news conference in late September.

"Plan A," he said, "was to go out and make the pitching staff deeper, the starting rotation longer and to add speed and athleticism — and just a quicker style of play with some on-base ability.

"I think this trade addresses all three of those areas of need."

Miller projects as the key piece in the deal for Tampa Bay, which plans to return him to full-time duty as a shortstop. He surrendered that job over the closing months last season to rookie Ketel Marte.

"Brad has been an attractive player for the other 29 teams in the league for a number of years," Dipoto said. "He’s been a trade target. He’s been a guy whom others have come after.

"Obviously, with the emergence of Ketel Marte, and how well he played for the final couple of months of the season, it gave us the ability to put Brad in play to answer other needs. It’s as simple as that."

Dipoto dismissed concerns regarding Karns’ late-season injury.

"He’s a big durable guy," Dipoto said, "but we’ve gone through a full medical, and we’re very comfortable with where he was. We’re not winging it here…He appears to be 100 percent healthy and ready to roll."

Trading Morrison, 28, reduces the Mariners’ logjam at first base and designated hitter. He is also just one year away from qualifying for free agency after batting .225 with 17 homers and 54 RBIs in 146 games.

"With Seth Smith and Mark Trumbo and Nelson Cruz and LoMo and Jesus Montero," Dipoto ticked off, "we did have an area of surplus…that matched up with some of Tampa’s needs."

Farquhar, 28, became expendable after a rocky season in which he went 1-8 with a 5.32 ERA in 43 games and shuttling to Triple-A Tacoma for long stretches.

Dipoto projects Powell as a long-term fit atop the Mariners’ lineup — whenever he proves ready for that duty.

"The thing that appeals to us most about Boog," Dipoto said, "is his top-of-the-lineup skill set. The patience, the hittability and the speed are really attractive to us, as well as the athleticism in the outfield.

"He’s checked all of the boxes. He controls the strike zone. He’s hit everywhere he’s gone. He runs the bases. He plays defense. And he’s polished in what he does.

"He’ll come to spring training with the opportunity to win a spot but nothing is etched in stone. If he wins one, great. If not, he’s right there in Tacoma, ready to go get when we need him."