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M's Smart To Turn Down Edwin Jackson Trade Offer

While it's been known that the Tigers have been looking to shed payroll, specifically star players Curtis Granderson and Edwin Jackson have been mentioned, it wasn't until yesterday that we had any word on specific demands from Detroit, when Jon Heyman of reported that the Seattle Mariners turned down a trade offer of Jackson for young right-handers Brandon Morrow and Shawn Kelley.

While Jackson is coming off a relatively impressive season, he also showed major signs of returning to his 2007/2008 level of performance (discussed here as well). While Jackson improved his control and missed more bats, his command was still shaky. In his final 16 starts, he posted a 68/37 K/BB, gave up 18 home runs, and posted a 4.80 ERA in 99 innings, numbers that look much like the ones he posted in Tampa. While he's still a solid fourth starter, he's currently being marketed as more than that thanks to his improved ERA, WHIP and W-L record, although his peripheral statistics indicate that he's likely to regress next season.

Considering this, it seems that the Mariners made a smart decision in turning down Detroit's offer of Jackson for Morrow and Kelley. Morrow, 26 next June, was once an elite power pitching prospect and has split time between Seattle and AAA for three years running, while also switching roles numerous times. He's consistently posted great strikeout rates, including 204 strikeouts in 196 innings in Seattle, but his control has always been consistently shaky as well, he's offset those strikeouts by walking 128 guys in the majors, or about 5.83 per 9 innings. Still, he showed improved control in AAA this year as a starter (3.76 BB/9), albeit with a lower strikeout rate, although that didn't translate upon being recalled to Seattle's bullpen. Considering his blazing fastball, sitting consistently in the 93-97 range, and the potential out-pitch in his slider, if he can develop a third pitch and some better command, he could emerge as one of the best starters in the league. It's a lot of ifs, certainly, but even so, he could become a dominant two-pitch reliever in the back of a bullpen if he doesn't make enough adjustments, and he's under control through 2013 so he has a lot of time to offer value.

Kelley, who turns 26 in April, spent most of 2009 in Seattle's bullpen. While he struggled with the long ball, giving up 9 in 46 innings, he also posted an extremely impressive 41/9 K/BB ratio, indicating that with some improved control he could emerge as a very good reliever. Kelley didn't reach AA until 2008, but he dominated upon his arrival there, and he spent just one game in AAA before joining the Mariners. He combines a solid fastball that sits in the 92-96 range with a good slider that he throws about a third of the time, his slider was rated as the best in Seattle's farm system by Baseball America in 2008. Kelley is also under control through 2014, so he is a potential mainstay in Seattle's bullpen going forward.

I have a tough time disagreeing with Seattle's decision to turn down Detroit's offer. While Jackson could have given the Mariners a solid starter to join Felix Hernandez, Ryan Rowland-Smith, Ian Snell, Lucas French and Carlos Silva, that role will likely be filled by Morrow, who seems fully capable of performing in a similar manner to Jackson if he can stay healthy for 180+ innings. Considering the likeliness that Jackson takes a step backwards in 2010 rather than another step forwards, I just don't see why Seattle should possibly deal four cost-controlled years of Morrow and five cost-controlled years of Kelley for Jackson's final two arbitration seasons. The Mariners are better off letting Morrow take his spot in the rotation and stick him there for the year, rather than shuttling him between AAA and Seattle, and the bullpen and the rotation, similar to how the Cubs have done with Jeff Samardzija. It's stunted Morrow's development as a starter, and at this point I don't see how you can argue that guys like Silva, French and Snell are superior options, even in the short-term.

If the Tigers are looking for that kind of package for Jackson, which is relatively justifiable given his superficial statistics from 2009 and his previous label as an elite prospect, the team that makes that trade will likely be disappointed.