The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is fading in the rear-view mirror, but a segment of Seattle baseball fans remain frustrated by the relative inactivity of the hometown Mariners.

Despite the local and national perception Seattle is a club taking a win-now approach, general manager Jerry Dipoto pulled off just three deals in the weeks leading up to the July 31 deadline; none were considered major.

Further fueling fan anxiety, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports recently authored an article suggesting the Mariners were destined to crash and should throw caution to the wind by pursuing coveted starting pitcher Sonny Gray.

What prompted a highly respected columnist like Rosenthal to opine Seattle was facing an inevitable decline?

Most baseball observers believe a club with a low-ranked minor league system and anchored by three 30-something veterans showing signs of regression — Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and Nelson Cruz — can’t produce sustainable success. Therefore, blowing up the roster is unavoidable.

Not surprisingly, Dipoto pushed back telling Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune, “We don’t think we’re getting ready to crash into the earth.”

So, which is it? Are the Mariners old and certain to collapse or is Dipoto right about his roster?

To help myself arrive at a conclusion, I compiled a potential 40-man roster for the 2019 Mariners. Seeing who’ll be available to the club in two years should help determine whether Seattle is actually getting ready to crash.

My roster is comprised of players currently in their organization. Included are major leaguers under team control for at least two more seasons and several prospects.

You’ll notice I didn’t identify 40 players. My intent is to present a potential foundation available to the Mariners, not predict the actual roster name-for-name.

The players listed below are segregated by their age as of July 1, 2019. When you break down the roster this way, the Mariners’ outlook doesn’t seem nearly as gloomy as the national narrative implies.

It’s quite possible five under-25 prospects on my list — starting pitcher Nick Neidert, outfielders Kyle Lewis, Braden Bishop, and Luis Liberato and first baseman Evan White — won’t be major league ready by the start of the 2019 season. Still, they have a realistic shot of being on Seattle’s 40-man roster.

Even without those youngsters, the Mariners project to have a solid core of players under age-30. Included in the group are current starting position players Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, Mike Zunino, and Ben Gamel and closer Edwin Diaz.

While an influx of youth is incrementally joining Seattle’s roster, there will be several key contributors on the wrong side of 30. But, only one will be over age-35 — Cano. The next oldest Mariner will be Hernandez; he’ll only be age-33.

Suddenly, the roster doesn’t seem as old as intimated.

Having said that, the squad I’ve suggested will have deficiencies. Here’s how the starting position players shape up, assuming the club doesn’t trade anyone from the current stable and no one succumbs to injury or regression.

Potential 2019 Lineup
Pos Player (2019 Age)
1B TBD
2B Robinson Cano (36)
SS Jean Segura (29)
3B Kyle Seager (31)
LF Ben Gamel (27)
CF TBD
RF Mitch Haniger (28)
C Mike Zunino (28)
DH TBD

The most glaring holes facing the Mariners are first base and center field. During his first two years as general manager, Dipoto has chosen to go with short-term solutions at first base — Dae-Ho Lee, Adam Lind, and Danny Valencia.

Perhaps, the Mariners turn to prospect Daniel Vogelbach or continue acquiring placeholders until a more permanent solution appears via trade or the minor league system.

During his short professional career, White has impressed. He could develop into that long-term fix, but it’s very unlikely he’s ready by 2019.

Another name to consider at first base is Cano. To the chagrin of some fans, I suggested several years ago the all-star second baseman might eventually change positions. If such a move took place, the need for another starting player would shift to second base.

Dipoto may continue to staff center field with temps until the organization’s top prospect — Lewis — is ready. The 22-year-old currently projects to play the position, although that could change as he progresses through the Mariners’ system.

When Cruz’s contract expires after next season, Seattle will have to address designated hitter. The club could pursue retaining the Boomstick, find a specific replacement, or simply move away from having a player fill the position on a full-time basis.

The latter option seems the most realistic approach for a Dipoto team. Rotating players through designated hitter gives clubs more roster flexibility and provides an opportunity to keep banged up players in the lineup, while giving them a break from the field.

As you can see, there’s a decent level of stability among position players. Conversely, the pitching staff is far less certain. Here are the most likely internal candidates for the Mariners’ rotation with their 2019 age in parenthesis.

Potential 2019 Rotation
James Paxton (30) Felix Hernandez (33) Marco Gonzales (27)
Erasmo Ramirez (29) Ariel Miranda (30) Andrew Moore (25)

Depending on one’s outlook, it’s a positive or negative so many familiar names may comprise the starting staff two years from now.

James Paxton appears destined for stardom, but Opening Day starter Felix Hernandez has struggled with injury and inconsistency for two seasons. It’s hard to project what King Felix will be in 2019 — the final year of his contract.

The remaining pitchers in the mix for the 2019 rotation are either unproven or own an undistinguished major league resume. Perhaps, some will evolve into something more or a prospect such as Neidert will emerge on the scene. That’s a lot to hope for though.

Fortunately, the list of relievers looks more appealing.

Diaz may continue to anchor the back-end of the bullpen in two years, which bodes well for the Mariners. How many fans realize the club’s sophomore closer will only be 25-years-old in 2019?

Surrounding Diaz will be a youthful core of hard-throwing relievers — Dan Altavilla, James Pazos, Thyago Vieira — with veteran Nick Vincent being the “old man” at age-32.

Potential 2019 Bullpen
Edwin Diaz (25) Emilio Pagan (28) Thyago Vieira (25)
Dan Altavilla (26) Max Povse (25) Nick Vincent (32)
James Pazos (28) Zac Curtis (26) Tony Zych (28)

Granted, some of the relievers listed above probably won’t be a Mariner in 2019. Reliever volatility is real, pitchers get hurt, and players such as Vincent and Tony Zych may become too expensive once they’re arbitration eligible.

Okay, back to my original query. Are the Mariners certain to collapse?

No.

While it’s true Seattle is relying on aging stars to succeed this season, the club is getting good value from under-30 players Ben Gamel, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia, Ariel Miranda, and Paxton.

As long as Dipoto continues to build upon his young foundation and addresses the rotation, his organization won’t go into the nosedive many pundits are predicting.…

It’s been a hectic month leading up to today’s MLB non-waiver trade deadline. It seems like ages since the Chicago White Sox traded Jose Quintana to the Chicago Cubs for Dylan Cease, Bryant Flete, Eloy Jimenez, and Matt Rose. In reality, that deal went down just 18 days ago.

Since then, every major league team entered the trade market striving to either improve their 2017 postseason chances or brighten their outlook for the future. A few organizations did both preferring to be merchants of opportunity.

With so many players on the move since the all-star break, I thought it’d be fun to present an overview of what’s transpired since both Chicago clubs made the first significant trade of this year’s deadline season.

Movers and Shakers

The White Sox didn’t slow down after making the Quintana deal on July 13. With the club in rebuild mode, general manager Rick Hahn swapped a total of 19 players.

Other highly active clubs included the Cubs and New York Yankees. The North Siders are trying to make a repeat appearance in the Fall Classic, while the Yankees are trying to return to postseason play for the first time they lost the 2015 AL Wild Card game to the Houston Astros.

Ironically, the Bronx Bombers were sellers just 12 months ago. Now, general manager Brian Cashman is the executive willing to deal prospects for October glory.

Pitching was king

The most popular commodity pursued by potential buyers was pitching. Nearly three-quarters of major leaguers acquired were either a starting pitcher  or reliever. While not as pronounced as in the major league market, the majority of prospects (59-percent) traded were pitchers too.

The most notable starters included Quintana, Yu Darvish, and Sonny Gray. Top relievers on the move included Addison Reed, David Robertson, Pat Neshek, and Justin Wilson.

Overall, the market was soft at every other position.

Experience Matters

Over 50-percent of players involved in deals were minor leaguers. The next largest demographic on the move were players with 6-9 years of time in the majors. It’s worth noting, I categorized players’ MLB experience based on the years annotated on their individual page at Baseball Reference.

Veterans dealt with 10-plus years of experience included relievers David Robertson, Pat Neshek, and Ryan Madson and position players Melky Cabrera and Howie Kendrick.

Team Control Mattered

Some fans may be surprised to learn rental players accounted for only 50-percent of big leaguers involved in pre-deadline transactions with a significant number of players have at least two years of club control remaining.

The best of the bunch under team control past this season is Gray. The New York Yankees control the former Cy Young Award finalist’s rights through the 2019 season.

The best rentals include Darvish and relievers Anthony Swarzak, Neshek, and Reed. The top position players are J.D. Martinez and Todd Frazier. All of these players will help their new teams, but the don’t present the same level of value as Gray.

Low Level Minor Leaguers Were Popular

Over 70-percent of prospects acquired are currently playing below Class-AA level. The most recognizable names playing at Class-AAA level include Tyler O’Neill (St. Louis Cardinals via Seattle Mariners) and Jeimer Candelario (Detroit Tigers via the Cubs). Both players are top-100 prospects according to MLB Prospect Watch.

Among the 40-plus minor leaguers on the move, over 70-percent were under age-23.

The youngest player moved was 17-year-old Gregory Santos, shipped in a trade between the Boston Red Sox to the San Francisco Giants that brought veteran infielder Eduardo Nunez to Beantown.

At the other end of the spectrum, a reliever over twice Santos’ age — 40-year-old reliever Joaquin Benoit — was moved by the Philadelphia Phillies to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

About Those Top Prospects

As much as we’ve read and heard about top prospects being potential bargaining chips, a very small portion of traded minor leaguers were ranked in the top-100 by MLB Prospect Watch. Here are the seven best prospects with new addresses.

Top-100 Prospects Dealt In July
Player Age Pos Old Team New Team Level Top-100 Rnk
Eloy Jimenez 20 OF CHC CWS A+ 8
Blake Rutherford 20 OF NYY CWS A 29
Dylan Cease 21 SP CHC CWS A 62
 Willie Calhoun 22
 OF LAD
TEX
AAA
 69
Tyler O’Neill 22 OF SEA STL AAA 75
 Dustin Fowler  22 OF
 NYY OAK
AAA
77
Jeimer Candelario 23 IF CHC DET AAA 92

See You Next Month

The vast majority of wheeling and dealing by 2017 playoff contenders is now complete, but trades will occur between now and August 31 — the true deadline for clubs trying to make the postseason this year.

From this point going forward, players have to clear waivers before being traded. Bear in mind, many players will clear waivers before September 1.

After last year’s August 1 non-waiver deadline, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto made four deals netting him two major league players and a minor leaguer from the New York Yankees —  Ben Gamel.

Players added by postseason clubs after the non-waiver deadline included Michael Martinez (Cleveland Indians), Carlos Gomez (Texas Rangers), Carlos Ruiz (Los Angeles Dodgers), and Marc Rzepczynski (Washington Nationals).

Next month won’t be as hectic as the last three weeks, but I suspect it’ll be fun watching the last minute maneuvering of executives from contending clubs.…

While not the splashy move some fans were hoping for, the Seattle Mariners improved their pitching staff today by reacquiring versatile pitcher Erasmo Ramirez from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for veteran reliever Steve Cishek.

In recent days, several national baseball reporters have intimated Seattle as a potential player in a bidding war among contenders attempting to acquire Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray. Instead, the club added a familiar face from years past.

Prior to the 2015 season, the Mariners traded Ramirez to Tampa Bay for pitcher Mike Montgomery. At the time, the native Nicaraguan wasn’t going to make the club out of Spring Training and had no minor league options remaining. This left then-general manager Jack Zduriencik with few choices.

For the Mariners to assign Ramirez to the minor leagues, he would’ve needed him to clear waivers first — an unlikely scenario. Hence the deal with the Rays.

Fast forward nearly three years and Zduriencik’s replacement — Jerry Dipoto — found himself needing to add another versatile element to his pitching staff. Just yesterday, the second-year GM alluded to the possibility of adding a pitcher of Ramirez’s ilk during an interview on the Danny, Dave, and Moore Show on 710 ESPN Seattle.

When referring to adding pieces to his roster, Dipoto noted he’d like to add “some type of starter valuable. We’d like to have that flexible option on the staff.” Ramirez fits that description. The 27-year-old has made 18 relief and eight starting appearances for Tampa Bay this season.

Still, the right-hander has been far better as a reliever this season. Here’s a breakdown of his stat line in both starting and relieving roles.

Role IP ERA G ERA FIP AVG OBP SLG WHIP BB% SO%
SP 38.2 6.05 8 6.05 4.70 .291 .337 .500 1.448 5.9% 18.9%
RP 30.2 3.23 18 3.23 3.51 .187 .232 .311 0.848 5.3% 20.3%

In hindsight, the departure of Cishek shouldn’t come as a surprise. The 31-year-old’s role became less defined with the Mariners after last week’s acquisition of fellow right-hander David Phelps from the Miami Marlins.

Along with Phelps, manager Scott Servais had other righty options with Nick Vincent and Tony Zych capable of holding down the late innings prior to handing the ball to closer Edwin Diaz.

Considering Phelps, Vincent, and Zych are under team control past this season, Cishek — a pending free agent — was the logical choice to deal. Essentially, the Mariners took advantage of a redundancy in one area of the bullpen to bolster another.

Financially, the trade is a wash for both parties. According to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, the Mariners are offsetting the difference between Cishek’s and Ramirez’s salaries.

Ramirez has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining. Barring unforeseen circumstances or an extension deal, Seattle will offer the six-year veteran arbitration in the offseason.

The addition of Ramirez certainly helps the Mariners compensate for a lackluster rotation comprised of James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, and a group of inconsistent back-end starters.

Too often this season, Servais was forced to ride out bad starter performances and sacrifice wins rather than overtax his relievers and further expose his bullpen in subsequent games. That’s the second-order effect of having a volatile rotation. Now, the second-year manager can have a quicker hook with Ramirez and rookie Emilio Pagan capable of covering multiple innings.

Today’s trade is a prototypical Dipoto move — improve an area of weakness while adding a younger, controllable player in the process. Nevertheless, it doesn’t nudge the Mariners closer to serious postseason contention.

Yes, Seattle is a better team thanks to Ramirez’s presence. But, the club is still relying on inconsistent starters Ariel Miranda, Yovani Gallardo, Andrew Moore, and Sam Gaviglio at the back of the rotation. That’s not good enough.

Promoting recent acquisition Marco Gonzales from Class-AAA Tacoma might help. But, that’s not a season-altering move. At best, it’s an incremental improvement.

Perhaps, Dipoto finds more rotation help before Monday’s MLB non-waiver trade deadline. Doing so would energize his club’s chances of playing meaningful October baseball.

Otherwise, the Mariners risk finishing the season not quite good enough to end their dreaded 15-year postseason drought.

That’d be a disappointing conclusion to a season that looked so promising in March.

The Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline is just days away and speculation is running rampant in baseball towns across North America. Fans everywhere want to get the scoop on what their favorite club is planning to do in the trade market.

In the end though, most trade talk will turn out to be just that — talk.

In the Pacific Northwest, trade chatter centers on Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray. Whether the right-hander is within reach of the Seattle Mariners is debatable. The belief among baseball insiders is Seattle doesn’t have enough high-value prospects to entice Oakland.

Having said that, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has proven to be an innovative deal-maker during his 22-month tenure. Underestimating him now would be unwise.

Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports suggested Dipoto might have no choice other than pursue Gray. From Rosenthal’s perspective, the Mariners are going to eventually crash. Why not go all-out before making impact?

This kind of talk both excites and agitates Seattle fans. A segment of the team’s faithful want Dipoto to do whatever it takes to break the franchise’s 15-season playoff drought.

Other fans don’t want the organization to part ways with potentially valuable prospects, including 2016 first round pick Kyle Lewis. This demographic can’t forget bad deals from the past, such as swapping Adam Jones and Chris Tillman for Erik Bedard.

That burn still smolders nearly a decade later.

Exacerbating fan anxiety is Dipoto’s most recent deal, which sent another top prospect — Tyler O’Neill — to the St. Louis Cardinals. Shades of Adam Jones all over again in the eyes of the skeptical.

It’s not just the notion another club might fleece the Mariners that concerns fans. Many believe the club should strive to build from within. I see the sentiment expressed on Twitter frequently. Here’s an anonymous example:

“Who’s the most consistent winning franchises? Boston, NYY, Dodgers, etc. what do they have in common? Build from within and supplement w/FA”

While I agree building a strong minor league system makes sense from an operational and financial aspect, a closer look at the rosters of successful clubs dispels the perception of this passionate fan.

The following table illustrates the 40-man rosters of clubs mentioned above and a few others I’ve cherry-picked. The Mariners, last season’s World Series participants, plus the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals — both locks for the postseason.

Please note, data used in tables throughout this piece are based on how rosters were configured on July 26. Furthermore, “homegrown” refers to players signed as amateurs via the draft or from abroad.

40-Man Roster Breakdown
Tm Homegrown FA Trade Waivers/Rule 5
LAD 12 9 16 3
HOU 16 8 12 3
WSN 17 11 12 0
CHC 14 8 15 3
CLE 19 6 14 1
BOS 19 7 11 3
NYY 17 5 16 2
SEA 11 7 20 2

 

To the surprise of no one anywhere, the Mariners acquired more players via the trade market. Interestingly, Seattle has just one fewer homegrown player than the Dodgers; one of those teams allegedly built from within.

Ironically, one of the teams most often heralded as the benchmark for blowing up a roster — the Chicago Cubs — has just 14 homegrown players.

Looking at an overview of 40-man rosters probably doesn’t provide enough detail for some of you. After all, 15 players aren’t even playing with the big league club.

Fair enough.

Let’s turn our attention to how each club’s 25-man roster currently looks. Please note, players on the 10-day disabled list are included. Therefore, some team totals will exceed 25.

25-Man Roster Breakdown
Tm Homegrown FA Trade Waivers/Rule 5
LAD 8 9 13 1
HOU 9 6 11 3
WSN 11 11 8 0
CHC 6 7 11 1
CLE 11 4 12 1
BOS 11 5 9 3
NYY 10 5 12 1
SEA 8 5 11 1

 

Suddenly, the assertion that consistent winning franchises build from within loses steam.

The defending champion Cubs have fewer homegrown players on their 25-man roster than the Mariners. The other club lauded for roster demolition — the Houston Astros — has just one more.

Despite the attention the Dodgers receive for their farm system and the stars it’s producing, they have the same number of homegrown players as the Mariners and their lowly regarded system. In fact, Los Angeles has relied more heavily on trades than any team listed above.

In fairness, there’s more to the story. Detailing quantity without discussing quality would be misleading.

With that in mind, the following represents the proportion of value teams are getting from their acquisitions using Baseball Reference’s wins above replacement (bWAR).

25-Man Roster bWAR
Tm Homegrown FA Trade Waivers/Rule 5
LAD 40% 24% 36% 0%
HOU 58% 8% 31% 3%
WSN 54% 25% 21% 0%
CHC 40% 15% 45% 0%
CLE 34% 7% 57% 1%
BOS 48% 8% 43% 0%
NYY 51% 13% 35% 1%
SEA 34% 17% 44% 4%

 

Certainly, the Astros are capitalizing on their productive farm system. Nevertheless, other organizations are successful this season without relying as heavily on homegrown talent.

So, what’s the best way to win a consistent winner?

It depends.

Just 12 months ago, the Cubs and Indians “went for it” by moving prospects to get bullpen help. Inevitably, both clubs faced-off in the World Series. Their primary trade partner — New York Yankees — are now contending too.

The Boston Red Sox and Nationals followed suit last offseason by exchanging future talent for major leaguers and both appear bound for postseason action.

Earlier this month, the Cubs continued their buying ways by shipping a package of prospects to their crosstown rivals for starter Jose Quintana.

The respective approaches taken by these clubs were reasonable when they struck their deals. The same concept applies to the Mariners — they should do whatever makes the most sense right now.

Am I suggesting Dipoto should go all in and “sell the farm?”

Not necessarily, but the notion the Mariners should refrain from moving prospects because the best organizations are built from within makes no sense and a flawed concept.

The fear of another deal going sideways doesn’t hold water with me either. Every team has their share of clunker trades and fans who can’t let go of the past.

Bear in mind the Cubs broke their 108-year World Series victory last year and only major leaguers hoisted the championship trophy — not prospects.

I suspect the same will hold true if the Fall Classic ever comes to the Emerald City.…