When Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports recently reported the Seattle Mariners were considering a “full-fledged teardown,” Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto pushed back saying he was looking to “reimagine” his roster. Apparently, Dipoto has a vivid imagination.
Multiple media outlets are reporting the Mariners are sending two more foundational pieces out of town, which suggests the club is creeping towards the teardown Passan suggested. This time, to the New York Mets in a seven-player swap.
Heading to the Big Apple are All-Star baseman Robinson Canó and closer Edwin Díaz. Meanwhile, the Mariners receive veterans Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak, plus three minor leaguers – Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn, and Gerson Bautista.
Seattle is offsetting Canó’s hefty contract ($120 million through the 2023 season) by absorbing the contracts of Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak. The pair earns $37 million through 2020. Furthermore, the Mariners are reportedly including approximately $20 million in cash considerations.
Dipoto’s latest transaction nets the Mariners five players making it their largest haul since the first trade executed by his predecessor – Jack Zduriencik. In a three-team deal involving the Mets and Cleveland Indians in 2008, Seattle received Franklin Gutierrez, Mike Carp, Ezequiel Carrera, Endy Chavez, Maikel Cleto, Aaron Heilman and Jason Vargas.
Díaz was arguably the best reliever in baseball last season striking out 124 batters and walking just 17 in 73.1 innings. His exploits made the baseball world take notice, which led to the 24-year-old receiving an All-Star selection, a top-10 finish in Cy Young voting, and MVP consideration.
Conversely, Canó’s 2018 was far more uneven. He produced a superb .303/.374/.471, but a PED suspension restricted him to just 80 games. Despite the stigma associated with such an infraction, the eight-time All-Star remains a potent offensive weapon heading into his age-36 season.
Although Seattle didn’t reach the postseason Canó’s tenure, he did provide positive results on the field. He leaves with the fourth best batting average by any player with with 3,000-plus plate appearances as a Mariner. The hitters ahead of him? Three Hall of Fame talents – Ichiro Suzuki, Edgar Martinez, and Alex Rodriguez.
A segment of Mariners fans will hate this deal and will criticize the team for trading two All-Stars; especially the very popular Díaz. That’s understandable. However, history will judge the move based on the value the club eventually reaps (or doesn’t reap) from the players acquired.
Hip, back, and foot issues restricted Bruce to 94 games last season marking the first time since 2009 he didn’t have at least 500 plate appearances in a campaign. Therefore, it’s not surprising the 31-year-old’s production dropped to just nine home runs and a .223/.310/.370 triple-slash.
In the field, advanced metrics suggest Bruce is a below-average glove in right field. During the last two years, the three-time All-Star played sparingly at first base, including 20 starts last season. Since he’s on the wrong side of 30 and coming off injuries affecting mobility, defensive regression in the outfield is more likely.
Financially, Bruce earns $14.5 million annually through the 2020 season. He’s currently the sixth highest paid Mariner, although the 11-year veteran is likely to rank higher by Opening Day as Dipoto continues to reimagine.
Despite a tough year, Bruce may be primed to rebound. In the three seasons leading up to 2018, the left-handed hitter slashed .243/.309/.482 averaging 32 home runs and 150 games. Assuming he remains available, similar production is possible. At least that’s what a metric from Baseball Savant indicates.
After returning from the DL in August, Bruce had a .366 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) in 125 plate appearances. What makes xwOBA relevant in this situation is it’s determined by using quality of contact (exit velocity, launch angle) and quantity of contact (strikeouts and walks). A hitter or pitcher can influence these outcomes.
We’re talking about a small sample size, but Bruce’s xwOBA in the final two months of the season was identical to Anthony Rizzo and J.D. Martinez and just ahead of Alex Bregman. On the Mariners, only Cano (.399), Nelson Cruz (.374), and Mitch Haniger (.369) were better.
Does this mean Bruce will be as productive as the players just mentioned? No, but there’s a reasonable chance his bat provides value next year. The key will be the native Texan’s health.
Swarzak also dealt with injuries last season. An oblique injury sidelined him after just two appearances in March and he didn’t return to action until June. Shoulder inflammation sent the right-hander back to the DL in August, although he did return to make seven appearances in September.
When available, Swarzak proved ineffective. In 26.1 innings, opposing hitters slashed .280/.371/.490 and the 33-year-old had a career-worst 4.8 BB/9 rate. His .337 xwOBA ranked 245th among 295 MLB relievers who faced at least 100 batters. The only Seattle relievers with a worse mark were Chasen Bradford (.350) and Casey Lawrence (.360).
Perhaps Swarzak can rebound too. In 2016-17, he posted a much better 2.4 BB/9 and a superb 10.1 SO/9 in 96 games. Furthermore, his .252 xwOBA ranked seventh best among relievers facing 400-plus hitters during the two-season span. The only pitchers ahead of him – Kenley Jansen, Andrew Miller, Pat Neshek, Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton, and Dellin Betances.
Swarzak is set to earn $8 million in 2019, the final year of his deal. That makes him the second highest paid reliever on the Mariners behind Juan Nicasio ($9.25 million).
If Swarzak regains his pre-injury form, he would help Seattle in two ways. First, he’d bolster a bullpen that just lost its best arm. By next July, the nine-year veteran would be an appealing trade piece for Dipoto to flip in a deadline deal.
The centerpiece minor leaguer heading to the Mariners is Jarred Kelenic. The Wisconsin native was the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft. MLB Prospect Watch already ranks Kelenic as the 62nd best prospect in baseball. Keith Law of ESPN placed him at number-46 during his mid-season assessment.
What impresses scouts most about Kelenic is his left-handed bat. He began his pro career this summer slashing .286/.371/.468 with 15 stolen bases in 251 plate appearances. Defensively, the 19-year-old played center field, although a future move to right field is possible.
Justin Dunn was the 19th overall selection in the 2016 draft and currently ranks number-89 with Prospect Watch. Dunn began his collegiate career as a reliever, but became a starter during his junior year. In 2018, the 23-year-old played for High-A St. Lucie and Class-AAA Binghamton. He had a combined 3.59 ERA, although the righty wasn’t as effective with Binghamton.
It’s unclear whether Dunn sticks as a starter or reverts to relieving. Either way, the Mariners have a top-100 prospect with the potential of delivering value in the rotation or bullpen.
Gerson Bautista made five relief appearances as a rookie with the Mets last season and posted a sub-optimal 4.1 BB/9 in 39.2 innings with Class-AAA Las Vegas. Although it’s a teeny sample size, he was better during 11.1 frames of Arizona Fall League play (2.4 BB/9 and 12.3 SO/9). That said; the 23-year-old may end up being a middle reliever.
Although past results have no bearing on the future success of the prospects the Mariners just acquired, some fans may find solace in knowing New York’s farm system has been relatively productive in recent years.
Since 2014, pitchers Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and outfielders Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo are homegrown Mets, who made significant contributions to the club last season.
What’s Next For Dipoto?
Obviously, losing Canó and Díaz is a tremendous blow to Seattle’s short-term outlook, especially after the free agent departure of Nelson Cruz and recent trades of ace James Paxton, and catcher Mike Zunino.
So far, Dipoto has added several big leaguers as he’s deepened Seattle’s prospect pool. Specifically, outfielder Mallex Smith, Bruce, and Swarzak. He also acquired catcher Omar Narváez last week by shipping reliever Alex Colomé to the Chicago White Sox.
For those trying to keep up, here’s a rundown of the players traded and received by the Mariners this offseason…as of today.
|James Paxton||Mallex Smith|
|Robinson Canó||Jay Bruce|
|Edwin Diaz||Anthony Swarzak|
|Mike Zunino||Omar Narváez|
|Alex Colomé||Justus Sheffield (#31 prospect)|
|Guillermo Heredia||Jarred Kelenic (#62 prospect)|
|Michael Plassmeyer (minors)||Justin Dunn (#89 prospect)|
|Erik Swanson (minors)|
|Jake Fraley (minors)|
|Dom Thompson-Williams (minors)|
|Gerson Bautista (minors)|
There are certainly more items of varying complexity remaining on Dipoto’s “to-do” list. One may even involve an iconic player.
The addition of Narváez gives the Mariners two catchers on its 40-man roster with David Freitas being the other. Expect more moves in the future to improve organizational depth at the position.
Last week, there were rumblings of a potential deal between the Mariners and Padres sending Jean Segura and Mike Leake to San Diego in exchange for Wil Myers. That trade seems less likely with Bruce’s presence, although Dipoto is clearly open to moving both veterans.
Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic recently noted the Philadelphia Phillies were interested in Segura and Díaz, but may pursue just Segura. The 28-year-old has a no-trade clause, but may be amenable to a location change as the Mariners take a step back.
Will the team consider moving Haniger and starter Marco Gonzales? Along with Segura, they represent the 50-year-old executive’s best acquisitions since becoming the Mariners’ GM.
With Gonzales appearing to be on rise, trading the southpaw now would be selling low. Moreover, he’s only 26-years-old and under club control through 2023. The former Gonzaga Bulldog may still be in his prime when the Mariners become competitive again.
Haniger enjoyed a breakout season in 2018. However, he enters his age-28 season next year. By the time the Mariners are relevant again, the All-Star right fielder will be in his thirties and a pending free agent. Then again, there’s no need to act hastily; he’s under team control through 2022.
Then there’s Félix Hernández to consider.
Hernández is set to earn $26.9 million in the final year of his contract next season. Much like Canó, his price tag makes him unappealing to potential trade suitors. Even worse, Félix hasn’t been delivering positive on-field results like his former teammate. He’s been regressing since 2015 with history working against him.
Would the Mariners actually release King Félix?
It’s hard to tell, but it’s an issue certain to fuel debate around the hot stove.
Who’s On First…DH…RF?
With the roster in flux, it’s too early to determine what the Opening Day lineup may look like. It depends on how manager Scott Servais utilizes Bruce, Swarzak, Smith, and anyone else Dipoto adds to the mix.
Perhaps Bruce is the designated hitter. He could also timeshare at first base and designated hitter with Ryon Healy and Dan Vogelbach. Maybe the outfield is a possibility depending on whether Haniger and Ben Gamel remain with the team.
Smith may be the Mariners’ leadoff hitter. On the other hand, Haniger was successful in that role with Segura batting second. But the number-three and four hitters (Canó and Cruz respectively) are already gone.
Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time for the roster to stabilize before Spring Training. Whether it’s any good is an issue to discuss in the future.
Today’s trade was the prototypical Dipoto deal, although on a grander scale than we’ve seen before. The third-year GM acquired veterans to help his club now, while improving its long-term outlook with Kelenic, Dunn, and Bautista.
Sure, the Mariners may have recouped more value trading Díaz separately. But packaging him with Canó cleared a contract once believed untradeable. Plus their low-ranked farm system looks better today than it has since the Zduriencik era.
On that note, a highly regarded farm system doesn’t guarantee success. Rankings fluctuate as prospects graduate to the majors or used to acquire MLB-ready talent.
An organization’s ability to transform prospect talent into major league value defines its success. Remember, there was a point in Zduriencik’s tenure when he had a top-5 system. Yet, Seattle’s postseason drought remains active at 17 years.
Naturally, there’s risk associated with trading established big leaguers for prospects and players with incomplete MLB résumés. At 19, Kelenic is considered old for a high school draft pick. Dunn has upside, but is a work in progress. How these well-regarded prospects develop is unknown, as is Bautista’s future MLB value.
Still, what other realistic options did Dipoto have? Adding premium, controllable talent is the best way to reboot a franchise in the midst of the longest professional postseason drought in North America.
The alternative is the status quo that’s been delivering mediocrity for over a decade. Isn’t it about time the Mariners break the paradigm and strive to be better than a fringe contender?
Dipoto believes the answer is yes and that’s a good thing.
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