It’s no secret the Seattle Mariners are reshaping their organization with an eye towards the future. That said, envisioning a completely overhauled Mariners roster by 2021 piqued my curiosity. How are other MLB clubs building their rosters?
Rather than discussing all 30 big league rosters, I chose a different approach. Identify and review the teams most reliant on one of three roster-building methods: trades, free agency, or homegrown players.
The numbers you’ll see on the following tables represent the quantity of players acquired by the three methods. They were found on each club’s respective page at Roster Resource; a great reference tool.
Since Spring Training is close to concluding, 40-man rosters will be fluctuating over the next few weeks. Still, we should be able to get a sense of how front offices are constructing their teams.
Let’s start with the teams with the most players acquired via trade. The leader in this category may surprise some of you.
|Average Players/Tm Acquired Via Trade: 14.7
The reputation of Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto as an aggressive deal-maker grew exponentially when he literally completed a trade while lying in a Las Vegas hospital bed. We’ll discuss Dipoto’s reimagining of his roster in detail later. For now, let’s chat about his go-to trade partners – the Rays.
Tampa Bay’s roster is laden with homegrown talent, but the club has added significant contributors via trade too. Within the last two years, GM Erik Neander has acquired Matt Duffy, Mike Zunino, Tommy Pham, Tyler Glasnow, Joey Wendle, Ji-Man Choi, Austin Meadows, and Willy Adames. None of these players is over 28-years-old.
The best club listed above is Milwaukee, although most of the club’s trades weren’t headline grabbers with a few noteworthy exceptions.
Brewers GM David Stearns snagged 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich from the Marlins last offseason. The Brew Crew also added super-reliever Josh Hader in a 2015 deadline deal when they were sellers. When the club was in buy-mode last July, they traded for All-Star Mike Moustakas.
Most Homegrown Players
The best homegrown player on the Rockies is All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado, who recently signed an extension with the club running through 2025. Arenado has five Gold Gloves in six years, and he’s been a top-5 finisher in MVP voting in each of the last three seasons.
|Most Homegrown Players|
|Average Homegrown Players/Tm: 15.4
Colorado’s system also produced outfielder Charlie Blackmon, shortstop Trevor Story, and starters Chad Bettis, Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson, and Kyle Freeland. Prospects David Dahl and Ryan McMahon may contribute in 2019 as the Rockies pursue a franchise-record third consecutive postseason berth.
New Giants general manager Farhan Zaidi inherits a large contingent of homegrown players. As with Colorado, their biggest star is a former draft pick – Buster Posey. Unlike the Rockies, the majority of Zaidi’s homegrown stars are approaching or over age-30: Posey (32), shortstop Brandon Crawford (32), Brandon Belt (31), Madison Bumgarner (29), and Joe Panik (28).
With the exception of Bumgarner, who can become a free agent after this season, the Giants are contractually committed to its aging core through at least 2020 with Posey, Crawford, and Belt owed a combined $179 million between now and the end of the 2021 campaign.
The biggest star on the Phillies is recently signed free agent Bryce Harper, but the team’s 40-man roster has a large number of homegrowns. The most notable being 2018 NL Cy Young Award finalist Aaron Nola.
Nola recently inked a contract extension keeping the 26-year-old in Philadelphia through at least 2022. Other youngsters developed by Philly and expected to contribute this year include Scott Kingery (25), Rhys Hoskins (26), and Maikel Franco (26).
Still, the Phillies’ 2019 postseason hopes hinge on a cadre of veterans acquired by the club over the last two offseasons.
Free agents not named Bryce Harper include Jake Arrieta, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, and J.T. Realmuto. All-Star shortstop Jean Segura and starting pitchers Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff, Zach Eflin, and Nick Pivetta are notable trade acquisitions.
The team most frequently associated with cultivating homegrown talent may be the Astros.
Houston’s farm has yielded 2017 AL MVP Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr, and Alex Bregman. Their system also has prospects Josh James, Kyle Tucker, and Framber Valdez positioned to help the club this year.
On the other hand, the Astros do rely on free agency and trades too.
Staff aces Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and closer Roberto Osuna are a few of the GM Jeff Luhnow’s key trade pickups. Ownership also opened the checkbook adding reasonably-priced free agents – outfielders Josh Reddick and Michael Brantley, catcher Robinson Chirinos, and starter Wade Miley.
Most Free Agents
The Diamondbacks have the most free agents on their roster. But the club isn’t committing significant capital to them with the exception of Zack Greinke ($34.5 million).
Arizona’s other signees are low cost veteran pickups – David Peralta, Jarrod Dyson, Greg Holland, Adam Jones, and Wilmer Flores. With the exception of the 27-year-old Flores, all are on the wrong side of 30.
|Most Free Agents|
|Average Free Agent Players/Tm: 7.3
Another team frequently mentioned for building from within are the Cubs. Nevertheless, fewer than 50% of the team’s current 40-man roster were homegrown.
Chicago’s biggest free agent names include starters Jon Lester and Yu Darvish, outfielder Jason Heyward, super-utility man Ben Zobrist, and closer Brandon Morrow. The group earns $89 million this year. Other signed veterans are relievers Brad Brach, Tyler Chatwood, and Steve Cishek.
The Twins are adding free agent talent to win now. The most recognizable names added by Minnesota are designated hitter Nelson Cruz, super-utility man Marwin Gonzalez, starters Martin Pérez and Michael Pineda, and infielders Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, and Lucas Duda
Texas is primarily using free agents to serve as bridges until the next wave of prospects are ready to contribute at the MLB level.
Designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo is a holdover from the Rangers’ recent glory years. But starters Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, Drew Smyly, and Shelby Miller, catcher Jeff Mathis, and relievers Shawn Kelley and Jesse Chavez are short-term commitments. Veteran outfielder Hunter Pence may also break camp with the team.
Okay, let’s turn our attention to the Mariners.
Dipoto’s frenetic trade activity has garnered national attention, but the current shortage of homegrown talent on Seattle’s 40-man roster shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, the Mariners have the fewest homegrowns in MLB.
With the exception of outfielder Braden Bishop, the remaining homegrown Mariners are relievers.
Bishop has a higher ceiling than Dan Altavilla and Matt Festa, but has yet to make his MLB debut. The former Washington Husky may get his shot during Seattle’s opening series in Japan against the A’s.
Names like Kyle Lewis, Evan White, and Julio Rodriguez were mentioned often during Spring Training broadcasts, but they won’t be enough to build a sustainable winner. That’s why JeDi got busy in the trade market
Dipoto wasn’t seeking veteran talent for a postseason run this year. Instead, the 50-year-old executive swapped established performers for younger major leaguers and prospects.
Just this offseason, the Mariners acquired catcher Omar Narváez (27), outfielders Mallex Smith (25) and Domingo Santana (26), starters Justus Sheffield (23) and Erik Swanson (25), reliever Gerson Bautista (24), shortstop J.P. Crawford (24), and infielder Shed Long (23).
Even when the Mariners were trying to compete in recent years, Dipoto added younger talent with the future in mind. Previous youthful pickups include Mitch Haniger (28), Marco Gonzales (27), Ryon Healy (27), and Dan Vogelbach (26). All project to start the season on the 25-man roster.
Now, it’s worth pointing out Dipoto’s youth movement did require him to occasionally take on talented veterans. It’s plausible offseason pickups Edwin Encarnación (36), Jay Bruce (32), and Anthony Swarzak (33) are not Mariners by season’s end.
Obviously, trading is Dipoto’s favored method for acquiring outside talent. Since taking over as GM in September 2015, he’s routinely reiterated his reluctance to sign high-profile free agents.
|Yusei Kikuchi||Hunter Strickland||Wade LeBlanc|
|Tim Beckham||Cory Gearrin||Zac Rosscup|
|Dylan Moore||Ruben Alaniz||Ichiro Suzuki|
When Dipoto does add free agents, he generally inks veterans to short-term deals with the majority being bullpen arms. Examples from past offseasons are catcher Chris Iannetta, outfielder Nori Aoki, and relievers Cishek, Marc Rzepczynski, and Juan Nicasio.
This offseason, it’s been more of the same with one exception. Shortstop Tim Beckham is considered by many to be a placeholder until Crawford hones his skills at Class-AAA Tacoma. Hunter Strickland will be the club’s closer after they traded Edwin Díaz. Joining Strickland in the pen are Cory Gearrin and Zac Rosscup.
The outlier to JeDi’s normal methodology is Japanese starting pitcher Yusei Kikuchi.
The Mariners inked Kikuchi to a unique contract guaranteeing nearly $40 million through three years, but the team can potentially retain the southpaw through 2025 at a cost of $109 million.
As with every club, the Mariners occasionally find contributors via the waiver wire and the Rule 5 draft. David Freitas appears set to be the backup catcher, while reliever Chasen Bradford should provide value for a second consecutive season.
Rule 5 pickup Brandon Brennan will essentially have to remain on the 25-man roster for the entire year to remain with the Mariners, although the team could attempt to work out a deal with the White Sox to retain Brennan.
MLB Postseason Clubs
Now that we’ve run through a bunch of MLB rosters, I’d like to point out there’s no set way to build a postseason contender.
As proof, here’s a rundown of how each 2018 postseason team is currently constructed. While rosters aren’t the same as last October, all of these clubs are expected to make postseason runs this year.
|2018 Postseason Teams
A heavy emphasis on homegrown talent is certainly a good strategy. Clubs can either build a solid foundation for their own use on the field (Astros) or as bargaining chips on the trade market (Brewers). Other teams use both approaches (Yankees).
Where Does That Leave The Mariners?
Because the Mariners began this past offseason at such a deficit in the homegrown arena, the club won’t have a high number on their 40-man roster for years. However, Dipoto’s aggressive pursuit of young talent provides a potential opportunity to offset farm system deficiencies.
Remember, some of the best players in Mariners history began their careers with other clubs before flourishing in the Emerald City. Notable examples include Randy Johnson, Freddy García, Jay Buhner, and Dan Wilson. Three of these players are in the Mariners Hall of Fame.
Let’s face it. If Jarred Kelenic, Sheffield, Long, Crawford, or any of Dipoto’s acquired prospects become household names, Mariners fans won’t care what team drafted them.
They’ll be Mariners.