When the Seattle Mariners traded reliever Kendall Graveman to the Houston Astros on July 27, the players’ reaction was unmistakable. Apoplectic would best describe the mood in the clubhouse.

Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reported Graveman’s departure stirred uncharacteristically emotional responses from players. Some were too broken up to discuss the trade of the popular clubhouse leader, although several did speak out. Those who did lashed out at management.

“It never changes. They don’t care about winning. How do you trade him and say you care about winning? And you trade him to Houston? It never changes.” – Anonymous Mariner after Graveman deal

A vocal segment of fans took to Twitter to echo the players’ view that the organization was not truly committed to winning. For them, it was the “same ole Mariners” all over again. A predictable response considering Seattle last appeared in the postseason in 2001.

Critics of the deal also believed the return for Graveman was underwhelming and served as proof that management was not sincere about its stated desire to compete. Seattle received Abraham Toro and Joe Smith for Graveman and maligned reliever Rafael Montero, who had been designated for assignment. For the embittered fan, that was not enough for the club’s top relief arm.  

Toro was an unproven 24-year-old unable to break into Houston’s extremely talented infield. Perhaps he could help the Mariners in the future with the emphasis placed on the word “perhaps.” The 37-year-old Smith was enduring the worst season of his 14-year career as a member of Houston’s bullpen. This was not the kind of deal Seattle fans wanted the club to make in July.

Far from it. 

Much to the dismay of already exasperated fans, the Mariners traded a third reliever before the MLB trade deadline expired on July 30. This time, it was the versatile JT Chargois heading to Tampa Bay with prospect and Puget Sound native Austin Shenton for Rays closer Diego Castillo.

All told, Graveman, Montero, and Chargois were former Mariners with Smith and Castillo joining Seattle. To some, this upheaval downgraded the bullpen making the team significantly less competitive. And who did the legion of the frustrated blame for these perplexing deadline deals?

Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto.

A natural reaction considering Dipoto was the architect of the rebuild that triggered the massive roster turnover that had been ongoing since late-2018. But was the outrage directed at the 53-year-old executive over the Graveman and Chargois trades justified?

I do not believe so.

Upon Further Review

Yes, the Graveman trade was a shocker, particularly its timing. Just a day prior to the deal, Seattle rebounded from a seven-run deficit to beat Houston in dramatic fashion at T-Mobile Park – a game Graveman pitched in. Less than 24 hours later, he was suiting up in the visiting clubhouse – for the hated division-rival Astros of all teams!

Still, the passage of time provides us with the opportunity for renewed perspective.

The following illustrates the combined production that Seattle received from its two new relievers since the trade deadline and the corresponding numbers for the three former Mariners after leaving the Emerald City. Also on display, the MLB averages for relief pitchers from July 30 until the end of the regular season.

Former vs New M's Relievers Since July 30
Former
New
MLB
IP
52.2
39
--
PA
216
153
--
K%
25.9
28.1
23.4
BB%
11.1
5.9
8.8
AVG
.205
.188
.239
OBP
.315
.255
.314
SLG
.324
.333
.396
wOBA
.289
.257
.309
xwOBA
.291
.265
.305
fWAR
0.2
0.3
--
Former = Kendall Graveman, Rafael Montero, JT Chargois
New = Joe Smith, Diego Castillo

The former and new relief arms outperformed league averages in all but two categories with combination of Smith and Castillo generally being better than their predecessors. Not by a large margin, although it is obvious that that the new guys did not drag down the bullpen or the team.

In fact, the numbers suggest relief pitching remained a strength for the Mariners during the final third of the season when it counted most.

M’s Bullpen Pre/Post Trade Deadline
K%
BB%
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
xwOBA
Pre
23.9
8.4
.236
.310
.369
.298
.297
Post
24.5
6.6
.227
.287
.382
.290
.293
MLB*
24.1
9.2
.238
.317
.395
.310
.309
* MLB season average for relievers

The revamped bullpen played a pivotal role in writing the success story that was the Mariners’ 2021 season. The team registered an AL West division-best 35-24 record following the deadline and remained in the wild race until game-162. Yes, Seattle fell short in the end. But not before winning 90 games. A win tally no one outside of the clubhouse believed was possible.

And The Other Guy?

The big get for the Mariners in the Graveman deal was Toro, who did not thrill fans with his second base defense and lack of power. Still, we should not lose sight of the fact that the Canadian had appeared in just 90 MLB games before joining Seattle. He is a work in progress.

As far as his defense goes, it is important to note that Toro had just 20 games of professional experience at second base prior to becoming a Mariner. Perhaps he slides over to the more familiar third base next season.

It is true that Toro’s bat did not have much pop. But the switch-hitter did demonstrate great bat-to-ball skills and tremendous plate discipline. He also delivered better production than what Seattle had received from the second base position prior to his arrival.

M's 2B Production Pre/Post Abraham Toro
BB%
K%
AVG
OBP
SLG
wOBA
wRC+
Pre
7.4
29.0
.205
.275
.358
.271
78
Post
8.5
13.5
.250
.324
.358
.302
95
MLB*
7.5
19.3
.255
.320
.411
.316
98
* Season averages for second basemen

Whether Toro will be a long-term starter in the Mariners’ infield is a conversation for another time. But his presence provided a much-needed boost to Seattle’s lineup during the final months of the season. Even if he did not hit for power.

Last Words

As outsiders, we have no clue how the Graveman trade affected player morale. But the numbers are clear. His departure was not the catastrophe players and fans believed it would be. To be fair, criticism of the Mariners for shipping Graveman out of town was not isolated to the Pacific Northwest. At least one prominent talking head was also sour on the deal in July.

Realistically, the trade that fans and Jon Heyman hated in July was not so bad after all. Especially when we consider the totality of Seattle’s bullpen moves at the deadline and the team’s overall success.

In the end, clubhouse chemistry survived the Kendall Graveman deal.

So did the Mariners’ season.

My Oh My…

Got a take on what you just read? Talk about it here!

Image courtesy of Steve Ringman / AP Images
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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

2 Comments

  1. Author

    Wow. There’s a lot to unpack there. So, I’m only going to address your first comment since it’s the only one that completely applies to this piece.

    There was no reason to omit Montero from the comp. He pitched well for the Astros in six games before his injury and there’s still a possibility he’ll be available to Houston for the World Series.

  2. Suggest you redo the math and see how these guys compare without using Montero’s numbers as he could have simply been DFA’d.

    Will Toro have a better career than Shenton? Who knows, but the Rays are maybe the best ran club in baseball and I doubt we out smarted them.

    The math does not tell it all anyway. Probably every free agent knows this story and the fact that Seager says Dipoto hasn’t spoken to him in four years. How will that play into the way the Mariners front office is viewed?
    Does it show that the atmosphere has really changed since the Mather firing?

    At the very least the M’s will have to overpay for free agents and their own players they want to extend, if they can sign them at all.

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