Last Updated on August 14, 2020 by Luke Arkins
It’s surreal writing about MLB deadline deals less than a month into the regular season. Yet, surreal may best describe the year that is 2020. Having said that, the August 31 trade deadline is quickly approaching. So let’s discuss Seattle Mariners who may be on the move.
Seattle fans are accustomed to GM Jerry Dipoto being active near the deadline. Notable Mariners recently acquired via summer deals include Marco Gonzales and Daniel Vogelbach. Still, this year is different and it’s not just the fact MLB is playing games during a pandemic.
More than any time in recent club history, the Mariners are emphasizing player development over winning games – they are letting the kids play. To make room for the youngsters, the front office has already moved nearly all of its established veterans. Those remaining aren’t likely to command a substantial price on the trade market.
Now, that doesn’t mean Dipoto won’t be swapping players. The 52-year-old executive has a reputation as an innovative dealmaker. On the other hand, the likelihood of a headline-grabbing trade happening seems remote, at best.
Still, what fun would it be if we didn’t chat about players, who fans may see as trade assets? After all, talking about baseball is always fun. So, let’s have some fun and discuss commonly mentioned names on the Mariners’ roster.
With the Mariners committed to Shed Long and J.P. Crawford as their regular middle-infield, Gordon’s playing opportunities have diminished. The 32-year-old has appeared in approximately two-thirds of the team’s games with left field being his primary position. He’s also appeared at shortstop and second base to spot Crawford and Long.
Gordon is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, although there’s a $14 million club option for 2021 with a $1 million buyout. Considering Seminole Community College product’s age and limited playing time this year, it’s unlikely the Mariners exercise the option. Still, the left-handed hitter could potentially appeal to other clubs even if he’s no longer a fit on Seattle’s roster.
Although Gordon is off to a slow start at the plate, his troubles may simply be due to reduced playing time. Even if his bat weren’t to heat up with another team, he can still contribute with his fleet feet and positional versatility. The former batting champion’s 28 ft/sec sprint speed doesn’t technically quality as elite-level, but he’s still above average on the bases. Plus, he’s a professional in every respect.
Whether the Mariners actually desire to move Gordon or buyers pursue him isn’t clear. However, the 10-year veteran and former Gold Glove winner is a clubhouse leader capable of improving a contender’s roster.
The returning fan-favorite is pitching well for the club that picked him in the first round pick of the 2010 draft. Walker has made quality starts in two of his first four outings and his .314 xwOBA is significantly better than the current league-average for starters (.333). Impressive for a pitcher who missed nearly all of 2018-19 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Considering his early success, I suspect many Mariners fans prefer the club retaining Walker to help usher in the expected influx of young arms from the minors. Having the 28-year-old along with Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi to mentor the kids seems reasonable. It does, assuming the player agrees.
Perhaps Walker prefers testing free agency and the Mariners know this or the team simply wants to move forward without the right-hander in their rotation. If either is true, he could be on the move later this month.
Smith got off to a rough start in 2019 and he’s struggling once again this season. In 39 plate appearances spanning 11 games, the 27-year-old is slashing a paltry .135/.179/.189 with 2 doubles, 2 stolen bases, and 11 strikeouts.
With highly touted outfield prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez on the horizon and Kyle Lewis having a breakout season, Smith doesn’t appear to have a place with the Mariners’ long-term plans. Especially when you consider he enters his second year of arbitration eligibility in 2021.
Perhaps trying to find a new home by the end of August benefits both team and player. Still, Smith’s poor start and difficulties last year may reduce interest in the Santa Fe Community College alum from potential suitors.
Tim Lopes and Dylan Moore have made their presence known in a positive way during the first-third of the season. Perhaps the Mariners consider moving one or both to a contender looking for depth and versatility since rosters will remain at 28 players for the regular and postseason.
As you can see below, Lopes and Moore have played all across the diamond since 2018.
Games At Each Position Since 2018 (MiLB & MLB)
Between the two, Moore has demonstrated more positional versatility. He’s also having the better offensive season. The University of Central Florida product is slashing .313/.377/.646 with a team-leading four home runs.
The 26-year-old Lopes hit the ground running at the start of the season, but he’s cooled lately (.255/.309/.392). Still, the Californian slashed a solid .270/.359/.360 in 128 plate appearances during his rookie campaign last year.
Some buyers may prefer Lopes and Moore to Gordon due to their youth and significantly lower financial cost. Moreover, both would remain under club control at least through the 2024 season. Still, neither possesses the experience nor the pedigree of Gordon.
It’s important to emphasize Lopes and Moore won’t recoup significant value on the market. However, it’s unlikely both stick with the team moving into next year. Dealing one or both now may make sense.
It’s reasonable to expect any able-bodied reliever, who’s performing well is a trade candidate. The key phrases to consider are “able-bodied” and “performing well.” After all, the bullpen is bottom-4 in the majors in xwOBA (.378), HR/9 (1.95), WHIP (1.53), ERA (6.78), FIP (6.16), and fWAR (-1.1).
Matt Magill, Taylor Williams, and Anthony Misiewicz have experienced some success. However, Magill and Williams are outperforming career norms and Misiewicz is a rookie. The demand pulse for such players is likely to be relatively low.
Among more established relievers, there is no good news.
During his time in Cleveland, Bryan Shaw would’ve been a great pickup. Unfortunately, the innings-eater struggled in 2018-19 with the Rockies. So much so Colorado cut him loose even though they’re on the hook for most of his pro-rated $9 million salary this year and a $2 million buyout for 2021.
In theory, Seattle’s best relievers and potentially most valuable trade chips are on the IL. Offseason acquisition Yoshihisa Hirano has yet to debut with the club after contracting COVID-19. He’s reported to the alternate training site in Tacoma to face live hitters before joinng the Mariners.
Hirano has late-inning experience and will be a free agent after the season. If healthy and pitching well, the right-hander would be a logical target for contenders, Perhaps the 36-year-old returns prior to the deadline and demonstrates he can help clubs making a postseason push.
Carl Edwards Jr. suffered a forearm strain late last week, but the injury isn’t considered too serious and he should return this season. Prior to going down, the right-hander was the Mariners’ best reliever. Also a pending free agent, he would’ve been an appealing option for clubs wanting to add a late-inning power arm.
Austin Adams was arguably the team’s best reliever last year. Unfortunately, the 29-year-old suffered an ACL injury in late-September and has yet to appear this season. Assuming he’s fully recovered and throwing well, it’s plausible clubs may pursue the University of South Florida alum. As with Hirano and Edwards, his return date and effectiveness afterwards will determine his trade value.
The Other Guys
Frustrated fans often want their team to move on from perceived under-performers. Sometimes it happens, but expecting the Mariners to make a trade and receive much in return will only lead to disappointment.
One such player is Daniel Vogelbach. The team’s lone 2019 All-Star is slashing just .119/.275/.286 this year. Vogelbach continues to walk at a high rate (17.6-percent), but the Mariners reportedly prefer he’d take a more aggressive approach at the plate. If the 27-year-old isn’t productive with his bat, there is no upside – he’s a slow runner and a below-average defender. Complicating matters, Vogey has no minor-league options remaining.
Conversely, Dan Altavilla has never been able to cobble together a strong season despite elite-level fastball velocity. Altavilla is once again struggling to maintain a foothold in Seattle’s bullpen. Considering he too doesn’t have any options remaining and is arbitration-eligible next year, his future with the team is cloudy.
That brings us down to our last player.
The longest-tenured Mariner is often the most maligned by Seattle fans on social media. Why the heat? The primary beef seems to be Seager’s salary, which has averaged $19.3 million annually since 2018. In the minds of the disgruntled, the 32-year-old hasn’t lived up to the hefty paycheck. Ironically, it’s a stipulation in the former All-Star’s seven-year/$100 million contract that makes trading him problematic.
Seager is set to earn $18 million in 2021, the final guaranteed year of his contract. However, a “poison pill” clause noted by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic makes dealing the former Gold Glover difficult. If traded, a $15 million club option for 2022 morphs into a player option. For this reason, dealing the former North Carolina Tar Heel doesn’t make financial sense.
Some may suggest the Mariners should simply “eat” a large part of Seager’s pay to facilitate a deal. It’s a practice the club used when trading veterans Mike Leake, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jay Bruce last season. But there’s a difference. Seattle saved money despite paying a significant portion of each player’s salary. The same applies to the deal shipping Robinson Canó to the Mets. Doing the same with a potential Seager trade seems unlikely.
To see what I mean, look at the following table. It illustrates three basic options the Mariners could pursue with Seager – retain him for 2021, retain for 2021 and exercise the $15 million club option for 2022, trade him. For each, you’ll see the projected total salary the 10-season veteran would receive.
Three Potential Seager Scenarios
|Retain, No Option|
* Team option
# Player option
Let’s assume the Mariners keep Seager to play out the final year of his contract. The total financial cost maxes out at approximately $21.5 million – his 2021 salary and a buyout for 2022 estimated to be nothing up to $3 million. Under what circumstances could the team possibly trade Seager, have the poison pill clause activate, and save money?
Furthermore, the Twitter-verse rationale cited most often for dealing Seager is to acquire prospects. To recoup such value, the Mariners need to take on a lot of salary and pay more than the $21.5 million just mentioned.
Let’s assume for a moment the Mariners are willing to absorb a high percentage of the money owed to Seager to make a deal. What exactly is a thirty-something third baseman going to command on the market? Probably not a lot.
Yes, Seager is having a great season. But teams are increasingly reluctant to part with prospects. Especially for aging veteran position players.
In the end, I suspect the Mariners retain Seager and that’s just fine with me. Teammates young and old often identify him as a clubhouse leader, which matters to a team with a roster chock full of youngsters. Moreover, the organization doesn’t have anyone ready to take over at third base, so he’s not blocking the development of any prospect.
Finally, there’s a reasonable chance Seager enters the Mariners Hall of Famer. He’s accruing career numbers that place him in the same company as several of the most beloved players in franchise history. Plus he’s the best third baseman in the franchise’s 44-year history. Why screw up the end of his Seattle career to make a deal that won’t have a lasting impact on the team’s trajectory?
Perhaps I’m wrong and Dipoto finds a way to check the financial and prospect blocks I’ve cited and executes a deal for Seager. He and his staff are certainly much smarter and more resourceful than me. On the other hand, I’m okay with seeing Seager patrol the hot corner for the Mariners on Opening Day next year.
I’d also be cool with Kyle Seager still being in a Mariners uniform in 2022.
My Oh My…