Potential Mariners trade targets

New general manager Jerry Dipoto prefers the trade route, and while the club never will ignore the free agent market, the second-time show runner already has demonstrated an ability to identify his team’s needs and execute a quality trade. Whether or not the most recent deal made with the Tampa Bay Rays turns out to be one of them remains to be seen, but Dipoto already has a track record that supports the former claim. Exhibit A may be the three-team transaction that sent Mark Trumbo from the Los Angeles Angels to the Arizona Diamondbacks. In that trade, the Halos also sent out first baseman A.J. Schugel and received left-handers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago in return.

The 2015 Seattle Mariners came up short in most areas. They didn’t score enough runs early, the defense didn’t help out a pitching staff that was hit with injuries and lack of performance. All of the above needs to be addressed this offseason.

We covered the options on the free agent market right here. Now let’s take a look at Dipoto’s preferred avenue to acquiring big-league talent.

Remember, ALL ‘potential’ trades are unlikely, some are highly unlikely, and almost every player is available at the right price.

If you want a list of players that certainly are available, look elsewhere for names like Ryan Howard, Matt Kemp, CC Sabathia, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright and Carl Crawford. The following list is based on common sense, potential availability and likely cost, the player’s ability to help the Seattle Mariners win baseball games, and the club’s ability to afford said player in any scenario, no matter how grand and outlandish.

For the record, you’re absolutely going to hear numerous names this winter not mentioned here. Each club’s every move is a possible motivation or deterrent for all other moves, potentially altering every decision thereafter.

Starting Pitcher
If I were running the club I’d be heavy after a No. 2 or 3 starter, even after the deal to acquire Nate Karns, and even if Hisashi Iwakuma returns. This is why Scott Kazmir is my favroite free agent target. A contending team has at least three arms that can shut down a lineup, at least far enough to get the strengths of the bullpen involved. And there have to be contingency plans that aren’t about trying to squeeze out 500 innings from unproven, likely-inconsistent arms.

There’s nothing wrong with leaning on a young pitcher for 150 innings. Leaning on two to cover 300 or more historically doesn’t work out all that well. And when the back-up plans involve a rookie and a second-year starter, losing your second-best rotation piece is even more damaging than it seems on the surface.

Iwakuma cannot be relied upon to be the No. 2 and make 30-plus starts. He’s 34 years old with more than one incidence of shoulder problems. The club should re-sign him if the money makes sense, but another veteran is necessary if the club has plans to compete all year.

Names including Oakland Athletics Sonny Gray may surface, though it’s difficult to believe the Mariners would have the kind of bulk haul Billy Beane and David Forst typically look for in blockbuster deals. The Cleveland Indians may dangle right-hander Danny Salazar, too, but in return there’s little question they’ll require immediate — and cheap — help to their everyday lineup, which Seattle does not have to offer. Same goes for Carlos Carrasco, and probably Trevor Bauer, too.

Tyson Ross, RHP/James Shields, RHP — San Diego Padres
Ross, the owner of a 2.98 FIP, 9.73 K/9 and 4.4 fWAR in 2015, is a solid, above-average starter with the raw stuff to be a No. 2 but control and command that hold him back just a bit (3.86 BB/( in 2015, 3.65 for his career). He gets ground balls, is athletic and should ultimately find a delivery and release point that produce better walk rates and more quality strikes within the strike zone, particularly with his fastballs.

Ross sits 91-95 moh with both a two-seamer and four-seam fastball. He’ll add some cut to it on occasion but also has a true slider at 85-87 mph that is his best pitch, inducing swings and misses and keeping right-handed batters off balance. Ross’ changeup is below-average but useful at times. Perhaps the 28-year-old’s greatest weakness is spotting his fastball versus left-handed batters. This is where the walks typically are born.

He’s two years from free agency and likely will be awarded an arbitration figure in the $8 million range for 2016, if it’s not a higher figure, after making $5.25 million this past season.

Shields, 33, clearly isn’t the No. 1 he was a few years ago, but his raw stuff remains of high quality and he could be a nice mid-rotation arm, perhaps better, particularly if he can rediscover his changeup. The veteran is owed $65 million guaranteed through the 2018 season, including a $2 million buyout on a 2019 option year.

San Diego Padres GM A.J. Preller will undoubtedly prefer to move Andrew Cashner from his rotation before Ross, though the return will be markedly abbreviated in comparison. San Diego has holes everywhere, starting at shortstop. With Brad Miller no longer a trade asset for Dipoto, matching up with the Friars may be difficult, even for just two seasons of Ross.

What Seattle may be able to offer the Padres is salary relief. If not with Shields, than perhaps with Melvin Upton, Jr., a legitimate defensive center fielder who showed signs of production at the plate in 2015. Upton is set to make $34 million over the next two seasons. He’s 31 and his 1.6 fWAR and .259/.327/.429 triple-slash were posted with 87 games of playing time.

Taking on all of Upton’s or Shields’ remains salary isn’t likely to be in the cards for Seattle, but somewhere between half and majority might be enough to replace their lack of shortstop talent, aside from Chris Taylor and projected starter Ketel Marte, available. Such a deal still likely costs Seattle a young pitcher, if not Edwin Diaz, maybe even a combination of Roenis Elias or Mike Montgomery, plus Diaz in a deal for Shields and Upton.

Clearing payroll resets Preller’s payroll and allows for another flurry of moves as he reboots for 2016. As for Ross, attaching Upton may the only way Seattle can be involved, but the Mariners could use another option in center field, anyway. Taking on, say, around 60 percent of Upton’s remaining salary — about $20 million — clears that amount from the Padres’ books, along with Ross’ projected totals the next two years. That and adding young, controllable zero-to-three starting pitching plus a prospect or two could get Seattle in the neighborhood without sacrificing too much payroll flexibility of their own.

Jose Quintana, LHP
Quintana is one of the more under-appreciated starters in baseball. The question here isn’t how good Quintana is or isn’t — he’s at least a No. 3 and probably more. The questions is: Are the White Sox in a spot where trading Quintana is in their best interest?

He may never have more trade value than he does right now, with three years in and at least three years to free agency — option year controls him through 2019 — and now two very good years in his rearview mirror before he turns 27 in January. The answer to the question might be ‘yes,’ and if we assume it’s true enough to get GM Rick Hahn to make and take calls on the southpaw, a new question arises for Seattle: Do they have enough inventory to land such a player.

‘No’ is the easy answer, which again suggests the only way is to either take on salary or get a third team involved.

Quintana is a longer shot than Ross or Shields, but the Mariner should monitor the White Sox’s situation just in case they get the chance to take advantage in a create deal.

Gio Gonzalez, LHP — Washington Nationals
Maybe the Nats just keep spending, but maybe they could use a little salary relief. They will have to address the shortstop position this offseason and it may mean ponying up to retain Ian Desmond. Gonzalez is due $24.5 million over the next two years with a team-friendly $12 million club option for a third.

Gonzalez still is pretty good, despite below-average control and command and a deceiving yet respectable 3.79 ERA this past season. He’s probably not going to throw 200 innings any longer — last time he did so was 2011 — but 175-190 is realistic and the lefty is just 30 years old.

Of course, Washington isn’t going to give away Gonzalez simply for the relief in salary, but as a roster built to win now, adding a few key pieces plus some younger talent to infuse during the year or use for other trades could be greatly beneficial to GM Mike Rizzo.

The problem here is the free agency of Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister, plus the future of Stephen Strasburg, who will hit free agency after the 2016 season if he’s not re-signed before then. The Nationals have Gonzalez, Max Scherzer, Strasburg. Joe Ross and Tanner Roark under contract for next season.

Perhaps moving Gonzalez isn’t an attractive proposition unless they re-up with Zimmermann and/or add another starter (or two) beforehand. But this scenario is one to watch unfold this offseason. If the Nats picks up a starter or two, Gonzalez could be bait to add a missing piece or two.

Bullpen
Seattle currently has all of one high-leverage arm returning for the 2016 season — right-hander Carson Smith. If Furbush is healthy and is back, the club has a reliable southpaw for late-inning situations. Tom Wilhelmsen should not be relied upon to be any club’s closer or setup man and Vidal Nuno is more of a swing reliever. Clearly, the Mariners need at least three new arms added to the mix. This may be the area they end up going the free agent route, at least for one or two answers.

Francisco Rodriguez, RHP/Will Smith, RHP — Milwaukee Brewers
If the Brewers want to max out value for bullpen arms, Rodriguez is probably a good place to start. Smith is under club control for four more seasons and will not hit arbitration until after 2016. Matching up for Rodriguez may be very possible as he’s owed $7.5 million next season with a club option for 2017 that comes with a $2 million buyout.

He’s 34 in January and his fastball averaged just under 90 mph this past season but he’s still effective, still misses bats and still should be a value for another year or two.

Smith, 26, walks too many batters to close but he’s 92-96 mph with a plus slider. The two pitchers’ values differ since they serve different roles, but Smith has a large advantage in salary and club control. It’s more likely new Brewers GM David Stearns will move Rodriguez but trading young relievers often returns deeper pieces that pay off down the road. If Milwaukee truly is rebuilding, nobody in a Brewers uniform is safe.

Craig Kimbrel, RHP — San Diego Padres
Kimbrel wasn’t as dominant in 2015 as he had been in previous seasons but most of hos peripherals were similar or better. He’s 28 in May and threw harder than ever this past season — 97.3 mph average four-seam fastball.

Kimbrel is owed $25 million guaranteed over the next two seasons, plus a club option for $13 million more. Preller can take advantage of Kimbrel’s control, somewhat-reasonable contract and sustained effetciveness this winter. If he waits, Kimbrel’s value isn’t likely to grow as he uses up club control and ages.

The price for closers typically is too high to pay in July, but it can be similar for one of the elite arms in the game. Kimbrel will come with such a price tag, which may eliminate Seattle. Keep an eye on Kimbrel’s market, though, and perhaps the chance he’s included in a deal with Ross, Shields or Upton.

Drew Storen, RHP — Washington Nationals
Storen’s place in the Nationals’ bullpen may be more volatile than a bullpen itself after the club acquired Jonathan Papelbon to close games. Unless Papelbon is moved, Storen may be the most likely Nationals player to be traded, especially considering he’s a year from free agency and set to make a third-year arbitration salary of at least $7.5 million.

Considering the cost of late-inning arms these days, a one-year deal for under $10 million for a late-inning arm isn’t so bad. Don’t think so? Wait to see what Darren O’Day gets this offseason to go somewhere and continue to not pitch the ninth inning.

Mike Dunn, RHP — Miami Marlins
Dunn, 30, is halfway through a two-year deal paying him just under $3.5 million in 2016. While the salary hardly is a hurdle for the Marlins, president of baseball operations Michael Hill may prefer to maximize Dunn’s value by trading him rather than losing him via free agency next offseason without any kind of compensation.

While Dunn isn’t an option to close as his bouts with control problems bite him a little too often for such a role, he does have closer stuff, including a 95 mph fastball and a power slider.

The cost for a seventh or eighth inning arm shouldn’t be too high with just one year of control remaining, but which direction Miami heads will dictate Dunn’s possible availability.

Catcher
Like the free agent market for catchers, the trade market is thin. The club needs two, and perhaps a third that can be stashed in Triple-A. Some of the club’s needs here will be based on where the new front office believes Mike Zunino is in his path to reworking his swing. Despite awful offensive numbers in 2015, Zunino still logged in near replacement-level fWAR in 112 games played. To become a true asset again, all he has to do is get back to where he was in 2014.

Stephen Vogt — Oakland Athletics
Vogt remains a value to the A’s, as he’s still a year from arbitration and had a solid year. He did fade down the stretch some but he’s a good bet to be a two-win backstop that can play a little first base and DH on occasion.

Vogt is merely adequate behind the dish but is significantly better now than entering the 2014 season, suggesting he may have more room for improvement before he stagnates.

Like the Marlins with Dunn but on a much larger scale, what are the A’s going to do this winter? If they sell off major pieces, Gray and Vogt could be among them. Do the Mariners have the change to get involved? Maybe.

This is where some of the better club-controlled talents may be worth considering parting with, since Vogt himself is under control through 2019. Plus, he’s a left-handed bat that may make Mark Trumbo redundant enough for Dipoto to move him once again. We’ll talk about this scenario another time.

A.J. Ellis — Los Angeles Dodgers
Ellis has one more crack at arbitration after making $4.25 million in 2015, which may lead him toward a $6-plus million salary for next season.

Ellis was very good at the plate in 2012 — .373 OBP in 505 plate appearances — and decent the following year when he posted a .318 OBP. Despite .191 and .238 batting averages the past two seasons, the on-base marks remained strong — .323 and .355 — albeit in reduced playing time that create more advantageous matchups. This, however, is his future role, too — a three-day per week starter at best.

Ellis’ calling card is his receiving and throwing. He’s merely adequate framing pitches, per StatCorner the past few years, but he blocks well and does a solid job controlling the running game.

Not that the Dodgers care about $6 million, but a 70-game catcher may not be worth such a number, even to L.A., and new managers often seek out their own preference at catcher, even if it’s the back up. The Dodgers may be willing to move Ellis for a useful piece, especially if they believe Austin Barnes can provide enough value at 10 percent of the cost.

Nick Hundley — Colorado Rockies
Forget Hundley’s offensive statistics this past season. The .301/.339/.467 triple-slash was very much a product of Coors Field. His wRC+ was 57 points lower on the road and while it’s incorrect to take simple road splits to determine a Coors hitter’s abilities, we have nearly 2,000 other plate appearances from which to draw.

Hundley, 32, is a solid-average receiver, average thrower and merely adequate bat for a No. 2 catcher. He’s likely in line for regression back to the means, Coors Field or not in 2016, but there were signs in 2014 that he’s more than a .240/.295/.385 bat, if used the right way.

The Rockies clearly are in a rebuild after trading away Troy Tulowitzki in July, and it’s possible Carlos Gonzalez is next. Tossing an interesting arm or two their way could get it done, and it probably doesn’t need to be a player ready for the majors.

Corner Outfield
Since dealing Miller, who may have been an option in left field, at least part-time, the Mariners are left with exactly one outfielder — Seth Smith — that isn’t downright awful defensively. Nelson Cruz is just that — awful defensively — as is Trumbo. This means the club needs at last two corner outfielders, perhaps three if a timeshare is part of the solution on one side.

Josh Reddick — Oakland Athletics
Reddick is entering his final year until free agency, suggesting the A’s could try and get something for him after another solid year. He’ll earn around $7 million in 2016.

Intra-division deals aren’t as unlikely when Beane is involved, nor are they as unfathomable when one team is prepping to contend and the other is looking to retool, especially when the player in question is under control for just one more season.

Reddick is a fine right fielder, though the metrics didn’t love him this past season. He makes contact and has 18-20 home run pop to go with decent on-base skills. Adding one-year solutions isn’t ideal for the Mariners, but without long-term options available, it’s better than another round of Trumbo, Cruz and average defenders that offer little to nothing at the plate.

Carlos Gonzalez — Colorado Rockies
Gonzalez is owed about $38 million over the next two years, but is just 30 years of age and still performing, despite a weak first half this past season.

The Rockies’ rebuilding efforts could be greatly supplemented by moving Gonzalez and Colorado’s organizational weakness starts on the mound, as always.

The Mariners, however, probably shouldn’t have much interest in moving five years of Taijuan Walker for two seasons of Gonzalez at nearly $20 million per season. Gonzalez is good, but he’s not a superstar, and despite the recent deal with the Rays, Seattle doesn’t exactly have a surplus in young, controllable pitching with Walker’s upside.

I have concerns about Gonzalez’s ability to hit away from Coors, too, based on his struggles with offspeed stuff. The lefty batted just .216 versus sliders, changeups and splitters in 2015 and has been dominated by left-handed pitching the past two years. I’d pass on Gonzalez unless the trade cost is too good on which to pass.

Yasiel Puig — Los Angeles Dodgers
Puig comes with his own question marks, starting with what kind of teammate he is, and his work ethic. He’s an electric athlete with a huge arm, plus power and well above-average speed. A focused Puig is a star, but which version of him will show up to the ballpark?

Puig will be paid just $17.5 million over the next three years, making him extremely palatable for the Dodgers — or most any team, really — though he has the option to choose arbitration once he qualifies, presumably after the 2016 season. Despite regressing this past season, Puig may be the most expensive trade target on this entire page. He’s just 24 and the Dodgers need the inexpensive infusion of talent, or in Puig’s case, a re-infusion. If he’s truly a headache and the Dodgers end up parting ways, clubs will line up to talk about the right fielder.

The Mariners almost certainly would have to include Walker in any discussions for Puig, and it might be worth it in the end, but it’s likely to take Walker, and then some. Quite the risk for Dipoto and the Mariners, and if the M’s are to deal Walker, they can probably get a safer return than Puig.

Christian Yelich — Miami Marlins
Chalk this one up as the longest of longshot.Yelich’s potential availability is based on which direction Hill wants to take now that he’s running the entire show.

The 23-year-old is a solid, line-drive hitter and average or better corner outfielder. He doesn’t hit for much power, but most scouts believe there’s more in the tank in that department, perhaps into the 14-16 home run range to go with 40 doubles.

Yelich, if he hit the trade block at any level this offseason, certainly would be sought after and expensive. We’re probably talking multiple above-average pieces, including a plus talent within a year or so of the majors, so a trade here is as unlikely as anything above. But the Marlins are a ways from contending in terms of talent, and turning one young player into three or four can change their timeline for contention.

Center Field
Among the tougher positions to fill in the game right now is center field. The top free agent at the position is Dexter Fowler, who was tendered the qualifying offer, as was Colby Rasmus. Denard Span is a risky signing, but is probably the Mariners’ best bet on the open market.

The trade market isn’t going to be easy, either.

Brett Gardner — New York Yankees
There have been reports the New York Yankees will entertain conversations about Gardner this winter. Gardner, 32, batted .259/.343/.399 this past season and brings near-elite speed to the table. He’s a strong corner-outfield defender and is passable in center. He’s a left-handed batter but handles left-handed pitching just fine.

Gardner is owed $38 million over the next three seasons plus a club option for $12.5 million for the 2019 campaign. It’s a bit of a hefty price tag for a 32-year-old that isn’t plus in center field, but the lack of options on both markets will make Gardner intriguing.

The Yankees may be looking to pare down payroll a bit so they can make some acquisitions that don’t peel the crust off their luxury tax situation over the next three or four years. Trading Jacoby Ellsbury might be their preference, but he’s owed more than $100 million over the next five seasons and has experienced two unhealthy seasons in the past four, including 2015 where he played in just 111 games and didn’t hit much.

Gardner may be available for less than a major haul, making him at least somewhat interesting for Seattle. Expect Dipoto to pass in the end, since Span isn’t much more of a risk, is better defensively and doesn’t also cost a single trade asset.

Adam Eaton — Chicago White Sox
Eaton is an underrated performer and while he’s merely fringe-average defensively in center, he’s under club control through 2021, including the next three years at just $12.75 million combined.

For the Sox to have interest in moving Eaton, they’ll have to be overwhelmed with upside bulk, something Seattle really doesn’t have much of these days. If another three-teamer can be worked into the mix, the Sox should be willing — they need starting pitching, a shortstop, relief help… and may be two years from legit contention unless something jump-starts their status.

Aaron Hicks — Minnesota Twins
At some point in 2016, maybe as early as Opening Day, Byron Buxton will be the Twins’ center fielder, which means Hicks will be benched, moved to a corner or traded. He’s worth more to Minnesota as a trade piece as long as the inquiring club deals for what Hicks realistically could be the next two seasons, not merely what he’s been as a major leaguer thus far.

The switch hitter has above-average power with more raw power as a left-handed stick. He’s a better hitter overall from the right side, as his lefty swing gets long and he sells out early in attempt to pull the ball for power. He’s patient, however, and improved his strikeout rate significantly in 2015 (16.9 percent, vs. 24.9 percent in 2014).

Buxton made his big-league debut in 2015 and it appears more seasoning is necessary. Such a fact suggests Hicks, 26, will be needed to man center field until at least mid-season.

The Twins, however, have needs the Mariners can fulfill, including help at DH, where Minnesota received among the worst production in the American League in 2015. Designated hitters managed a .247/.305/.399
triple-slash for the Twins this past season. Seth Smith could be of assistance here, Terry Ryan, as could Mark Trumbo, who also can help out at first base.

In recent seasons Minnesota has been after power arms, too, collecting the likes of Alex Meyer, Trevor May and Ervin Santana in trades and free agency. Another one, such as Edwin Diaz, may intrigue them, as might a versatile relief arm like Tom Wilhelmsen.

Hicks has another year until arbitration kicks in, so the Twins, who aren’t cheap but don’t spend freely despite a new stadium, can carry Hicks in whatever role even once Buxton proves ready for the show. To get Ryan and the Twins to bend on Hicks’ availability, the Mariners would have to part with a talent that hurts a little bit. I’m not suggesting it has to be Walker or no deal, but much of the little higher-end talent the club has at 25 or under may have to be sent packing.

Hick is, however, my favorite possible target. Admittedly, it’s unlikely the Twins trade him away before Buxton is ready and before Hicks has really flashed more of his natural abilities on the field, but if I were Dipoto I’d install MightyText on my laptop so I could send text messages to Ryan every three nanoseconds in attempt to drive him crazy enough to get serious about a deal.

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Jason A. Churchill

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