It’s easy playing Armchair GM in sports. In baseball, it’s even easier, since there are so many players beyond the majors that can be part of deals.
In reality, it’s not easy to make trades in Major League Baseball, which is why the first of three right-now moves for the Seattle Mariners starts with an intra-organizational transaction.
Here are three moves to make the Mariners better immediately:
RHP Yovani Gallardo for RHP Emilio Pagan
Gallardo struggled in the rotation and was moved to the bullpen last month. Since his last start June 17, Gallardo has been used twice. He covered three innings both times, once in a 13-3 win and then in the 7-3 loss to Kansas city Tuesday night. He was relatively effective in those games, but it’s not optimal to carry a pitcher and use him twice in 18 days. Starters are used more than that.
Gallardo would need to be designated for assignment or be placed on the disabled list. He cannot be sent to Triple-A — too many years of service, he can decline such an assignment — and has zero trade value outside a DFA-style, M’s-cover-all-the-dollars nothing kind of deal.
He’s owed another $4.5 million this season (O’s are covering $2 million of his $11 million 2017 salary), plus a $2 million buyout of his $13 million option for 2018.
Can he be salvaged? Perhaps. But the Mariners have no time to wait. The bullpen needs help and Pagan is by far the best internal hope.
Pagan, 26, fired two terrific long-relief stints for the Mariners, in May and June.
May 23 @ WASH: 4 IP, H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 SO
June 11 @ TOR: 4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 5 SO
He hasn’t allowed a run in Triple-A Tacoma since May 29, a span of 11 appearances and 12 2/3 innings. He’s walked two batters combined since April 29 — big leagues and Tacoma — and owns a 47-10 K/BB ratio for the season, all stops.
He’s 92-96 mph with a fastball that shows life up in the zone and explodes out of his hand. His slider is plus and he’s commanded it well with few exceptions.
Pagan is not going to fix the Mariners’ bullpen, but it’s time for the club to put it’s best foot forward. Gallardo isn’t part of it, Pagan is.
LISTEN: Churchill Joins Bob, Groz & Tom / 710 ESPN
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Arkins: Mariners Trade Primer
Churchill: Can the M’s Get Verlander or Samardzija?
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Arkins: Comparing Felix and Verlander
Find a Better Utility Player
No, this isn’t going to be easy. In a perfect world, GM Jerry Dipoto finds a left-handed batter that hurts right-handed pitching consistently, that can be the backup shortstop and part-time first baseman. Basically impossible.
Or, in a perfect world, Taylor Motter was good. He’s fine as a utility defender. He won’t hurt the team anywhere on the field, including shortstop. But he’s not a hitter. He had his moments with the home run early, and there may be another flurry left, but he’s basically a zero at the plate.
Ideas? Sure. But first, a few things:
1. The Mariners cannot carry a pure platoon first baseman to partner with Danny Valencia. If they acquire a first baseman, he replaces Valencia, which really is a waste of assets. Valencia isn’t GOOD, but he’s no automatic out at .272/.335/.412.
2. The utility player HAS to be able to play shortstop. If he can play short, he can play second and third. For Seattle, he does not have to be able to play the outfield. Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, Mitch Haniger and Jarrod Dyson have that covered, and Valencia and Nelson Cruz can cover it in a pinch.
3. The Mariners have limited trade assets. Spending any of them on anything but pitching makes little sense. Add a free or near-free option? Awesome.
Here are some potential options, in case things work out in the Mariners favor this month:
The Pipedream: Eduardo Nunez, Giants
Nunez is playable at four position, including left field and is a decent bat. The problem is, several contender will have strong interest, driving up the price for a player Seattle probably only uses for 150 plate appearances the best of the way.
Jorge Polanco, Twins
Ivan De Jesus, Brewers
Clint Barmes, Padres
The problem with Polanco is he’s on a contending team. The problem with Barmes is he’ll be somewhat coveted by contenders without strong defensive starting shortstops, as might Jordy Mercer of the Pirates.
De Jesus has spent all year in Triple-A. He’s 30, ideal for a utility role and should be cheap to acquire.
But if Shawn O’Malley gets healthy, he makes the most sense here. And Motter has options left, so the club doesn’t need to cut bait to give someone else a shot.
Trade for a Reliever, Immediately
Pitching is the club’s biggest downfall, both starting pitching and the bullpen. It’s more magnified in the bullpen right now because leads are being given up late in games, but it’s not like the starters are handing leads to the bullpen daily, and when they do it’s often thanks to the offense plating five or more runs the first six innings of the game.
Grabbing a starting pitcher may be plausible for Dipoto this month, but it may take longer to establish that market. Sellers typically are willing to discuss and eventually trade non-closer relief types earlier in the process to get the ball rolling.
While ideally the club finds a way to land Addison Reed or David Robertson to anchor the ‘pen — Reed may not be out of the question, for the record — it’s more likely the club fills some gaps with the likes of Pat Neshek, Jim Johnson, Juan Nicasio or Joe Smith.
Anthony Swarzak would be terrific, too.
Dipoto will prefer non-rentals, but it’s not remotely realistic to expect to only trade for those with club control beyond 2017.
Bonus No. 1
Here’s another way to mitigate some issues in the meantime:
Make Nick Vincent the ‘closer’ and use Edwin Diaz is favorable scenarios until he finds a consistent delivery. Or play matchup in the ninth, rather than having a ‘closer.’
Vincent is not a shutdown reliever, but he’s not going to walk the bases loaded and he’s much more likely to limit damage. Diaz is pitching like a fragile big leaguer, even if he’s not feeling that mentally.
As I discussed Monday night on Baseball Things, Diaz may need a two-week stint in Tacoma to get right.
Bonus No. 2
Make the 8-man bullpen look like this, pre-trade, leaving a three-man bench of Motter, Carlos Ruiz and Guillermo Heredia:
Pagan and Bergman can cover three-plus innings and do so effectively. Pagan gets most of the tight game situations, Bergman gets most of the ‘just get us to the seventh or eighth’ when a starter struggles and the score is 7-1 or something.
Altavilla can go two, but is consistent, so pick and choose, have a shorter leash.
This leaves the other four for the latter innings more often.
Vincent should probably never pitch earlier than the seventh inning and if Pazos and Diaz are your other top relievers, their appearances before the seventh should be limited (not nonexisteent), too.
Pazos has faced 38 batters in the sixth inning this season, most on the team. Among relievers, Zych is next at 25. While the faul is mostly on the starters not going deep enough often enough, having more effective sixth (or before) relief work allwos Scott Servais and Mel Stottlemyre to use their top three arms in the highest leverage spots.
And no, the game isn’t ‘on the line’ a lot in the sixth inning, You have to draw the line somewhere, and while an argument can be made that’s after the seventh, I like drawing it after the sixth.
Until the club adds to his late-inning relief attack, the middle arms have to be better. Best way to do that is to add Pagan and Bergman to it. Pagan looked an awful lot like Chris Devenski in those two four-inning outings. I’d like to give that a shot rather than carry Gallardo.
Jason A. Churchill
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