For the second consecutive day, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto made a July trade designed to help his club this season and beyond.
After picking up veteran reliever David Phelps yesterday, Dipoto dealt highly touted prospect Tyler O’Neill to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Marco Gonzales. The 25-year-old will begin his Mariners career with Class-AAA Tacoma.
Today’s deal follows a familiar pattern established by Dipoto when he joined the Mariners in September 2015. Focus on acquiring young, controllable players to populate his 40-man roster.
This time though, the second-year GM swapped a recognizable and popular name for a pitcher sidelined more than he’s been active during the last two-plus seasons.
In 2015, Gonzales lost considerable playing time due to a pectoral injury. His health woes continued last year when he missed the entire season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow.
After a lengthy rehab, the Gonzaga University alum returned to action with Class-AAA Memphis in mid-May. Before today’s deal, he had a 2.90 ERA and logged 74.1 innings during 11 starts with the Red Birds.
Gonzales isn’t your typical rookie. The Colorado native was the Cardinals’ 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year and has appeared in games with St. Louis in both 2014 and 2015, plus a spot start with the club in June. The left-hander also possesses something many Mariners do not — postseason experience.
The former Zag made six relief appearances for the Cardinals during the 2014 playoffs and was the winning pitcher in two contests against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS.
Gonzales isn’t a flamethrower who’ll miss bats. Rather, he pitches to contact relying on superb command and a repertoire including a 91-MPH fastball, plus-rated changeup, and average curveball. He’s been particularly tough against left-handed hitters holding them to a .159 average this season.
Assuming good health, Gonzales projects as a mid or back-end starter. Having said that, it’s plausible Seattle opts to use the lefty out of the bullpen this season and give him a chance to earn a starting job in 2018.
Another option would be plugging Gonzales into the rotation right now. He pitched six innings on July 18 and lines up perfectly for the spot formerly occupied by rookie Sam Gaviglio. The club currently intends on returning veteran Yovani Gallardo to starter duty as Gaviglio’s replacement.
Considering Gonzales is coming off Tommy John surgery and hasn’t topped 85 innings since logging 162.2 frames in 2014, it’s reasonable to expect the rookie could make 7-10 more starts this year.
The Mariners’ motivation for making this deal is simple. Acquire a starting pitcher under team control through the 2022 season, who’s potentially capable of helping the club right now — something O’Neill wasn’t ready to do.
At mid-season, Prospect Insider ranked O’Neill as the fourth best prospect in the Mariners’ system. While the right-handed slugger recently caught fire with Tacoma, he didn’t project to be major league ready until late next season.
Regardless of when ready, it’s likely O’Neill would be blocked by players currently on the 25-man roster. Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel, and Guillermo Heredia are all under long-term club control and performing well.
Essentially, Dipoto’s shrewd acquisition of major league talent over the last 18 months and the promise the organization’s top prospect Kyle Lewis presents made O’Neill far more expendable than he was just one season ago.
The departure of the most notable name on their prospect radar won’t sit well with Seattle fans even though most of them never saw him play. Videos of O’Neill’s monster home runs were enough to fuel fan expectations for his future as a Mariner.
To a degree, that’s understandable.
A cross-section of Mariners faithful remain bitter over numerous missteps involving young players made by Dipoto’s most recent predecessors. Whether it was Bill Bavasi shipping Adam Jones and Chris Tillman to Baltimore for Erik Bedard nearly a decade ago or Jack Zduriencik swapping Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero; frustration runs deep.
Despite fan angst, I understand the rationale behind the Gonzales for O’Neill deal.
Dipoto inherited a lowly regarded minor league system with few desirable chips to parlay into major league talent. While waiting for his system to rebound and thrive, he’s brokering innovative and sometimes risky deals designed to build a sustainable winner. That’s a better strategy than selling the farm for short-term gratification.
It’s possible Mariner fans will rue the day their team dealt O’Neill, but we won’t know the fallout from today’s move for several years. Heck, there’s a chance the Cardinals flip their newest pickup in a bigger trade by the end of the month.
In time, we’ll know whether Dipoto’s pattern of deal-making leads to an era of winning baseball in the Emerald City or if his name will be uttered in the same breath with Bavasi and Zduriencik. One thing is certain though, he’ll provide plenty of material for future Prospect Insider pieces.
That’s a good thing.