No team has been more active this offseason that the Mariners. Entering the winter meetings, Seattle has made five trades already and seem to be heading towards a complete teardown.
Current State: Rebuilding
Mariners Acquire OF Jared Kelenic, RHP Justin Dunn, RHP Gerson Bautista, OF/1B Jay Bruce, and RP Anthony Swarzak in Exchange For 2B Robinson Cano and RP Edwin Diaz
In a blockbuster trade, the Mariners have traded second baseman Robinson Cano and star closer Edwin Diaz to the Mets. In return, Seattle will receive outfield prospect Jared Kelenic, pitching prospects Justin Dunn and Gerson Bautista, outfielder/first baseman Jay Bruce, and reliever Anthony Swarzak. Cano is coming off a PED suspension, but he was still terrific for the Mariners this past season. Meanwhile, Diaz posted an ERA below 2.00 and was arguably the league’s best reliever a season ago. However, Cano is a 36-year-old who could regress at any time, and the Mariners were able to rid themselves of $100 million of his salary over the remaining five years of it. Losing Diaz hurts, but the prospects Seattle received in return should help them recover. Kelenic, 19, had a .839 OPS in Rookie Ball last season, and has the makings of a future All Star. He is the type of 5-tool player than can change a franchise, and he instantly becomes Seattle’s best position player prospect. Dunn, meanwhile, had a 3.59 ERA between High-A and Double-A, and he’ll likely end up as a #3 or #4 starter. He comes in as the Mariners’ third best prospect and second best pitching prospect. Bautista isn’t a high prospect, but he has the stuff and the makeup of a solid reliever. Bruce, 31, struggled to just a .680 OPS, but before that he had three seasons above a .800 OPS. His $13 million salary in each of the next two years hurts, but there’s a decent chance he performs to near his old form in a new home, as he struggled in two different stints with the Mets. Swarzak, 33, is in this deal for the Mets to dump salary, as he is making $7 million next year. He had a 6.15 ERA last season, but the year prior he had a 2.33 ERA. Similar to Bruce, there should be some that he regains his old form in a change of scenery. Overall, the Mariners get out of what could be a mess over Cano’s final five seasons and add two high level prospects, including a future franchise player. That is definitely worth losing Diaz; Seattle is set up much better for the future after making this trade.
Mariners Acquire SS JP Crawford and 1B Carlos Santana in Exchange for SS Jean Segura, RP Juan Nicasio, and RHP James Pazos
The Mariners have acquired shortstop JP Crawford and first baseman Carlos Santana in exchange for shortstop Jean Segura and relievers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos. Crawford, 23, had a disappointing season with the Phillies. He had just an OPS of .712, and had a negative 0.1 WAR. He rated below average defensively with negative six defensive runs saved, so Seattle will look for improvements offensively and defensively. Santana was only included in this trade as a salary dump, so Crawford is the prize of this trade. He is just a year removed from being a top prospect, so the though process of acquiring him and buying low on him makes sense. Seattle clearly believes there is a lot of room for him to grow in his development, and there’s a chance they’re rewarded by Crawford becoming an everyday caliber starter at shortstop. Losing Segura gets rid of what some have called a bad presence in the clubhouse and the remaining three years of his five-year, $70 million contract. The relievers are useless since they won’t contend, and shipping them out of town also clears some extra salary. Seattle likely could have done a little better for an All Star shortstop, but Segura’s struggles in the second half and his high salary made him an unattractive target for teams in need of infield help. Therefore, taking a risk on Crawford may have been the best they could do, although I don’t love him being the only young building block that the Mariners are receiving in this trade.
Mariners Acquire LHP Justus Sheffield, OF Dom Thompson-Williams, and RHP Erik Swanson in Exchange for SP James Paxton
The Mariners have traded starting pitcher James Paxton to the Yankees. In return, Seattle will receive high-end pitching prospect Justus Sheffield, outfield prospect Dom Thompson-Williams, and pitching prospect Erik Swanson. Sheffield, 22, is the center of this trade in the Mariners’ perspective. He had a 2.48 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A, with 9.54 K/9. He has the stuff of a frontline starter, with an impressive three pitch mix, but he’ll need to improve his command for him to develop into the ace that he could easily become. He immediately becomes the Mariners’ top prospect, according to MLB.Com, and is now one of the faces of their rebuild/retool. Thompson-Williams, 23, had a .909 OPS between Low-A and High-A. With his speed and power, he has the raw tools to develop into a starting outfielder and a role player at the very least. He is currently ranked as Seattle’s 16th best prospect. Lastly, the 25-year-old Swanson is an MLB ready arm with the potential to become a #4 starter, but more likely a reliever as he’s mostly a one pitch guy with his fastball. Paxton was Seattle’s ace, but he has injury and consistentcy issues. The Mariners were able to take advantage of the Yankees’ desperation to upgrade the rotation, and got a star in the making as well as two middle prospects for him. Sheffield and Swanson will likely pitch for the Mariners in the MLB immediately, and one can argue this trade makes them better right now and in the future, as Sheffield should come close to the production Paxton has had over the past few seasons.
Mariners Acquire C Omar Narvaez in Exchange For RP Alex Colome
In a one for one player swap, the Mariners acquired catcher Omar Narvaez in exchange for reliever Alex Colome. Narvaez, 26, had a career year last season. He posted a .794 OPS, a .366 on base percentage, and a 1.9 WAR. Narvaez’s best skills is his ability to get on base, as he has a career .366 on base percentage. While he showed some pop last year with 9 home runs and a .429 slugging percentage, he’s more of a contact hitter who gets on base frequently. What Narvaez struggles with, is his defense. He had negative 13 defensive runs saved last year, and ranked 113th out of 117 in framing runs at negative 10.8. While one can argue Narvaez should get better defensively over time, his defensive runs saved has actually gotten worse every year. Overall, Narvaez is one of the better hitting catchers, but is a complete liability defensively. He may be the long term answer at catcher, but the White Sox are in a similar position yet had no desire to keep him around as their catcher of the future. That says something about how awful he’s been defensively, and that likely prevents him from being Seattle’s catcher for years to come. He seems like more of a stop gap, even though he comes with 4 years of control. The price wasn’t extreme with Colome, but their bullpen is extremely thin even for a rebuilding team, and there are plently of stopgap catchers who are better defensively on the open market.
Mariners Acquire OF Mallex Smith and OF Jake Fraley in Exchange For C Mike Zunino, OF Guillermo Heredia, and LHP Michael Plassmeyer
The Mariners have acquired outfielders Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley in exchange for catcher Mike Zunino, outfielder Guillermo Heredia, and pitching prospect Michael Plassmeyer. Although it’s a two for three swap, this deal could almost be considered a one for one swap of Smith for Zunino. Smith, 25, looks to be a huge part of Seattle’s future. He finally established himself as an everyday starter in the Rays outfield last season, with a .296/.367/.406 slashline and a 3.5 WAR. There’s some concern with a high .366 batting average balls in play with a low 27.1% hard contact rate, though Smith’s speed has likely accounted for a resonably high career batting average balls in play of .349. Smith’s expected batting average was just .240, according to Baseball Savant, so there has to be concern about regression in 2018. With just two defensive runs saved, Smith’s defense is solid, but not great. He does everything somewhat well, but he doesn’t have a specific strength, and I’m not sure there’s a lot of upside. Zunino had a career worst season last year, but he’s still a terrific defensive catcher with offensive upside. Seattle is buying high on Smith and selling low of Zunino, and trades like this tend to work out better for the team buying low than the team buying high. Heredia has a negative WAR and is below average offensively and defensively, so the second part of this trade is the prospect exchange. Fraley, 23, posted a .962 OPS in in High-A. For the most part, he’s a contact hitter with good speed, which fits the theme of this trade for the Mariners. Plassmeyer, 22, was a 4th round pick in the 2018 draft. He posted an impressive 16.5 K/9 in Low-A already, with a 11.0 strikeout to walk ratio. He’s a name to keep an eye on as a quick mover through Tampa Bay’s system, and frankly I think the Rays are getting the better prospect in this exchange. The Mariners may be getting four years of control with Smith, but Zunino’s two years of team control may be more valuable, since good young catchers are tougher to find than good young outfielders. Seattle is giving up on Zunino too soon, and they’ll likely regret this trade in the future.
Mariners Acquire 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion and Competitive Balance Pick in Three Team Trade With Indians and Rays
In a three team trade with the Indians and Rays, the Mariners have acquired first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion and a Competitive Balance Round B selection (77th overall) from the Indians, as well as $5 million from the Rays. Seattle will send first baseman Carlos Santana to Cleveland, as well as $6 million to help the Indians cover for some of his salary. Encarnacion, 35, posted a .810 OPS with 32 home runs and a 1.9 WAR primarly serving as the Indians’ designated hitter last season. He’s been a below average defensive first baseman throughout his career, so all of his value comes from being a designated hitter. It’s unclear if he and his $20 million salary will remain with the rebuidling Mariners, as there will likely be interest in him from other teams looking for a designated hitter, such as the Astros and Rays. This is essentially a Santana-Encarnacion swap, and frankly there may be just as much interest in Encarnacion as there was in Seattle. Assuming the Mariners eat some of Encarnacion’s salary, they’d likely recieved one legitimate prospect for him, similar to what they’d get for Santana. Plus, they add the 77th pick in the draft and trade a player with two years left on his deal for a player with just one year left on his deal. This trade is mostly about the Indians and Rays, but the Mariners did well despite serving as a small part of the trade.
Mariners Acquire OF Domingo Santana in Exchange For OF Ben Gamel and RHP Noah Zavolas
The Mariners have acquired outfielder Domingo Santana from the Brewers in exchange for outfielder Ben Gamel and minor league pitcher Noah Zavolas. Santana, 26, is a classic bounce-back candidate. After posting a .875 OPS in 2017, he dropped down to a .740 OPS in 2018. There is room for optimism for the 26-year-old however. He had a career high hard contact rate of 40.1% last season, and some of his struggles can be attributed to him having a limited role due to the Brewers having more than three outfielders capable of starting. Santana’s defense improved in 2018 with six defensive runs saved, and if he can continue to play that level of defense while regaining at least some of his 2017 form on offense, he’ll be a tremendous asset for the rebuilding Mariners, who can guarantee Santana an everyday role. Gamel has close to zero upside and Zavolos is an 18th round pick who likely won’t be an impact major leaguer, so the return for a really solid young player can be described as limited to say the least. This is a low risk, high reward type trade for the Mariners, and it may be one of the most underrated acquisitions of the offseason.
Mariners Sign SP Yusei Kikuchi
In a big international signing, the Mariners have signed Japanese lefty Yusei Kikuchi to a three-year, $43 million contract. This deal is unique, Kikuchi can opt into a fourth year for $13 million, or the Mariners can exercise their club option which would extend this deal to a seven-year, $109 million deal by adding four years and $66 million to the deal. Kikuchi, 27, posted a 3.08 ERA and 8.4 K/9 with the Seibu Lions a season after posting a dominant 1.97 ERA and 10.4 K/9. Scouts agree that he has the upside to develop a #2 or #3 starter, with a strong fastball to go along with two sharp breaking balls. If developed properly, Kikuchi should have tremendous success in the MLB, and Seattle will be able to have Kikuchi for all of his prime years. If he can’t translate his success from Japan to the majors for whatever reason or he deals with injuries, then the Mariners can get out of this contract before it becomes a huge salary problem down the line. There is some risk in the signing, but the upside of this signing is off the charts. Kikuchi at 27 years old doesn’t exactly fit Seattle’s timetable of contention, unless they’re actually able to contend in 2021 as they hope, but it’s better for them to have him and worry about that later than to watch him flourish for another team. This is a terrific move for the Mariners, who have established a terrific 1-2 punch for the future with Kikuchi and Justus Sheffield.
Mariners Sign INF Tim Beckham
The Mariners have signed infielder Tim Beckham to a one year, $1.75 million deal. Beckham, 28, will always be known as a draft bust after being taken 1st overall in the 2008 MLB Draft. After a career best season in 2017 between the Rays and Orioles in which he had a .782 OPS and a 3.3 WAR, but he struggled in 2018 after moving to third base with just a .661 OPS and a 0.7 WAR. He makes a solid amount of hard contact (30.5%), but he needs to cut down on the amount of ground ball he hits (46.5% GB rate), as well as his strikeout rate (24.9%). Both of those things, plus his walk rate, went in positive directions this season, so it’s possible Beckham will bounce back in a change of scenery. Considering Beckham is an average defender at best, he needs to hit to be of any sort of vale for Seattle this season. It’s a decent fit considering he was better against lefties last season and the Mariners have three left-handed hitters on their infield (JP Crawford, Kyle Seager, Dee Gordon), but it’s still unclear what Beckham will actually bring to the table. It’s pretty much a no risk deal at under $2 million, with some possible reward if he returns to his 2017 form.
Mariners Sign RP Cory Gearrin
Continuing to bring in players on one year fliers, the Mariners have signed reliever Cory Gearrin to a one year deal worth $1.5 million. Gearrin, 32, has been a decent reliever over the past three seasons, compiling a 3.35 ERA in that span. This past season, he posted a 3.77 ERA with a 1.34 WHIP and a 4.31 FIP. With his sinker, inducing ground balls is usually his bread and butter, though he had a ground ball rate of just 41.5%. He also usually limits the hard contact he induces, but that rate jumped up over twelve percent to 35.7% this season. Even though he posted a 1.99 ERA in 2017, that came with a 3.89 FIP. Therefore, it’s definitely likely that Gearrin’s ERA this season will hover around 4.00 this season. That’s surely worth $1.5 million, but if Seattle is hoping for him to become a valuable asset who could be flipped at the trade deadline, they’ll be a little disappointed with what they are actually getting. If they wanted a serviceable veteran arm in the bullpen at the cheapest price, then they’re getting exactly what they asked for.
Mariners Sign RP Hunter Strickland
To continue to bolster their bullpen, the Mariners have signed reliever Hunter Strickland to a one year deal. Since Strickland was non tendered by the Giants during his first year of arbitration, Seattle now has three years of control of him. Strickland, 30, has had an uneven career up to this point, and last season was symbolic of that. After taking over San Francisco’s closer following a solid start to the season, he struggled to the tune of a 3.97 ERA with a 1.41 WHIP and a 4.42 FIP. Even worse is his attitude issues, evidenced by when he broke his hand after punching a door following a blown save this past season. Despite possessing a fastball that can touch 100 MPH, Strickland doesn’t do a great job at missing bats, with just 7.3 K/9 last season. He also allows a lot of quality contact, as his hard contact allowed rate was 42.3 % last season. And while his fastball is still lethal and as noted can touch 100 MPH, it averaged just 95.7 MPH last season. Considering it’s his main pitch and has little movement, it’s a concern that his velocity is ticking down, and it shows with his -2.7 fastball runs above average last season. Seattle is clearly banking on Strickland’s upside by giving him a spot in the bullpen, hoping to be rewarded with multiple years of controlling him. However, Strickland’s already 30-years-old, and hasn’t shown any promise up to this point. It’s likely he’ll continue to be an intriguing reliever who continues to disappoint like he did this past season, as it seems like the league has caught on to him while he is starting to regress.
*Will Be Updated With Every Move The Mariners Make