Image from Mariners Blog.

Traditionally, teams that win 89 games in the previous season don’t typically become sellers in the following offseason. Those types of teams are a few players away from solidifying a roster that has a chance to make a deep run into the playoffs. The Seattle Mariners may disagree with that notion, and it isn’t because of their roster. They play in one of the most competitive divisions in baseball. The Astro’s (103-59) and the Athletics (97-65) each went to the playoffs last season, and neither team shows any sign of being on the decline.

According to the CGMs Statistical Power Rankings, the Astro’s were the most talented team and the Athletics were the seventh best team in baseball last year. The Mariners were respectably ranked 13th, but competition in the American League was fierce and as talented as the Mariners roster was going into the offseason, they were still on the outside looking in going into the 2019 season. The Mariners were in need of a top of the rotation starting pitcher (to replace a declining Felix Hernandez), a middle reliever to bridge to Edwin Diaz (now a Met) and another high-powered outfield bat to help bridge the gap between themselves and the rest of the AL West. As a middle-market team, the Mariners had little change of luring a top free agent, and instead would need to orchestrate a plus-version of Moneyball to compete with a dominant Astro’s team, and an Athletics team run by a man that can only be described as a sorcerer in Billy Beane.

The Mariners had three options:

  1. Become buyers in the offseason and spend money (which they may not have, they paid $157,000,000 for their roster) on free agents, or trade for bonafide MLBers by mortgaging what little talent they had left in their already depleted farm system.
  2. They could sell off some of their more expensive chips, and attempt to maintain their roster’s integrity by acquiring younger players while trying to outlast the dominance of the Astros at the expense of the immediate.
  3. Blow it up, sell off their pieces, reload their farm system, and wait three to five years for Houston to hit the cliff.

From what we can tell, the Mariners are exercising option two. In the last week, they made what will likely be the biggest trade in the offseason, sending the MLB’s best closer in RHP Edwin Diaz, who posted 57 saves, a .79 WHIP and a 1.96 ERA to the New York Mets along with 13-year veteran 2B Robinson Cano. Cano, coming off an 80-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, hit .303 last year and was serviceable at second base, but is still owed half of the 10-year $240M contract he signed with the Mariners. In return, the Mariners received a compliment of young and veteran players from the Mets. The deal was headlined by fifth overall pick OF Jarred Kelenic, who projects as a top 50 MLB prospect without ever having stepped in a professional batters box, and is joined by another top 100 prospect in RHP Justin Dunn who is still a year or two away from the bigs, but is a candidate for a training camp invite. The Mariners also received three MLB-ready players in OF Jay Bruce, RHP Anthony Swarzak, and RHP Gerson Bautista. Bruce had a rough 2018 campaign, but has a lot of pop in his bat, a plus arm, and is one of the best clubhouse personalities in baseball. Bautista projects as a plus reliever and has good “stuff” that should keep him around in the league for a long time. Swarzak is a veteran middle reliever who should immediately fill the 7th inning role for the M’s despite a down 2018 season.

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The trade accomplished a few important things for the Ms:

  1. It replenished their weak farm system with three young prospects that project as starting to all-star caliber players.
  2. It dumped the contract of 2B Robinson Cano who was still owed $120M.
  3. It brought in serviceable talent at multiple positions.

The Mariners continued making moves a few days later by trading their leadoff hitter and two-time all-star, SS Jean Segura along with RHP Juan Nicasio and LHP James Pazos to the Phillies. Segura, the 28-year old breakout star who the Mariners acquired in a trade with D-backs hit .302 in his two years with the Mariners. In return, the Mariners received 1B Carlos Santana-who posted a career-low batting average (.229) and OPS (.766)-and Phillies former top prospect, SS J.P. Crawford. Although Crawford has maintained himself as a top 50 prospect since 2013, his MLB service time has been forgettable.  He’s hit .214 in 225 plate appearances and struck out 59 times over that span. What he did manage to do well was flash what may be the best glove in baseball along with posting a respectable .333 OBP.  I have doubts that he will become a better player than Segura has become, but he’s young and the Mariners could be the change of scenery and the fresh start he needs.

The salary dump of Cano and Segura should help the Mariners sign a few players to fill some gaps over the next few years, but what these trade really do for the franchise is cement the next five years at a few positions. Dunn, Kelenic, Crawford, and Bautista should be in a Mariners uniform for a long time to come. The Mariners may not be better than they were Yesterday, but playing in the AL West all but guarantees that for the next few years, their ceiling is the wild card. Mariner fans should be pleased with the trades, despite giving up Segura and Diaz. If J.P. Crawford and Jared Kelenic can live up to their potential, it’s going to be a fun team to watch down the road.

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