Hear #Mariners have one of their top scouts attending Kansas City at Tampa Bay. … Commence speculation.— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) July 9, 2014
OK, Bob, sounds like a plan to me!
Look, the Mariners and the Rays are talking trade. We basically know that now. If the two teams weren't in fairly advanced discussions, the Mariners wouldn't have sent their top scouts to watch the Rays, and the Rays wouldn't have sent their top scouts to find desirable Mariners minor-leaguers. Seattle's needs and Tampa's match up exceptionally well. The Rays suck; the Mariners don't. The Rays need middle infielders and relievers; the Mariners have too many. The Mariners need outfielders; the Rays have too many. The Mariners want a rotation upgrade; the Rays have David Price. The Rays want a top prospect; the Mariners have Taijuan Walker. It almost makes too much sense for a deal not to happen, even if the prospect of trading with Andrew Friedman is a bit frightening.
In light of these facts, let's speculate a little bit. Which Rays might the Mariners be targeting?
1) David Price
Of all the Rays on this list, Price inspires the most rumors. He's also the one most concretely linked to the Mariners. We know they discussed acquiring him over the offseason, and we know that they've had scouts at two of his last three starts.
The Rays are quite likely to move Price, and there are a whole lot of interested teams. The question is simply which one offers up the best prospect package.
Why it makes sense: Sit back in your chair for a minute and imagine a playoff rotation with Felix Hernandez, David Price, Hisashi Iwakuma, and James Paxton. When you're done, grab a few paper towels to wipe up the drool.
Why it doesn't make sense: Price has said that he wouldn't sign an extension in Seattle, so the Mariners would be giving up their best prospect and probably more in exchange for just one and a half years of a pitcher with some injury concerns. There's going for it, and then there's going for it. Acquiring Price would be the latter, and the Mariners may not be ready to make the most of that yet.
Likely cost: Taijuan Walker and Nick Franklin. The Mariners refused to move Walker for Price over the winter, which is why the Mariners didn't get Price over the winter. Now that the Athletics have dealt Addison Russell and Billy McKinney for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, there's no way the Rays send Price to Seattle without getting back Walker and more besides.
2) Ben Zobrist
Of all the Rays on this list, Zobrist is the most versatile. For years he was by far the most underrated player in baseball: From 2008 to 2013, he had a higher fWAR than Robinson Cano. His ability to play all over the diamond is the stuff of legend. Unfortunately for the Rays, Zorilla has begun to enter his decline phase, and though he's still a very good player his power is not what it used to be. He's approaching the end of his contract, and with the team out of the running this year Andrew Friedman may decide that having Ben Zobrist in 2015 is less valuable to the team than having the prospect haul he could bring back.
Why it makes sense: The Mariners have been trying for years to build an outfield entirely out of former infielders (Chone Figgins, Mike Carp, Dustin Ackley, Michael Saunders, Abe Almonte, Stefen Romero, Ty Kelly, Willie Bloomquist, Nick Franklin, and so on). Acquiring Zobrist would be the natural progression of this strategy. Also, he's the best position player on the trade market, and Michael's wanted him for like a month now.
Why it doesn't make sense: Zobrist is most valuable at second base, the one position at which the Mariners cannot play him. As a result, he's worth more to other teams than to the M's. A club like the Cardinals might be willing to blow Jack Z's offer out of the water.
Likely cost: Start with Nick Franklin, and add a couple other significant pieces from there. Zobrist probably isn't a controllable enough piece to net the Rays Walker or Peterson on his own, but 4 WAR/year for $7M/year has a lot of value.
3) Matt Joyce
Of all the Rays on this list, Joyce is perhaps the most likely to be moved. One of the rare OF/DHes who can actually play the outfield competently, Joyce is a righty-masher whom the Rays acquired for Edwin Jackson in a widely praised 2008 trade with the Tigers. He hasn't ever quite lived up to his prospect pedigree, having posted only one season with more than two fWAR, but he would be a clear upgrade over Dustin Ackley, particularly on offense.
Why it makes sense: Joyce is only a year and a half away from free agency, and he's getting a bit expensive for the Rays. With a career 119 wRC+, he'd immediately be the Mariners' third-best hitter (behind Seager and Cano), and his good work in left field wouldn't compromise the Seattle defense.
Why it doesn't make sense: Joyce is very left-handed. The Mariners are known to be looking specifically for right-handers. They don't have anyone to platoon him with in the outfield, so the only sensible way to bench him vs. LHP would be to play Jesus Sucre, bumping Mike Zunino to DH and Corey Hart to the outfield. That'd be less than ideal, especially given that Logan Morrison should also be sitting against lefties.
Likely cost: Joyce isn't a good enough player to bring a really great prospect back to Tampa Bay. He'd probably net the Rays a player in the bottom half of the Mariners' top ten prospects and some assorted organizational pieces.
4) Desmond Jennings
Of all the Rays on this list, Jennings is the best fit for the Mariners. He checks all the boxes: multiple years of control, excellent offense against left-handed pitching, competent offense against right-handed pitching, plus defense in a corner and solid defense in center, top-of-lineup speed and OBP skills, youth, everything. Unfortunately, that means he's unlikely to be available - and if he is on the market, you can bet that his services won't be cheap.
Why it makes sense: He's the perfect fit for the Mariners' roster. With another young center fielder breaking out (more on that later), the Rays might feel compelled to cash in on Jennings before they have to start paying him arbitration money.
Why it doesn't make sense: Last year, Dave Cameron called Jennings "the quietest star in baseball". He has three years of team control remaining. Players as young and as good as Jennings don't get traded very often.
Likely cost: Taijuan Walker. Even if the Mariners can get Jennings without giving up their best pitching prospect, it's unlikely he'll come to Seattle without at least two of James Paxton, D.J. Peterson and Nick Franklin going away. I don't think the Rays are particularly likely to move him anyways - not unless they decide that their center fielder of the future is...
5) Kevin Kiermaier
Of all the Rays on this list, Kiermaier is the youngest and the most exciting. He was never a prospect of much description (John Sickels rated him the Rays' eleventh-best minor leaguer before the season began), but in only 160 PA this year he's already put up 2.3 WAR. His 2014 power breakout is almost certainly a mirage, but the projection systems have him as a league average hitter the rest of the way, and he's an elite defensive outfielder with 70-grade speed. Those of you who were around for the early days of Jack Z's front office may remember that particular player profile. The Mariner missed out on Peter Bourjos and Craig Gentry over the winter, but Kiermaier might be a similar player at a lower price.
Why it makes sense: The Mariners have been known to be looking for young outfielders. The Rays might decide to stick with Jennings and flip Kiermaier while he's performing at his peak. Jack Z traded for Franklin Gutierrez once before, and they can't all have ankylosing spondylitis.
Why it doesn't make sense: His position aside, Kiermaier isn't any of the things the Mariners are most desperately looking for. He's left-handed and he's not a great hitter (or one with real power). Also, the Rays are both extremely smart and extremely poor. They might place a very high value on their cheap young breakout outfielder.
Likely cost: I have absolutely no idea. If the Rays think Kiermaier's sucess is unsustainable and he really is only their tenth-best young player, he could be had for a very reasonable price. If they buy into the early defensive returns and at least a little of the power breakout, they might ask for Taijuan Walker. Still, it can't hurt to check in.
6) The Other Guys
Who they are: The Rays have several interesting pieces that don't quite merit their own sections. Brandon Guyer is a right-handed corner outfielder with good defense and an extended history of murdering the ball in AAA. If the Mariners want to add some catcher depth, they might consider Ryan Hanigan. We know that the Mariners tried to flip Nick Franklin for a Rays pitcher over the winter, though we don't know which one it was.
Why they make sense: Guyer projects as a more or less league average outfielder, and because the Rays have had him in the minors forever we know they don't value him very highly. The Mariners are light on catching depth, and Hanigan is a much more appealing backup than Jesus Sucre. The M's need rotation depth, and they've practically traded for at least one of the Rays' pitchers before.
Why they don't make sense: Guyer is 28 and has been repeatedly denied a chance to play by one of the smartest organizations in baseball. The Rays just traded for and then extended Hanigan, so he's unlikely to be available. Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi are having breakout seasons that may render them untouchable, Alex Cobb's breakout was last year, Alex Colome sucks, Matt Moore is hurt, and Jeremy Hellickson's luck finally ran out right before he hit the DL.
In conclusion: we know the Rays and Mariners are talking, but we don't know which players they're talking about. While some of the Rays' players would be splashy acquisitions (lookin' at you, David), the Mariners aren't going to win the division this year, and I'm not sure giving up six years of a top prospect is worth a better chance of making the Wild Card game this year and then having a 4-5 WAR player for 2015 only. On the other hand, the Mariners can't just do nothing at the deadline.
I guess, if I absolutely had to describe my feelings towards each potential Rays trade target in a short phrase, I'd do it like this.
|Price||the price is wrong|
|Zobrist||sadly more valuable elsewhere|
|Joyce||most likely, least inspiring|
|Kiermaier||most inspiring, least likely|
|Hanigan||probably unnecessary AND unavailable|
|Other SP||yeah, but which one?|
We'll see how the Mariners feel soon enough.