“I would imagine our volume will be taken down a couple of notches. We still have a fair number of issues to address. We do have some holes on our major-league roster. Last year was about heavy lifting and effectively re-creating the way we played, this year is about focusing on ways we get can better in the parameters we set up last year.”
That was the quote from Jerry Dipoto entering the offseason on November 8, 2016. Two weeks later, Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte became Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger, and Zac Curtis, and we saw the second straight offseason of significant turnover in the middle and bottom of the MLB roster. Last week, Dipoto was quizzed on his expectations for this offseason and delivered a stirring remix on last year’s classic:
“I think what’s a positive outcome is that we’re pretty stable moving forward. I don’t think you’ll see nearly as much movement, but we do know where our holes are.”
Dipoto has earned his “if it isn’t tied down it’s shippable” reputation, but for the most part he’s targeted guys that fit specific needs. If, as was reported recently, this is the final year of Jerry Dipoto’s contract, and he is not given a clear extension, all bets are off. I expect (and hope) he will be given an extension, in large part due to the belief that three years is not nearly enough time to see a plan develop. I believe this offseason will see less turnover overall, but that’s a rather relative comparison.
To set up a baseline, what follows is a simple tiering of the likelihood that these players will remain in the Mariners organization on Opening Day, 2018. There are nine tiers, plus a tenth for absolute certainties, which just so happens to be how many circles of hell there are in Dante’s Inferno, plus the Vestibule of the Futile, wow what a coincidence.
Note: The parenthetical is a general assessment of each player’s likelihood to be in the organization next spring, not how many among the group will be retained. Additionally, players who are free agents but seem like possible extension candidates (Yonder Alonso, Danny Valencia, Jarrod Dyson) have not been included, since they are technically free agents.
Vestibule of the D(F)Amned - (<1% Mariners next year)
SP Yovani Gallardo, SP Hisashi Iwakuma
Peace, Chobani. So glad your velocity returned to 2012 levels, and it didn’t make the slightest dent in your results. Kuma’s decline stings more than nearly any other player’s, but the combination of career-long fragility and major arm surgery at age 36 is too much to conceive of. Both will be bought out, and while I expect Iwakuma to receive a Spring Training invite if healthy, he may unfortunately be truly cooked.
Tier 9 - It’s Been Real (25% Mariners next year)
Oh Vogey. He’s a longtime darling of Chris Mitchell’s prospect projection system, KATOH, which seems to be fairly close to what the Mariners have identified trade targets through. Unfortunately, Seattle hasn’t seen enough to trust him with 1B full-time, and their flirtations with contention kept them from willingness to commit MLB innings to him. With his slow development defensively and Nelson Cruz’s resilience, Vogdor seems destined to find himself in a new organization instead of a third year in Tacoma. Smyly is a non-tender candidate, who may instead find himself extended on an incentive-laden deal. The market for starting pitchers may still be such that he can choose to go elsewhere, however, and Seattle should balk at using $6-7 million on a pitcher who may not throw a pitch next year.
Tier 8 - Miscellaneous Minor Leaguers (50% Mariners next year)
Literally any MiLB or AAAA player not specifically named in other tiers.
This tier is obviously a bit hyperbolic, since there are a few hundred players in the Mariners minor league system and most of them will stay put. The Mariners are not flush at any position in the minors, and have to hope that the work of Andy McKay can get the most out of guys. They’ve had success in creating potential MLB players out of pitchers like RPs Matt Festa and Art Warren, and if they think they can replicate that easily, many more players become expendable. It’s betting heavily on your own development, and we’ll have to hope they’re right.
Tier 7 - The Pen (60% Mariners next year)
Each of these pitchers is a decent MLB player and helped make the Mariners bullpen right around league-average last year. Through a combination of overuse and a brutal start, that wasn’t enough to salvage the cataclysmic rotation. With more health from Zych, Phelps, and Simmons, the bullpen could reasonably be considered a strength going into 2018, but it’s also the lone location on the MLB roster Seattle has the depth to trade from to improve elsewhere. Altavilla was the subject of several trade talks last year, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move this winter. Phelps was a recent acquisition and should start out on the roster, but should the team sputter again he’ll be a good piece to move at the deadline. Also maybe some organization will have their pitchers stub all their left pointer fingers and they’ll take Zep. Please.
Tier 6 - Young/Cheap Bat Holders (70% Mariners next year)
OF Ben Gamel, OF Guillermo Heredia, C David Banuelos
One of these is not like the other, but I think it’s worth specifying. Gamel could be a sell-high if the Mariners think he’s maxed out, but with Jacob Hannemann as the only replacement currently on the 40-man, it’d be a surprise at this point. Heredia will spend the offseason rehabbing after shoulder surgery, which will have him healthy, but unfortunately may limit his ability to take a significant leap forward or build his value. Banuelos is farther off, but put up a 109 wRC+ in Everett after being drafted in the fifth round this year. Tyler Marlette and Marcus Littlewood stumbled significantly in AA this year, while AFL bound Joe DeCarlo is only six months into his conversion to the position, making the defensively brilliant Banuelos the only clear catching prospect in the system.
Tier 5 - Young/Cheap Arm Havers (75% Mariners next year)
Of this group, Andrew Albers was the most successful in 2017, but since he turned 32 four days ago, he’ll likely neither retain much trade value nor be given first licks in 2018’s pitching pecking order. Neidert had a stellar campaign and pushed himself to AA at just age-20, but as a Jack Z prospect he’s always a bit more at risk. While any trade value the rest of this group has is suppressed by their inconsistent results last year, Gonzales is the most vulnerable to my eye. Dipoto is very high on him, but his lack of options means he either has to be on the Opening Day roster, the DL, or a new team next year. Díaz could, and for the second straight offseason, likely should be a part of any deal to build depth, but his decent numbers in a very inconsistent season will likely keep him in Seattle. Most likely they will all remain, since pitching depth is, as we’ve learned for the second straight season, crucial.
Tier 4 - Nelson Cruz (80% Mariner next year)
DH Nelson Cruz
The Mariners’ best qualified hitter in each of his three seasons in Seattle, Nelson Cruz is entering the final year of his contract and just turned 37. He is the exact player you look to move if you are selling, but with the Mariners in wait-and-see mode, it seems likely he’ll make it at least until the All-Star break, especially given his central (read: dadly) role in the clubhouse.
Tier 3 - Maximum Value/Maximum Need (85% Mariners next year)
If you are advocating for a fire sale and rebuild, this is the group of players that will deliver the maximum potential return. Every indication both in words and action points to the team instead looking to restock for 2018 at least. Since any possible in-house replacements for these players are at least year or two away, they’ll likely all stay.
Tier 2 - The Future (95% Mariners next year)
1B/OF Evan White, OF Kyle Lewis, SP Sam Carlson, OF Julio Rodriguez
We’ve seen Jerry Dipoto trade in Jack Zduriencik’s former top draft picks and international signings for MLB and high minors talent several times. What we haven’t seen is him be so cavalier with players he himself has given his stamp of approval. I don’t expect that to change.
Tier 1 - Immovable Objects (>99% Mariners next year)
Cash rules everything around the two most recognizable Mariners. Canó still has six years, $144 million on his contract, and a full no-trade clause. Félix also retains full no-trade rights, and commands $54.7 million over the next two seasons. The closest comparison I’ve found for a trade involving Canó’s monstrous deal is Carl Crawford’s remaining five year, $105 million contract being flipped to the Dodgers. The Dodgers are doing just fine, but they’re also currently paying Crawford $22 million to not play for them this season, so I’d be surprised to see a similar move again. Both Canó and Hernández are coming off down seasons, have age/health concerns, huge contracts, are able to nullify any trade they desire, and are still the most marketable players on the roster. They’re not going anywhere.