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What will be the Mariners first offseason move, and what will it tell us about their strategy?

Trade Edwin? Sign Eovaldi? What would all of this mean?

Baltimore Orioles v Seattle Mariners Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

It has been a long while since I devoted any serious time to thinking about the Seattle Mariners. This year was one of the more entertaining postseasons in my recent memory, and it was refreshing to sink into baseball games where I didn’t necessarily have an intimate knowledge of the trials and tribulations of a team’s backup backup catcher, or the monthly splits of their September-callup reliever. But now the 2018 season is through, that capitalistic hunting season that is free agency has begun again, and so my thoughts must settle back on the Mariners.

As has been extensively covered, the Mariners are facing 2019 with three “simple” options:

  1. Rebuild
  2. Hold
  3. Go all in

Neither of those paths are particularly straightforward, but for the purposes of this exercise and to avoid giving you a Viva El Birdos-level introductory treatise, we’ll leave ‘em as-is. A few weeks ago we polled you on your preferences and over half of you preferred the team go big or go home. By most accounts it seems as though Jerry Dipoto and the front office plan to more or less hold, and if history is any indicator we’ll see a flurry of trades, a disappointing, lower-level free agent signing, and an inexplicable multi-year reliever deal (Brad Brach, welcome to Seattle).

The free agent market usually takes some time to shake out, so those signings likely won’t happen any time soon. The lone exception might be David Phelps, who chose to stay with the team during his rehab, and who has ties to many of the current players/personnel (played in New York and Miami with Ichiro, played with and encouraged Dee Gordon following his trade, and was coached by Brian DeLunas). He’s coming off of Tommy John surgery, which gives him minimal bargaining power, and his comments to Greg Johns seem to indicate a desire to make his return in Seattle. Acquiring him would be an unsurprising hold. Phelps notwithstanding, free agent signings may be a ways off, and they’re a distinctly binary indicator of a team’s offseason strategy:

- Sign a good player = all in

- Sign a player coming off an injured or down year = hold

- Sign a player with nearly nonexistent search results, but who fills a position that would otherwise be empty = rebuild

In all likelihood the first big move of the Mariners offseason will be a trade of some sort...

Trade for a starting pitcher - ie one with a higher ceiling than Erasmo Ramírez/Wade LeBlanc: A clear go-for-it move. Really, given the dearth of valuable prospects in the organization, a trade for any major league piece could be viewed as an effort to go all-in.

Trade Edwin Díaz: A sell move if ever there was one. The AL Reliever of the Year’s value has never been higher, and though an Edwin-less team wouldn’t necessarily spell certain doom, it would be a pretty clear indicator that the FO has shifted their attention much further into the future.

Trade Félix Hernández, Dee Gordon, or Kyle Seager: A salary dump hold, whose corresponding move - pocket the cash, or bequeath it to Nathan Eovaldi - would indicate more about the team’s intent than the move itself.

Trade for Brandon Belt: All in. Belt’s worst full season would put him squarely behind John Olerud’s 2003 campaign for 21st-best season as a first baseman in franchise history. He’s 30, under contract until 2021, making $17.2 million/year, and goodness gracious the Giants certainly aren’t going to be needing. Seattle would likely need to send over some cash, in addition to prospects, but the Giants have spent so much money being bad that this would be a reasonable trade for them to make. Belt’s acquisition would show that Dipoto did not cover his eyes and ears during Ryon Healy at-bats last season, and would be a clear effort towards improving the team in 2019 and the near future.

Re-sign Nelson Cruz: A hug (an emotional hold, get it? Get it?). Re-signing Cruz to be their DH eliminates a lot of roster flexibility and represents money not going towards signing a better starting pitcher (not to mention resurrects that pesky Daniel Vogelbach question) so I’m not necessarily sure it’s a good move. But Cruz has also been one of the best DHs in baseball since the Mariners signed him, and he brings so much joy (and monster dingers), and it feels utterly bizarre to imagine a starting lineup without him.

These are just a few potential moves we could see the Mariners making in the next few weeks. None of these things could end up happening. Or, heck, all of them could happen! Or, most likely of all, Dipoto will shock us all with something entirely unexpected. Who knows? It’s Day 3 of the 2019 offseason and the world is our oyster.