Two years ago, it took until the day before Thanksgiving for Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto to get the Hot Stove off to a roarin’ start, when he dealt for Jean Segura and Mitch Haniger in one of his finest moves to date.
This offseason, per the Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish, it appears that Dipoto doesn’t want to wait that long:
Sources: The Mariners are working to finish a trade that would send catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Guillermo Heredia to the Rays in exchange for outfielder Mallex Smith. Deal could be finalized in the next day.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) November 8, 2018
I probably don’t need to say this, but a deal of this magnitude is HUGE for the Mariners on a number of levels.
For starters, Zunino was the Mariners’ everyday catcher last season, and for much of the last five seasons. His bat has certainly been hit or miss in his big-league tenure, as Zunino led all of MLB last year in K% among players with at least 300 plate appearances. But his glove has never been in doubt, and his departure leaves a glaring hole behind the plate. Unless another player is coming back in this deal — perhaps former first-round pick Nick Ciuffo? — this likely becomes a top, if not the top, offseason priority for the M’s.
Heredia, meanwhile, is a bit of a fan favorite. The 27-year-old hasn’t yet backed that up over a full campaign. Steamer projects him to be worth about 1 fWAR next season, which makes him a useful but eminently replaceable outfielder. His versatility and youth make him a nice side piece, but given the presence of Ben Gamel, he doesn’t figure to be a huge loss for a team trying to improve its starting nine.
And all that brings me to Mallex Smith. You might remember the name, since the Mariners briefly acquired him in January 2017 from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Luiz Gohara. When I say briefly, of course, I mean “for about an hour,” as Dipoto promptly dealt him to Tampa in the ill-fated Drew Smyly swap.
Smith broke out last year in his first full MLB season. At just 25 years old, Smith hit .298/.367/.406, good for a 117 wRC+. His best value came on the basepaths, as Smith led baseball with 10 triples and managed to swipe 40 bases for good measure. Oh, and did I mention he plays center field?
Smith figures to slot in as the everyday CF going forward, shifting Haniger back to right field and Ben Gamel to left. His arrival also complicates things for Dee Gordon, who was acquired just under a year ago as the Mariners’ CF of the future. Perhaps Robinson Canó will shift over to first base, clearing the way for Gordon to take over second. Perhaps Gordon will become a super-sub, albeit quite an expensive one at that. Or perhaps Jerry Dipoto is already hanging out in the hotel lobby in Carlsbad, California, just waiting for the various general managers at the annual GM meetings to come out of their rooms so he can pounce with a new trade offer.
After all, it’s the offseason, and Jerry Dipoto never sleeps during the offseason.
UPDATE (8:14 PM)
No announcement yet from Mariners or Rays, but sources confirm to https://t.co/OhB0xBlN0w that a five-player swap is close to being finalized that would send C Mike Zunino, OF Guillermo Heredia and a Minor League pitcher to Rays for CF Mallex Smith and a Minor League outfielder.— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) November 8, 2018
We now have the final details on the deal. In addition to trading Zunino and Heredia, the Mariners are also shipping out Michael Plassmeyer, their fourth-round pick this season. The Missouri lefty signed for $425,000 before taking the Northwest League by storm, striking out 44 batters and walking just four in 24 innings pitched. Certainly a curious move for a team already thin in its prospect ranks.
On the other hand, the teal-and-blue did manage to squeeze an extra prospect out of Tampa in outfielder Jake Fraley. The second-round pick from 2016 is a plus-plus defender in CF, ranked as the best outfield defender in the Rays’ system last year by Baseball America. Here’s a piece from our friends over at DRaysBay after he tore the cover off the ball in the Australian Baseball League, which will probably put a smile on your face.
After injuries robbed him of most of his 2017 season, Fraley raked in A+ ball in 2018, slashing .347/.415/.547 in 66 games. He’ll be 24 next season, so you’d hope to see him start off well in AA and perhaps even split his time between Arkansas and Tacoma in 2019.
If you want to be pessimistic, the Mariners have already given up on a high draft pick from 2018 for a player dominating against much younger competition. If you want to be optimistic, the M’s just snagged a late-bloomer who’s been overlooked due to injuries, and who will make an impact sooner rather than later.
(My optimistic two cents: I’m curious to hear what Jerry Dipoto will say about this deal. Two years ago, in the Hanigura trade, he mentioned that getting Haniger was just as important as getting Segura. Perhaps he values Fraley as more than just a throw-in; surely, M’s scouts have done their due diligence and like the player, and he does seem to fit the “punt 2019 so you can win in 2020” ethos the M’s seem to be embracing.)