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Things looked grim, then took a turn for the impossible, and suddenly, imperfectly, it was real. The departure of Robinson Canó from the Seattle Mariners feels eerily poetic to his arrival. It just didn’t fully sink in – didn’t feel real – until now, after days of hemming and hawing, finally.
Complete deal is Cano, Diaz plus $20M for Bruce, Swarzak, Kelenic, Dunn and Bautista— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 2, 2018
Five years ago, the Mariners made the largest free agent signing in their history – the largest in Seattle sports history, and brought with it the hopes of ending a decade of irrelevance and jump-starting a rebuild. Canó, despite a double hernia in 2015 and a hit-by-pitch that paired with a PED suspension in 2018, held up his end of the bargain in his production. Canó’s presence represented credibility the Mariners long had been unable to garner, and from the No. 3 spot in the batting order, Robi brought an unmistakable sense of possibility to every plate appearance – a competency and consistency that had been absent since Ichiro’s (initial) departure. And now, halfway into his 10-year, $240 million deal, he’ll return to the city where his star was born. Queens isn’t the Bronx, but he’ll be one of the game’s most-watched men this year on a strange Mets team built on volatility.
I will miss watching Canó play for Seattle more than I’ve missed any departing hitter since Ichiro himself. His departure signals a significant shift in the Mariners’ clubhouse, too. Once heralded as an example of the league’s vibrant Latin influence, Seattle’s current 40-man roster boasts a distinctly American theme. This is not, to be clear, an effort to tie personnel moves to the recent controversy surrounding the organization – it is simply a noteworthy change in demographics as Seattle moves on from the players who kept them competitive in recent years. Jean Segura is all but guaranteed to be dealt, while Álex Colomé has already been dealt and Juan Nicasio seems likely to move on between now and the All-Star Break. Depending on the moves made this offseason, there’s a very real possibility Roenis Elías, Félix Hernández, and newly acquired catcher Omar Narváez are the lone Latin American-born players on the 25-man come Opening Day.
In mentioning relievers, we come to the most dominant player involved in today’s blockbuster. It’s hard to label Edwin Díaz the most important, or even the best player traded today, but he’s certainly the best at his job. Díaz borderline single-handedly dragged a flawed Mariners team to playoff contention in 2018, saves in 57 games and an appearance in a staggering 69 of the team’s 89 total victories. Sugar will be 25 next March, already one of baseball’s most brilliant players, but a reliever nonetheless. And so he was dealt today, because the Mariners and Jerry Dipoto were blown away. To watch Edwin Díaz pitch for your team in 2018 was to experience uncut baseball euphoria. It was electric beyond Dave Sims catchphrases and witty barbershop bets. No, it was something I’d never felt before:
It was to hope the best part of the other team’s lineup was up, so you could see Edwin embarrass them.
That may come again one day, and I hope it does, but until then, I’m glad we picked our favorite moments when it still felt fresh. But now, Edwin is gone, because the Mariners agreed with most somber appraisals. This chapter in Mariners history, for which Robinson Canó was the opening line, is closing, and Díaz’s introduction and departure feel bitterly too close together.
The Mariners were blown away by the chance to escape Canó’s contract and add two top-100 prospects in the process. It’s a bittersweet moment for no shortage of reasons. Both Canó and Díaz were brilliant players, of course, but their departure allows for Seattle to add talented players who could play major roles in a 2021-22 Mariners roster. Seattle also sheds itself of a significant amount of money they would have paid Canó, including for what would likely be his least effective seasons at ages 36-40. They’ll pay $20 million of that still, as well as $26 million to 31-year-old OF Jay Bruce over the next two seasons, and $7 million to lefty reliever Anthony Swarzak for the upcoming season, in hopes of fixing him up after a terribad 2017 and maybe flipping him at the trade deadline. They’ll also receive two of the Mets’ best prospects—19-year-old OF Jarred Kelenic and 23-year-old RHP Justin Dunn—who were the team’s 1st-round picks in 2018 and 2016 respectively. We will detail each of them further in the coming weeks here, but we put together a short primer on them already when the news first seemingly broke. The elevator pitch? A top-10 talent with star potential but a long way to go, and a refining righty with four pitches and No. 3 starter potential. The third player is 23-year-old RHP Gerson Bautista, who is a reliever with an upper-90s and low-100s fastball. If all you had was a radar gun and an empty bottle of hair dye, you might mistake him for the similarly-wiry Díaz, but I regret to inform you the gap is, as of press time, significant. (Picture an Edwin Díaz who, instead of solving his command issues post-2017, actually made them worse.)
I suspect many of us wish the Mariners would’ve given the Mets more money in return for more another impressive prospect. I wouldn’t disagree, as that is my worry: that by trading Díaz in this fashion, Seattle has squandered their best chance to benefit from a trade imbalance. While at every stage we’ve seen elite relievers dealt for what feel like undeservedly sizable recompense, Seattle has returned a roughly reasonable, albeit flashy, return. As fellow staffer Grant Bronsdon outlined, there are a couple reasons this deal is tough to adjudicate, not the least of which being a free agent class rich in elite relievers and second basemen. For as frustrating as it is to see ownership groups make decisions based on financial limitations instead of pure focus on talent, maintaining financial flexibility is important, so long as you trust the team to spend the money to improve the team. The Mariners ran a payroll between top 8-15 the past few seasons, which hopefully augers similar financial flexibility when the team is once again ideally on the upswing in a few years, but that’s a long time to wait and be asked to trust. I’m not sure they’ve earned that trust.
Still, if Seattle is right about Kelenic and/or Dunn, it’s hard to imagine looking back in 2021 with a future star or two entering the lineup and/or rotation and feeling remorse on the return, but once again the magnifying glass will turn to Seattle’s player development. The rest of the winter will also be one fraught with uncertainty. Díaz was directly stated as being unlikely to be dealt, cast in the same breath as Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales. Is Seattle looking for deals as actively as they are with Canó and Díaz? How soon will the next trade drop? And just how bad can the 2019 Mariners be made to be?
For now, all we know is that Canó and Díaz are gone, and more will follow. Forget “reimagining”; the rebuild is well and truly on, and it’s going to be a wild and bumpy ride. I hope you brought snacks.