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Rocky Future? A possible suitor for Carlos Santana

Why be a sailor when you can be...whatever a Rockie is

MLB: Washington Nationals at Colorado Rockies Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

Welp. It’s been over a week now since the Mariners shipped Jean Segura and a pair of useful relievers to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for a package that netted the Mariners 1B/DH Carlos Santana. I wouldn’t blame you if you forgot, though, as the club is still yet to speak out as to how the veteran slugger figures into the plans for the 2019 Mariners, and it’s been noticeably quiet in Santana’s camp in regards to expressing any intention or desire to suit up for Seattle next season.

As you’d expect, things appear to be heating up on that front since the Winter Meetings got underway on Monday, as we’ve seen Santana connected to multiple teams already this week, including the Indians and Rays, who we mentioned last week, the Marlins (?), and a team mentioned in last week’s comments (shoutout Incredible Sulk): the Colorado Rockies.

With the Rockies boasting their best starting pitching rotation in years, having a first baseman that’s 20% worse offensively than the league average hitter severely handicapped what should have been one of the better offenses in the National League. Just two years into a five-year deal that he received with the expectation that he’d aid the club in advancing past the NLDS for the first time since 2007, Ian Desmond instead posted back-to-back negative-fWAR seasons. In his time in Colorado, the former Ranger and National has combined for -1.5 fWAR while raking in $30M, and is no longer playing a premium defensive position. With three years and $38M remaining on his deal, Colorado has been actively looking to unload Desmond’s deal and upgrade at the position. While Carlos Santana is actually set to make slightly more than Desmond over the remaining life of his contract, he also projects to provide a lot more value. Santana would represent a 2.8 fWAR swing for the Rockies and would replace a strikeout-prone hitter playing out of position with an average first baseman with a long track record of success as a disciplined offensive contributor.

With Desmond and Santana’s deals being virtually identical from an overall cash perspective, it’s easy to see a deal coming together that just swaps the two and Colorado attaching a mid-level prospect to entice the Mariners to take on what’s trending towards looking like another albatross of a contract. Such a move would be only the latest installment in what’s been a familiar story so far throughout this young offseason for the Mariners, taking on what’s generally regarding as a bad contract in hopes of the prospect attached becoming something of value to the 2021 Mariners. With the market for Santana being—from what we can tell of two days worth of Winter Meetings rumblings anyways— slightly stronger than the market for Jean Segura, the prospect return should be expected to be similar or slightly favorable to what the Phillies sent, as Santana is older/less valuable but yet somehow perhaps more in demand. Skipping past the uppermost echelon of Colorado’s system, a pair of prospects that seem like a good fit for the Mariners’ organizational needs while also being within their price range from a trade standpoint are RHP Peter Lambert and SS Ryan Vilade. No, they wouldn’t be landing both in this type of deal, but with the constant need for pitching and the lack of an obvious heir to Kyle Seager at the hot corner, either one would be a good fit and boon to the system.

Lambert, who will turn 22 shortly prior to the 2019 season opening, was a 2015 high school draftee who has consistently pitched against players older than him, and has experienced a good amount of success pitching in some tough home ballparks before stumbling through 11 starts at Triple-A to the tune of a 5.04/4.61/4.71 line last season. That said, he’ll open next year as a 22-year-old poised for his first full season of Triple-A ball and armed with a four pitch arsenal consisting of a sinking fastball that sits 92-94 mph but can touch 96, a plus changeup, low-80s curve, and newly added mid-80s slider. There’s a lot to dream on there, which is exactly why he’s cracked Prospect Pipeline’s Top 100 prospects (#99) and is positioned as Colorado’s top pitching prospect, which may well make them less willing to move him.

While the Mariners should by no means look at the state of their organizational pitching and be satisfied, they’ve done a lot to improve it this offseason, adding five new arms already this offseason to their Top 30. It’s worth noting, however, that of the 12 players (excluding Santana) they’ve acquired this offseason, just one has been an infielder, and it’s not one that’s likely going to help find a replacement for Kyle Seager assuming he’s exited Seattle before this team is competing again. All that said, taking a flier on an infield prospect that could be a pretty nifty consolation prize should they have a hard time prying another highly regarded arm away from the Rockies, who are flush with infield prospects—their #’s 1, 2, and 4 prospects are all infielders—despite having a pair of the game’s best young infielders at the major league level under control for 2019 (and well beyond in the case of Trevor Story).

Vilade, 19, was Colorado’s top selection in the 2017 draft, coming at pick 48 after the Rockies lost their first rounder on account of signing, wait for it....Ian Desmond! A former Under Armor All-America Game Home Run Derby champion, he draws a Hit/Power grade of 50 and 55 from Prospect Pipeline and Hit/GamePower/RawPower future values of 50/55/60 from Fangraphs. Through 157 games to open his professional career, he’s posted a walk rate of 11.2% and a strikeout rate of just 18.7%, indicating he’s more than an undisciplined free-swinger while also picking up 10 HR (and 22 SB, showing off some good speed as well). Drafted as a shortstop, the Rockies apparently have plans of giving him run at third base and second base as well as the outfield, but his instincts and plus arm strength would make Vilade the leading candidate for first dibs at the position likely to be vacated by Seager in coming years (months? DAYS?!).

The Mariners and Rockies seem to make a pretty logical match for a Santana deal from a financial standpoint as well as their major and minor league positions of need, and particularly given Jerry Dipoto’s expressed desire to add a right-handed outfield bat and veteran shortstop to be a stopgap/complement/fail-safe to J.P. Crawford. After a disappointing two years in Colorado on a bloated deal, the rebuilding M’s might actually value Desmond more than just about any other team in the league. Of course there’s always the option to shop Desmond for even more future assets if the 33-year-old magically recovers his value, but what makes Desmond more likely to stick around is that unlike Santana, there’s no chance that re-flipping Desmond now would be at peak value, meaning the Mariners would be best served to hold onto him and see if he can’t regain a little trade value over the front half of 2019 anyways.

While there haven’t been any rumors linking Mike Leake to Colorado, it’s not difficult to imagine Colorado might look to fortify their young pitching staff, and Leake, whose name we’ve already heard surface in trade talks, has been as reliable as they come for the better part of the last 10 years, is a ground-ball pitcher, and also happens to be one of the better hitting pitchers in the game. Leake’s got three years and $48M left on his deal with another $5M in the form of a buyout if his controlling team chooses not to exercise his $18M option for 2021, so it’d be likely that Colorado would want to attach another bad contract on their end to keep the money as even as possible in any deal. Theoretically, that’d give the Mariners a chance to add an additional prospect or two into the deal, as well obtaining some pieces to immediately join the big league club for 2019. Veteran relievers Bryan Shaw and Mike Dunn are both coming off negative-fWAR seasons with Colorado, and are set to make $17.5M and $14M respectively over the next two years (with a variety of incentives and options attached). That’d leave a gap of roughly $17M in salary, which would likely allow the Mariners to save some cash or send cash Colorado’s way in order to boost their prospect return. Like Desmond, Shaw and Dunn could likely be flipped for additional pieces come July if either or both were able to churn out some productive innings to open the season. While moving Slamtana to the offense-hungry Rockies is a good start, the Mariners shouldn’t miss the opportunity to maximize their return.