With the deadline looming in just five days, the M’s have struck a deal.
Just over a year ago, the Mariners and Cardinals paired up for the Marco Gonzales/Tyler O’Neill swap. While it was a polarizing trade at the time, I can’t think of a single reason Seattle would be better off with O’Neill.
This trade is... not quite that at first glance. After seeing scant action in the first three seasons of his big league career, Sam Tuivailala grabbed a larger role in St. Louis’s bullpen in 2017. While his 2.55 ERA over 42.1 innings was very good, he wasn’t fantastic at missing bats, and the 3.70 FIP he put up that year suggests that he was getting some good fortune.
So far in 2018, Tuivailala has taken a step back. Both his strikeout and walk rates have trended in the wrong direction, and although he’s still been able to induce ground balls effectively, a strand rate drop of over seven percent has given way to a jump in ERA of over a full run, which more accurately reflects his 2018 FIP of 3.98. He is also out of minor league options, though he remains under team control through the 2022 season.
Tuivailala has run pretty big platoon splits throughout his career, but has taken it to a new level in 2018. He’s obliterated righties to the tune of a .232 wOBA, allowing just two extra-base hits and one walk over 79 batters faced. Lefties, on the other hand, have feasted on him, walking more times than they’ve struck out and having almost half of their hits going for extra bases en route to a .422 (!) wOBA. It seems clear that his best fit is as a situational reliever, but the Cardinals had him facing both righties and lefties fairly regularly, with left-handed hitters seeing just fourteen fewer plate appearances against him.
Seth Elledge was having a big year in Modesto, sending more than a third of batters faced down on strikes and giving up just a lone home run over 38.1 innings of work. He was named to the California League All-Star team, and the Cardinals have rewarded him with a promotion to Double-A. Elledge was one of several hard-throwing right-handed relievers in the M’s farm system, along with Wyatt Mills, Joey Gerber, and Art Warren. While his command could waver at times, his ability to miss bats and go multiple innings made him an intriguing arm to follow. He stands a good chance at being fast-tracked to the bigs, and if he can improve his command a little more, he could be a very solid cog in the Cards’ bullpen.
In all, this trade feels fine. It would have been nice to get a bullpen arm with a little more flexibility, but Tuivailala should be a very effective weapon against right-handers. Elledge may go on to have a successful career, but with several high-octane relievers in Seattle’s farm, he seemed to be expendable. Consider me whelmed.