Last week our entire staff outlined who has felt like the most valuable player of the season to us. It’s an objective measurement, but if anyone (like Jake Mailhot did) made the case for RP Edwin Díaz as Seattle’s clear star, it’d be difficult to protest. But the Mariners are at an unenviable juncture. Their roster is built to compete now, yet the players on it have been unable to bust the blockade between Seattle and the playoffs. In 2018 Seattle has thumbed their nose at probability thanks, in large part, to the transcendent work of Díaz.
As dominant as Electric Eddie has been this year, however, it’s likely that this is the peak of his value. 24-year-old relievers with fastballs that touch 100 MPH and four years of club control left don’t exactly grow on trees, and by the nature of reliever usage, there simply isn’t much more that a reliever could achieve in a season. Should Díaz reach the trade market, he might well fetch the largest haul of any reliever in recent memory — a recent memory that includes the Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, and Andrew Miller trades.
It should be noted, however, that both Chapman and Miller were dealt at midseason, and there’s some evidence that the reliever market remains high, or even peaks, up through July 31. After all, relievers are both volatile and most useful in the postseason, so contenders have even more motivation to deal for them when they’ve already banked a good amount of wins and when they they know the relievers in question are performing well. It’s not unreasonable to imagine Jerry Dipoto choosing to keep Díaz for now, and potentially trading him away on July 31, 2019.
But, that said, we’ve identified a few trade partners who could net the M’s a huge return this offseason and potentially jump-start a rebuild, and each of the deals, in theory, would still work at or near the Trade Deadline. Read on for more, and, also, maybe grab a coffee — this is a long one.
Yankees - Grant
Why the Yankees?: It’s an unfortunate reality that whenever a top player is being bandied about in trade discussions, the Yankees will be mentioned as a potential destination. Sure, they already have a bullpen that eats people’s souls, thanks to Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances, but Electric Eddie would make them that much more dangerous. When you’re the Yankees, you don’t really worry about where a player will fit (see: Rodriguez, Alex). You just make the deal. And given their nearly unstoppable player development machine, they don’t mind dealing away a few prospects.
The Proposed Haul: LHP Justus Sheffield, OF Clint Frazier, OF Estevan Florial, RHP Domingo Acevedo
Shooting high? Perhaps. But it would take a haul for Dipoto to give up on perhaps his greatest masterstroke and deal away Díaz. Justus Sheffield is the jewel of this package, a 22-year-old lefty ranked #27 on MLB.com’s midseason list of the top 100 prospects in baseball. With over a strikeout per inning in 25 appearances this season between AA and AAA (20 starts), he seems primed to make his big league debut next year. Frazier, meanwhile, has lost his prospect sheen since he and Sheffield, coincidentally enough, were dealt for Andrew Miller back in 2016. He’s excelled in AAA but struggled with injuries in the bigs, and the Yankees have quickly found other players to take his spot of the future. Florial is a raw centerfielder with 30-30 potential, and MLB.com has him at #46 overall. Finally, Acevedo is a 6’7”, 250 lb. righty with crazy velocity. Perhaps the M’s could pull an Edwin Díaz and convert him to reliever as well.
Dodgers - John
Why the Dodgers?: The Mariners have an unenviable situation. Their payroll is constructed to compete immediately and for the next few years, but their roster simply isn’t strong enough to back it up. Moreover, at nearly every position, their players are either at their expected peak or on the aging end of it. The Dodgers, shoddy health fortune this year notwithstanding, are as enviable an organization as they come. Their progressive mentality has helped them salvage multiple underperforming talents (Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, Max Muncy, Kenley Jansen) in recent years, while their astronomical budget has allowed them to absorb failures on numerous massive financial investments (Alex Guerrero, Hector Oliviera, Scott Kazmir, Erisbuel Arruebarrena, Yaisel Sierra, Carl Crawford, etc.) that would’ve sunk most teams.
Despite an inarguably superior roster, the Dodgers have no better record than the Mariners, and are at risk of missing the playoffs a year after heartbreaking loss in the World Series. For a team branding itself as a perennial front-runner, 30 years without a ring is increasingly unacceptable. Part of this deal hinges on the assumption that Los Angeles will spend to fill some MLB spots in free agency this offseason — an assumption I think is widely held and fair to make. Assuming they do so, each of the players listed below as a return would be largely blocked from playing time next year and/or in years to come. Imminently, Edwin Díaz would be a welcome salve to an LA bullpen which dropped from 3rd/4th in MLB in 2017 by fWAR/ERA to 19th/12th in 2018. In return, the M’s could reset their timeline.
The Proposed Haul: OF Alex Verdugo, RHP Dustin May, INF Gavin Lux
[Isabelle’s note: And YASIEL PUIG CF. Who says no?!] [John’s note: alas, probably the Dodgers, so we must stick with the first three above]
This is, with due respect to every writer’s contribution, what it would take for my heart to sign off on an Edwin Díaz deal. The best reliever in baseball, at just 24 years of age, with four more years of club control, should garner at least what Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel delivered. A Top-30 prospect (Gleyber Torres, Manuel Margot, Verdugo), another Top-100 prospect (Billy Mckinney, May), and another player or two with potential (Adam Warren, Logan Allen, Lux) is a formula for an industry-approved return on an elite reliever.
The jewel of this deal is Alex Verdugo. The 22-year-old OF has the defensive chops to field every outfield spot and the bat to stay there for a long time.The Dodgers, like the Yankees, have the tragic issue of lacking sufficient playing time for their stellar young OF. Even in an injury-filled season, the Dodgers have given Verdugo sparing run, but in Seattle he could easily be an Opening Day CF. On defense and demonstrated bat alone, Verdugo’s high-contact, high BB%, low K% style seems like Jerry Dipoto’s dream, and it seems like an easy fit for Verdugo to steady the outfield flanked by Mitch Haniger and, at minimum, Ben Gamel/Guillermo Heredia for half a decade to come.
The other pieces are straightforward. May is a starter with mid-rotation projection and the coveted groundball-heavy style. His flowing crimson locks and mid-90s heat have earned him the moniker “Gingergaard”, which is more than enough for me, but Seattle’s success maximizing the control skills of guys like Marco Gonzales, Wade LeBlanc, and James Paxton make me optimistic that this 6’6 slinger with a 3.22 FIP in AA at age-21 could make an impact for the Mariners early and often - at least by 2020. Here he is K-ing Carlos Correa:
Lastly is INF Gavin Lux, whose ambivalent designation describes his uncertain MLB role. Currently a shortstop at age-20 in AA, Lux broke out in a major way thanks to a swing change that lead to a far more elevated (and effective) profile. The 6’2 L/R shortstop might earn slight Corey Seager comparisons, but that’s putting far too much on him - particularly his power, which is minimal. What Lux should be is a capable UTIL at minimum with versatility to cover the whole infield. With a shot at a role in late 2019, Seattle, the Mariners will find themselves a significant upgrade in CF, SP, and UTIL for years to come, while being able to cushion the blow of Díaz’s departure thanks to a deep stable of relievers on their farm.
Diamondbacks - Ben
Why the Diamondbacks?: Following a Sunday afternoon blowup, D-Backs closer Brad Boxberger find himself tied for the most blown saves (7) and losses by a reliever (7) in all of MLB. While saves continue to be a completely arbitrary and overvalued statistic, the NL West is a dogfight every season, and Arizona is going to need at least one guy they’re confident can hold a lead at the end of a ballgame if they want to separate themselves from the pack. Just a year removed from a 93-win season and despite adding several expected difference makers between the offseason and the July 31 Trade Deadline, Arizona finds themselves on the outside looking in in the 2018 postseason picture, and particularly if they miss out by just a game or two (they’re 2.5 back right now), those blown saves and late-inning losses are going to be hard to forget. With Paul Goldschmidt eligible for free agency after next season and Zack Greinke entering his age 35 season, 2019 might be the last best chance for the Diamondbacks to make a real run during their perennial All-Star 1B’s era. Swapping Boxberger out for the most valuable reliever in baseball could fortify the ‘pen behind what’s expected to again be a strong rotation.
The Proposed Haul: RHP Jon Duplantier, RHP Taylor Widener, 3B Drew Ellis, LHP Junior Garcia, RHP Jimmie Sherfy
The M’s and D-Backs actually line up quite well for a blockbuster deal for Seattle’s flamethrowing closer, as Arizona has some attractive close-to-ready pitching prospects, but a stable of young, effective starters already at the big league level. For better or worse, Jerry has dealt away Taijuan Walker, Nick Neidert, Andrew Moore, Ryan Yarbrough, Luiz Gohara, Freddy Peralta, Tommy Romero, JP Sears, Chase De Jong — you get the idea — since taking the helm as the Mariners’ GM. The chance that dealing Díaz at peak value nets the team 2-3 core pieces that can combine to far exceed his value to the 2020 Mariners (the next chance we’ll have to realistically compete in my opinion) is too tempting to pass up.
Any potential deal with Arizona likely starts with RHP Jon Duplantier (#67 on Top 100 Prospects), who would immediately become the organization’s first Top 100 pitching prospect since Taijuan Walker in 2014. Standing 6’4” and 225 lbs., the 24-year-old controls his entire four pitch mix and has the makings to join James Paxton and Marco Gonzales at the front end of the 2020 rotation. His strikeouts dropped rather significantly in 2018 and he missed all of June and July with arm fatigue, but capped the season with a strong August and ended the year with a 2.69/3.50/3.63 ERA/FIP/xFIP through 14 starts in his first go-round at Double-A. His fellow rotation-mate for the Jackson Generals Taylor Widener broke out in a big way in 2018, his second full season in transitioning to a starter after spending most of college and his first two professional seasons as a reliever. He’s a little undersized at 6’0”-195, but that didn’t keep him from racking up 11.5 K/9 and lasting for 137.1 innings in his first Double-A stint. His 2.75/2.99/3.05 ERA/FIP/xFIP slightly bests Duplantier, although he was ranked two spots behind him (#3) on Arizona’s Top 30 Prospects list. The lone position player in this package, 3B Drew Ellis was the D-Backs 2nd round selection (44th overall) in 2017 and has demonstrated decent pop and solid plate approach (23 HR, 10.7 BB%) in 168 games since joining the professional ranks. Like Ellis, Garcia is a ways away, but provides an interesting left-handed relief prospect to the system. Former Yankee hurler reliever Jimmie Sherfy could step in and contribute immediately to the big league bullpen.
Braves - Tim
Why the Braves?: First, I’m only doing this as a nice baseball thought experiment. Let’s start at the top: Barves no more, this farm is STACKED. Nine Top 100 prospects and at least two or three more guys who just missed. At the major league level, they are poised to capture their first NL East title in five years, marking them as a team on the rise whose competitive ambitions align with Edwin’s team control years. By the way, that farm system comes even after megapenalties for international signing violations that resulted in former GM John Coppolella, architect of their rebuild, being banned from baseball.
Drill down and the fit gets even better: the Braves have a middling rotation in 2018, but it’s incredibly young and controlled, as Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Kevin Gausman, Mike Soroka, and Julio Teheran have all thrown quality innings in the majors this year as starters, and high-quality prospects like Luiz Gohara, Kyle Wright, and Touki Toussaint (all top-100 guys, as is Soroka) wait in the wings.
The Proposed Haul: RHP Kyle Wright, OF Drew Waters, C William Contreras, RHP Jasseel De La Cruz
If anything, this might be a little light, but that probably depends on what you think of Kyle Wright. Atlanta’s first rounder from Vanderbilt last year is already on the cusp of the major leagues, having just made his three-inning debut, and would instantly lock down a place in Seattle’s rotation in 2019 and beyond. A right hander, his fastball sits in the upper 90s and he has three other pitches to work in. The results have been blistering in the minors to date.
Waters, Contreras, and De La Cruz are a couple of seasons away, but all are quality players and would massively improve Seattle’s farm system (Waters and Contreras are realistically as good or better prospects than anyone the Mariners have, and De La Cruz is probably in the Braden Bishop/Daniel Vogelbach range.) This is a steep, steep price for Atlanta, but in line with elite closer pricing in past deals, and given the state of the Braves’ farm and window to contention, it’s one they can absorb and arguably not really miss too much (easy to say until Kyle Wright wins the 2020 AL Cy Young.)
Phillies - Isabelle
Why the Phillies?: When considering the best fits for trading a generational talent closer, one must consider four things.
- Does the prospective team have a deep farm system, or do they at least have enough intriguing prospects? (This is why the Mariners are never labeled as realistic fits for super cool players like Edwin Díaz.)
- Does the prospective team have a current closer? Is said closer any good? No major league team has a current closer as good as Edwin Díaz, because he’s the best closer in baseball, but the ninth inning is a greater weakness for some. Bonus points if the team is in the National League, who seem far slower to adopt a Super Bullpen strategy, which perhaps speaks to the overall mediocrity of NL league play this season (but I digress).
- Is the prospective team desperate? Are they on the cusp of contention, in what looks to be a continually competitive division? Bonus points if there are pre-existing connections between the prospective team’s management and the current team.
- Could you willingly cheer for this prospective team as your generational talent closer made history with them? Basically just no Yankees trades.
The Phillies are a little bit of an outlier for this list, but they satisfy all of the aforementioned criteria to some degree or another. Philadelphia’s farm system was consistently ranked among the best in the league for years, but experienced a precipitous drop when Baseball America released their mid-2018 rankings, falling to 18th overall. There’s still plenty there, though, to intrigue the M’s (many of whom are international signings...ahem). The Phillies’ bullpen, and their closer question, is a little more up in the air. Phils manager, Gabe Kapler, is resistant to designating a closer, but the value of Edwin Díaz remains, whether in the sixth, seventh, or ninth. Hector Neris and Seranthony Dominguez would both seem to make Díaz obsolete, but Neris struggled mightily this season (he was demoted twice, at one point with a 6.90 ERA, and now that he’s back up in the majors he’s refused to answer questions from any reporters who failed to check on him in the minors) and though Dominguez was a revelation for most of the year, he’s also sputtered out in the last few weeks.
Philadelphia, similar to another beleaguered franchise, has seen their chances at a Wild Card birth plummet in recent weeks, despite an early season that looked strong. Unlike that other beleaguered franchise, though, the Phillies’ future is bright...but so is the Braves. If they’re going to push their way into the postseason in the next few years, it will likely be as a Wild Card team, which puts them in direct contention with the Cubs, Brewers, and/or whatever NL West team is slightly less bad than the remaining three. Now is the time for them to push. Bonus points come into play here, because current Phillies GM Matt Klentak, who worked for a number of years for the Angels, alongside Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais. Additionally, current Phillies President of Baseball Ops, Andy MacPhail, is an alum of my alma mater, so you can bet I’ll put in a good word at the next Dickinson College alumni event.
The Proposed Haul: [Grant’s idea: RHP Sixto Sanchez, OF Adam Haseley, LHP JoJo Romero, SS Arquimedes Gamboa]
Isabelle’s idea: Four real minor leaguers, because there is no way that any of those names Grant listed above are real life players.
Phillies righty Sixto Sanchez 96-98 in the first inning, 97 on this pitch. Threw a plus curve and plus changeup, then K looking to end the inning at 100, confirmed by 3 guns. 11 pitch inning is that good pic.twitter.com/zdso1ylsi2— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) May 18, 2018
Sanchez has been consistently ranked at the top of the Phillies system, but the 19-year-old Dominican has also been injured for two straight years and he lost most of this season to the ever-scary, wildly general “elbow inflammation.” He’s still one of the top pitching prospects in MLB, but I’m both uncertain about whether he would be realistically attainable and fearful of a history of injuries. Trade proposals are not my strength, so I’ll stick with Grant’s suggestion here, with a caveat that, despite the ranking number, I’d be (wildly, overly) skeptical of this acquisition. These prospect fears run deep, folks.
Haseley was the 8th overall pick in 2017, and did well enough in high-A to earn himself a call-up to AA midseason. He currently looks to be either a defensively weak center fielder or a power-lacking corner outfielder, but he would likely be a top-5 prospect in the M’s system. I would swap JoJo Romero for Ranger Suarez, who’s ranked below Romero (barely) but who will be MLB-ready sooner, having been promoted to AAA (and maintained his consistency) in June. Suarez has an average slider in his arsenal, and I’d be interested to see if the M’s organizational coaches could have more slider success. Gamboa was the Phillies #20th prospect in 2017 but fell off in 2018. He’s a little bit of a lottery ticket, coming off of a disappointing season in high-A, but the switch-hitting Venezuelan shortstop is still just 20 years old. In this similar “tier” of prospect returns, Nicolas Torres is an 18-year-old plus-plus speed second baseman with the athleticism to possibly transition to center field and who just completed a successful season in the GCL.