What does it mean to be a champion?
Is it signing with the Mariners as a free agent, riding their coattails across the Pacific, injuring yourself, and ending your Seattle career with more innings in Japan than in America? Also no.
Unfortunately, archaic rules state that in order to be a champion, one must actually be on a team that wins the World Series. Despite not playing much in the 2019 postseason, or at all in Roenis Elías’ case, both he and Hunter Strickland were technically members of the Washington Nationals, meaning they are now champions of baseball forevermore. This is obviously a thrilling accomplishment for both Mariner expats, and also a potentially humorous footnote in the Mariners’ ongoing reconstruction. Elías and Strickland were stuffed into the same envelope and mailed to D.C. on July 31. While the two relievers didn’t necessarily re-direct the Nats from missing the playoffs to World Series champions—they combined for just 24 innings down the stretch—Washington still reached its ultimate goal while the Mariners achieved their own goal of getting younger and more hopeful.
Seattle’s return for the soon-to-be champions consisted of three players 26 or younger. Taylor Guilbeau, the elder statesman of the group, is also the only one to suit up in the major leagues yet. While limited to just August and September appearances, Guilbeau made the most of his late-season cameo. Following a perilous afternoon at Wrigley Field, Guilbeau ran off seven straight scoreless appearances, including three against the Astros. In fact, the 2015 10th-round pick kept the Astros, Yankees, and Rays from scoring an earned run against him across 4.2 innings.
The next logical step in his development would be recording more than three outs at a time, something Guilbeau did 14 times as a 2019 minor leaguer. This seems achievable given both his track record and equal opportunity out-getting. Despite being left-handed, Guilbeau has seen nearly equal usage against righty and lefty hitters, both with the Mariners and his various minor league bosses. With the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate in Harrisburg, the greasy southpaw experienced some interesting reverse splits.
Guilbeau 2019 Double-A Splits
This trend continued with the Mariners, as left-handed MLB hitters clubbed .227/.292/.455 in 24 plate appearances to righties’ .200/.259/.320 in 27 chances.
The other two players to make the westward move in the Elías-Strickland trade are a bit farther away from the big time, especially 20-year-old Elvis Alvarado. Aaron Fletcher, the final piece of the trade and another left-handed thrower, is just 23 years old. He’s just a year and a half removed from pitching at the University of Houston. Alvarado is still incredibly raw after converting from an outfielder to a pitcher in 2018 and will need time to both grow into his 6’4” frame and reel in the wildness that has marred his introductory phase on the mound. The most important thing to remember here is age. Alvarado is ten years younger than Elías and Strickland while Guilbeau and Fletcher, though maybe not needle-moving talents, are squarely in the age range Seattle is looking for. Unless making the postseason involves pissing off Bryce Harper or raising children with a keen eye for sunglasses, the trio of pitchers the Mariners received are more useful for a future-oriented ball club than the men they were traded for.
Of course, this is an exit interview for Elías and Strickland, not an entrance interview for their replacements. Elías enjoyed some career firsts with the M’s in 2019, picking up his first saves in his first year as a full-time reliever. If you had “Roenis Elías assumes the closer role and helps the Mariners start the season 13-2”, I would recommend quitting your job and starting one of those phone service lines where you offer people ridiculously specific predictions about their future. By amassing 14 saves, Elías will finish eighth on the Mariners’ save leaderboard for the 2010s, right between Danny Farquhar and Carson Smith.
Those saves also served as a quasi-audition for other teams, ultimately landing the Cuban pitcher a bit part with the Nationals. Unfortunately, he fell victim to one of the most avoidable injuries of all time. Upon arriving in the nation’s capital to shore up the bullpen, Elías also quickly realized that they do things a little differently in the National League. He retired the first two batters of his Nationals career and then stayed in the game to hit, as manager Davey Martinez wanted Elías to face Jake Lamb in the bottom half of the inning. What follows is a reminder of just how many things can go wrong on a baseball field, courtesy of the Washington Post.
[His debut] ended with an at-bat, an injury, and uncertainty of what comes next. The Nationals were treating it as a cramp after the game, according to Manager Dave Martinez, but Elías later mentioned “pulling” his hamstring.
“I felt a small pull in the back. I can’t tell you if it was the hamstring or a cramp,” Elías said in Spanish through a team interpreter following the win. “I just felt it and immediately decided to shut it down. That’s why they told me they’ll look at it tomorrow more in depth. I can’t give you any details as to what it is.”
What we can give you are details on how this whole ordeal went down. Folks, remember, you can always do less.
“He was told not to swing, about as many times as I could tell him in Spanish and English,” Martinez said of Elías. “But he’s competitive, you know?”
“First of all, Davey told me not to swing,” was how Elías began his postgame interview with a small group of reporters. “But being an athlete, and you’re a competitor out there, I figured I’d try to put the ball in play. Once I saw the ball, I thought there was a good chance for me to beat it out.”
He did not beat it out.
Strickland, on the other hand, pulled a reverse Elías. His Big Strick Energy lasted just four games in Seattle, marked most notably by him ruining the Mariners’ run at an undefeated season. Somewhat hilariously, Strickland was signed to be the nominal 2019 closer and finished with all of two (2) saves. For those keeping score at home that ties him with Erik Swanson, Hisashi Iwakuma, Lucas Luetge, Yoervis Medina, and Óliver Pérez on the 2010s Mariner saves list. Swanson, Iwakuma, Luetge, Medina, and Pérez, however, have zero World Series rings. Hunter Strickland now has two.
Elías and Strickland are both under contract with the Nats for one more year at a smooth $1.9 million. Elías becomes Arb 3 eligible in 2021 while Strickland enters Arb 4. But all that number shit is for the nerds. Enjoy these visions of celebration from the former Mariner icons instead.