The Mariners completed the first trade of the offseason, and rather than an Omar Narvaez headliner, it was a minor one. They sent an undetermined amount of slot money (more on that below) for LHP Nestor Cortes Jr. Cortes, a near-25-year-old Cuban-American, has 71.1 big-league innings to his name. Cortes was actually born in Cuba, but has nearly always lived in the United States courtesy of his father winning the 1994 Visa Lottery. By his own admission he sits 87-91, so he won’t be blowing anyone away—but he still uses deception to strike out more than his fair share of hitters, running above average or more K/9 (9.08) and K% (23.2%). Listen to him talk about his abilities and watch him throwing from seemingly every arm slot under the sun:
Seriously look at this:
Cortes very much sees himself as a work in progress, telling David Laurila at FanGraphs last month regarding his slider:
“Along those lines, I started throwing my slider from the side. I try to make it go off my fastball from down there, so that they see a different look; I want them to take their eyes off the fastball. I want that one to be sweepier, and less cutter-ish. I want it start on the plate, and then go off the plate. For righties, it’s a great pitch, because it’s ‘ball, ball, ball, strike.’ But for lefties… that’s where I struggle. I can’t make it, ‘strike, strike, strike, ball,’ because right now it’s only breaking six or seven inches. I need for it to go down, and not just sideways.
He also has a fastball, a curve, and a change, giving him a large four-pitch repertoire for a reliever. He’s seen a lot of different roles and has even registered 24 starts the last two years with the Yankees’ AAA team, so there’s potential to stretch him back out to throw another crafty lefty onto Seattle’s pile if they want to. When it’s working, Cortes will drive hitters a little nuts with his ability to vary his delivery:
And when it’s not, well, you see why the Yankees DFA’d him. Though he was shuttled back and forth from AAA to the majors last year, a dinger problem (2.16 HR/9, 18.4% HR/FB, thanks for nothing, Yankee Stadium) and a walk problem (3.78 BB/9) kept Cortes from being much more than a fill-in candidate for a deep Yankees bullpen in 2019. Getting out of the AL East should do nothing but favors for Cortes, and if the Mariners can help him settle in, develop his slider as they’ve done with some other bullpen acquisitions (hello, Austin Adams and Anthony Bass), and stop walking guys, the guy some Yankees called “Nasty Nestor” could be making regular appearances for Seattle.
Mariners now officially announcing deal. Dipoto says: “Nestor is a versatile lefty who can do a little bit of everything. He can start, he can relieve, he can give you those middle innings or even operate as an opener.” https://t.co/FRcjpocHkS— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) November 25, 2019
We don’t have specific numbers, but it’s likely this is moderate amount of slot money. After missing out on Ohtani, the Mariners sent 500k of slot money to Cleveland, netting them Shawn Armstrong. At the time, Armstrong was an out-of-options reliever with somewhat similar levels of struggle to Cortes in the majors, and injuries notwithstanding, he saw increased effectiveness for Seattle in limited action before heading out to Baltimore.