The Mariners had the pause button pushed on their rebuild when Dipoto failed to find an eager buyer for Edwin Encarnacion prior to the season, but with the Mariners cratering out over the month of May, #TradeSzn appears to be back on, although with more of an “easing one foot into the pool on the first day of summer vacation” vibe than a “cannonball into the deep end” vibe.
Another source familiar with the Phillies-Mariners discussions on a Jay Bruce trade says they are not far enough along that a deal is imminent. The sides have talked about Bruce, Seattle is willing to deal him and Philadelphia needs a bench bat. No trade agreed to, however.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) June 1, 2019
This may be the Phillies being opportunistic and trying to buy low on a player currently sporting a .212/.283/.533 line, with the expectation that his .210 BABIP will eventually right itself. Bruce’s average has already jumped from .187 to .243 from April to May, and he’s striking out significantly less (32% down to 24.7%). He’s also playing the field and generally showing no lingering ill effects from his injury-impacted, dreadful 2018. Of course, the big selling point with Bruce is his power; the 14 HR he’s hit are already five more than he hit all of last year, and he’s on pace to return to the 30+ HR seasons he enjoyed the previous two years. Fun fact: Jay Bruce has an .ISO of .321. The Phillies don’t lack for slugging power, but are currently down OF Odubel Herrera for an unforeseeable amount of time, and could use Bruce as a bench bat or a fill-in in the OF. Also, for all their slugging, they don’t put the ball over the fence as often as you’d expect; the Phillies rank 23rd in MLB in HRs.
The Mariners can’t expect a big return for their expensive lefty slugger on the wrong side of 32, but if the Mariners take on a significant portion of the contract, a player on the fringes of the Top 30 might be available. Here are some names that might be in play, sorted by position and including their rankings in Philadelphia’s system from FanGraphs, Baseball America, and MLB Pipeline, if applicable.
Matt Vierling (BA 27), Ben Pelletier, Austin Listi (BA 18)
Outside of the Triple-A level, the Mariners are rich in outfield prospects, so unless they loved one of these prospects, there probably isn’t an ideal fit here, as none of these players are an upgrade on what Arkansas has in their outfield. Vierling is a 2018 draftee out of Notre Dame whose acquisition would deeply please staff writer Tim, so if I have to pick one of them, it’s him. Vierling didn’t hit well with a wood bat in college, which hurt his draft stock some, but he’s shown off a fine hit tool as a pro. Listi has always been old for his levels, which might belie some of his strong minors numbers, but he’s got a track record of production. Pelletier is struggling in his first taste of A-ball. Dylan Cozens is also a name here, and has possibly the best athleticism of the group, but just underwent season-ending foot surgery.
Deivi Grullon (BA 30), Logan O’Hoppe
The Mariners addressed the black hole that was their catching system depth last year, drafting Cal Raleigh in the third round, plus Jake Anchía and Dean Nevarez to share time at A-ball. Grullon is only 23 but has been in the Phillies system since he was signed in 2013; he’s recently made it to Triple-A on the strength of his bat and powerful throwing arm. Grullon is well-regarded in the organization, but the presence of J.T. Realmuto for the foreseeable future might make him expendable. He’d fill a hole for the Mariners, who have some depth at the upper levels for catcher but no real prospects. O’Hoppe is a 19-year-old 2018 draftee who would slot in behind Anchía and Nevarez.
3B Jake Holmes (FG 25), SS Jonathan Guzman (FG 24), SS Raul Rivas (FG 28)
The Phillies have a pair of top infield prospects in 3B Alec Bohm and SS Luis Garcia, but beyond that their system is very tilted towards pitching and outfield prospects. 2017 11th-round prepster Jake Holmes has run into a buzzsaw outside of rookie ball and will need to hit much more having been moved off SS to 3B, but he has plus speed and a frame to add some power, perhaps as a member of the Mariners’ High Performance Camp. Jonathan Guzman is a very good defensive shortstop whose defense may make up for his noodle bat; he’s only 19, but that bat is a Project. Like Guzman, Rivas is a purely glove-first prospect who can play any infield position well; maybe the Mariners could coach him into more offensive production by having him drop switch-hitting.
LHP Bailey Falter (FG 29), RHP Connor Seabold (MLB 29, BA 25), LHP Ethan Lindow (FG 34), RHP Alejandro Requena (FG 33), LHP Manuel Silva (FG 32, MLB 30), LHP David Parkinson (FG 31, MLB 21), RHP Tom Eshelman, RHP Dominic Pipkin (BA 29)
Like the Mariners system is lousy in outfielders, the Phillies are lousy with pitching. I’m still surprised the Mariners weren’t able to prize out a single pitcher in the Segura trade. As we saw in the positional depth previews, starting pitching is probably the single thinnest position in the system, and a trade with Philly would offer an excellent opportunity to bolster the ranks. The names at this level are somewhat interchangeable and break down into general categories: pitchability right-handers with plus command and less-than-overwhelming stuff (Seabold, Eshelman, Requena), crafty lefties (Falter, Lindow, Parkinson), and likely relievers (Silva, Pipkin).
If the Mariners were willing to eat even more money on Bruce’s contract, they might be able to access a slightly higher (although still fringy) class of arm: 2018 draftee Colton Eastman, who has steadily progressed up to High-A with excellent K-BB ratios, the seven-foot-tall Kyle Young, or RHP Kevin Gowdy, recently returned from TJ. (Parkinson might also fit into this category, depending on who’s doing the evaluating; one thing to note is that valuations of the back half of arms in this system varies widely. Eastman, for example, is #11 at BA and unranked at FG.)
The return for Bruce relies heavily on how much money the Mariners are willing to eat. Bruce is owed the balance of his $14M salary plus another $14M in 2020, and early reports indicate the Phillies will take on the majority of that money:
A source confirms @JeffPassan: The Phillies are on the verge of acquiring Jay Bruce from Seattle. He'll likely fill a bench role, but he's an option in LF. Phillies will take on most of the contract. He's owed $14 million in 2020.— Matt Gelb (@MattGelb) June 1, 2019
(Also, shout-out to Bruce’s no-trade list: Miami, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Oakland and Detroit. Clearly my man cares about his environs, hates a dome, and wants to be comfortable, and I can get behind that.)
That’s a bummer because, although Bruce’s contract is steep, getting a nothingburger in return for Bruce is a lost opportunity, especially considering the depth of pitching in Philly’s system and the not-depth of pitching in Seattle’s. Doing this would free the Mariners from the baggage of Bruce’s contract, giving the team more financial flexibility to pursue free-agent pitching, which makes sense if JerryCo believes the team is truly just a year or so away from contention. But given the team’s wildly poor play over the past month, from future factors and non-factors alike, bolstering the farm, especially the pitching depth, feels like a safer play than trying to immediately jump back into contention.