I argued recently the Mariners can and should investigate the Kyle Seager trade market, as the veteran’s resurgence coincides with a return to parity around MLB, and thus a greater number of interested buyers. I don’t believe the Mariners need to trade Seager, and if their goal remains to contend in 2021 and for all the foreseeable seasons thereafter, they have even less urgency.
But there are moves that could help the Mariners in the short and long term that involve the M’s putting Seager in the middle of another contender’s lineup, and I’ve explored a few options I think hew towards reality and interest. In all these proposals, I’ve ballparked the dollars exchanged out of Seager’s remaining two years/$33 million guaranteed in the event he is traded and his 2022 team option becomes a player option, but could imagine them being adjusted +/- $5 million generally.
Mariners send 3B Kyle Seager (+$12 million) to Atlanta;
Atlanta sends 3B Austin Riley to Seattle
I’ve led with a simple swap I think could quite plausibly get done, and work out well for both clubs. With Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies locked up in staggeringly team-friendly extensions until the late 2020s, Atlanta has a full floor-to-ceiling-length window in front of them. They’ve just made a move to bolster their youth-led rotation in signing Drew Smyly, and have both the financial base and recent track record of success to justify adding further top talent. Seager fits their needs nicely.
At the same time, the thrice-reigning NL East champs face a couple obstacles to their would-be dynasty. In their division, threats are stirring, with the Mets shaking off the Wilpons and seeming ready to spend and develop to their potential, the Nationals still boasting several of the game’s biggest stars, the Marlins appearing young and plucky, and the Harper-led Phillies having enough good players that theoretically they should be good one day too. Beyond that, the Dodgers and their eight straight division titles show no signs of slowing, having bounced the Braves two of the past three years from the playoffs. Atlanta has the reigning NL MVP at 1B, a present/future perennial MVP candidate in CF, early/mid-20s studs at 2B/SS, and a rotation of young horses in their rotation. Even if they lose Marcell Ozuna to free agency, their outfield includes Acuña and top prospect Cristian Pache, in a free agent market headlined by a few position player stars. Their only glaring hole at present is the hot corner, where 23-year-old Riley struggled through his second pro season along with disappointing 26-year-old UTIL Johan Camargo.
Dealing Riley, who is 23, for Seager, who is a decade his senior, is a bit of a long-term sacrifice for Atlanta. Instead of four years of control on a growing player, mostly dirt cheap, they’d have two years of an aging one, at something closer to free agent market rate. To grease the gears, Seattle would need to send something like $10-15 million, turning Seager’s contract into something like 2/$18-23 million. The immediate impact is likely significant, however, and would give Atlanta a massive leg up in both their divisional race and the playoffs themselves. Riley has been a replacement-level player as a pro thus far, with below-average, whiff-heavy numbers at the dish and far below-average glovework in the infield. He was blocked at 3B in his rookie season by Josh Donaldson, but with the reins turned over to him in 2020 he looked shaky despite his cannon of an arm. There’s a great chance Riley becomes an average or better bat, compared to the .232/.288/.448 line and 87 wRC+ he’s run in the bigs in his first 131 games, particularly with the immense raw power he’s shown, but Atlanta isn’t in a position to coast to division titles with the rest of the NL East rising. A couple seasons of 3-4 wins from Seager can help Atlanta stand atop the summit in the East and get a proper fighting stance against the Dodgers, without sacrificing some of their other prospect depth or even costing them much financially.
For the Mariners, it’s a redux of the Jean Segura-J.P. Crawford trade, giving a current version of an above-average starter in exchange for a young, future variant. If the club wants to be particularly nostalgic, they could possibly steal an extra year of service time from Riley by keeping him in the minors for a month or so to start the season as they did Crawford, working on defense with Gold Glove-manufacturer Perry Hill. Riley is a marvelous fit for the M’s, but as some might caution, shares many traits with Ty France. Big bodied mashers who might or might not be MLB quality 3Bs have a wide nexus of outcomes, from Brian Anderson to Edwin Encarnacion to Ryon Healy (not to mention the Tigers perhaps wistfully announcing 2020 top draft pick Spencer Torkelson as a third baseman), but Riley’s prospect status (and ceiling) always outpaced France due to both production and physicality, not to mention Riley being three years France’s junior.
There are a few ways this deal could break in order to be worthwhile for both clubs. If Atlanta believes in their young depth in the outfield in Pache and near-majors top-50 prospect Drew Waters, they could take the chance to shed some salary by adding declining veteran Ender Inciarte. The 30 year old is due $8.75 million in 2021 and either $9 million in 2022 or a little over $1 million in a buyout, and his leading skill of superlative defense is a bit redundant flanked by Acuña and Pache. If Atlanta hopes to retain Ozuna or add someone like George Springer, they’ll have even less incentive to hang onto their 4th outfielder at that rate, and Seattle could even top off a deal with one of their several young outfield depth options like Jake Fraley or Braden Bishop.
Verdict: If I’m the Mariners, yes. If I’m the Braves, I think yes as well, at least in some variation. Not only does this give Seattle a chance to continue competing immediately, it has every opportunity to be a win-win. Moreover, the M’s do rather right by Seager, putting him on a perennial contender in the MLB park closest (or nearly the closest) to his North Carolina home. Atlanta’s dominance in the NL East has been built by supplementing their long-term core with well-selected veterans like Dallas Keuchel, Josh Donaldson, and Marcell Ozuna. Seager is closer to those three than Nick Markakis on the “quality contributor” vs. “veteran presence” scale, and the impact could be immediate and lasting.
Mariners send 3B Kyle Seager (+$12 million), OF Jake Fraley, & RHP Wyatt Mills to the Nats; Washington sends 3B Carter Kieboom to Seattle
Here’s a longer shot, but still something in reason. The Nats could be prepping for a minor reset, but with the contracts they’ve extended already, as well as the youth of their postion player stars, it doesn’t make much sense to expect them to evacuate contention. More likely is an effort to keep pushing, especially with the expanded playoffs for 2021, while clearing some money and adding young, decent depth. This move gives them some lower-cost impact in the form of Seager, along with two impactful depth options to supplement their Soto-Robles duo in the outfield. At the moment, the third OF is Andrew Stevenson, which is to say there’s an opening, and beyond him is a similarly gaping hole evocative of the mid-2010s Mariners struggles with outfield depth cycling the waiver wire. Mills (or Sam Delaplane, or whichever of Seattle’s young bullpen options the Nats might prefer) gives Washington a cheap, likely capable bullpen arm amid a group that has had no shortage of struggles in the past several years beyond its high-cost names.
Almost everything I said for Riley rings true for Kieboom. Kieboom’s first couple dips in the big league seas have been murky. He’s only gotten 165 PAs over his first two seasons as ineffectiveness and injuries have forced Washington to go to veterans like Asdrubal Cabrera and Starlin Castro, as well as playing rookies like Luis Garcia at their second position. In an ideal world, Garcia gets to play his natural 2B going forward alongside Trea Turner, with Washington perhaps moving Castro to Seattle in salary relief. Kieboom has a bit less offensive oomph in his pedigree than Riley but he’s a smoother athlete and defender, as a perfectly capable natural shortstop.
Verdict: Yes if I’m Seattle, but I doubt Washington is looking this way. Kieboom has five more seasons of control on his contract, and Washington’s recency of title victory and less ascendent trajectory make this move less likely. The Braves are far from desperate, but they have a title-ready roster with Kyle in the mix. The Nats go from Wild Card to division contender with an upgrade like this, but their long-term prospects are still tricky given the weakness of their farm compared to Atlanta.
Longer Game Outlook
Mariners send 3B Kyle Seager (+$10 million);
Blue Jays send 3B Travis Shaw and a young middle infield prospect
In all these proposals, the Mariners are expected to eat a chunk of salary. With Toronto, whose spending could be among the highest of any club this winter and in the next few years, that might feel silly, but it’s still useful to facilitate a worthwhile return. Giving Toronto’s infield of young’ns a veteran with some pop is a big step forward for the freshly contending Jays. In return for helping one of their most direct contenders for a 2021 playoff spot in the short term, Seattle would acquire a competent veteran stopgap in Shaw for around $4.5-5 million in his final year of arbitration, or possibly non-tender if so desired, as well as one of Toronto’s many shortstop prospects. The Jays have a rich corps of middle infield prospects, and the Mariners have a conspicuous dearth between the MLB level and Low-A, where Noelvi Marte fits in roughly. Seattle has already made one move of a present talent for a low-minors position player in Toronto’s system, which encourages me that they could prioritize long-term depth even as they coalesce their present roster.
A few names to look at in this circumstance, depending on the money: Orelvis Martinez, who I doubt Toronto parts with given their status as nascent contenders; Jordan Groshans, who could be a 3B eventually but has an immensely impressive profile; Otto Lopez, if the M’s are less inclined to add cash; or Miguel Hiraldo, if the M’s want another Ty France but three years down the line.
Verdict: I like this fit for Seager, but without a better sense of how Toronto’s system is, it’s hard to be confident in how the Jays will value him. Toronto has reportedly been dangling their top prospects, including Groshans and Martinez, as possible centerpieces in a trade for the superior (but much more expensive and volatile contractually) Nolan Arenado, but a less expensive deal would help them retain talent through their system for only the cost of a prospect thoroughly blocked at the big league level. If the Mariners do choose to move Seager, however, I doubt they ultimately pick a destination so directly impeding their path to playoff contention.
Mariners send 3B Kyle Seager (+$15 million) and OF Jake Fraley to the Brewers;
Milwaukee sends Competitive Balance Pick B and LHP Ethan Small OR C Mario Feliciano OR OF Garrett Mitchell
Milwaukee has what is commonly seen as the most fallow farm system in MLB, which doesn’t make them the most appealing trade partner. They should once again receive a Competitive Balance Pick, however, which makes them a worthy partner for the Mariners, as these are the only type of draft pick that can be traded at present in MLB. Last year, Seattle acquired Milwaukee’s Balance Pick as part of the return for catcher Omar Narváez, and I suspect they’d love to return to the well, especially after finishing lower in the draft order for 2021 than it seems the team was expecting. The Brewers have a win-now roster that is short on depth and a history of spending very little to augment themselves. Seager fills an immediate issue spot for Milwaukee (Luis Urias not being a natural 3B or hitting enough to compensate) and creates a depth opportunity instead of running it back and hoping for several players to figure things out.
This move treats Milwaukee as recognizing their moment still is now, with the Cubs teetering, Cardinals middling, Reds restocking, and Pirates smoldering. Taking a comp pick is a fairly big deal based on recent deals, but in giving Milwaukee a three-win 3B and a decent depth option with six years of control, the M’s should be able to snag at least one of the decent prospects suggested above. Small fits Seattle’s bill as a pitcher, long-levered with a low, back-spin heavy release, though how much the M’s prioritize pitching at this point in a trade is unclear. Feliciano is a Puerto Rican catcher with a similar profile to Cal Raleigh, but considering the rate at which the M’s have used the minor league portion of the Rule-5 Draft to fill out their catching depth, more talented options would go along nicely. Mitchell was considered a top-10 talent in the 2020 draft, but slipped to Milwaukee on concerns with his swing despite many evaluators and insiders tying him to Seattle until draft day.
Verdict: Milwaukee is the best fit as a buyer to me of any club on this list. Do they have enough players they’re willing to move to make a Seager deal palatable is the real question, as well as whether Seattle would move Seager without a non-Ty France replacement in waiting. A move to Milwaukee fits best in conjunction with signing a promising talent like Ha-seong Kim, but it’s hard to make those types of moves without a bit of foresight.
Mariners send 3B Kyle Seager (+$10 million) to the Dodgers;
Los Angeles sends OF Andy Pages to the Mariners
Yes, yes, everyone loves a family affair. Uniting the Seager brothers would be a fabulous dynamic for MLB and no doubt a thrill for the brothers themselves. It likely wouldn’t hurt the incentives for Corey Seager to stick around L.A. after this season if playing with his big bro was a perk, but that’s all flowers and sprinkles atop the cake. Seager fills the hole left by Justin Turner’s departure, marking one of the few clubs for whom Seager would be a markedly younger option than the previous occupant of the hot corner. Such a move solidifies the Dodgers’ lineup as a dominant force yet again, with Chris Taylor freed to do his UTIL work and Gavin Lux likely given the keys at last to the 2B position. Edwin Rios can spell at 3B for L.A., but he is far better suited to DH and pinch-hit than play a full time defensive role.
The return is a player already almost dealt once by L.A., low-level OF prospect Andy Pages. The Dominican youth is a modern hitter with immense power and is at an age where he should have room in the system to get reps, likely in Low-A to start 2021, when he’ll have just turned 20. Pages is looked at as a fringe-Top-100 prospect at the moment, but if you’d rather get a different type of player or two, L.A. can abide, with middle infield and pitching depth galore.
Verdict: Doubtful. Again, this helps the Mariners farm ranking, but not their immediate contention unless it pairs with a move like signing Kim. Seattle has a richer history of scouting and signing players out of Asia’s top professional leagues than Milwaukee, but they hardly have the same edge over the Dodgers. Unless Seattle believes in Kim (or another player, stateside or internationally) and L.A. doesn’t, L.A. should always be able to out-woo the Mariners, making things tricky in treating with the World Champs.
Mariners send 3B Kyle Seager (+$10 million) and OF Jake Fraley to the Mets;
Mets send Something That Won’t Make Their Fans Have a Conniption
The last proposal here is a tricky one purely due to a certain deal in recent history that isn’t looking so good at press time involving these clubs. New owner Steve Cohen is walking on water in Queens right now. His stated willingness to be open-handed with the checkbook, pay his employees during a pandemic, as well as be open-minded with modern development and simply say his goal is to win, not just make money, has rightfully won him a whole lot of goodwill. He’s set a 3-5 year timeline for the Mets to reasonably expect a title, but the core of their roster would be best served making a push ASAP.
The Mets have a collection of defensively limited players who can almost all lay a hurting on the baseball. Seager’s well-rounded game immediately would make him an everyday upgrade, not to mention the best friend of Marcus Stroman and the New York pitching staff. Adding Seager allows New York to keep J.D. Davis and Jeff McNeil in defensive slots better suited to them, or perhaps making one or both expendable as the club crosses their fingers for a universal DH to stash Robinson Canó in once again. Fraley has been appended to several of these deals, and again he fits a niche. He’s a young outfielder who can handle all three spots, has some offensive upside, and has shown an interest in the modernization of the game in tinkering with his swing. Fraley would immediately slot in as a 4th outfielder in Citi Field, a simple but significant bit of breathing room. The room for error in the NL East, as outlined in the deals with Atlanta and Washington, is slim, and a pair of upgrades both incremental and impactful goes further in a tight division than most anywhere else.
Here’s where things get murky. Taking on another veteran from the Mariners sounds like a great way to get Same Old Mets’d, and even if a new regime led by Sandy Alderson feels no guilt over the Jarred Kelenic trade, there’s a degree of bite in the New York media landscape I think any club has to consider. Taking Cohen at his word that money isn’t an issue, I’m expecting a slightly lesser pay down and a slightly smaller return on the deal as a result. Unfortunately, the best fits are those most suited to make folks say “here we go again”. Prep draftees 3B Brett Baty and OF Pete Crow-Armstrong would make sense as fairly far off youngsters who would bolster Seattle’s upside depth in exchange for the short-to-medium-term impact improvement in Queens. Another option is 3B Mark Vientos, who is less heralded but just as young with sky-high exit velocity and a Healy-esque frame but still at least a couple years before big league impact as the 21 year old will not have reps above Low-A. Any of those names could make a longer-term sell on Seager a win-win for the Mariners and Mets, as could a combo of lesser-known prospects.
Verdict: What makes the lower-level players harder to target in these moves is the dearth of 2020 info. Whereas we saw Austin Riley play in 2020, even in brief, few outside MLB front offices has an inkling, much less a clear picture of how these past 12 months or so will have treated many of these prospects. Did they stagnate? Improve? Regress? Transform entirely in body and spirit? I love the fit for the Mets as a buyer, but Amed Rosario is their most dealable big league piece and he’s a shoddy fit as a return unless Seattle wants to stick him in left field for the first time in his career beyond three innings in 2019. Then again, if Seattle can get New York to part with some of their more intriguing prospects, we could have a more satisfactory deal for all involved.
Ultimately, I’m most enamored with the Atlanta deal, as the length of its explainer may have hinted. Seattle has no set DH plodder, so giving Seattle a couple high-ceiling offensive players in France and Riley to rotate through 3B, DH, and even LF or (for France) 2B is a shot at seeing what natural development and some Perry Hill magic can do. The extra year of control Washington has over Kieboom makes him a tougher fit, and a deal yielding prospects much farther down the line is dicey considering both the production and veteran vacuum it would leave. If something like the Riley deal presents itself, Seattle should strongly consider striking, but the M’s should sit content, knowing these are trades of want and not need.