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The goal is to get a Mookie Betts

Today’s biggest story is a luxury/problem the Mariners should aspire to.

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

We’ve come a long way as a site, far enough that I sometimes feel I undersell this place if I call it a blog. The infrastructure, staff size, range of perspectives, and amount of daily #content has grown over the years. But the roots of this place are good old-fashioned, salt of the world wide web blogging, and today I feel like blogging. I feel that way because I hope one day the Mariners have a Mookie Betts to fret about.

The Mookie Betts trade sent MLB’s best non-Trout player from the Red Sox to the Dodgers, along with veteran LHP David Price and half of Price’s $94 million remaining salary over the next three seasons. In return for the Betts’ final season before free agency, the Red Sox acquired troubled-but-talented OF Alex Verdugo from L.A. and RHP Brusdar Graterol from the Twins (in exchange for RHP Kenta Maeda), who has struggled with health but can touch triple-digits.

The deal has had ripple effects everywhere, with many bemoaning the Red Sox’s decision as one of dubious baseball value relative to the financial benefit for Boston’s ownership. Others have noted Boston had reached a point in their negotiations with Betts where they were certain he was unwilling to sign an extension at their price point (rumored to be equal to what Manny Machado received a year ago at 10/$300 million). If Betts was not interested in remaining with Boston long-term, there was sizable incentive to deal him before the season began, to get maximum return following a disappointing 84-78 finish in 2019.

There are times when trading the face of your franchise is understandable, like freeing Manny Machado from a listless Orioles team that had neither the farm nor the present roster to make anything of his excellence. Today’s deal felt far more foolish, sending the league’s second-best player over the past five years away from a win-now roster that had little reason to expect a better title shot in the next four years than to 2020. Still, the hand-wringing and elation and fascination was the excitement borne from a player of Betts’ caliber. It reminded me what I hope the next few years deliver in Seattle.

Seattle has two of the most heralded prospects in baseball right now. There is little reason to expect either to rise to the level of Betts, but of course the same was true of Betts himself. The 2011 5th round pick topped out at 75th on Baseball America’s 2014 preseason prospect rankings and 62nd by MLB’s own appraisal. He arrived late in 2014, at the age of 21, with a star-caliber 52 game debut, and simply never fell back to earth. When he won the 2018 MVP, despite just 136 games, it was the first time Mike Trout had played over 120 games in a season and lost the MVP award to a player who outperformed him by bWAR. Trout has been the untouchable barometer by which baseball brilliance has been measured since he entered the league, but since Betts became a full-time player in 2015 there has been at least a facsimile of that greatness that stood up.

2015-2019 position players, by fWAR

Players 3-thru-20 and beyond on that list, encompass some of the league’s finest players, and if Seattle gets a couple players of that caliber out of the young position player group they have in the organization it would be an immense boon. But there is something magnificent in star-caliber players that magnifies the game when they are in it. For pitchers, it’s the buzz that comes with every pitch, something even recent Mariners fans know well thanks to Félix Hernández. But the possibility of a star position player sparks excitement in me that draws a thru line to my childhood. Seeing Robinson Canó hit, or Ichiro hunt through the outfield, breathes life to the cliché that every day at the ballpark you’ll see something you’d never spied before.

The Mariners need a star or two from their wunderkind prospects for them to compete, but they can also ignite the fervor and passion years of futility and disappointment have suppressed. I hope a few years down the road, Seattle has reason for excitement and uproar, and players worth demanding lifetime extensions for, for their consistent performances and playoff heroism. That’s the point of it all, for me anyways.