We’re fewer than 72 hours away from Fauxpening Day (©Kate Preusser) which means, in the bizarro world of 2020, MLB’s trade deadline is a month and change away. August 31st is the universal deadline for clubs to finalize trades this year, which is itself less than a month from the theoretical beginning of the playoffs. In a normal season, Jerry Dipoto’s transactional quota would already be engaged, but convincing clubs to buy into barely a month of performance is just one of the hurdles to clear for any sort of deals this season. The Mariners would be sellers in a normal deadline, but they’ve already dealt their most talented components in the past year and a half. The remnants of their roster are young players they want to build around, limited veterans, and one-year signees. Among that group, however, the next five weeks will be critical, as a few could set themselves up for a deal to a contender, assuming contenders are inclined to make upgrades for this abbreviated campaign of course.
As a reminder, the rules on trades are unique at the moment. Only players in the 60-man player pool of a team are eligible to be traded during the 2020 season, meaning many players (read: prospects) who Seattle might target are at home, hopefully safe and healthy, but ineligible as a trade return. Clubs MAY be able to circumvent this by making the deal for a Player To Be Named Later, as the Padres and Athletics did in their trade a couple weeks ago involving SS Jorge Mateo. It’s possible MLB clarifies this rule, or that the PTBNL is already required to be in the 60-man pool, but for now we’ll simply focus on the Mariners’ potential offerings over the details on a return.
Folks With Bats
2B Dee Gordon
Flash is the most straightforward case on Seattle’s roster. He’s in the final year of his contract, with about $5.1 million coming his way in this prorated season that Seattle would likely pay down further, and a mere $1 million buyout for 2021 to go with his vesting option that is unlikely to be met (600 PA in 2020/1200 PA across 2019-20, prorated to ~222 PA in 2020). Gordon offers several things contending clubs seek at the deadline: base-stealing excellence, an above-average defensive track record at a middle infield position, the amorphous but still-valued veteran presence, and, relatedly, playoff experience. Teams might prefer a league-average bat over one of those latter components but, if Gordon is healthy and looks slightly closer to his career averages at the plate than he has thus far in Seattle, he’ll have a small but existent market. If Gordon’s occasional usage in left field during camp continues into the season, he could showcase versatility as well that expands his market and extends his career as well. He’s looked spry and healthy so far in camp, spraying the ball successfully, and hopefully that can continue into the season.
Gordon’s challenge is getting reps to prove his worth. Seattle is hoping to get every bit of work they can in for their young players, which means Shed Long Jr. at second, J.P. Crawford at shortstop, and some combination of Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley, Mallex Smith, and Braden Bishop will be playing nearly every day. That leaves the 32 year old on the outskirts, competing with Tim Lopes and Dylan Moore for time. That sentence, unfortunately, should make clear the type of return Seattle could expect for Gordon if they do move him: not much. Still, he’s the likeliest player on the roster to be moved (there were rumors a deal was discussed last deadline but Gordon wasn’t healthy enough to seal the deal) and the only player I’d be slightly surprised to see finish the season in Seattle.
1B/DH Daniel Vogelbach
Less likely to move is the positionally challenged Vogelbach, who is a 1B for fantasy baseball purposes more than actual on-field use at this point. Despite only satisfying his rookie eligibility last year, the 27 year old Vogelbach will presumably be the third or fourth oldest member of the Mariners starting lineup on Friday, depending on if Dee Gordon gets the nod or not. He was Seattle’s lone All-Star last year, and while he wasn’t one of the AL’s elite, he looked every bit the solid one-dimensional starter his minor league numbers long promised. In the second half, Vogelbach hit a wall, but not the ball. Vogelbach himself admitted he lost focus and was fatigued at times, and pitchers challenged him up out of the zone mercilessly.
It’s a new year, however, and it ushers in a welcome rule for Vogelbach: the universal designated hitter. On the heels of the year-long 26 spot roster, Vogey’s career has gotten a shot in the keg-sized arm. An injury on an NL contender interested in taking on a low-cost (Vogelbach will make the league minimum in 2020 and 2021 before reaching arbitration), with plenty of contract control (eligible for free agency prior to the 2025 season) could create a window this year if Vogelbach starts hot once more, and the grind of a long season is not likely to be as great a concern. Still, I would be surprised to see Vogey moved mid-season, given his inconsistent track record, suspect platoon numbers, and injuries that have slightly unclogged the burgeoning beaver dam on Seattle’s roster. If Mitch Haniger takes the full season to recover, the M’s have an easier task creating plate appearances for their assortment of young hitters. This winter... well, that’s another story.
Honorable Mention: OF Mallex Smith
Smith has less gold and silver in his trophy case than Gordon, and as a pure outfielder he’s a dodgier fit on a roster. While Mallex came back slightly better following his brief May demotion in 2019, there’s a good shot he’s splitting time in the first month of the year already, and the late start to camp does him no favors even as he’s hit the ground... hitting. He led the league in steals last year, and his legs seem fresh enough to keep his helmet flying, but it’s hard to see him winning any club over enough to make a difference this year.
Makes Some Sense But Won’t Happen: 3B Kyle Seager
Despite missing nearly two months with an injury to his hand from diving for a ball during a spring training game last spring, Seager returned to his usual excellent self in an extremely encouraging way. Despite playing fewer than 154 games (106) for the first time since his rookie season, Seager out-dingered his 2018 total, improved his plate discipline significantly on both the walk and strikeout ends, continued to play excellent defense, and even posted positive baserunning numbers. He’s 32, yes, but he appears genuinely in the Best Shape of His Life™. There’s nobody beating down the door in the minors/taxi pool, and in spite of the understandable focus on all the young’ns, he’s probably still best player on the Mariners! All those characteristics could be the reason Seattle looks to move Seager, but beyond him being under contract for 2021, his club option for 2022 becomes guaranteed if he’s dealt, and there’s just no way for him to play a good enough five weeks of baseball to convince a team, during likely the deepest period of 3B talent in MLB history, to take Corey’s Brother on.
Guys Who’ve Been Around the Bullpen Block
RHPs Matt Magill, Carl Edwards Jr., Yoshihisa Hirano
The Mariners ultimate 2019 closer is joined by a pair of veterans on one-year deals looking to rebuild their value. Hirano is the least likely to become a significant chip - the 36 year old has been an average reliever the past couple years, and while there may be more for him to get from his split-change, he doesn’t exactly have the impact ceiling teams tend to target in a normal deadline, much less one where durability is secondary to a brief burst of excellence. A late arrival to camp due to COVID-19-related intake protocol challenges further hampers Hirano’s chances of blowing the doors off the gates to start things.
Carl Edwards Jr. comes in on the other end of the spectrum. The 28 year old had his stuff fall off last year amid a few nagging injuries, and still didn’t look fully rejuvenated this spring, but has both reportedly and visibly looked fresher in the past couple weeks. The Cubs had few options they could turn to consistently during their playoff runs from 2016-18, but Edwards was one of their few rocks. If he’s back up to averaging 95 and has something approaching average command, his track record as a solid reliever should be enough to sell a contender on Edwards as worthy target. Magill’s track record is more brief, but his emergence last year in Seattle (he was great in August and September, if you’d checked out by then just trust me) gives him a chance to establish himself as a high-leverage option no matter where he goes. His average fastball velocity has risen from under 93 mph in 2016 to over 95 mph in Seattle, and the Mariners helped him identify his best off-speed pitch, raising the effectiveness of all his offerings.
Honorable Mention: RHP Bryan Shaw
The rumored new M’s signee will have to rebuild his reputation quickly. Much like Edwards, however, at his peak he’s been among the league’s best relievers, but has struggled mightily recently, with his effectiveness and raw stuff slipping.
Makes Some Sense But Won’t Happen: RHPs Dan Altavilla, Austin Adams
Looking at Altavilla and Adams’ careers is like peering into a set of concave and convex mirrors. Alt was brilliant as a rookie, but has had trouble with consistency and command, and had injury issues to boot that kept him out for parts of 2019. Adams underperformed his stuff out of the gate, but figured it out in Seattle at last it seemed, powering through lineups and buckets of Hubba Bubba before an ACL injury cut his season short. Fortunately, he’s back and looks impressive once again. Neither player has a lengthy track record, making it hard to trust a month and change more as a long-term bet. The Mariners would probably be happy to trade Altavilla if someone came a-calling, as the powerful righty is out of options, but that very lack of flexibility makes him less appealing to move. Conversely, while Adams and Magill have similar traits and promise, Adams has two more seasons of league-minimum rates before he even reaches arbitration, and without much time as a closer the 29 year old isn’t shaping up to earn much there. Seattle has little reason to move on from a guy who might be one of their best low-key acquisitions.
Good(???) Veteran(??) Starters(?)
RHPs Taijuan Walker and Kendall Graveman
The Mariners have reason for optimism about both their one-year rotation signees. Walker has looked rejuvenated, with improved off-speed stuff and some tweaks to his motion that could help him help himself, and his original club. As our own Mikey Ajeto wrote last week, Graveman has arguably looked even more impressive, pumping into the upper-90s and mixing his fastball types like a modern man. The question is whether teams will A. believe in a theoretical “breakout” based on 5-7 starts by the time the deadline rolls around, and B. see just 5-7 more starts from those starters as worth moving any cost-controlled prospects or other similar rebuild fodder. In fact, question C. is whether teams will even value the 2020 season at all beyond just giving what they have on hand a go. Will clubs take this spring of a season as fully legitimate, angling for a World Series some fans will kvetch about being illegitimate? And that’s to say nothing of the dangers that COVID-19 surges in the fall as is feared and makes the playoffs a logistical impossibility.
I would be surprised to see either righty dealt, and would in fact see one or both as extension candidates over trade chips, but the cart mustn’t go six feet before the horse. More likely, the M’s attempt to get the most out of both pitchers, and add their hopefully improved 2020 campaigns to their next free agent pitch and player development portfolio. What this highlights most of all is that the Mariners really have done the most action-intensive part of their rebuild. What remains is to see how those who are here make the most of their opportunities.
Honorable Mention: N/A
There are not really in-betweens in the rotation. It’s prospects, one-year guys, Yusei Kikuchi who is not well-suited to move between his contract and inconsistency, and one other guy.
Makes Some Sense But Won’t Happen: LHP Marco Gonzales
The Mariners just extended Gonzales, who is their only proven starting pitcher, and has been implicitly and explicitly been given the leadership role on the pitching staff. Quibble with his batted ball numbers as you may; “Ariel Miranda, but good” isn’t dripping with sexiness as a pitching profile but it gets the job done. Perhaps a time comes when the M’s see fit to move Marco, but doing so now would say a decent amount about what Seattle sees their time frame to contention as, and not in a good way.