The Seattle Mariners are in uncharted territory. For the first time in over a decade, they aren’t saddled with any bloated contracts. Even Yusei Kikuchi surprised the Mariners by declining his option. For the first time maybe ever, they also have one of the best farm systems in baseball to draw from. Those are awfully unfamiliar feelings.
You will have noticed that the Mariners haven’t made any acquisitions this offseason, and it doesn’t seem that there are any major moves looming, either. With the current collective bargaining agreement set to expire, it seems that some players are wanting to wait to sign, given that they’re in CBA purgatory. For the Mariners, that may mean that they have to put a bigger signing on hold. In the meantime, the way to make a splash is via trade.
We know that, presented with the opportunity, Jerry Dipoto won’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a big trade. It seems that third base and center field will be the main positions that the Mariners should target based on the current group of free agents. Given that the team doesn’t have a true center fielder — and no, there is no logjam in the outfield — the Mariners have been linked to Pirates center fielder Bryan Reynolds. I am decidedly awful at creating mock trade proposals, and so, as one does, I harassed our own John Trupin into creating a framework that was somewhere in the vicinity of what it would take to acquire Reynolds to see if we liked what we found.
Given Dipoto’s public comments, we (John) avoided including the Mariners’ core prospects, like Julio Rodríguez, Noelvi Marte, George Kirby, and Matt Brash. That represents a good chunk of potential trade candidates, which makes for a bit of a difficult undertaking. Fear not! We (John) managed to land on the following package:
- OF Bryan Reynolds
- OF Kyle Lewis
- OF Taylor Trammell
- RHP Emerson Hancock
- C/OF Harry Ford
John’s note: I created this trade as a near-one-to-one facsimile of the Josh Donaldson trade between the Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays during the 2014-15 offseason. There simply haven’t been many recent deals involving moving a 5+ win position player with four years of club control remaining. Donaldson was two years older, coming off two consecutive star seasons, including one much akin to Reynolds’ 2021. Still, Donaldson was likely seen as a more proven talent, on the back of consecutive top-tier seasons for a competitive A’s club instead of an ignominious Pittsburgh Pirates cadre. Lewis is the Brett Lawrie, an injury-hampered former 1st round pick with club control and big league production already under his belt to swap positions with his replacement. Trammell is the Sean Nolin, a blocked former top prospect with plenty of shine still on the apple and a clear route to needed reps in his new home that don’t exist in his old one. Hancock is the Kendall Graveman, a well-polished arm with a clear path to the majors and upside for more, though Hancock is a superior prospect to Graveman even with the benefit of hindsight. Lastly, Ford is the Franklin Barreto, a teenager brimming with promise but several years from a big league roster and far from a sure thing to put it all together by the time he gets there. I chose Trammell and Hancock as they both fit our criteria and felt likeliest to draw a bite from the Pirates, but feel free to insert Jake Fraley and/or Matt Brash in their places. ~ John Trupin
There are plenty of issues that could cause a hang-up here. Maybe the Pirates don’t like Lewis’ medicals. Maybe Emerson Hancock’s reputation has taken too significant a hit in the past year. Perhaps the Mariners don’t want to give up on Ford this early! We can move some names around — subbing in Levi Stoudt or Brandon Williamson in a similar package makes some sense — but regardless, it seems like a proposal that’s within the ballpark, and one that should give both teams something to think about.
The Mariners are still a talented, but deeply flawed team. As is, there are three or four players in their projected lineup that you would hope will not start on Opening Day. Reynolds would immediately become the Mariners’ first- or second-best hitter, and his addition to the offense would be a remarkably strong start to shoring up a lineup that was one of the worst this past year.
Reynolds does most things you want a center fielder to do. On the hitting side, he seems like a good bet to continue to post strong numbers. He’s not only flashed some raw power with a batted ball clocked at 113 mph this year, but over time, he’s also improved on his ability to impact the ball consistently. He pairs these with solid contact skills as a switch-hitter, and makes good swing decisions, swinging on pitches outside the zone much less than league average. It all came together for a 142 wRC+ in 2021 with plenty of games like this.
The allure is that Reynolds rounds it out by doing other things well too. Baseball Savant has his sprint speed in the 88th percentile, and his Outs Above Average (OAA) in the 95th percentile. Taken together with the rest of his metrics, that looks an awful lot like a four-tool player, but some of his metrics might be misleading.
Defensive metrics are notoriously fickle, and often disagree with one another. OAA likes Reynolds a lot, while DRS, UZR, and FRAA all consider him to be average to below-average in center field. I’m inclined to believe that OAA is missing the mark, as is often the case, and that Reynolds is something along the lines of a 40- to 45-grade center fielder defensively. That’s certainly playable, but nowhere near the elite defense that Statcast suggests.
And then there’s his baserunning. Reynolds is good on the base paths, and he runs well, but he’s not going to help in the stolen base department. Nine career stolen bases is hardly robust, and a 64% stolen base rate isn’t up to snuff either. And so, with two of these four tools symbolically revoked, we’re essentially looking at a great hitter who can run and field well enough to start every day in center field.
Even if the non-hitting skills are less compelling than previously thought, we’re still looking at an awfully good player, just not the player you might glean in glancing at the percentile sliders on Baseball Savant. He’s been a four-win player over his career, even when considering his immense struggles in 2020, and he’s shown the capacity to post a 5.5 WAR season. Players like that don’t grow on trees, although, in fairness, players don’t grow on trees at all!
Reynolds peripherals lead me to believe that he’s for real as a hitter. His sd(LA), or launch angle tightness, suggests good bat control, and, paired with strong batted ball and plate discipline metrics, that usually yields a good, if not great, hitter. His track record only supports that.
If this is a good idea is something in which I am no longer sure. I came into this expecting a more complete player, and I’ve left with the feeling that Reynolds is much more mortal than I’d previously thought. The options in free agency are both finite and not particularly good. Starling Marte represents the lone difference-maker in center field, which means that the Mariners’ starting center fielder will either will be Marte, Jarred Kelenic, or a player acquired via trade. Odds are, Reynolds represents one of their best options, along with Marte, and both figure to come at a premium.
The Mariners are in a unique position in that they can no longer afford to waste time. Coming off a 90-win season, they’re equipped with an increasingly talented roster, and with prospects graduating and reinforcements coming this offseason, every position should be filled with a player with a proven skillset. Perhaps that’s Bryan Reynolds, or perhaps it’s someone else. But if the Mariners are intent on making a statement, they’ll want to trade for an impact player in their prime with significant contract control. The Mariners would be well-served by acquiring Reynolds, the question is if they’re willing to satisfy the Pirates’ demands, and if he is a certain enough upgrade to merit the gamble.