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Mariners trade RHPs Kendall Graveman, Rafael Montero to Astros for INF Abraham Toro, RHP Joe Smith

A divisive move that may be the first of several for the Mariners at the deadline.

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners
The last image we’ll see of Kendall Graveman in a Mariners uniform....probably?
Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Mariners have acquired INF Abraham Toro and RHP reliever Joe Smith from the Houston Astros in exchange for RHP relievers Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero, the latter of whom had been designated for assignment recently after a disappointing season.

The move is a challengingly timed one, as Seattle is on the heels of a staggering comeback victory over the Astros, and play the division leaders tonight and tomorrow before an off day Thursday ahead of Friday afternoon’s trade deadline. The move did not go over well with Seattle’s clubhouse, unsurprisingly.

It’s difficult to separate the trade from the context, as context always is impactful to human beings, but it is not surprising in a vacuum to see Graveman dealt. The RHP was on a one-year deal, came out the gate explosive, not allowing a run in his first 16.2 innings, then was placed on the COVID-19 IL, missing almost a month of action between mid-May and mid-June, in what was the in many ways the nadir of the Seattle Mariners season thus far.

Since returning, Graveman has continued to put up excellent numbers, albeit less otherworldly, with a 1.65 ERA and a 3.95 FIP in 16.1 IP upon his return on June 12th. Graveman seemed all but certain to be dealt for much of the season at the deadline, however this is a surprising particular moment. It appears the club intends to keep adding.

As to the immediate return, Abraham Toro is a 24 year old infielder whose primary position is third base. He’s spent time at both second and first base, but has done so due to being a capable defender with versatility, as opposed to a player like Ty France who is shuffled around nervously, hoping to hide his glove and get the bat in the lineup. Taken as a catcher in the 5th round of the 2016 draft by Houston, Toro is a switch-hitter who absolutely exploded into prospect consideration with his massive 2019, decimating Double-A and starting Triple-A off at a torrid pace before a respectable age-22 debut in Houston.

He struggled in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, and has split time between Triple-A and the majors this season, obliterating the former and holding his own in the latter. He has just 308 MLB plate appearances in 93 games despite his .392/.497/.600 line in 147 plate appearances in Triple-A. That’s largely due to the players in front of him on the roster, as an infield of Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, José Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, and Yordan Alvarez definitely does not allow for consistent playing time.

He has a short, lofting swing that is well-geared for line drives from the left side, though its squat, open nature draws mixed reviews from scouts.

From the right side it’s even simpler, direct to the baseball and similarly powerful with his solid frame, though he’s had better success thus far against righties.

As an infielder with four-and-a-half years of control, should he remain on the team (a necessary clause given Jerry Dipoto’s trading proclivities), Toro figures to be a cheap contributor who fits in well with the Mariners’ stated timeline for contention.

Graveman and Toro obviously steal the show here, as Montero and the blandly-named Smith have both wildly disappointed this season. I doubt we need to remind Mariners fans here about Montero’s bleh 2021 campaign, but it bears repeating — after trading Jose Corniell and Andres Mesa to get the 30-year-old righty, he repaid them by posting a ghastly 7.27 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP across 43.1 innings.

Smith, meanwhile, has somehow been even worse! The 37-year-old does have a career-best 1.7 BB/9...but he’s also allowed 35 hits in just 21.2 IP, good for a 7.48 ERA. There’s reason to hope he could bounce back with the Mariners, however, as his peripherals (.413 BABIP, 3.95 xFIP) suggest he’s not irredeemably broken. Perhaps a change of scenery will help him recover, or perhaps he’s not meant to be part of the M’s bullpen going forward (pending those ~other trades~ Jerry referenced).

Regardless, the Mariners are demonstrating that they value cool logic and long-term building, short-term timing awkwardness be damned. (Have we mentioned that they made this huge deal within two hours of announcing a new team president?) It’s a bummer to lose Graveman less than 24 hours after the most exciting win of the season, but winning cures all ills; this awkward in-between state could easily be ameliorated by a few more wins and a more talented on-field product. That’s Dipoto’s bet, and it makes sense — on paper. The question is: Is that enough?