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Four pathways to buying and/or selling for the Mariners at the 2021 Trade Deadline

To Trade or Not to Trade: What will the Mariners do at the deadline?

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Seattle Mariners Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

With the trade deadline looming on the other side of the All-Star Break, it’s still unclear which direction the Mariners will go. Are they buyers? Sellers? Some weird hybrid of the two? Here, we lay out an argument for each option—buying, selling, and standing pat—and some moves that could go along with each path.

Option One: the Mariners should be SELLERS!

It makes sense because:

  • The AL West is a two-team race, and the rest of the AL contenders are rounding into form. There’s no realistic playoff path for this team, and chasing a longshot single-game road Wild Card appearance is an unsatisfactory reward.
  • That -50ish run differential is going to come back and bite them, hard. Remember the Detroit series—yes, both of them? Remember how bad they looked? The North(west) remembers.
  • The Mariners have suffered too many injuries this year to have the depth to make a run. It’d be different if they expected players back this season, but with half the spring training rotation going down with TJ plus losing Kyle Lewis for an unknown period of time and Evan White for an even longer but still unknown period of time, this isn’t the team the Mariners envisioned leading them into the playoffs. Better to reload and come back stronger next year by moving the pieces the team can afford to move.

Here’s who they should sell:

NOT Mitch Haniger.

  • Okay, maybe Mitch Haniger if it’s a good return, but with Haniger’s offensive numbers dipping sharply in June, he might not fetch as much as he once would have. We are as a staff not interested in selling low on Mitch Haniger, and some of us aren’t interested in selling off veteran leadership on the team, period.
  • Teams who would be interested: Lots. Lots of teams need outfield help. CWS, NYM, CLE, STL, to name a few, maybe BOS, ATL, or MIL; not all of these teams will remain in the hunt, but that’s what trade deadline upgrades are for, to help make that push.

If not a Mitch Haniger, can I interest you in a Jake Fraley?

  • For a team that wants less of a rental and more of a permanent outfield solution, Fraley would be an attractive get, even with a limited track record in the bigs. He could cover center for a team badly lacking fielding, and his on-base skills would partner well with a slugging-focused team like the White Sox or the Twins, should they somehow wiggle back into contention.
  • Would the Mariners give him up? Unclear. Seattle’s outfield likely faces an impending playing time crunch with Trammell up, Kelenic imminent and Julio waiting in the wings. The Mariners don’t have to deal Fraley, so it would have to be a trade that sends significant prospect capital back to Seattle, of the infielder variety. If there’s a way to pry Nolan Gorman away from St. Louis, do it and don’t look back.

How about our other Jake?

  • Jake Bauers hasn’t been in Seattle long and his numbers are dragged down by a 53 wRC+ from his time with Cleveland, but his solid on-base numbers and plus defense at first base make him a good cheap buy for Boston, where rookie Michael Chavis hasn’t shown himself to be ready for prime-time just yet. As a bonus, Bauers can cover some outfield, another area where the Red Sox could use a boost. Boston might go splashier for a deadline acquisition as they hear the creaking of their contention window slamming shut, but Bauers is a clear upgrade over both Chavis and fellow rookie Bobby Dalbec, who in addition to not hitting well also ranks dead last in Statcast’s Outs Above Average for first base, at -5.

For sale: one trio of bullpen arms, barely used.

Relief ace Kendall Graveman, as well as [checks notes] relief aces Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, and J.T. Chargois?

  • Always sell high on bullpen arms, the most fungible of the fungible. Seattle has made a nice little cottage industry over the past few years of dusting off players from the DFA pile and upcycling them into various MLB bullpens, and this year’s crop is no different.
  • Teams who would be interested: all of them? Who doesn’t love a little bullpen help? It’s like chocolate chips in your cookie, much is good, but more is gooder-er. However, especial disasterpens on otherwise good contending or fringe-contending teams include Toronto, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Minnesota; if Seattle could stomach an in-division trade, both Oakland and Houston’s bullpens are merely “meh.”

Option Two: The Mariners should be BUYERS!

Forget all that other noise. Selling off a team is depressing and demoralizing. Anyone who has engaged in a little retail therapy will tell you, it’s much more fun to shop than to sadly put one of those garage sale price tags on the forehead of every bullpen member.

It makes sense because:

Truthfully this should be worded “it makes a certain kind of sense.” One-year rentals aren’t enough to really move the needle and push the Mariners past the heavyweights of the division, but the Mariners should be looking at trades that make the team better over the next few years; or for rentals, acquisitions that put them in a good place to be signing players moving forward.

Here’s who they should acquire, and at what cost:

Luis Castillo, Germán Márquez, or Jack Flaherty

  • This is the big swing. The major opportunity to upgrade at a position in a way the club could not do so otherwise in free agency. This winter’s crop of starting pitchers has three categories: old and recently good, young and recently bad/hurt, or mediocre. While Seattle can and should be swimming at the top of the market for position players, I can understand trepidation at latching onto 35 year old Lance Lynn or 31 year old Kevin Gausman at the top of the crop. Instead, the 28 year old Reds ace Castillo (under contract thru 2023), 26 year old Rockies stud Márquez (team control thru 2024), and 25 year old Cardinals stalwart Flaherty (thru 2023) are where the M’s should be focusing their energy.
  • A move like this is expensive, more in prospect talent than financially, though there are ways for Seattle to finally flex their unspent millions here more effectively than in free agency. Trying to trade with the mid-budget Reds or Cardinals could be an opportunity to take on a contract, either directly or by engaging a third team. That could mean tipping the scale on a deal moving someone like George Kirby or Emerson Hancock (or, more dubiously, Brandon Williamson) as the headliner over the finish line in return for Castillo or Flaherty. It will likely take another piece or two in any case - Jake Fraley or Taylor Trammell for instance - to get things rolling, but the immediate upgrade in the rotation is vast and likely lasting.
  • While the Rockies have little left to cut away and years to go before contention, both NL Central clubs could dearly use cost-controlled talent. For St. Louis, taking on someone like Matt Carpenter’s expiring deal could at least create some appeal, if minor. In Cincy, there are more reasonable alignments, such as pure salary relief from Shogo Akiyama, and/or a more impactful move that would call for a third club’s involvement: taking on most of Mike Moustakas’ contract. If Seattle can recognize the ways they must use their massive untapped payroll to improve before this winter, they can secure young, proven rotation talent that can help them for years to come. Moustakas could be moved to a contender like the Yankees who could chip in a fading young player like Miguel Andújar in return for a lefty swinger with stabilizing versatility, and the M’s, Reds, and Yanks could swing their second three-team deal in the past few years.

Speaking of the Rockies, hear us out: Trevor Story.

  • Okay, probably not. As appealing as it is to pull a Betts/Lindor and lure a player who will be a free agent to Seattle to show off just how nice our summers are, the cost of acquiring any of those impact talents as a rental is too steep for the Mariners, who aren’t likely to make the playoffs this year, to pay...unless there’s some kind of understanding, as there seemed to be with Betts and the Dodgers. But sacrificing the kind of prospect capital necessary to get those talks moving—outbidding teams who are more firmly in their contention windows—likely isn’t the move. Unfortunately, as much as this team needs a steady bat in the lineup, the smartest thing to do is probably to wait until the off-season to reel in their big fish.

But what about Nelson Cruz?

  • Sure, maybe. The Twins are limited to American League suitors for Cruz, but one of those suitors is the Rays and their seemingly bottomless supply of prospects. C.J. Cron is another potential target, but it’s hard to imagine the Mariners getting into a bidding war for any of these players. It feels much more likely that the Mariners have already made their position player acquisitions in Jake Bauers, and the soon-to-be-called up Jarred Kelenic and Cal Raleigh.

Option Three: The Mariners should neither buy nor sell!

It makes sense because:

  • We still don’t know enough about almost any of the players they already have! J.P. Crawford is the only “rebuild” (a.k.a. someone not eligible for FA for at least two more years) piece with more than 700 plate appearances, while only one of Justus Sheffield (167.2 career IP), Justin Dunn (102.2 IP), and Logan Gilbert (41.2 IP) have thrown what amounts to even a single season’s worth of starts in the majors. Obviously two-thirds of that trio has long had questions about an ultimate home in the bullpen, but rarely are 25 year olds their finished selves. Even a cursory glance at MLB’s pitching leaderboards shows the value of continuing to allow well-regarded prospects time to work things out.
  • That doesn’t mean Seattle cannot or should not upgrade, but for as exasperating as the continued delaying of the M’s timeline has been, there is justification to the perspective that we simply don’t know enough about the club’s current group to start plugging holes with as much accuracy as we’d like.
  • As any of you who have done Sporcles asking if you can “name all the 20xx Mariners”, things have been kind of a revolving door around here the past few years. Players were here for a good time but not a long time (Denard! Dae-Ho!), or a bad time and also not a long time (lookin at you, Adam Lind), or a bad time that somehow felt endless (hello, Casey Fien, Bryan Shaw, and Cory Gearrin). It’s not the worst thing to keep this group mostly intact and try to build up some camaraderie among this crew.

Option Four: The Mariners should both buy and sell!

It makes sense because:

Hello, it’s the best of both worlds, cue the “Why not both?” gif. A combination of small upgrades that don’t diminish the core or the future and shipping off pieces at the height of their value will make the team better now and for the future. Maybe that’s a splashy upgrade to the rotation like the one John outlines above, or maybe it involves eating some money on a contract to get an MLB-adjacent prospect, or maybe that’s a challenge trade like the Marco Gonzales-Tyler O’Neill trade where Seattle deals from their position of strength (pitching prospects) and acquires something they need (are you my third baseman?). This would be the ideal outcome, obviously, and it’s probably the one the team is working towards, but with over three weeks to go until the trade deadline and players getting hurt and teams falling into and out of contention, there are still plenty of twists and turns for this season to take before we start the final leg towards the World Series. As always, check the site for the latest trade deadline news, we’ll even pop it up at the top of the site with a “Breaking News” banner if/when things start to go down.