As the offseason plugs along, the hopes of the Mariners accomplishing anything via free agency grow dimmer and dimmer. As we all know, Jerry loves a deal and will probably get a major one done before the offseason is through. So, in preparation, let’s examine a potential trade partner in the Cleveland Guardians. Playing in the AL Central, the Guardians could lose their whole starting lineup and still probably make the playoffs, and as they run a very tight ship in terms of spending, they may be willing to part with some of their better players for the salary relief and some talented prospects. Let’s examine a few trade scenarios that can keep the stove hot: a low broil one-star trade, a nice simmering two-star trade, a rolling boil three-star trade, and a frothing, overflowing 4-star trade that will get water all over the hot stove.
Why the Guardians
The Guardians have long been frugal: they rarely give out long-term extensions and focus more on a style of team building reminiscent of vintage Connie Mack. In recent years, in a weak AL Central populated by the likes of the Royals and Tigers and perpetually disappointing White Sox, that focus on building off homegrown talent rather than pricy free agents has worked well for them. A benefit of this for the Mariners is that they are often looking to move on from high-dollar players; while the competitive Guardians aren’t “selling” in the traditional sense, it’s more like the Guardians are always open to a deal for the right price. But, that open competition window also means the Guardians aren’t desperate to move on from players who can contribute during their contention cycle.
However, a further wrinkle in the Guardians’ situation this off-season has nothing to do with their on-field product: the Guardians are one of the teams with TV rights through Diamond Sports Group, which declared bankruptcy last March. DSG may continue to broadcast Guardians games, reportedly one of the most profitable in their portfolio, but the added financial uncertainty puts additional pressure on a team that keeps tight margins to begin with. Even without a financial situation that’s in flux, the Guardians have traded and let walk away plenty of prime stars before: see CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Manny Ramirez, and most painfully, Francisco Lindor, so the potential to achieve a deal is there; it’s just a matter of naming the right price, ideally one that takes salary off their hands.
Why there will not be a Jose Ramírez trade
You will notice that Jose Ramírez will not be listed in this article. Ramírez recently signed a large, multi-year extension with the Guardians and took a hometown discount as well. Not only does that signal a desire to stay in Cleveland, but as the face of the franchise, it’s unlikely the Guardians would move on from the core of their team. For a team that struggled to score runs last season, Ramírez is their only consistent power threat. On top of that, Ramírez has a full no-trade clause in his contract that he is unlikely to waive. As much fun as it would be to acquire a player of Ramírez’s caliber—someone who’s been long-admired as a strong fit for Seattle—it’s just too far-fetched to seriously entertain.
One-star trade: INF Angel Martínez for OF Cade Marlowe
The Mariners currently lack pretty badly in high-level infield prospects, while maintaining a plethora of outfield prospects. If all remains the same through spring training (it won’t), Marlowe would be an excellent fourth outfielder or starting left fielder who can also cover center field if necessary. Marlowe showed great work with his bat and glove in his limited major league time last year, but the organization doesn’t seem that high on him, and if that’s the case, it’s best to flip him for some value. The Guardians lack real outfield depth, and Marlowe adds a solid bat with some much-needed thump for a lineup focused more on contact. He also brings very good outfield defense for a team that has lacked that in the past; Marlowe could be the answer to the organization’s issues in right field that have more recently seen the likes of Josh Naylor and Franmil Reyes. A defensive upgrade with room for a bat to grow could be an excellent fit for a Guardians team that lacks solid outfield contributors.
Angel Martínez is a versatile infielder who has spent time at second, third, and short, though he profiles best as a second baseman. A switch-hitter, Martinez has shown quick hands with the bat and has done well in both Double-A and the AFL before scuffling some after a promotion to Triple-A last season. The knock on him is he doesn’t have much power, but his bat-to-ball skills make him a solid fit for the Mariners, a team that’s looking to strike out less. With multiple blocks at short and second for the Guardians’ crowded infield, he’s going to have a tough time breaking into their team. This trade would offer both players a fresh opportunity to earn a starting position without the issue of pre-existing or higher-favored talent blocking their path. If you feel like Martínez, who just scraped into the Top 10 for Cleveland’s prospects on Pipeline before he scuffled at Triple-A, for Marlowe alone isn’t a fair deal, the Mariners could add in a backend Top 30 prospect, but Marlowe brings bigger thump with actual MLB experience, while Martínez’s ascent seems to have slowed down in the upper minors.
#Guardians 21yr old switch hitting INF prospect Angel Martinez reached base 3x tonight (1-2 2R 2B 2BB) in his Triple-A debut for Columbus including his 1st base hit a hustle double in the 7th inning.#ForTheLand pic.twitter.com/NxqYoIowO5— Guardians Prospective (@CleGuardPro) August 5, 2023
Two-star trade: RHP Shane Bieber for RHP Emerson Hancock, RHP Prelander Berroa
Shane Bieber would be a solid addition to the Mariners rotation and add another Cy Young winner. While the Mariners rotation seems full of bright young arms, as promising as Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo are, the Mariners need solid arms throughout the rotation, and both demonstrated at the end of 2023 that they are still developing the arsenals to face serious teams like Texas in must-win situations. Bieber is already a solid veteran arm in the prime of his career with a Cy Young, multiple All-Star appearances, and playoff experience under his belt; he would be a fantastic veteran addition to the rotation and has already made it known he is willing to sign an extension if traded. There are health concerns to go along with Bieber; he missed two months last year with elbow inflammation and has seen a subsequent three mph drop in his velocity. On top of that, Bieber has seen some regression across the board in his advanced metrics. His walk rate continues to rise yearly, his strikeout rate continues to decline, and he finished in the bottom 3% of the league in hard-hit percentage. The Mariners have shown success in developing pitchers in the past, and similar to Robbie Ray, Bieber may still need a little work when he arrives despite the recent pedigree.
With all those issues, Beiber remains a relatively cheap option for the Mariners to pick up in terms of pieces, and his salary hit of $12 million is off the books after one season if they choose to move on. With the recent struggles, injury history, and declining metrics, the Mariners could probably pick up Bieber for a lesser trade package of young arms. Emerson Hancock, who the Mariners project to be ready for Spring Training despite a season-ending shoulder injury, could be an immediate addition to the Guardians’ rotation, bringing years of cost control with him. After finally getting healthy in 2023, Hancock has shown flashes of solid stuff with a strong pitch mix and an excellent ability to throw strikes. The injuries have slowed his development and cost him a slight drop in fastball velocity from 96-97 to 94. The Guardians have been known for developing pitchers well in the past, but their top pitching prospect, Daniel Espino, has struggled with his own health concerns, and their farm lacks MLB-adjacent pitching. The Mariners could also send the Guardians one of their stable of young relievers—in this case, Prelander Berroa, who hasn’t been able to harness his big stuff with the Mariners but could thrive in Cleveland as a setup man to Emmanuel Clase.
Three-star trade: 1B/DH Josh Naylor for OF Dominic Canzone, OF Jonatan Clase, and Taylor Dollard
Josh Naylor is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career. Despite the brutal ankle injury in 2021 that forced him out of the outfield, Naylor has maintained a strong lefty power at first base and keeps low strikeout numbers. Though his defense leaves much to be desired, Naylor could easily slide in as the Mariners’ everyday DH and replace the loss of Suárez in the lineup while bringing fewer strikeouts with him. Naylor also has three years of control remaining, and with his latest arbitration settled for $7 million for 2024, the Guardians could be looking to move him on with their own salary constraints in consideration. With the infield talent they have in the system, Naylor could quickly become a casualty for the right price. The only drawback would be that since the injury in 2021, Naylor has converted into a full-time first baseman, which is a position currently dutifully filled by Ty France. Naylor will likely take almost all his at-bats at DH, considering France’s success with his glove at first base. Being realistic, it would be exceptionally difficult to pry Naylor, Cleveland’s best hitter by average last year, away from the Guardians, and if they’re willing to deal him, it’s a reflection of how dire the club’s finances have become.
However, if the cost-conscious Guardians are looking to move Naylor, who will only get more expensive, Dominic Canzone offers a developing power bat and a solid glove for a Guardians team that has struggled with filling in right field since the departure of Shin-Soo Choo. At the same time, the Guardians get a high-value prospect in Clase, who has recently flipped to a switch hitter and is the fastest prospect in the Mariners’ system. Though not the best fielder, he makes up for it with raw speed and strength, leading to over 50 stolen bases and some very nice power development. Clase is in the Mariners’ org’s top ten and would be a solid addition for the outfield-poor Guardians, who rely heavily on solid baserunning—fifth-most stolen bases in MLB—as a way to stretch out the limited power in their lineup. Dollard is a solid pitching prospect for an organization that doesn’t seem to have any. Dollard is coming off labrum surgery, but has been a workhorse since the Mariners drafted him with their final pick in the pandemic-shortened 2020 draft. Dollard doesn’t have the most overpowering stuff and relies heavily on control and location. Still, he throws strikes and has a potent enough pitch mix to certainly be in the conversation around the Guardians rotation, even in a back-end role.
Four-star trade: Steven Kwan for Dominic Canzone and Bryan Woo
Steven Kwan is the perfect target for this Mariners team and would be an ideal addition for the direction they’re going in. The Mariners have made it very clear that they are cutting salary and strikeouts. Who better to fill that need than a young, controllable outfielder who walks a lot, doesn’t strike out hardly at all, and gets on base all the time? Kwan also remains under club control until at least 2028, giving the Mariners plenty of time to sign him to a healthy extension if they so choose. Kwan also brings an excellent glove addition for the outfield as a two-time Gold Glove winner already at only 26 years old. All that being said, it’s not like Kwan doesn’t come with risk. While he has increased his extra-base hits from 2022 to 2023, his average and OPS+ fell. Kwan is not much of a power hitter, and with the loss of Suárez and Teoscar Hernández, that’s a hole that Kwan would likely be unable to address, having never hit more than seven home runs in a season.
Still, as a high-tier controllable hitter, the Mariners would pay a high price to get him; a swap of Dominic Canzone and Bryan Woo fits the bill. Canzone offers an immediate replacement for the Guardians in left field and brings Kwan’s high-contact abilities plus significantly more thump. Canzone has significantly less big league time and less prowess; given playing time at 26 years old, he may still develop into a prodigious hitter and fielder. Packaged along with him, the Mariners would send Bryan Woo. The Guardians lack starting pitching and are actively looking to trade Shane Bieber, who has been easily their most consistent starter while youngsters Triston McKenzie, Logan Allen, and Tanner Bibee have struggled with health and consistency. The young and cost-controlled Woo would immediately come in and fit into the rotation and offer a massive improvement to a rotation that lacks consistency. Bryce Miller could also swap in here if the Guardians are gunshy about pitcher health. Baseball Trade Values has this as a moderate overpay for the Guardians, but they get two MLB-caliber young players addressing positions of need in exchange for Kwan and address the more immediate issues with their starting pitching.