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Sea Us Sell: What the trade deadline could look like for the Mariners

Seattle’s core is young enough that they’re unlikely to trade their biggest names. Who else might be moving on?

Tampa Bay Rays v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Seattle Mariners have run out of time to go in for 2023.

Monday night’s loss drew the Mariners back to their natural state, settled at the base of the valley that is .500 at 50-50. They sit 8.5 back of Texas in the AL West with both Houston and Anaheim between them, and 5.5 behind the third Wild Card spot with three clubs between them, closer to Detroit than they are to Toronto, and just half a game closer to first Wild Card Tampa Bay than they are to the disastrous White Sox who represent the cliff’s edge of the continental shelf before the trench that holds Kansas City and Oakland in its craterous depths. Seattle is not a terrible team, merely a precisely average one, perhaps the most average in club history, and certainly in this century. Since Y2K, the M’s closest seasons to .500 on either side have been a pair of 78-84 campaigns (.481 winning percentage) in 2006 and 2017 and an 85-77 run in 2009 (.525). The M’s have crumbled or crested, rarely have they been quite so perfectly wedged in the middle.

That creates a challenge and an opportunity. Average teams sometimes sneak into the playoffs, and I do not relish watching a wasted season with plenty of quality players who are not guarantees to replicate their performance send off quality performers for a quiet fade into fall. But, much as Jerry Dipoto recently acknowledged he (and John Stanton and M’s ownership) missed their chance to build a contending roster this winter, Dipoto is correct that he and GM Justin Hollander are best served focusing on building a contender for 2024 at this point given that they did not do so this year.

What, then, might that look like? Let’s break the big league roster into some groups:

Here and Hurt

SPs Robbie Ray, Marco Gonzales, & Easton McGee, RHRP Penn Murfee, OFs Jarred Kelenic & AJ Pollock, 1B Evan White

Most of these guys are done for the year and either are too expensive, too unproven, or too hurt to be moved. There is the extremely slight exception of a move involving Pollock or White where Seattle either clears money (woof from a mastiff) or is balancing incoming money (smaller, more beagle-like woof) akin to how they took on injured reliever Arodys Vizcaíno in May of 2020 from Atlanta in order to balance out sending them Anthony Swarzak and acquire LHP Jesse Biddle. Don’t worry about these guys too much.

Belly Buttons

OF Cade Marlowe, 1B Mike Ford, OFs Cade Marlowe & Taylor Trammell, INF/UTILs José Caballero, Dylan Moore, & Kolten Wong, RHRP Devin Sweet

Everybody’s got ‘em. While not categorically true, it is better than titling this section “assholes” and is close enough for the point, which is that teams are rarely liable to trade for players they see as near-replacement or extremely marginal upgrades. That’s hardly a certainty, as moves like the 2021 A’s effort to sneak into the playoffs once more included a July 30th trade for UTIL Josh Harrison and backup C Yan Gomes. But both players had/have track records as productive big leaguers stretching past a hot first half or high minors production. If you are the Yankees or Phillies, in need of another bat or middle infield depth, you’re liable to turn to internal, low-variance options over moving real prospects for only incrementally better odds at good performance, at best.

I could see Moore, Wong, and Trammell all being moved in the right circumstance, but there’s no need for the M’s to deal them imminently with any sense of urgency.

Not Going Anywhere

SPs Luis Castillo & George Kirby, OF Julio Rodríguez, C Cal Raleigh, SS J.P. Crawford

I spent a good deal of time staring at the rotation, considering if any other arms should be added here. I would absolutely understand if you (you the reader, and/or you the Seattle Mariners, who are also the reader) had any or all of the remaining starters on this list. Despite what the Mariners have done, 3-4 win, 160-190 IP starting pitchers with 3.60-4.20 ERA/FIPs do not grow on trees. But Castillo and Kirby are this group’s keystones, while Julio is The Franchise, plain and simple, and I don’t expect the M’s to move on from the 22-year-old (still the 14th-youngest player to receive plate appearances in MLB this year, and 6th among qualifiers) off a sophomore slump.

Though Raleigh is four years older, the club has held him in similarly high regard, and it’s fair to credit him in part with the club’s pitching brilliance, as he’s been a top-5 to top-10 defensive backstop by most public framing and overall defensive metrics. Seattle also has no immediate next man up, with Harry Ford clearly being given plenty of time. Lastly, Crawford is the captain of the club inasmuch as any such player exists, and all he’s done since signing his extension in April of 2022 is put up the two best offensive seasons of his career, going from leadoff hitter by default to the club’s premier OBP threat while threatening his first double-digit home run season. More pertinent to the deadline discussion, the only way trading Crawford improves the 2024 club is if Seattle returns a big-league-ready or adjacent SS prospect (or two, as they have no immediate 2B solution beyond Caballero and their other UTILs either). His 5-team no-trade clause also could be pertinent, but the other reality is few contenders need a SS, with a market of, at best, the Marlins, Giants, and perhaps the Dodgers. Dealing a fan favorite who has signed an extension and done everything to improve his bat and the competitiveness of the club is not the message to send.

Is Bullpen, May Travel

Literally all of the relievers

I’m not being flippant, and the M’s wont trade all of their relievers, of course, but I would set the over-under at 2.5 for how many are shipped off barring a six-game winning streak being ripped off this week. Paul Sewald is the central name, as a veteran with proven high-leverage chops who has pitched well enough to be an All-Star this year. He’ll be a free agent after 2024, so Seattle could retain their beloved bullpen ace and I would be thrilled from a fan angle and a personal level, as a huge believer in Sewald’s stuff and humanity. However, the 33-year-old is paid far less than many arms of his caliber, and will make around half in arbitration next year what clubs willingly are paying Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel on the open market for this year and/or next.

If Seattle looks to move Sewald, Seattle could look at the 2022 Orioles as a hopeful framework (and in many ways I’m sure they are already), who dealt little-paid relief ace Jorge López to the Twins for a quartet of minors arms headlined by a young, intriguing reliever who had already debuted named Yennier Cano and a decent-but-raw rotation prospect in Cade Povich. A year later, Cano is the second-best reliever in a division-contender’s bullpen. Another comparable deal is Atlanta’s deal for Pirates RHP Richard Rodríguez in 2021, for post-hype (emphasis on the post) former Top-100 RHP Bryse Wilson and another arm, as while the then-31-year-old had another year of club control, he was showing more signs of wear than Sewald has. I would expect Seattle to try and go wide in the vein of Baltimore over a single high-level prospect. Although almost every club could use Sewald, clubs inclined to go for him with pieces to entice the Mariners in particular might be the Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Rays, Reds, Brewers, and Braves, all of whom could spare the prospects and/or have a clear need.

While I would be surprised to see Seattle move Andrés Muñoz for many of the same reasons I listed for Crawford, it is also simply that he is not at the zenith of his value, and with the very affordable extension the fireballer signed, it’s easy to see Seattle sticking with him. Matt Brash is the other arm in the more rarified company of Sewald and Muñoz, in part due to youth and peripherals despite somewhat laughable cluster luck and a .437 BABIP allowed this year that is nearly 60 points higher than the next-highest number of any 2023 reliever with at least 40 IP and would be the highest figure for any reliever w/at least 40 IP since at least 1977. Because Seattle has whipped up top-notch bullpen arms at pace it’s easier to consider these three fungible, but many more have flashed this promise and not panned out. They should not be taken for granted.

Extending to the rest of the pen, both Justin Topa and Gabe Speier in particular seem liable to be targeted, with Topa in particular experiencing a breakout somewhat akin to that of late-bloomer Scott Effross with the Cubs in 2022. That lead to a return of pop-up arm Hayden Wesneski from the Yankees last deadline, a player not quite of top-100 material but demonstrating clear starter stuff. Seattle could do far worse than a potential rotation arm like Wesneski, or a higher-floor position player prospect like C Payton Henry who was Miami’s return for swapping Topa-like late bloomer John Curtiss to Milwaukee in the summer of 2021. To my estimation, Topa’s quality settles somewhere between the two as the deadline approaches, though his multiple options is a point in his favor for clubs who crave flexibility.

Should Probably Start Packing

OF Teoscar Hernández, C Tom Murphy

The candid recent remarks by Hernández regarding how the trade from Toronto and his subsequent return shook him are a necessary reminder of the humanity inherent in these trades and proposals. Even as playing a sport and being quite well compensated is a stellar gig in many ways, not having agency over where you live or work if you want to do so is a significant trade-off, no pun intended.

With that in mind, alongside Sewald, these two are the most clear players I expect to be traded in the next week. Despite a glacial start, Teo has put up a manageable offensive line, and the streaky outfielder is liable to be the best bat available if Seattle makes him available (non-Ohtani division) particularly from an outfield. That makes for a preview of sorts for Hernández becoming the best free agent outfielder on the market this winter in all likelihood. Rental bats are not exactly where teams tend to recoup immense prospect hauls, particularly those who are in down years, but given the threadbare market, Seattle’s most obvious competitor would be the Rockies shopping Randal Grichuk. Additionally, the M’s have the leverage to hold Teo, knowing they can give him a qualifying offer if they prefer this winter and recoup an additional draft pick just after the 1st round - approximately 30th-32nd - or retain him.

Hernández is somewhere in the range of Kris Bryant (2021) to Brandon Drury to Joey Gallo (both 2022), as a pure rental a club hopes to catch on a heater and help lengthen their lineup. The return for all three players were prospects of some note - 1st round picks or top-10 system players - but not household prospect names.

The same and then some is likely to be true for Murphy, who has the particularly tricky market of a backup catcher for most clubs despite playing like one of the league’s best when healthy and in the lineup for the M’s. He’s on an expiring deal as well, which limits his possible return but likewise makes him intriguing to more clubs. The Yankees scream a fit, with Jose Trevino out for the year and an admirable refusal to roll over organizationally. The Red Sox, too, could seriously use his presence to stabilize their backstop situation. Seattle could likely do a shade better than they did themselves last year in exchanging C Andy Thomas and RHP Michael Stryffeler for C Curt Casali and LHP Matt Boyd, however only slightly.

The Rotation

SPs Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller, and Bryan Woo

Because of the specific nature of the Seattle Mariners’ circumstance, it increasingly is unlikely to me that trading a starting pitcher is worthwhile. They are no longer deep at the position beyond the players at the big league level. Even in the event that Marco Gonzales returns late this year or by next spring, Seattle would be well served to have a bit of variety in their options, particularly as Robbie Ray will not be back until mid-2024 in all likelihood. Moreover, with the goal of the organization increasingly appearing to be Ohtani or Bust this winter, a six-man rotation will be a core component in enticing the superstar to Seattle.

Still, these three merit a discussion on the trade block at least, with Gilbert in particular perhaps the most long-inspected. Apace for another 3+ win season as a dependable, albeit sub-ace arm, Gilbert comfortably would be the best starting pitcher on the market (again, non-Ohtani division), with rentals like Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Jack Flaherty. There’s arguably more recent precedent for a club trading a player like Miller or Woo (the Jazz Chisholm-Zac Gallen swap between the Diamondbacks and Marlins in Gallen’s rookie year) than Gilbert. Logan lacks quite the track record (but exceeds the contract control) of Castillo, Marcus Stroman, or Chris Archer, but is far more proven a success than Tyler Glasnow or several of the pitching prospects who have been on the other side of such deals.

The best comps for Gilbert may be Sonny Gray and José Quintana back in 2017, though even that shortchanges Gilbert, who is under team control through four seasons after this one to Gray’s two. Quintana was a somewhat stronger performer to that point, and was under a team-friendly pre-arb extension, but was also a couple years older and lacked the tentative insulation of Gilbert’s frame for durability, with far more innings already on his arm. Both deals brought back multi-player, farm-changing ransoms for their clubs, with the White Sox nabbing four prospects, including two centerpieces of their (now-seemingly-brief) resurgence in OF Eloy Jimenez and RHP Dylan Cease in the deal with the Cubs. This would be the appeal, obviously. Meanwhile, Oakland snagged two Top-100 prospects in SS Jorge Mateo and OF Dustin Fowler, as well as a high-minors arm with some promise in RHP James Kaprielian from the Yankees. Kaprielian has been exactly that as a depth arm, but the fizzling of both headliners was devastating in a way that can still be seen for Oakland now. And the fit? Gilbert makes the playoff rotation for every club in baseball.

It Must Be Asked

1B Ty France, 3B Eugenio Suárez

I like Ty France. I have wanted the Mariners to trade Ty France since this winter and spoke those words into the Meet at the Mitt Podcast on multiple occasions. It was not to be, and we’ve seen a severe decline in France’s power that, at least visually, does not appear as directly correlated to an individual pitch off his wrist as in years past. That makes moving the jovial 1B trickier, as his line is no longer a clear upgrade for many clubs. However, the freshly 29-year-old has two more years of club control following this and a track record of hitting stretching back more than 2,000 plate appearances. Send him somewhere his line drives can land and his average-to-above-average bat will be appreciated. Milwaukee desperately needs an upgrade at the cold corner that even this version of France provides, a state the Marlins and Orioles find themselves in as well. Baltimore in particular has seen Ryan Mountcastle laid low by their newly deepened left field wall, an augmentation that would be far less harmful to France’s profile.

Miami and Milwaukee are also fits for Suárez, as are the Phillies, D-Backs, and Giants, all of whom are getting middling results from in-house options and could easily go in for a veteran addition with a bat that is heating up. For the M’s, they might be loathe to lose a clear leader on the club in a season where the M’s have struggled to see several young players perform consistently, but with a reasonable $11.285 million total for this year and next each for salary, Seattle could likely find a taker, especially if they chipped in to cover some of that contract or took on an undesired deal in return (Avisaíl García, Nick Ahmed, Alex Wood, things of that nature) to enhance the prospect return.

In both cases, the obvious concern is that the Mariners don’t have an immediate fill-in of consequence at either spot. It would make sense for the M’s to move for a high-minors 3B/1B in one of their other trades to rectify this, but if the goal is to improve the 2024 roster and beyond, trading one or two of its current starters does require external replacements. The 1B market this winter is not awful, so moving on from France for instance could allow for a replacement without too much expenditure. In all, I expect Sewald, Hernández, Topa and Murphy to be moved, but would be pushing France and Suárez around the league as well. We’ll know just how aggressive the M’s front office feels about focusing on 2024 in just a few days.