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Making trading Logan Gilbert or another young starter worthwhile for the Mariners

Seattle could make a lot of moves Monday. The biggest would involve one of their young aces.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Tampa Bay Rays Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I organized the Seattle Mariners’ roster into groups in preparation for the club to sell at the trade deadline. In that piece, I predicted five healthy players to be assured to be on the roster come Tuesday morning: RHPs Luis Castillo & George Kirby, OF Julio Rodríguez, C Cal Raleigh, and SS J.P. Crawford. Beyond the more short-term options on the position player side (Teoscar Hernández, Ty France, Tom Murphy) and those performing well in the bullpen (Paul Sewald, Justin Topa, Gabe Speier), that leaves three of the five rotation members as possible movers: RHPs Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller, and Bryan Woo. Why would Seattle move any of these three, who all are active reasons Seattle is in the playoff hunt at all? And if they did, could they make it worthwhile? While I laid out comparable past deals in my piece linked above for several of the moves I could imagine transpiring before midnight tonight, I will attempt to craft some fair GMing from the perspective of the M’s, and open with an explanation.

Why Bother at All?

Because trades are fun.

Because this is how the Mariners can get a lot better in the short and long term.

I want to be explicit: I do not need or even entirely want the Mariners to trade any of these players, the three of whom have been sparks of joy in what has often been a foot-stompingly frustrating season in Seattle. If they are in Seattle Tuesday when the M’s take on the Boston Red Sox for their second game of the series, I will be glad to see them and hopefully see them grow further. But this is the nature of the M’s current team-building philosophy: draft, develop, and trade. I do not need to litigate the entirety of Seattle’s current style of club construction, but this is a simple reality of not engaging (successfully, at least) at the top of the free agent market with any frequency. For the M’s to be successful, they must “win” trades, develop productive big leaguers (and stars in particular), and/or scout talent effectively at a higher rate than many other clubs. That is how you win on a bottom-third payroll, alongside the gobs of extra draft picks and extra international amateur bonus pool money “low-revenue” clubs like the Orioles and Rays receive. A couple big trade hits made this club a contender, but as the Jesse Winker and Kolten Wong deals have shown, any whiffs sting, because the flexibility to trade for improvements in-season has been used and all the free agents are long gone.

So, with the deadline looming less than a rotation of the Earth away, dealing Gilbert, Miller, or Woo affords Seattle a chance to fill a hole the only way they’ve shown interest in doing so for position players: via a significant trade return. At the deadline, pitchers of a high-caliber are of increased prominence, as contenders are looking to deal not merely for regular season competence, but an arm they feel, with 2/3rds of a season behind them, can augment their playoff rotation. It’s why the Mike Leake’s and Tyler Anderson’s of the world can often be had for lesser returns while the José Quintana’s and Cliff Lee’s recoup household name prospects. For Seattle, a club with thin present pitching depth but a consistent ability to effectively develop pitching talent, dealing from their rotation would sting, but to bring in nearly fully-fledged big league talent at positions that do not have solutions on the horizon for several years is a key way to make the 2023 club continuously competitive, while also improving for 2024 and beyond in the assumption that the club will maintain its disinterest in upping payroll.

Who is Worth the Bother?

The short answer is that every single big league team should and would want these three. Under contract for 4, 6, and 6 more seasons respectively after 2023, I genuinely have struggled for precedent at the dealing of these players. Compared to a pitcher of Gilbert’s caliber and contract circumstance, there are more recent examples of rookie arms being dealt after solid early performances like Zac Gallen and, to a lesser extent, MacKenzie Gore. I mentioned Chris Archer to the Pirates and Sonny Gray to the Yankees as some of the closest variations I could muster. Gilbert is better than young Joe Musgrove was, paid less than Blake Snell as a Rays ace, and the three-team trade that sent Max Scherzer from the Diamondbacks to the Tigers was 15 years ago when clubs did not value things universally as they do now and in general was and so strange it is hard for me to project properly.

Despite these difficulties, I’ve laid out a few proposals for Gilbert that would make it worthwhile, and in my opinion would be in the ballpark. If you’d prefer to trade Miller or Woo (my preference being Miller, but again, none a necessity), cut these down by roughly half the quality of return, however that might manifest in your mind.

Option 1: St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals acquire RHP Logan Gilbert
Seattle Mariners acquire OF Lars Nootbaar, 2B Tommy Edman, and SP Jack Flaherty

I’ve seen it written that the Cardinals do not want to part with Nootbaar. I do not blame them. But Dylan Carlson, Jordan Walker, Nolan Gorman, and the club’s many position players of youthful ages are closer to replicating Nootbar than the organization’s pitchers are to producing someone like Gilbert in the next few years. Even Tink Hence and Gordon Graceffo, the club’s excellent young top arms, alongside newly acquired Tekoah Roby, are simply not close to the level of sure thing Gilbert offers St. Louis in the abysmally weak NL Central year in and year out.

This is the chalk offer, with Seattle taking on Flaherty as well to fill Gilbert’s spot and most obviously immediately upgrade the current roster. Edman fills in at least the lion’s share of 2B work once he finishes the injury rehab he began on Thursday for a minor wrist injury. And Nootbaar slots into either corner outfield spot, immediately securing either the leadoff or 2nd spot in the lineup, giving the M’s another high-OBP hitter who does not whiff all that much to balloon their odds of scoring runs for the next several seasons. The easy win here is St. Louis is the best team out of the playoff hunt, and therefore one of the few clubs for whom it’s easy to project trades from the big league lineup. Similar projections are challenging, even for clubs like the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, unless you really believe in certain near-MLB or cup-of-coffee debuters like Michael Busch or are willing to have Alek Thomas be a co-centerpiece. I am not, and so I’ve listed two more deals and trade partners who I think mix the need for a starter with an exceptional degree of depth at the high-minors and big league level. Unfortunately, they just so happen to be in Seattle’s way for the Wild Card.

Option 2: Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays acquire RHPs Logan Gilbert & Paul Sewald
Seattle Mariners acquire 2B Brandon Lowe, 3B/SS Junior Caminero, RHP Colby White, & 3B/1B Austin Shenton

I believe this deal hurts enough to be considered by both sides. The Rays get a durable, proven starter to add to a rotation lacking the shadow of durability or experience behind Shane McClanahan, with three of their starters out for the year (and likely plenty of 2024) with elbow surgery and a fourth sidelined similarly. They also get a top-notch high-leverage arm to add to an atypically thin Rays pen. Tampa Bay, whose development puts them in a perpetual 40-man roster crunch, this moves three players off it or being in need of adding this winter, with a net positive by consolidation. It also deals from their deepest position, as they shift just one starter from their lineup in Lowe, giving them the window to allow one of their several top-tier infield prospects in Triple-A more full run.

Caminero is what makes this deal hum, however, and everything hinges on how both clubs view him. Some see the 19-year-old as too strikeout-prone and likely to shift down the defensive spectrum, while others see the teenager, already holding his own at Double-A Montgomery, as the best hitting prospect in baseball. If the latter view is more prevalent, this has no legs, but a lesser, similar deal, such as one with Justin Topa or nobody at all could net a similar, in my mind weaker return substituting INF Curtis Mead or 1B Kyle Manzardo. The risk of course in dealing for several prospects is that the big league club becomes more swiftly at risk of a downturn, but Lowe provides a stabilizing force at 2B, alongside a contract with club options through the next three seasons.

Option 3: Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles acquire RHP Logan Gilbert
Seattle Mariners acquire OF/1B Heston Kjerstad, 1B/3B Coby Mayo, and 2B/OF Connor Norby

This is about as sell as Seattle could spin anything while still making a case for 2023 contention. This deal also certainly portends a move of France and/or Teo to a new club. All three players Seattle would be acquiring have a few things in common: they’re very solid prospects at the Triple-A level, they could be called up immediately or within a month, and they are not named Jackson Holliday, so perhaps Mike Elias would not consider moving them to be “selling the farm.” Though their rotation has been fairly healthy in 2023, they’ve gotten somewhere from mediocre to miserable performance from most of it, save for Kyle Gibson and Kyle Bradish, and even there Gilbert likely would slot in as an immediate upgrade. The new ballpark layout plays well to Gilbert’s fly ball style as well.

Kjerstad was the No. 2 overall pick in 2020, but while he certainly had 1st round talent, that placement belies expectations, as he was taken to save costs for Baltimore to spread their bonus pool around. Still, the 24-year-old is a classic lefty slugger who can slot into the corner outfield, first base, and designated hitter rotation immediately, as he’s been blocked by other quality O’s options.

Mayo is the most highly-regarded prospect of the three, as a fresh-faced slugger who is likely the furthest from big-league readiness despite appearing in Triple-A Norfolk about two weeks ago. Everything he does looks a bit funky, but it works, and he has the tools to hit and hit big. Norby is a classic second baseman, short but strong, having put up solid numbers in the high-minors and covered multiple positions on the diamond. If you’d prefer another of the O’s middle infield prospects here, like Joey Ortiz or Jordan Westburg, I would happily sub them in, though Norby may be most attainable and also fit the bill for what the M’s need.

That’s what I’ve got. These aren’t the only frameworks I would accept, but they feel most appropriate based on what I can figure for what such a trade might bring and demand to both entice an opponent and make it worth Seattle’s while. What would it take for you?