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Whelming 2023 Mariners have whelming trade deadline

Neither a seller nor buyer be - Shakespeare, and also Jerry Dipoto

Cleveland Guardians v. Seattle Mariners Photo by Jane Gershovich/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The 2023 MLB Trade Deadline has come and gone and the Mariners exit the deadline looking...well, looking pretty similar to the team they entered the deadline as, minus one closer and plus a few roster spots. It’s a perfectly middling trade deadline for a team that’s been almost the exact literal definition of middling all season.

Given Jerry Dipoto’s love of trades, it’s no surprise the Mariner found themselves enmeshed in multiple trade rumors. When the 3:00 deadline rolled past, however, it was with more of a whimper than a bang. Not only did the Mariners not move any of their coveted young pitching, they also didn’t trade rental players like Teoscar Hernández or Tom Murphy, both of whom had been heavily speculated about in deadline deals. They also didn’t trade more established long-tenured players like Eugenio Suárez or Ty France—whom Jerry Dipoto said he didn’t get calls on until MLB Trade Rumors published a piece declaring the Mariners were already listening to offers on France.

Instead, the Mariners made one bigger move and a series of smaller moves to clear roster space and prepare things for the 2024 team. Here’s the complete list:

  • Trade CL Paul Sewald to the Diamondbacks for three players: INF Josh Rojas, OF/1B Dominic Canzone, and INF Ryan Bliss;
  • Trade OF AJ Pollock and INF Mark Mathias (AAA) to the Giants for either cash or a PTBNL;
  • Trade INF Mason McCoy (AAA) to the Blue Jays for RHP Trent Thornton;
  • Trade RHP Logan Rinehart (A+) to the Orioles for RHP Eduard Bazardo.

In order to make space for the new players, the Mariners also DFA’d Kolten Wong. With Wong out of the organization—or at least headed to DFA limbo-land—that means there is only one player remaining with the big league club from the Mariners’ offensive off-season acquisitions: Teoscar Hernández, who, to the surprise of many, was not traded at the deadline. (The only other position player from the off-season remaining in the organization is Cooper Hummel, who is with Tacoma.)

What’s more illustrative about this trade deadline than what the Mariners did is what they did not do. With the team performing below what many expected over the first half of the season, and a linchpin of their offense done for the season after a self-inflicted injury, the Mariners clearly weren’t in position to be buyers. Even if they had been, it’s unclear what the Mariners had to offer in significant collateral off a farm system depleted by both big-league call-ups and last season’s splashy deadline trade in acquiring Luis Castillo without tapping into the next wave of prospects like Cole Young, Gabriel Gonzalez, Lazaro Montes, and others, something Dipoto said they were not interested in doing.

However, the Mariners also didn’t go hard sell. They retained all their young pitching, although multiple outlets speculated the Mariners would move a starter in exchange for offensive help. In responding to those rumors, Dipoto said “it was probably more smoke than fire,”; numerous teams did inquire initially but the Mariners told teams there’s a limited number of teams who even have the kind of talent Seattle would want to acquire in exchange for one of their young starters, and they would have no interest in doing such a trade unless they got a deal that was “too good to walk away from.” (Per Dipoto, the Mariners never even got to the point of exchanging names with clubs.)

What the Mariners do believe they did was fill in some holes for the 2024 club without hurting the current club too much. Dipoto acknowledges the departure of Paul Sewald leaves a “void” in the bullpen, but believes, given the club’s depth in pitching, it was worth the trade-off to acquire young, MLB-ready talent for the future.

“In the end, we came into this deadline with the intention of doing what we could to improve our opportunities in 2023 while building a bridge to 2024,” said Dipoto. “Our club’s been playing well, and we think they deserve a chance to keep playing well,” he said, adding they didn’t want to be “disruptive” to this year’s team. He pointed out that both the ‘21 and ‘22 clubs had a similar stretch like this with strong second halves and they wanted to give this team the chance to do that as well.

While Teoscar Hernández received “a ton” of interest, the Mariners opted to retain the slugger. “We simply didn’t feel like we got a fair offer in what we think he’s worth,” said Dipoto, saying he doesn’t think they’ve seen the best of what Teo has to give.

“He’s a wonderful guy,” said Dipoto. “He fits our clubhouse. He works hard. I think his teammates like him being on our club.”

With the stress of the trade deadline removed, Hernández can now focus fully on being a Mariner for the rest of the season, which Dipoto hopes will help unlock the best version of the player they acquired this off-season.

Dipoto also said that the club got a handful of calls about Tom Murphy, but disengaged with those talks relatively quickly, joking that was mostly because “I think Scott would have had a heart attack,” but then became serious in talking about what Murphy has meant to the team and what the Mariners have meant to Tom Murphy, pointing out that this is where Murphy became a regular big-leaguer. Not only was the team disinclined towards trading Murphy, Dipoto said actually they’re looking at extending him.

“Murphy, as much as any player we have, believes in what we do. He believes in our systems. He is the courier of information, in and out, with our pitching staff. He knows every one of those guys, inside and out. He game plans with them. I think he’s a really good confidante and partner with Cal. And right now he’s raking.”

Another factor in this being a slower deadline for the Mariners, who are often quite active at the deadline and during the off-season, is a slower deadline environment overall, with fewer teams as out-and-out sellers and a limited number of players on the market—especially a limited number of bats, which is what the Mariners were seeking. Even a team like St. Louis, currently in last place in the NL Central, only parted with rental players, choosing to reload for next year rather than go full rebuild.

That’s also the tactic the Mariners more or less took, although not necessarily by choice. The team tried to do traditional “buy” type trades late in the deadline window, but the market, such as it was, had slowed down significantly by that point. “We tried all day to find ways to either improve our present or our future; we just didn’t get there,” said AGM Justin Hollander.

“There really were no bats available,” said Dipoto. “So we could have gone out there with a bag of money and a ton of prospects and we still couldn’t really have done a whole lot outside of what we did.”

“We would have liked to have done more to help, but we did what we thought we should do,” said Dipoto.

With the constraints of the trade deadline and not wanting to entirely tank this team’s chances at the postseason, that seems like a fair assessment. Unfortunately, it’s a statement that could, and should, also apply to the team’s past off-season, and the reason this upcoming off-season will once again be crucial for the Mariners to take that long-awaited step forward as a competitive threat in the AL West.