MLB hot stove: Finding the best fits for the Mariners' remaining trade chips
Which teams make the most sense for James Paxton? What about Robinson Cano and Dee Gordon?
Despite the Seattle Mariners are revamping their roster. GM Jerry Dipoto said they need to "re-imagine" their roster recently. and all signs point to more veterans being traded for younger players in the coming weeks and months.and a roster that appears good enough to push for a wild card spot in 2019, the
"We're open-minded to different ways we can get better, but what we're hoping to achieve is to re-imagine our roster to look at it in terms of what is our quickest path to a championship club," said Dipoto to MLB.com last week. "... We don't want to be a perpetual competitor for the second wild card. We want to build a championship roster. If that means in 2019 we field as competitive a team as we can while earmarking and gathering talent, we're not looking to rip our club down."
Dipoto said what pretty much every general manager in his position says. Rarely does anyone admit to a full blown rebuild and, frankly, I'm not convinced the Mariners will go that far. The Zunino-for-Smith trade was clearly made with the future in mind, however. You can find Mallex Smith types in free agency. Good luck finding a catcher as good as Zunino on the open market. He's a flawed hitter, no doubt, but he has power and is good defensively. Catchers like that are hard to find.
Since the Mariners are rebuilding -- sorry, they're re-imagining, not rebuilding -- this appears to be as good a time as any to find some trade matches for their remaining veteran players. Their remaining veteran players and their top trade chips, I should say. Those two groups don't always overlap. Here are the most sensible trade destinations for notable Mariners players, listed alphabetically.
There are five years and $120 million remaining on Robinson Cano's contract and, on the surface, it wouldn't make sense for the Angels to assume that commitment. They still owe Albert Pujols $87 million the next three years and he's been pushing a .300 on-base percentage the last four years (.302 on-base percentage to be exact). Piling another bad contract on top of that doesn't make sense.
Three things about this make sense to me though. One, Cano is still pretty good! He hit .303/.374/.471 in 80 games around his performance-enhancing drug suspension in 2018. Even at 36, there are reasons to believe Cano has some productive seasons left in him. Two, the Angels need help at first and second bases. Cano can play both positions, so fitting him in the lineup will be a piece of cake.
And three, the Angels are trying to win. They're not going to step a back and rebuild two years before Mike Trout can become a free agent. Cano represents a substantial upgrade at second base (and first, for that matter), and it shouldn't cost much to acquire him given the contract. It should be a straight salary dump. The Angels wouldn't have to empty their farm system to plug a roster hole and give Trout more help.
Every team looks for bullpen help in the offseason and that means the Mariners will have plenty of suitors for Alex Colome. The Dodgers have perhaps the most pressing need for setup help -- Ryan Madson allowed two more inherited runners to score in the time it took to read this -- and president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is familiar with Colome from their time with the Rays. , and Colome would fit their payroll plan as a relatively cheap reliever under team control through 2020.
The defending World Series champion Red Sox could lose their closer (Craig Kimbrel) and top postseason setup man (Joe Kelly) to free agency this winter. Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are nice relievers, sure, but I'm not sure they should be the top two late-inning options in a contender's bullpen. One way or another, I expect the Red Sox to add relief help this offseason. Maybe they'll re-sign Kimbrel and Kelly, maybe they'll do something else. We'll see.
Edwin Diaz, meanwhile, is on the very short list of the best relievers in baseball, and he is under team control through 2022. Contenders want him because he can help them win now. Rebuilders want him because he's under control long-term and can help them win later. Diaz is extremely valuable and it will cost a ton to get him. Do the Red Sox have enough in their farm system to win a bidding war? I'm not sure. I do think they're the best short and long-term fit for Diaz though.
It is really tough to find a trade match for Dee Gordon, a speed guy who posted a .288 on-base percentage this past season and has two years and $28.1 million remaining on his contract. The Rockies get the nod almost by default. Gordon is a contact machine and anything into the spacious Coors Field gaps would be an instant triple, plus his speed would help cover ground in that large outfield. With DJ LeMahieu hitting free agency, Gordon could also play second base should the Rockies decide prospects Garrett Hampson and Brendan Rodgers need more minor league seasoning. The Mariners could have some real trouble unloading Gordon as part of their re-imagining.
Mitch Haniger the Hit Manager might be the most valuable trade chip on Seattle's roster. He's a bona fide All-Star caliber outfielder who will remain under team control through 2022. If the Mariners commit to a rebuild, Haniger would generate a ton of interest on the trade market. A ton. They'd get a boatload of prospects and hey, maybe one day one of them will be as good as Haniger! I digress.
The Indians have the most pressing need for outfield help and are among the most motivated teams to improve this winter. Their window of contention won't get any more open. In fact, it might already be starting to close. Haniger will make something close to the league minimum in 2019 and that fits perfectly into Cleveland's tight budget. Right now, the Indians are poised to go into next season with Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen, and Leonys Martin in the outfield. Yeah, they're a fit for Haniger.
Sorry, I just can't see Felix Hernandez anywhere else. Beyond the whole "they're the only team he's played for" narrative, Felix is owed $27.9 million next year and his performance has slipped drastically. All those innings have taken their toll. The Mariners could eat a ton of money and move Hernandez for a prospect or two. My hunch is Felix has more value to the team as a marquee player -- fans still gobble up tickets in the King's Court on the days he pitches -- than anything he could realistically fetch in a trade.
The boringly reliable Mike Leake -- year in and year out, there is no better bet for 180-ish league average innings than Leake -- is owed $36 million the next two years, but the Cardinals are paying $9 million of that $36 million, so it's a $27 million commitment. Two years and $27 million for a league average innings eater is pretty good value. The Nationals currently have Joe Ross and Erick Fedde penciled in as their Nos. 4 and 5 starters. Leake would solidify things without costing an arm and a leg.
A year ago, Juan Nicasio was one of the top relievers in the game. Then he pitched through several injuries in 2018 and posted a 6.00 ERA in 42 innings. Nicasio is owed $9.25 million next year and the Athletics have a history of picking up relievers with one expensive year remaining on their contract (Luke Gregerson and Jim Johnson come to mind) and a history of buying low on veterans with a track record of success. Nicasio is a nice buy-low candidate and would help replace free agent Jeurys Familia.
The James Paxton rumors are already swirling. . . And why wouldn't they? Paxton is very good and he's under team control through 2020. Lefties who sit 95 and strike out more than 30 percent of the batters they face are extremely valuable. A long injury history cuts into Paxton's trade value a bit, but make no mistake, he is very good and very valuable. The Mariners should get a great return if they put their ace on the market.
I have the Astros as a better fit over the Yankees here because nowadays Paxton is a fly ball pitcher who became very home run prone in 2018, and that won't play well in Yankee Stadium. Plus the Yankees are, in theory, better able to address their rotation issues by spending money in free agency. The Astros have more high-end prospects to offer -- the Yankees don't have a Forrest Whitley or a Kyle Tucker in their system, for example -- and that works better for the Mariners. Paxton makes any team better. Houston strikes me as the best trade match.
Gosh, what a fall Kyle Seager has taken. The former All-Star and Glove Glover has seen his production slip on both sides of the ball in recent years, so much so that he bottomed out at .221/.273/.400 with 0.8 WAR in 2018. Yikes. There's also three years and $57.5 million remaining on his contract. Double yikes. Seager just turned 31 though, so he's not so far over the hill that expecting a rebound is unreasonable. The White Sox are rebuilding and are in great position to roll the dice on a former All-Star caliber producer who could thrive with a move into a more hitter friendly ballpark. I think Seager offers more upside than most players who had his numbers in 2018 and are owed nearly $60 million the next three years. He could be a sneaky good pickup.
The infield portion of the rebuild isn't going so well for the Phillies. J.P. Crawford has really struggled at shortstop and Scott Kingery's first year in the big leagues didn't go all that well. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez is a) one of the most underrated players in baseball, and b) constantly mentioned in trade rumors. Between Hernandez's perpetual availability and Crawford and Kingery kind of falling on their faces, there is plenty of room for another middle infielder in Philadelphia (assuming the team isn't the one to land Manny Machado).
In addition to more lineup depth overall, Segura would give the Phillies the high contact bat they lack near the top of the lineup, and also improve the team's speed and baserunning. He'd provide more balance to the lineup, basically. Also, he's owed only $60.4 million the next four years, which is an extremely fair price for the age 29-32 seasons of a productive two-way middle infielder. Call me crazy, but I see Segura and the Phillies as one of the top trade matches of the offseason.
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