With Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz likely to be traded, here's who else the Mariners could move this winter
Expect teams to call on Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura
The Seattle Mariners are rebuilding. They've traded ace James Paxton and starting catcher Mike Zunino, and second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz for a package headlined by prospects. There's a good chance Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto will continue to weigh and execute deals between now and opening day 2019 in an effort to rebuild his club to fit a younger, cheaper ideal.
As such, we've designated this a grand time to look at what else the Mariners have to trade. Below you'll find nine players who could be on the move next. We've ranked these players in order of likeliness descending -- that means the first player is the most likely to move, the last player is the least likely. It's a scientific endeavor. We're not including players who are expected to be acquired in the Cano deal, such as Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak.
(Note: Alex Colome, listed No. 2 here originally,to the Chicago White Sox for catcher Omar Narvaez. We've removed Colome to reflect that development.)
The Mariners signed Jean Segura to an extension in June 2017 that will pay him about $60 million guaranteed through the 2022 season (there's also a $17 million club option attached for the 2023 season). That's a pittance considering how well Segura has played in recent years. Since 2016 he's hit .308/.353/.449 (116 OPS+) while averaging 14 home runs and 25 steals (albeit not at the most efficient clip). Factor in his ability to man shortstop, and there's reason to believe other teams would line up to take Segura off Dipoto's hands if he's made available.
Mike Leake remains a competent starter, one who overcomes his small stature and lack of velocity thanks to his athleticism and deep arsenal. He'll throw at least five pitches, including a sinker that sits in the upper-80s. Despite a 93 ERA+ and 3.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio, Leake generated fewer groundballs and more hard contact last season, according to Statcast. Perhaps that's just a one-year aberration, but it's a potential red flag for interested parties, too -- especially since Leake is owed $27 million through the next two seasons (including a $5 million buyout on his club option for 2021).
In terms of attractiveness to other teams, Mitch Haniger would rank at the top of the list. He's developed into a middle-of-the-order hitter, last season homering 26 times and reaching base at a 36.6 percent clip. The reason he's down the list is because the Mariners can afford to be patient. Haniger won't qualify for arbitration until after this coming season, and he won't hit the open market until winter 2022. The only reason to rush into a deal is because Haniger is older than he seems -- he'll turn 28 right before Christmas.
It's fairly safe to assume a rebuilding team will trade its relievers. Juan Nicasio has a market-value contract attached to him, so we're giving the nod instead to James Pazos. Pazos is basically a one-trick pony. He threw his mid-90s fastball more than 90 percent of the time last season, and to great success as judged by his 2.88 ERA. He isn't quite that good, as evidenced by his second-half fade. Still, he's a cheap left-handed reliever who has proved effective against both hands and could slot into a seventh-inning role. The Mariners have plenty of reason to move Pazos to the highest bidder, including his quick-and-deceptive arm action that looks like it hurts. (Projecting injury risk based on delivery alone is a fool's errand, but jeez.)
The Mariners just acquired Mallex Smith in the Zunino trade. We're putting him on this list knowing that it wouldn't be the first time they traded him before he appeared in a game with the organization. Smith is blazing fast and had a better season at the plate than most realized, hitting .296/.367/.406 with 40 steals. Unfortunately, we're not buying him being quite that good. There's a surprising amount of swing-and-miss in his game for someone whose game is predicated on contact, and his struggles against left-handed pitching limit him to a platoon role. Defensively, he lacks refinement and his arm strength precludes him from playing right. None of this is to suggest he's without value -- just that interested parties should be careful.
Wade LeBlanc's emergence last season was a shock. Him being shopped before spring shouldn't be. LeBlanc signed a team-friendly extension in July, at which point he had a 3.19 ERA. The rest of the way, he posted a 4.23 ERA and allowed nearly as many hits as innings pitched as well as 1.5 homers per nine. Oops. LeBlanc's contract calls for him to be paid nearly $3 million in 2019, with club options for the subsequent three seasons. That alone shouldn't stop other teams from showing interest in him as a back-end starter or swingman type. It probably will limit the type of return the Mariners get, however, considering he's bounced around and Seattle signed him as a minor-league free-agent back in March.
Marco Gonzalez is similar to Haniger in that he's clearly the most attractive starter the Mariners have, yet there's a real chance they hold onto him for a while longer. Gonzales is making more than the league minimum in exchange for dropping a service-time dispute against his old team, the Cardinals, but he won't free agency for another five seasons. The best argument for trading him concerns how durability has eluded him throughout his career. Even so, Seattle will probably take their chances that he can stay healthy and stay productive for a bit longer.
We've reached the part of the list where the odds of a trade are greatly diminished. Kyle Seager is due at least $56 million through the 2021 season, but is 31 and coming off the worst season of his career. We're not planning the funeral for his career just yet -- we're just saying no team is willingly going to take on that contract at this stage of the game. His quality of contact actually improved last season, per some advanced metrics. Maybe Seager can remind people why he was considered one of the game's most underrated players entering last season.
Then there's Felix Hernandez. He's not getting traded -- not with $27 million coming his way -- and stands a much greater risk of being released. The Mariners roster just isn't very good or deep. An exercise like this highlights that, and informs why they're finally entering a rebuild.
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