When it comes to television viewing that isn’t baseball-related, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto is more of a Food Network viewer than HGTV. He’s a food guy, who has the “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” locating app on his phone and makes you download it to get on his eating level.
But his trades this season were the baseball equivalent of HGTV’s house-flipping shows seemingly on every hour of the day.
Studying their investment into the players traded vs. the return in context of their rebuild, the Mariners seem to have accomplished what they wanted. That’s not say they were good or bad trades. But they all made sense.
Here’s a breakdown of their three most recent trades, including some comments from Dipoto and two prospect analysts.
Right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker to the Blue Jays for outfielder Alberto Rodriguez
When Walker showed he was healthy in his first five starts after missing the last two seasons due to injury/surgery — and pitching more maturely than before his injury — it became the Mariners’ most obvious move.
While he was a fit for the Mariners’ future, particularly with the possibility of a modified six-pitcher rotation in 2021, Walker was still going to be a free agent after this season and wanted to explore the open market to see his earning potential.
The Mariners wisely got something for Walker while rewarding him with an opportunity at the postseason and building his value with extra starts.
The deal in this is the money invested. Dipoto, who traded Walker to Arizona before the 2018 season, signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract in the offseason. With prorated 60-game salaries, the Mariners paid $386,000 for one month of Walker’s services.
In return, they got young outfielder Alberto Rodriguez from the Blue Jays. Rodriguez, 19, is a projection-type prospect given his age and two years of short-season minor-league experience. Both FanGraphs (No. 17) and Baseball America (No. 24) rated him in the Top 30 prospects in the Blue Jays deep farm system.
Seattle made it clear to Walker they want to bring him back as a free agent. In essence, they made a minimal financial investment, got a young prospect and also built some goodwill with Walker in the process.
Catcher Austin Nola and right-handed relievers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla to the Padres for outfielder Taylor Trammell, infielder Ty France, catcher Luis Torrens and right-handed pitcher Andres Munoz
“We were just looking for the best players that we could get,” Dipoto said. “And this happened to be built around multiple players who we’ve pursued for some time. I didn’t really think that when I asked for the players, it would be, yes. So it was, we were thrilled to get all them.”
The Mariners acquired Tom Murphy to be Omar Narvaez’s backup. Nola, who signed a minor-league contract before the 2019 season as catching depth for the Rainiers, was not a real consideration at that point. He made his MLB debut at 29 after eight years in the minors and hit his way into Seattle’s daily lineup at first base.
With a weak free-agent catching market in the offseason, Dipoto sold high on Narvaez, who had a career offensive year but was still abysmal behind the plate. During that time, the Mariners had multiple calls on Nola because of his club control and positional versatility, particularly from Padres GM A.J. Preller. But because Nola made the league minimum and could actually block balls, the Mariners kept him as co-catcher with Murphy.
When Murphy was injured in summer camp, Nola was forced into the primary role. Those 27 games caught raised his trade value “exponentially,” per Dipoto. He showed he was average-to-better behind the plate and that his 2019 hitting success wasn’t a one-off.
Last season, the Mariners basically tried to acquire every hard-throwing reliever designated for assignment, taking fliers in hopes of finding a mechanical or mental fix to turn a castoff into a contributor. Adams was the best success story. After the Nationals designated him for assignment May 4, Seattle sent minor-league lefty Nick Wells and cash to acquire Adams.
When healthy, he was probably the Mariners’ best reliever last year. A season-ending knee injury, subsequent surgery and a setback has kept him out this season. But he was always a trade candidate given relievers’ unpredictability from season to season.
Altavilla’s inconsistency has been a source of frustration for the Mariners and their fans. A fifth-round pick in 2014 out of Division II Mercyhurst, Altavilla signed for $250,000. Many felt he would be designated for assignment at some point. Even if he’d made it through Seattle’s season without being DFA’d or traded, he was heading into arbitration eligibility and was a non-tender candidate.
Nola was the key piece, and Adams and Altavilla were sweeteners for added quantity in a trade where Seattle got four players all under club control and projectable to the Mariners’ needs for three expendable players they invested minimally into.
Trammell, a 2016 Reds first-round supplemental pick (No. 35) who had a baseball and football scholarship to Georgia Tech, is the headliner. He’s rated a Top 100 prospect by MLB Pipeline (No. 60), FanGraphs (No. 68) and Baseball America (No. 78). The Mariners had hoped to draft him and had him in Seattle for a pre-draft workout that year.
His minor-league numbers aren’t eye-popping or commensurate with some of his hype, including two Futures Game appearances — winning MVP in 2018 with a 438-foot homer.
The Reds traded him to the Padres at the deadline last season. People around baseball believe swing changes implemented by the Reds were a cause of the low numbers to start last season.
“You’ll get mixed reactions,” Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser said. “Good athlete, great attitude, still trending up. The biggest thing was his swing was not on time. He controls the strike zone, there’s good plate discipline, but the timing wasn’t there. The Padres worked on his load and his posture to get into his legs into the swing more.”
The Mariners were aware of this situation and saw the difference in spring training.
“He underwent a pretty significant adjustment in his swing, to try to elevate the ball more,” Dipoto said. “He’s a physical, athletic young guy. … Swing changes aren’t easy, even for exceptional athletes. We believe that there was an uptick in the (Texas League) postseason and we believe that there was another uptick in spring training and we’re pretty excited.”
In 10 Texas League postseason games, he hit .310 (13 for 42) with a double, two triples, three homers, 11 RBI, three walks, 11 strikeouts and two stolen bases.
“The swing changes were probably to coax more game power out of it,” FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen said. “… Where he fits defensively is still a question. But there are tools to work with there. Even though he’s 23, there’s a gap that he and development have to close basically to really actualize what he might be able to do offensively, which I think is maybe be the team’s leadoff hitter in the future.”
France will be in the Mariners lineup every day. His best position is hitter. They’ll find a way to fit him in defensively at third base, first base, second base, left field or designated hitter.
“As many calls as A.J. made to me this last week about Austin Nola, I have made as many to him over the last couple of years regarding Ty France,” Dipoto said. “Dating back to San Diego State, he has hit everywhere he’s ever been. … He’s a pretty good judge of the strike zone, he’s got real power and the hit ability from line to line, it just sneaks up on you.”
Munoz, also rated in the Padres’ Top 30, is sitting out the season after Tommy John surgery. He made his MLB debut last season at age 20. He has a 100-mph fastball and a nasty slider, profiling as a late-inning reliever.
“He’s still the age of a college junior and had some big-league time last year,” Longenhagen said. “Elite fastball velocity and a plus breaking ball. He’s a lock to pitch high-leverage innings assuming he’s healthy.”
Like Nola, Torrens converted from infielder to catcher. He will be the primary catcher for the last month of the season. He was a Rule 5 draft pick and went from High-A to a full season with the Padres, a tough jump.
Right-handed pitcher Taylor Williams traded to the Padres for a player to be named later, likely right-handed pitcher Matt Brash
This trade was product of the Nola trade talks. The Mariners will get an expected relief prospect for Williams, a waiver claim this spring after the Brewers DFA’d him. He had some success in leverage situations this season, but the volatility of his command over his career put his value higher than expected.
If it is Brash, they will get a projectable relief prospect with a mid-90s fastball and a plus curveball who was drafted last season out of Niagara in the fourth round.
“It’s a noisy relief-looking delivery, vertical split on the fastball and the curveball,” Longenhagen said. “Certainly traits that the Mariners’ player development has been much better at teasing out and developing over the last two years, especially on the pitching side. He has the potential to have legit big-league stuff. He’s the type of guy Dipoto has flipped in past years.”