Sources say the Mariners will trade James Paxton this offseason. Let's look at why he could be dealt, along with other players the Mariners could (or couldn't) trade.
With the Major League Baseball General Managers Meetings beginning Monday at the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., the offseason will really start to pick up in the coming days.
In past years, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has used this early forum, which is a month before the MLB Winter Meetings, to make a handful of trades to address needs on his 25- and 40-man roster.
Dipoto has never been afraid to jump the market to make a trade. He identifies players he wants and then makes the required decisions and moves to get them. Why wait for another team to dictate or influence his offer?
But this offseason seems like it will be different. Always unafraid to let people understand his offseason plans in the past, Dipoto was less than forthcoming in the days after the season.
While the Mariners did win 89 games, their late-season fade from the wild-card race, Seattle’s obvious roster flaws and competitors’ talented rosters going into the next few years has given a reason to rethink the team’s current direction. Yes, ending a playoff drought that dates back to 2001 — the longest streak of seasons without a postseason appearance in the four major professional sports — is an obvious goal. But building something that can be more sustained beyond a possible one-game playoff dalliance is the larger goal.
There seems to be no direct answer in how Seattle should do that.
Blow it up and start over like so many other teams are doing? Dipoto doesn’t seem to think that is a possibility.
“Again, we have to consider all things,” he said. “The likelihood of ever really truly considering a tear-it-down model, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Now that being said, there are a lot of alternatives to tear-downs. You know, when I look at tear-downs, it’s everybody get out, we’re starting over. That doesn’t make a lot of sense because we just talked about so many positive elements of where our team is.”
“There’s no reason for us to start from scratch,” Dipoto said. “But we do need to reassess where this roster is, and take a look at not just 2019 but how we catch the teams that are in front of us because I don’t think the Astros, the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Indians are going anywhere, and frankly the Tampa Rays and Oakland A’s just showed us that they’re real, and we have to consider that.”
So how about dumping a bunch of money into payroll, pushing it over $190 million, hitting the free agent market and “going for it?”
Dipoto gave a shrug and a “meh” to that possibility.
“Again, I don’t think that makes a whole lot of sense, but it’s not something we won’t take part or consider in some way,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense because the four teams that are ahead of us are not ahead of us by a little. As we just saw, we won 89 games and we’re sitting here today. We were closer to 10 games back of the sixth best team, or the fifth best team. That is a challenge, and we have to consider that. So we’re not a piece away from making that type of move, and frankly as we sit here we have to assess where we are in terms of our age, our win curve, and what makes the most sense for us.”
So, the Mariners are stuck somewhere in the middle. They won’t blow it up and they won’t bankroll it up.
What will they do?
Multiple MLB sources have said the Mariners are expected to be active in moving players and re-shifting the roster this offseason. Sources also said James Paxton, the Mariners’ best starting pitcher, will be traded this offseason.
Dipoto will likely trade some key players in hopes of getting MLB-ready prospects that can contribute in 2019 or 2020. The Mariners believed Mitch Haniger was that type of player when they acquired him before the 2017 trade deadline along with Jean Segura.
The problem for Dipoto is that players with the most trade value to teams are the young players that the Mariners would prefer to keep. Players like Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager have minimal to no trade value.
“Guys like Haniger, guys like Marco Gonzales, guys like Edwin Diaz, these are the pieces that you’re trying to build around, not the pieces that you’re trying to send away,” Dipoto said. “So you know, we want to be conscious of the fact that we have built up what we think is that next sustainable young core, and built toward it. Those are guys who are all in their mid-20s.”
And yet, those players aren’t untouchable.
“I don’t think there’s ever a player that’s off limits,” he said. “That’s the way you operate. We are always listening. we are always considering. we are always assessing the best way to do the job we’re trying to do, which is to build a championship roster. And if you limit to yourself to only thinking about one player, five players or 10 players, we’re thinking about every player in our system. You can make trades, you can sign free agents, you can bring players from worldwide sources, and you have to able to attack in the moment, or be efficient and opportunistic in that moment when it presents itself. And if you limit yourself to not talking about certain players, you’ll never get there.”
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the Mariners’ trade value, or lack thereof.
These five players would be the most attractive to teams looking to make a trade with the Mariners.
Of this group, he might be the most difficult to trade for multiple reasons. First, he has a full no-trade clause in the five-year, $70 million contract he got from Seattle in 2017. After being traded three times in his career, Segura wanted some stability. Would he waive the no-trade protection for the right team? It’s certainly possible. But few people outside of his close circle have a truly good read on Segura as a player or a person.
And there is the question of how much value he has to another team. The remaining money on his contract isn’t exorbitant. It’s actually probably below market value for his production level. But it’s still a significant commitment of $60 million over four years:
- 2019: $14.85 million
- 2020: $14.85 million
- 2021: $14.85 million
- 2022: $14.85 million
- 2023: $17 million club option ($1 million buyout)
Does a team want to commit to a player who really doesn’t project as a shortstop beyond the next few years? His numbers regressed significantly after the All-Star break this season.
There’s also a reason Segura has been traded by three organizations. Complaints about an indifferent and at times petulant attitude permeated in his prior stops. It’s growing in Seattle. There were more than a few Mariners players frustrated with his decision not to play in a pivotal series in Oakland because of a sore shin. When he criticized and questioned Gordon for dropping a fly ball in a game to teammates, it resulted in the clubhouse dust-up.
Still, talent matters, and Segura has talent. A playoff-level team with some salary flexibility that needs a highly productive middle infielder could definitely be interested in acquiring him.
There was a fair amount of consternation from Mariners fans when Seattle acquired Gonzales from the Cardinals for slugging outfield prospect Tyler O’Neill at the trade deadline of the 2017 season. Gonzales was coming off Tommy John surgery and seemed like just another pitch-making left-hander with not enough stuff to be viable in the American League. But two years removed from the surgery, Gonzales had a breakout season in 2018.
Gonzales posted a 13-9 with a 4.00 ERA (74 earned runs, 166 2/3 innings) with 145 strikeouts and 32 walks in 29 starts with the Mariners this season. From May 23 to July 29, Gonzales went 9-2 with a 2.61 ERA (23 ER, 79 1/3 IP) with 68 strikeouts and 16 walks in 12 starts, including nine quality starts. After missing three weeks because of a neck strain, Gonzales returned to make four starts in September, going 1-0 with a 1.71 ERA (4 ER, 21 IP) with 17 strikeouts and four walks.
He’s not projected as a front-of-the-rotation starter, but he showed he can maneuver through a lineup more than twice and has the ability to be a solid No. 4 starter on a team.
Gonzales is just 26 and recently agreed to a two-year, $1.9 million contract. He will still have three more years of arbitration eligibility after that contract expires. That’s five years of club control. It’s why the Mariners need players such as him to offset the bloated contracts of the veterans on their roster. But also why a team would be interested in acquiring him.
It was a breakout season for the ultraserious outfielder. He was Seattle’s most productive hitter for most of the 2018 season. With a mature approach and a relentless attitude toward preparation, he hit .285 (170 for 596) with a .366 on-base percentage, a .493 slugging percentage, 90 runs scored, 38 doubles, four triples, 26 home runs, 93 RBI and 70 walks in 157 games.
After injuries hampered him in 2017, Haniger played in more games than any other Mariners player in 2018 while making just $560,000. That’s some value for your dollars. Haniger will make around that total next and then have three years of arbitration eligibility before reaching free agency in 2022. At age 27, Haniger is a late bloomer and will be in his 30s before he reaches free agency. The Mariners could buy out his arbitration years and his first year of free agency with an extension, but they might be wise to wait at least another season before making that decision.
Given his production, work ethic and low cost, Haniger is certainly attractive to any team, but playoff contenders that are flirting with the luxury-tax threshold see value in adding a player such as him where they get All-Star production and a reduced rate.
Like Haniger, Dipoto went out of his way to point out that teams are built around young talents such as Diaz. He’s only 24 and has one more year on the MLB minimum before beginning three years of salary arbitration. Four years of club control with salaries likely below market value are huge benefit. So why would Seattle consider trading Diaz? Well, his value will never be higher. He’s coming off a record-setting season with 57 saves in 61 opportunities with a 1.96 ERA. Only Francisco Rodriguez in 2008 saved more games (62) in a season.
Diaz became just the second pitcher in major league history to record at least 50 saves and 100 strikeouts in a season, joining Eric Gagne, who accomplished this feat in back-to-back years. The Mariners went 66-0 in 2018 when he entered the game with a lead, went 61-0 in his save opportunities and went 30-0 when he entered with a one-run lead.
A person could fairly point out that his career-usage of 73 appearances and 73 1/3 innings have him headed for severe regression in 2019, and that the Mariners should sell high on Diaz while they can. And if you are going to take a few steps back on the field as a team, do you really need a lockdown closer? Seattle might not trade him this offseason, but if he’s still dominant in the first half, Dipoto may have to listen offers at midseason.
Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel is a free agent and received a qualifying offer from the Red Sox. But if the Mariners actively shop Diaz, a multitude of teams would have trade offers.
Again, multiple sources have said Paxton will be traded this offseason, and the Mariners have made it clear they are looking to move him. Why? They are trying to take advantage of a weak starting pitching market. The three top starting pitchers on the free-agent market — lefties Patrick Corbin, Dallas Keuchel and Hyun Jin-Riu — all received qualifying offers from their former teams.
Yes, Paxton has never reached 200 innings in a season and, yes, he’s had a disabled-list stint in four of his five big-league seasons, but his talent is undeniable. When healthy, he’s dominant. He posted an 11-6 record with a 3.76 ERA (67 ER, 160 1/3 IP) with 208 strikeouts and 42 walks in 28 starts with the Mariners.
He has two more years of club control, but as a client of agent Scott Boras, there’s a minimal chance he signs a contract extension. Paxton is projected to make $9 million in his second year of salary arbitration this season. That’s a fair amount of money. But it’s something a playoff contender would gladly take on for the potential of Paxton.
The Mariners would hope to gain at least one high-level, big-league-ready prospect in a package of players for Paxton. Some MLB insiders believe the Mariners might try to package Paxton and someone such as Seager or Gordon to a contender to get some additional salary relief.
This group of players has minimal trade value to teams for a variety of reasons — age, salary, performance or all three combined.
When the Mariners signed Cano to a 10-year, $240 million deal before the 2014 season, there was the expectation that the final years of the deal could be ugly. Now halfway through, that expectation hasn’t completely changed.
Cano recently turned 36 years old and is coming off a season that was derailed by an 80-game suspension for violating the MLB/MLBPA joint drug testing agreement. He is still a productive hitter, and that doesn’t seem likely to change for a few more seasons. He posted a 3.1 Offensive WAR in 80 games this season. He’ll eventually have to transition from second base to first base or designated hitter. It’s a process that started this season when he returned from his suspension.
But that gargantuan contract is why he’s basically untradable. He’s owed $120 million over the next five seasons. No team is willing to take on that much money or even half of it for a player in his late 30s that’s coming off a PED suspension and headed toward a position change.
The Mariners’ longtime ace and face of the franchise has been a below average pitcher for the last three seasons. In 2018, he posted an 8-14 record with a 5.55 ERA in 28 starts and one relief appearance. Changes to his pregame routine, adjustments to his in-between-starts throwing program and constant tinkering of mechanics provided no consistent benefit. He still lacked quality command with his pitches and has yet to find a mentality that’s adjusted to the pitcher he is now. He turns 33 on April 8 and is in the final year of a contract where he’s owed $27.5 million.
That sizable chunk of salary and his continued regression make him largely unwanted on the trade market. What will be interesting is to see how Hernandez reacts to this final season with the Mariners and what offseason work he does to try and have a credible season as he heads into free agency for the first time. And if Hernandez continues to decline at this rapid rate, would the Mariners simply designate him for assignment sometime during next season?
And, no, he won’t walk away from his contract and retire. It’s far too much money to do something like that.
The past two seasons have seen Seager’s production at the plate decline and his standing within the fan base deteriorate. The cries for the Mariners to get rid of Seager from the fans — both realistic and unhinged — on social media have become constant. But it’s not that simple. Seager had career lows in batting average (.221), on-base percentage (.273), slugging percentage (.400), walks (38) and a career high in strikeouts (138). A toe fracture affected his swing and his approach at the plate, leaving him hitting topspin line drives to right field and soft fly balls to left field, which isn’t optimal for success.
But like Cano and Hernandez, his contract situation gives the Mariners little opportunity to move unless they assume more than half of the money owed. Seager has three years remaining on his deal and is owed $57.5 million.
Think about it this way: Seager is coming off his worst season of his career and he’s owed basically $18 million each of the next three seasons. Would you want to trade for him?
Even if the Mariners assume half the salary owed, Seager’s age and lowered production would make a trade difficult.
The veteran right-hander’s true value is in quantity. He takes the ball every fifth day. The results can be uneven and he isn’t a front of the rotation starter, but he’s made 30 or more starts in each of his last seven seasons. The ability to “post” every fifth day and log more than 180 innings pitched in a season provides value regardless of the results, which for Leake are about average to better than average. But Leake’s remaining dollars owed on his contract are significant for a pitcher worth about 1 to 1.5 WAR per season.
- 2019 — $16 million
- 2020 — $15 million
- 2021 — $18 million mutual option with a $5 million buyout.
Obviously that 2021 option will never get exercised, but that leaves $36 million owed. Leake also has a full no-trade clause in his deal.
Possibly in a package
These players aren’t in high demand but do have some level of MLB experience with varying levels of success. They would yield little in a straight-up trade. But they could be part of a package that could help a trade.
Last offseason, he was one of the more asked-about Mariners in trade scenarios. But diminished velocity in 2018 and regression with his breaking ball have lowered his value. He still has one more year at the MLB minimum before being arbitration eligible.
The Mariners made him the everyday first baseman and got expected results that were typical of his career path — 20-plus homers (24) and a low on-base percentage (.287). He has value as a platoon bat going forward. He has one more year at the MLB minimum before heading for arbitration eligibility in 2020.
He’s a decent athlete who can play both corner outfield spots. He’s cheap, making the league minimum for one more season before arbitration, and he can hit right-handed pitching (.283 avg./.742 OPS). Most scouts don’t believe he’s an everyday player. Like Healy, he has one more year before reaching arbitration eligibility.
The hard-throwing right-hander underwent season-ending surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon. He isn’t expected to be back in games until June, diminishing his value.
He has all the numbers at the Class AAA level, including a .291/.411/.496 slash line in 342 PCL games. But he doesn’t have a position other than DH and is still viewed as a high-strikeout, low-contact guy at the MLB level.
The veteran lefty had a brilliant season for Seattle in 2018, but his value as a starting pitcher is probably highest to the Mariners, given their rotation and their starting pitching depth. It’s why they signed him to an extension. To other teams? He’s a pitch-making lefty with minimal stuff and no track record of extended success.
Matt Festa, Shawn Armstrong, Dan Altavilla, Chasen Bradford, Nick Rumbelow
A bunch of right-handed relievers with varying amounts of big-league success and fastball velocities with minimal cost. Armstrong is out of minor league options, so that lessens his value. But these are depth arms you could include in a deal.
Maybe, maybe not
The 2018 season featured a new team, a new position, a return to his old position, a brief return to his first position and then playing all three positions during a week, a fractured toe that he dealt with from May till the end of the season and a clubhouse scuffle with Jean Segura.
Oh, and he posted his lowest batting average (.268) since 2016, when he was suspended for 80 games for a failed PED test and played in 79 games, his fewest stolen bases (30) since 2016 and seemed to have his swing-first, swing-always approach exploited by AL pitchers. So, really, at age 31, he’s at a point where his value is probably viewed at its lowest of his career. But he still has had a track record of success. A team could view 2018 as an outlier in production because of the position shifts and the injury. He’s under contract for the next two years.
- 2019: $13.3 million
- 2020: $13.8 million
- 2021: $14 million club option with a $1 million buyout. But that option vests if Gordon reaches 600 plate appearances in 2020 or 1,200 combined plate appearances in 2019 and 2020.
Given his age, the contract represents a mild hindrance. But a team in need of a second baseman as a finishing piece for a postseason run could view him as a possibility.
The logic in signing the veteran right-hander to a two-year, $17 million contract this past offseason was sound. He was coming off an outstanding season, and he would slot in nicely with David Phelps to work in front of Edwin Diaz. But Phelps was lost for the season, and Nicasio had a lost season in terms of performance.
A balky knee that affected his mechanics became a nagging issue, causing discomfort and problems when he pitched with any regularity without days of rest off in between. His outings were unpredictable. He had stretches in which he was effective, followed by periods of homers and hard contact. He was one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball in terms of Batting Average on Balls in Play (.402).
He finally underwent season-ending knee surgery in September. It was a minor procedure, and Nicasio was back throwing in the final days of the season. He believes that he’ll be back his 2017 form (2.61 ERA). The best way for the Mariners to even get a minimal return is to hope Nicasio, who is owed $9.25 million in 2019, has a strong in the first half and then trade him at the deadline.
With Phelps hurt and Nicasio struggling, the Mariners acquired the Rays closer to serve as a setup man for Diaz. The veteran right-hander accepted the lesser role and was solid for Seattle. He went 5-0 with a save, 30 holds and a 2.53 ERA (13 ER, 46 1/3 IP) with 49 strikeouts and 13 walks in 47 relief appearances with the Mariners.
Besides his prior closing role, showing that he was effective in a setup role increases his value. Colome is entering his second year of arbitration eligibility, meaning he has two years of club control. But his arbitration price tag isn’t cheap. He’s projected to make $7.3 million in 2019. Still, teams need relievers and they are using him more frequently. He’s also more of a midseason trade candidate.
The naysayers will point to the strikeouts (150 in 405 plate appearances) and batting average (.201) in 113 games in 2018 and say he’s never going to be a viable offensive presence despite his power (45 homers in the past two seasons). But to some teams that doesn’t matter. They view the catching position as defense first and offense as a bonus. And Zunino, 27, provides defense, pitch framing and leadership. He led all catchers with 12 defensive runs saved.
There are plenty of free-agent catchers available, but there are some flaws. The top free agents are Wilson Ramos and Yasmani Grandal. Ramos is a hit-first catcher who struggles defensively. Grandal has a qualifying offer attached to him, which removes him from consideration for many teams that don’t want to risk losing a draft pick while also paying a high contract.
The catching-starved Rays have looked into acquiring Zunino, who has two more years of arbitration eligibility and is projected to make $4.2 million.
Catchers that can catch have value. For all of his swing-and-miss issues, Zunino’s raw power still has scouts intrigued. Every team feels they have the coaches to help a player reach that potential. He has more trade value than people might think.