It’s all different for the Mariners and general manager Jerry Dipoto this season.
The organizational shift to rebuilding and resetting an aging and expensive roster started in the offseason. The culling of veteran players and adding subpar or inexperienced replacements has yielded a team that will lose 90 games, but probably more, this season.
And now Dipoto enters the final months of the season with only one trade deadline left to remove the last remaining players on his roster with guaranteed major league contracts. As part of bargaining between MLB and the players association this offseason, there will be only one trade deadline this season — July 31 — the traditional nonwaiver trade deadline. In years past, teams could make trades from Aug. 1 to Aug. 31 by sending players through release waivers, having them clear the process and then making trades.
So what does the ultra-active Dipoto think of the reduced trading time?
“I think it’s good and we’ve been probably as or more active than anybody in the second period (waiver trades) in the last few years,” he said. “But I think one trade deadline is good. I think in an ideal world it would be a little further back on the calendar. But hopefully having just one trade deadline gives teams around the league a chance to definitively get in or get out.”
In past years, teams on the fringe of the second wild card could still use the month of August to determine if they were for real or just posers and then react accordingly.
Teams don’t have that luxury now, making it difficult to decide — whether to buy, sell or sit. For example, every team in the National League, with the exception of the Marlins, is still technically in the race for the second wild card. The Mets and Reds are five games out at the back end of the race while five other teams are within a half-game of the wild card.
“We’ve talked internally about what it might do as we get down to the final 72 hours before it,” Dipoto said. “If there are teams that are hanging on the fringe, they might make depth moves in that last 72 hours that they otherwise wouldn’t make. You might see them pop off for a couple utility players, a lefty reliever or a back-of-the-rotation starter if the prices are reasonable in the last couple of days. Because if they let those days go by and they don’t add to their team, they might find three weeks later that they are in this thing and they screwed up.”
Still, Dipoto isn’t certain how that will go.
“We are guessing a little bit on how this year’s market will be impacted by the one deadline, but we’ve got theories and we’ll find out in a few weeks how they’ll play out,” he said.
His initial read?
“In most markets, the asking prices have appeared to start quite high,” he said. “Some of them will come down and some of them will not and that could put a team that’s waiting till the end in a tough position unless they are willing to take the late dive, which we think most will do.”
The Mariners are obviously sellers, and everyone in baseball knows they’ve been in that mode since Dipoto sent Mike Zunino to the Rays in his first trade of the offseason with many more to follow.
But how much do teams actually want what they are selling? Here’s a closer look at the trade value (or lack thereof) for their players.
Want to trade/want to be traded
Mike Leake: This title couldn’t be more fitting for the veteran right-handed starting pitcher and the Mariners. Both sides are ready to be done with the relationship. But it’s not simple. Per sources, there has been minimal interest for Leake since a previous trade to the Diamondbacks was scuttled a month ago.
To be fair, Leake isn’t particularly dominant and he’s owed a lot of money. That’s not a combination that usually excites buyers. The Mariners know the perception and are willing to make it work in terms of eating a large portion of the remaining money owed this season and the $11 million owed for 2020.
Leake had a miserable outing to open the second half, failing to make it out of the first inning in Anaheim. But a team that’s willing to bring in Leake has a pretty good idea of who he is as a pitcher beyond one bad start. He’s a guy that provides innings and depth at the back of a rotation. He’s pitched six or more innings in 14 of his 19 starts this season.
While most teams covet pitchers like Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, Mike Minor and Matthew Boyd, acquiring Leake would cost far less in several aspects.
Dee Gordon: Of this group, Gordon probably has the most value to a playoff-contending team because he has a bankable asset — speed. His ability to run gives him something that teams can point to as a usable strength for the stretch run and postseason, particularly with rosters still allowed to go to 40 in September. The Mariners have no animosity toward Gordon, but his absence would allow them to play Shed Long, once he gets healthy, at second base every day for this season and start him there next season.
Gordon is still a plus defender and has shown signs of being more consistent at the plate. That hit by pitch from J.A. Happ on May 9, which resulted in a nasty bone bruise, has torpedoed what started off as a solid season for Gordon.
In his first 35 games before getting hit, Gordon had a .304/.336/.406 slash line with three doubles, a triple, three homers and 19 RBI with 10 stolen bases. In 35 games since getting hit, he’s got a .216/.240/.293 slash line with five doubles, two triples, seven RBI and six stolen bases.
Gordon’s contract is prohibitive. He’s owed what’s left on his $13 million salary this season and $13.5 million next season with a $1 million buyout for a 2021 club option.
The Mariners are going to have to eat salary or take on salary on another player with a comparable contract to make any deal work.
Tim Beckham: He wasn’t happy to lose his starting job to J.P. Crawford. The Mariners weren’t happy watching him butchering balls at shortstop. He’s not part of their future and is a candidate to be non-tendered in the offseason since he’s arbitration eligible in 2020. He has a $1.75 million salary for this season, so he’s not cost-prohibitive. But he doesn’t have a true position. He can play all four infield spots at an adequate-to-average level. His most valuable asset is his bat. A .233 batting average is off-putting, but he has a .752 OPS with more potential for power. He could be a decent right-hand bat off the bench, but any prospect return would be minimal.
Easiest player to trade
Roenis Elias: He’s the perfect combination of minimal salary, production and need. The veteran lefty reliever is has probably been the Mariners’ best reliever this season, which isn’t a lofty achievement considering the bullpen’s subpar performance. At times, like in save situations, he’s looked dominant. And there have been times when he’s reverted to the old inefficient, pitch-count-filling ways.
During his 11 saves, he hasn’t allowed a run in 13 1/3 innings, giving up just four hits and striking out 15 batters. In 14 save situations, he has a 2.40 ERA. But in 24 non-save situations, he has a 5.00 ERA in 27 innings.
Even with the inconsistency from high-leverage to non-leverage situations, the need for relievers this season is high. There are so many underperforming bullpens in baseball. Even contending teams like the Cubs, Twins, Nationals and Phillies have bullpens that need help. Elias’ overall stuff, his ability to pitch multiple times a week and also work more than one inning make him attractive.
From a contract standpoint, Elias has what’s left of his $900,000 this season and two years of arbitration eligibility the next two years.
Players that teams would actually want
Domingo Santana: Yes, he’s been a mess defensively in the outfield. But he’s still got a .277/.343/.484 slash line with 10 doubles, a triple, 19 homers and 64 RBI. That’s a productive right-handed bat that any team could find useful in its lineup. A team like the Rays could view Santana as an option at designated hitter and negate his defense completely. Or if Jay Bruce’s oblique injury in Philadelphia proves to be worse than expected, perhaps Santana’s value is increased.
The Mariners aren’t forced to move Santana since he’s only in the first year of arbitration eligibility. He has two years of club control. So while he isn’t necessarily part of their future, they don’t have to trade him now. They could wait to move him in the offseason or midway through next season if the current prospect return is minimal.
Omar Narvaez: Usually catchers traded at the deadline are plus defenders used as backups to offset or provide quality relief for the starting catcher. Narvaez isn’t that. He’s got an elite bat to offset his own forgettable defense. He has a .294/.366/.498 slash line with a seven doubles, 16 homers and 38 RBI in 81 games.
Given the Mariners’ lack of catching depth in the organization, a team would have to give up a good prospect to get Narvaez. Besides his production, which includes power numbers that are seemingly on the rise, he’s highly affordable. He enters arbitration eligibility next season, meaning he has three more years of club control at what are projected to be affordable salaries.
While prospect Cal Raleigh is progressing quicker than expected, already moving to Class AA, a polished Narvaez could be the best option when the team starts to come together in 2021.
Too hurt to move
Ryon Healy, Austin Adams and Hunter Strickland: They are all on the injured list and have no value.
Not going to happen
Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez: Seager’s contract is too prohibitive. Hernandez is a non-factor.