The Mariners finalized a minor trade on Wednesday evening at the winter meetings, acquiring right-handed pitcher Chris Heston from the San Francisco Giants for a player to be named later.
NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland — The Major League Baseball Winter Meetings weren’t going to pass by without the Mariners making some sort of trade or signing or transactional move.
That’s not the way of general manager Jerry Dipoto and his almost obsessive need to better his ball club.
On late Wednesday night, Dipoto made his first and possibly his only trade of the three-and-half-day baseball circus.
The Mariners completed a minor deal, acquiring right-hander Chris Heston from the San Francisco Giants for a player to be named later. With the 40-man roster full, Seattle designated first baseman Richie Shaffer for assignment to make room for Heston. Shaffer was acquired in a trade with the Rays earlier in the offseason.
Most Read Sports Stories
- Commentary: Even if Nick Rolovich’s lawsuit is successful, WSU comes out ahead. The saga is over
- Kraken drops home opener to Canucks, but that can't spoil excitement at Climate Pledge Arena
- 'We live for hockey': Climate Pledge Arena fans show they are committed to Kraken on opening night
- Ann Wilson, Sue Bird highlight Kraken's home-opening pregame ceremonies
- Analysis: What's the plan for UW QB Sam Huard's freshman season? Is there a plan?
“Adding Chris is another move in our continuing effort to build a deep and flexible pitching staff,” Dipoto said. “His composure and solid feel to pitch has produced positive results at all levels throughout his career.”
This was a trade of opportunity for Seattle. The Giants were going to designate Heston for assignment in the coming days if a trade partner could not be found. He was essentially blocked from making an already set starting rotation in San Francisco. With a full 40-man roster, San Francisco needed to open up room for recently-signed closer Mark Melancon.
Heston, 28, is coming off a down season where he was shifted to a bullpen role in spring training. The change in roles didn’t work. He gave up six runs on nine hits in four appearances. He was sent back to Class AAA Sacramento and went back to starting. He made 13 appearances, posting a 2-9 record and 3.77 ERA. Heston suffered an oblique injury in late June and was placed on the 60-day disabled list. He made four late rehab starts in the minor leagues.
With the Mariners, he’ll provide starting pitching depth and vie for one of the remaining spots in the rotation along with Nathan Karns, Ariel Miranda and Rob Whalen. Like the three pitchers he’s competing with, Heston has a minor league option year available and can pitch in Class AAA Tacoma if he doesn’t make the rotation.
Heston had a solid 2015 season. With the Giants’ rotation decimated by injuries, Heston was called up from Class AAA, making his debut on April 8. In his first 18 starts, Heston posted a 9-5 record with a 3.39 ERA, including a no-hitter against the Mets at Citi Field on June, 9 2015.
But he wore down in the second half of the season, posting a 3-6 record with a 4.91 ERA in 13 starts. He struggled to keep weight on through the rigors of the season, losing 15 pounds and seeing his velocity decrease.
When he’s right, Heston is a ground ball machine, using a sinker, curveball and changeup. He has a career 52.6 groundball percentage.
The acquisition of Heston was Dipoto’s seventh trade of the offseason, but it wasn’t the trade that everyone is anticipating.
Seattle is still very much searching for an experienced upgrade in their starting rotation. That trade may not come during the meetings. The starting pitching trade market is difficult to navigate with many teams looking for a pitcher of that level.
Dipoto understands he may leave the meetings without having acquired that guy.
“We definitely set some stages and we made some progress,” he said. “I don’t feel like anything is at a tipping point right now. But that’s kind of how discussions — whether trade or negotiations go. You may not think you are in the right ballpark and 10 minutes later you are in the red zone. Anything is possible we have had our fair share of activity and discussion. I’m sure that will continue tonight and into tomorrow. My guess is that if we leave here without filling our need then it’s going to continue into Friday and a week from Monday.”
As for free agents, Dipoto has met with some during his time here. And yes, baseball sources did confirm the team did talk with Mark Trumbo’s representatives, but that it was mostly just a preliminary meeting in an effort to understand what the American League home run leader is looking for and what his market might be like. That knowledge can help the Mariners in their unrelated transactions with teams.
Without mentioning Trumbo or any specific free agents, Dipoto kind of outlined his approach to those negotiations. Seattle could be forced to look at a free agent starting pitcher if the trade route doesn’t work out.
“Our activity to this point has been verifying,” he said. “Every move you make creates a spider web effect and you have to be prepared for plans B, C and D. We don’t know what those security blankets unless you’ve vetted the market and understand where the industry stands with various free agents. Those who are options for us, we’ve just checked in on and expressed some early level interest ahead and just generally finding out where their pulse is and where their markets might be. You never know what might happen next.”
Right-hander Jason Hammel, a native of Port Orchard, and Doug Fister are outside possibilities that would fit and lefty Derek Holland to a lesser extent.
“We have a pretty direct idea of what our needs are, but you never know how you are going to fill those needs,” Dipoto said. “Sometimes trades come from minor league depth, sometimes trades come from financial flexibility that you have and other teams may not or vice versa sometime they happen for Major League roster to Major League roster. We understand that any of those are possible to fill our needs. And we are trying to be as prepared as we can be. As a result, we’ve checked in with some (free agents) but haven’t taken it too far down the road with any.”
With a full 40-man roster and a 25-man roster largely in place, Dipoto said the Mariners won’t select a player in the Major League portion of the Rule 5 draft. A player selected must remain on the team’s 25-man roster all season or be offered back. Dipoto said they may take a player or two in the minor league portion.
The club is still willing to listen to offers on veteran outfielder Seth Smith. Seattle may not be looking for prospects, but a club to take on Smith’s contract. Under contract for $7 million for 2017, the Mariners could use that money in their pursuit if a starting pitcher.
Sources said the Mariners have some interest in Reds’ right-hander Anthony DeSclafani. But the asking price for the 26-year-old right-hander is said to be relatively high. DeSclafani went 9-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 20 starts for Cincinnati this season.