ARLINGTON, Texas — In the hours before the 1 p.m. deadline to complete all trades, the Mariners sent a pair of their more experienced relievers to the Washington Nationals — a team that somehow had a worse bullpen than Seattle.
Right-hander Hunter Strickland, who started the season as the Mariners’ closer before getting injured, and lefty Roenis Elias, who has been serving as the closer the last few months, were shipped to the Nationals in exchange for three pitching prospects — left-handers Taylor Guilbeau and Aaron Fletcher and righty Elvis Alvarado.
After what general manager Jerry Dipoto felt was a relatively boring lead-up in the days before the trade deadline, business picked up as teams scoured the market for relievers that didn’t have massive salary commitments or wouldn’t cost them top prospects.
Especially in the last two hours leading up to the deadline, the activity “got really heavy,” Dipoto said. “There were multiple teams that checked in on our relief pitchers for the very first time.”
That two of the pitchers were left-handers was more coincidence than addressing a need.
“It’s an area where we are short,” Dipoto said. “We don’t have a great deal of depth at the upper levels of our organization in left-handed bullpen, especially after trading Roenis. We did want to make sure we back-filled where we could with lefties. That being said, it was take the best talent we could get, and if all things are equal, we’d like it to be left-handed. We felt like in that Nats deal the best talent we could access would be left-hand bullpen guys. And we aren’t entirely certain Fletcher is a bullpen guy and not a starter.”
Per MLB Pipeline, Guilbeau was rated as the No. 15 prospect in the Nationals organization, and Fletcher was ranked No. 21. Baseball America had Guilbeau at No. 14 and Fletcher at No. 19.
Guilbeau has split time between Class AA and AAA this season as a reliever, posting a 2.89 ERA in 34 appearances. He has 50 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings. After working as a swing reliever and part-time starter, the move to a full-time reliever has seen Guilbeau’s fastball bump up to 95-96 mph. He also has a slider that is effective against lefties. He’ll report to Class AAA Tacoma.
“He really took a huge step forward in last year’s fall league, and it has carried over into this year,” Dipoto said. “He’s a lower-slot lefty that gets up to 98 mph with his fastball. He has an above-average slider. We feel like Taylor is close to the big leagues and he will pitch for us, barring anything unforeseen, at some point before the end of the 2019 season whether that be in August or September. We are going to let him get his feet on the ground in Tacoma and see where he is.”
Fletcher, 23, has gone from Low A to High A and now Class AA this season. Also a reliever, he’s made 32 appearances and posted a 1.79 ERA. In 60 1/3 innings, he’s struck out 69 with 15 walks. He doesn’t quite have the power of Guilbeau with his fastball, but he has a deceptive delivery that’s also tough on left-handed hitters. He’ll head to Class AA Arkansas.
“He’s 90-95 mph with an average fastball of 92 and has an above-average slider,” Dipoto said. “He’s got a little bit of a funk in his delivery. He was groomed as a starter out of the University of Houston and converted to a reliever. He performs. He throws strikes. He misses bats. We feel he can be a multi-inning reliever or be stretched back out as a starter. We’ll talk about him as a potential Arizona Fall League candidate for us.”
Alvarado, 20, was converted from outfielder to pitcher midway through his second season in the Dominican Summer League. As a full-time pitcher this season, he’s 2-2 with a 6.00 ERA in two starts and five relief appearances. He’s still very raw. He’ll report to the Arizona Rookie League team and finish out the season.
“He has a fastball that touches up to 100 mph and averages around 94,” Dipoto said. “He routinely hits 97s and 98s, and it’s still very much a work in progress. He spins a breaking a ball. He’s been pitching for little over a year. He doesn’t yet have command of his weapons. But the weapons are significant. We feel he’s young enough and athletic enough for us to make a difference.”
The Nationals had one of their top pro scouts covering the Mariners the last few days. He was in Texas on Tuesday night watching Elias notch his 14th save of the season and also saw Strickland make his first outing since coming off the injured list on Sunday in Seattle.
Strickland has missed most of the season with a lat strain. But he does have proven MLB success.
In a market starving for relievers, the Mariners tried to capitalize with two pitchers that were going to command a fair amount of money next season. Elias was going into his second year of arbitration eligibility. After a solid season that includes 44 appearances and 14 saves already, his salary of $910,000 was expected to go up. The club control allowed the Mariners to get more in prospect return. Strickland has two more years of arbitration eligibility and made $1.9 million this season.
Seattle added a pair of relievers to its bullpen to offset the loss of Elias and Strickland.
Right-hander Gerson Bautista was recalled from Class AAA Tacoma while right-hander Zac Grotz had his minor-league contract selected from Class AA Arkansas.
This is Bautista’s second stint with the Mariners this season. In his first call-up, he was 0-1 with a 10.29 ERA (8 ER, 7 IP) with five strikeouts and nine walks in seven games, including two starts as an opener. Since being sent down, he’s got a 12.10 ERA with the Rainiers in eight games.
Grotz, 26, was 4-4 with a 2.51 ERA (16 ER, 57.1 IP) with 69 strikeouts and 11 walks in 26 games (six starts) for the Travelers. Over his last 10 appearances, Grotz has posted a 1.13 ERA with five walks and 20 strikeouts. He was signed as a minor-league free agent during the offseason.