Just a little over two years ago, Nov. 7, 2020, to be exact, Kyle Lewis was named the Jackie Robinson American League Rookie of Year. And the Mariners celebrated a bright future for both him and the team.
While the team eventually reached the hoped-for level of success in 2022, reaching the postseason for the first time in 21 years and are seemingly poised for success in seasons to come, Lewis was not really a part of it as injuries of the past leaked into the present, sidelining him for extended stretches and sidetracking his career.
On Friday, Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, the man who green lighted the decision to draft Lewis with 11th pick in the 2016 draft, discussed the circumstances that led to trading him to the Arizona Diamondbacks less than 24 hours earlier in exchange for catcher/outfielder Cooper Hummel.
“In some ways, it was a tough day for us the day we moved Kyle because he’s always been a Mariner,” Dipoto said via video conference. “He was our very first first-round draft pick when this group got together. He is a wonderful human being who has had some really difficult circumstances to deal with, and adversities over the course of his time with the Mariners. We thought that this was the right thing to do for both parties.”
There was an uncertainty on what his role would be with a team that is trying to improve on last season’s finish. Lewis’ struggles with his thrice operated upon right knee limited him to mostly a designated-hitter role. That didn’t fit with the Mariners’ roster setup. As Lewis was out of minor league options and was first-year arbitration eligible, there were few alternatives and a greater financial commitment.
“I think Kyle needed a fresh start, something new,” Dipoto said. “So much of his time here, especially in recent years, has been start and stop and rehab. We felt like it’s a fresh start, new voice and an opportunity to go play. With where we are in our development and where we believe we are on the win curve, we needed some certainty headed into the year, and we didn’t feel like that we could get that betting on Kyle in this situation.”
Acquiring Hummel, a 27-year-old that made his MLB debut earlier this season and never appeared on prospects lists, may not seem like enough to fans, but given Lewis’ last two seasons and injury history, he was never going to bring a large return.
Hummel certainly doesn’t grab the eyes of scouts with his size (5 foot 10, 198 pounds) or his tools. But the Mariners’ analysts loved him, particularly his ability to control the strike zone at the plate. He had a career .397 on-base percentage in six seasons in the minor leagues.
“Cooper does a lot of things we like and our analytics group has been a fan of Cooper’s for quite some time,” Dipoto said. “He does a lot of really interesting things in the batter’s box. We very much value the ability to manage the strike zone, and he does that about as well as you can do it, in the minor leagues for sure. From a discipline standpoint, taking your walks, swinging at the right pitches, translated in the big leagues. It’s just a matter of giving him enough runway to make that bring out the rest of his skill set, because he’s been a very good offensive player for a number of years.”
Hummel made the transition to catching with the Diamondbacks. He caught 18 games at the MLB level last season and caught in 92 games in the minor leagues. He will provide depth at Class AAA Tacoma.
The Mariners narrowed their catching depth chart Friday with the deadline to tender club-controlled players, opting to not tender contracts to catchers Luis Torrens and Brian O’Keefe along with right-handed pitcher Luke Weaver.
After an outstanding second half in 2021, Torrens struggled for much of the 2022 season, forcing the Mariners to acquire veteran Curt Casali at the trade deadline as a temporary stopgap.
Torrens was designated for assignment, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Tacoma. He eventually returned to the Mariners for the final weeks of the regular season and the postseason, contributing some key hits and even pitching in multiple games.
“The bulk of the season didn’t go very well for LT,” Dipoto said. “From the very start, he just had a difficult time this year getting into any type of groove and never really got a ton of traction while he was in Tacoma. The last couple of weeks of the regular season when we needed him most, he did show up and he got some huge hits for us. We love the human that he is. He fits on our club. I know he’s a very popular teammate, popular among our coaching staff. But we do believe Tom Murphy will be back and obviously picking up Cooper did allow us some depth in that position.”
With Torrens arbitration eligible and out of options, the Mariners opted to keep Murphy, a veteran leader and better defensive catcher, as Cal Raleigh’s backup despite missing most of the season because of shoulder surgery.
The Mariners would love to bring Torrens back on a minor league or split contract with an invite to spring training. He will certainly shop the catcher-starved market.
“We feel like the right thing to do is let LT head out,” Dipoto said. “We’ll stay and touch. I’ve already told him that if he’s interested in coming back to the Mariners on a NRI (nonroster invite) and come into camp and battle to make a team, we would have a ton of interest in doing that.”
O’Keefe was a late-season call-up and played in two games, getting one hit. Weaver was a waiver claim from the Royals in late October. It leaves the Mariners with 37 players on the 40-man roster.
The Mariners tendered contract offers to 27 players under club control on the 40-man roster:
- Brennan Bernardino, LHP
- Prelander Berroa, RHP
- Matt Brash, RHP
- Isaiah Campbell, RHP
- Diego Castillo, RHP
- Matt Festa, RHP
- Logan Gilbert, RHP
- George Kirby, RHP
- Easton McGee, RHP
- Penn Murfee, RHP
- Paul Sewald, RHP
- Justus Sheffield, LHP
- Gabe Speier, LHP
- Juan Then, RHP
- Ty France, INF
- Sam Haggerty, INF/OF
- Dylan Moore, INF/OF
- Abraham Toro, INF
- Jonatan Clase, OF
- Teoscar Hernández, OF
- Jarred Kelenic, OF
- Cade Marlowe, OF
- Alberto Rodríguez, OF
- Taylor Trammell, OF
- Cooper Hummel, C/OF
- Tom Murphy, C
- Cal Raleigh, C
The Mariners have 10 players under MLB contracts:
- Luis Castillo, RHP, signed through 2027 with vesting option for 2028.
- J.P. Crawford, INF, signed through 2026.
- Chris Flexen, RHP, signed through 2023.
- Marco Gonzales, LHP, signed through 2024 with club option for 2025.
- Andrés Muñoz, RHP, signed through 2025 with options through 2028.
- Robbie Ray, LHP, signed through 2026.
- Julio Rodríguez, OF, signed through 2029 with options through 2039.
- Eugenio Suárez, INF, signed through 2024 with club option for 2025.
- Evan White, INF, signed through 2025 with options through 2028.
- Jesse Winker, signed through 2023.