Will this pace keep up? Doubtful.
Is the sample size relatively small? Absolutely.
Can a maddening slump be around the corner? Always a possibility.
But so far, it looks possible — maybe even probable — that acquiring Ty France was the best trade Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has ever made.
That’s saying quite a bit considering how active Dipoto has been since the M’s hired him in 2015. Such a statement is like saying, “That’s the best dish Guy Fieri has ever cooked.” But the difference between reaching the playoffs or wrapping it up after 162 games might very well rest on France’s production.
Right now, the first baseman has a slash line of .375/.459/.656. His 1.116 OPS was sixth in MLB before games began Monday, and his 24 hits rank first. He is on pace to finish with a WAR of 12, which is an MVP-caliber number. And the Mariners, much in part because of France, are in first place in the American League West.
Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about the second line of this column. What a player does through the first 16 games of the season — particularly in baseball — means very little. But this stretch isn’t completely out of nowhere.
Last season, France led the Mariners in WAR (according to baseballreference.com’s formula) at 4.3. It was reflective of what Dipoto envisioned for the Padres’ former 34th-round draft pick. Dipoto was enamored with France after his 76 games in Class AAA El Paso three years ago, when he hit .399. He had to have him at that point and made a deal with San Diego to make it happen.
Out went catcher Austin Nola and relievers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla. In came France, outfielder Taylor Trammell, catcher Luis Torrens and reliever Andres Munoz.
Before the 2021 season began, my co-columnist Larry Stone wrote that this could be Dipoto’s defining deal — more so than the one that brought Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn to Seattle while relieving the Mariners of much of Robinson Cano’s contract.
So far, the results support the thesis.
Nola played just 56 games for the Padres last year and Altavilla two. Adams pitched 52 2/3 innings but accumulated a bite-sized WAR of 0.2. In fact, the combined WAR of 1.2 among that trio since the start of last season is less than a fourth of what France achieved alone.
Meanwhile, Torrens logged 108 games for the Mariners last season, and though Munoz didn’t see much time in 2021, he has already appeared in six games this year, in which he has gone 1-0 with an earned-run average of 3.00.
Again, the sample size is just a toddler right now. It could be like that 13-2 start in 2019 that turned into a 68-94 season for the Mariners. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. But right now, that deal seems like a monster win for Dipoto should folks stay healthy — particularly France.
The buzz might not have surrounded Ty the way it did younger players such as Kelenic or Julio Rodriguez. Former first-rounders and/or No. 1 prospects tend to generate most of the hype. But perhaps that’s a good thing for France. Kelenic, after all, has yet to find his way in the majors, hitting just .177 in 108 games — and Rodriguez leads MLB in strikeouts so far (though, to be fair, he has been robbed by bad calls repeatedly). But France — who has eight hits and seven runs batted in in his past two games — bypassed all the outside expectations and is playing like a future All-Star.
As Mariners outfielder Jesse Winker said after Sunday’s sweep of the Royals, “Ty France has put us on his back.”
There is no general manager who hasn’t missed on a trade at some point in their career. Near the start of his tenure, Dipoto shipped out Chris Taylor to the Dodgers for Zach Lee, only to watch Taylor star in Los Angeles while Lee never pitched a game in Seattle. This transaction looks a whole lot better.
France is only 27 years old. He was more than productive in his first full season in MLB last year and has been spectacular in season No. 2. It often just takes a couple of extra wins to get over the playoff hump, and France very well could provide them.
If that happens, he’s earned the right to take a bow. That goes for Dipoto, too.