It’s always alarming when people start talking about tearing a team down and doing a full-on rebuild, particularly when it’s a team like the Mariners, who had the hype and expectations they had coming into the season. Indeed, it’s more than just alarming; it’s discouraging, frustrating, enraging, you name it. It also makes sense in a lot of ways. The Mariners have an aging roster with guys like Cano and Cruz on offense, and guys like Felix and Iwakuma on the pitching staff, on top of various role players and guys on 1-year deals. When you factor that in with how this team has underperformed, is staring down the barrel of last place, with a few guys making a lot of money, and then take a look at how barren the farm system is, and yeah, I can see why people might be clamoring for a tear down. Get the nasty taste of Jackie Z and Howard Lincoln out of our mouths once and for all, start fresh with the new ownership group and the new GM.
Now, normally, when you do this, you have someone on your roster who you choose to build around, but I’m hearing people talking about trading Cruz, Cano, Felix, (obvs) and Kyle Seager? Not that Seager is some stud superstar or anything, but he’s not old, he’s not particularly overpaid, and you figure he’s got a lot of years left of being a productive player at this level.
But, here, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s say, for the sake of argument that the Mariners continue to be terrible on into July and anyone and everyone is on the table for trade. I want to go through the roster line by line, so to speak, and tell you why it doesn’t make a ton of sense to blow the whole thing up.
Any conversation in this area is going to start with Robinson Cano. We’re currently in the fourth year of a 10-year deal, where he’s making $24 million per season. He’s 34 years old and still putting up All Star numbers. He has that DL stint under his belt already this year, which is an obvious concern (given his age), and that contract is pretty prohibitive for a lot of teams. Smaller market cities just flat out won’t be able to afford him; teams at the top of the league in payroll are going to be VERY wary of bringing on such a huge deal. So, right there, you’re chopping off maybe half the league, not even factoring in the teams who have a need for a second baseman, who are also in contention and willing to be buyers at the deadline. Oh, and by the way, Cano has a full no-trade clause, so he’d have to agree to any deal. The bottom line is, there’s no way the Mariners are trading Cano without opting to eat a significant portion of his salary, in which case why even bother? We’re not at a point where he’s a cancer in the organization. And, even if we did trade him while eating a bunch of money, we STILL probably won’t get anyone of value in return. That’s, like, a million whammies against this ever happening. Next.
Nelson Cruz. He’s even older than Cano, at 36 years of age, but he’s in the third year of a 4-year deal. He’s still playing at an All Star level, but he’s also just a DH. He can only play the outfield in National League games, and I’m not totally sure he can even play on back-to-back days. That SEVERELY limits his value. It takes out the entire National League, for starters, as he can’t play any other defensive position than right field. So, he’s a DH. I’m sure an American League team would welcome him with open arms, but he immediately limits a team’s flexibility to give guys DH “rest” days late in the season. His contract isn’t too terrible, at $14 million next year (and whatever pro-rated portion of that for the rest of this season), but again, you’re not talking about a guy who is going to bring back a lot of value. Maybe a couple Quad-A guys, and some salary relief and that’s about it. Next.
Felix Hernandez, of course. He’s 31 years old, but he’s been in the Major Leagues since 2005 and has a lot of miles on his arm. He spent significant time on the DL last year and again this year. He’s making $26 million this year and next, and $27 million in 2019. There’s a $1 million option for 2020 if he spends significant time on the DL with an elbow injury, otherwise he’ll be a free agent in 2020. His performance has declined since 2014 (the last year he was really at an All Star level) with no reason to expect him to return to a consistent All Star level. In short, trading Felix would be a straight-up salary dump for very low-level prospects. And, on top of it, he too has a full no-trade clause. Seems highly unlikely any team would take on the risk of a Felix Hernandez for that type of money, so this is another scenario where the Mariners would almost certainly have to eat some of that money. He doesn’t have the type of emotional value anywhere else besides Seattle, so what would be his motivation to want to go elsewhere (aside from being a broken-down starter trying to back-door into a playoff appearance)? Seems like a longshot at best that the Mariners are able to deal him at all. Next.
Hisashi Iwakuma. Will he even be healthy by July? Let’s assume he is, for the sake of argument. Well, he’s 36 years old right now. He’s earning $14 million this year, so he’ll cost his new ballclub whatever the pro-rated amount of that is. He’s 94 innings-pitched away from earning a guaranteed $15 million in 2018, which he could very well reach if he’s able to return by July (otherwise, it looks like 2018 is a $10 million club option year, and he could be released if he doesn’t reach the innings threshold). Also, Kuma has a full no-trade clause. His velocity has gone down significantly this season, he’s not making great progress in his rehab at the moment, and aside from 2016, he hasn’t proven to be very durable. Throw him on the pile of guys I’ve already mentioned who won’t bring back much of anything in trade, aside from salary relief.
Boring and repetitive, no? Let’s return to Kyle Seager then. Here’s a guy with some real, actual value. He’s 29 years old. He’s on a contract for up to five more seasons after this year (2022 is a club option year with a buy-out). He has yet to be prohibitively expensive, though his salary spikes starting in 2018 (between $18-$19 million per season over the next four years, while his 2022 season value could climb as high as $20 million if he reaches certain performance markers). Again, though, that’s not an unreasonable number for a guy like Seager, who plays a solid third base, who is as durable as they get, who is consistent offensively (and has improved little by little every year). This is a guy any team would love to have! So, we get back to the usual questions: which teams in contention also need a third baseman? You could talk about moving him to second base in a pinch, but moving him to first base seems like a waste of his talents, and reduces much of his value. I could see the Mariners getting a really valuable piece in return for Kyle Seager, but once you trade him, you’ve got an immediate hole at third base. Who fills that void? The Mariners don’t have anyone in the minors right now ready to step in there on an everyday basis. If you trade Seager for a third base prospect, you still don’t know if that guy will pan out. You’re essentially trading a sure thing for a lottery ticket, and you haven’t really helped your team out in any other areas. Plus, Seager is a homegrown talent, and if you’re looking to unload salary elsewhere, you’re going to want to keep a guy like Seager around to help lessen the blow of the fact that the Mariners would (in this scenario) be getting rid of a lot of familiar faces. However, if the Mariners are forced to keep guys like Cano, Felix, and Cruz (due to age and salary issues), then by all means, try to get as much as you can for Seager. I just hope the backup plan at third base is a true asset and this won’t be a Robbing Peter to Pay Paul situation.
Jean Segura is under club control through 2018, so here’s another valuable piece. Who wouldn’t want a guy like Segura? You could stick him at short stop or second base, you can put him at the top of your lineup as he’s a hitting machine, he’s got plenty of pop in his bat to boot, and he’s cost-friendly from a contract perspective (his final Arb year is next year, but he’s a steal at $6.2 million this year, and should still be a bargain next year with whatever raise he gets). You can unload Seager and Segura and get some high-level prospects back, but again those are a couple of really big holes to fill on the left side of your infield.
After that, I don’t know that you have a ton of value left to trade. Smyly’s hurt, Gallardo is bad, Valencia is just okay, ditto Dyson and some of the veteran bullpen guys. You’re not going to get much back in return, is my point. The only other guys with value on the Mariners are younger guys: Paxton, Haniger, Heredia, Gamel, Diaz, Altavilla, Pazos, but isn’t the whole point of a total roster rebuild to build AROUND that young core? Wouldn’t you want to KEEP guys like Paxton, Haniger, Heredia, Gamel, Diaz, and the like? Sure, you could get some decent prospects back, but at that point you’re REALLY trying to bottom out if you’re going to trade talent like this. That’s more of a long-con like the Astros did, where they went after the #1 overall draft pick year after year after year. Can the Mariners afford to wait that long, when they’re already the team with the longest playoff drought in the entirety of Major League Baseball?
I’ll talk a little more about Paxton here, since I’m thinking he’s a name people might want to trade. Like Kuma, Paxton is a guy who has never proven he can stay healthy for a full season. He hasn’t really had any significant arm trouble, but it’s been a lot of other things, and you have to think the significant arm trouble is on the horizon. I just don’t know if you’re going to get the type of value for a guy like Paxton that you’d be happy with. It makes more sense to hang onto him for the pennies he’s making now, let him build up value over the next few seasons (if he can), and reap the rewards of his ace-like performances while we can.
I dunno. A total rebuild is a nice idea, particularly in a season like this where everything is going to shit, but I just can’t see it. At best, the Mariners can unload salary, while getting some good prospects back for Seager and Segura, but it comes at a price: knowing the Mariners won’t contend for anything for another 3-5 years or more. Maybe you’re okay with that, but there’s another problem with “building for the future”: even if you run into a Best Case Scenario, like with the Royals a few years ago, these things are short lived! Guys get injured, guys underperform at random, guys become free agents and command huge deals on the open market.
Going back to the Royals, they were a bottom-feeder for almost 30 years! They won the World Series in 1985, then didn’t make the playoffs again until 2014. They made the World Series in back-to-back years in 2014 and 2015 (winning it all the second time around), then fell to .500 in 2016 and now, in 2017, they’re last in the American League. THAT’S HOW FAST IT CAN ALL FALL APART!
Now, come back to the Mariners. Again, I reiterate, the Mariners have the longest playoff drought in the entire Major Leagues. They’re one of two teams who have never reached the World Series (with the Nationals/Expos), and one of 8 teams who have never won it all. Only the Buffalo Bills have a longer playoff drought in all of the four major American professional sports. You could make an argument that the Mariners, as presently constructed, are just a couple players away from being serious playoff contenders (particularly on the pitching side of things). Are you willing to throw that all away, to start over fresh, without any guarantee whatsoever that tanking these next 3-5 years will bring about any sort of turnaround? Just because it looks like it’s worked for the Astros doesn’t mean it will work for the Mariners. And, even with the Astros on the rise, how long will it last? Will they be the new Royals in three years?
TL;DR: why do we even follow the sport of baseball? ALL OF LIFE IS A MEANINGLESS FARCE!