Mariners Fire Sale! Everything Must Go!

I’ve had sort of mixed emotions about the first two big deals on this list (that I linked to, if you want to read about my feelings).  I think they were definitely necessary moves the Mariners needed to make, to shake things up and boost our farm system, but ultimately I wonder if we got enough back in return.  A starting catcher (who’s also a defensive wizard) for a centerfielder who probably won’t be here for more than a year or two before we get tired of yet another slap-hitting singles artist FEELS like pennies on the dollar.  Then, giving up a potential Ace starting pitcher for a mixed bag of minor league talent – again, while bolstering our terrible minor league teams – FEELS like yet more pennies on the dollar.  Now, of course, both of those guys (all three, if you want to include Heredia) come with their own risks.  Paxton and his injury issues, and Zunino with his woeful hitting issues, could submarine their respective new teams.  Or, they could figure it out/catch a little luck, and be superstars we gave up on too soon.

Before we get to the next slate of deals, I’ll talk about the minor moves the M’s made.  For starters, it seems odd that we’d dump Herrmann when we were already looking to trade Zunino, and the fact that the Astros made a play on him is doubly concerning.  In the end, probably no big thing, and he’s probably not a guy you’d want to guarantee a 40-man roster spot at this point in his career, so whatever.

Not going to arbitration on either Erasmo or Nick Vincent is probably a net gain.  I’m on the record as not having a whole lot of belief in Erasmo.  I think, for what he brings, he shouldn’t cost you very much in salary, so if he gets that elsewhere, more power to him.  And, while I like Vincent as much as the next guy, he was due a significant raise, and given his age and his declining abilities in 2018, that’s money poorly spent for the direction this team is going in.  I’m okay without either of them going forward, as I particularly think Vincent’s best days are behind him, and he’s going to get WAY too much money from another team.

The M’s offered Elias arbitration, and I think that’s cool, but I would’ve been cool if we didn’t as well.  I don’t think he’s in the longterm plans, but you do need to fill out a 25-man roster.  As a reliever/swing starter, there’s some value there.  He was good in 2018, and it’s just as likely he’ll be terrible in 2019, in which case that helps us on our quest to get a higher draft pick.

Finally, Casey Lawrence asked for his release so he can go pitch overseas.  I wish him the best, but again, no great loss.  He was mostly AAA fodder with occasional underwhelming call-ups.

***

Okay, now to the big deals!  Let’s start with the appetizer.

There was all this talk about the above-referenced blockbuster deal with the Mets, but before we were finished obsessing over that one, Jerry Dipoto snuck in a sneaky-good deal with the White Sox.  Alex Colome was another guy with some value who was not in our longterm plans.  He’s still got closing ability, he did pretty okay in 2018, so that value was probably not going up considerably.  Better to strike now rather than at midseason, when he could suck (or get injured) in the first half and see his value drop to zero.

On top of that, we get a starting-calibre catcher in return!  Omar “Don’t Call Me Navarez” Narvaez is a bat-first, lefty-hitting catcher who can take a walk and hit for a decent average.  He lacks Zunino’s power, but he’s improved in that area over the last year.  Where he stinks, unfortunately, is every aspect of his defense, as he rates as one of the very worst in the league.  Pitch-framing, throwing out runners, blocking pitches in the dirt, you name it, he sucks at it.  So, that’s going to be a drastic change of pace.  He’s essentially the Anti-Zunino, so if you REALLY hated Zunino, you’re REALLY gonna love this guy.

We’ll see if he can pick it up defensively, but I feel like that’s something you either have or you don’t, and you don’t really develop it if you lack it in the first place.  I hope I’m wrong, but I feel like he’s NOT the Catcher of the Future, not unless we find more pitchers who are able to miss more bats (without diving balls between and betwixt his legs).

Regardless, if you can get a starting catcher with multiple years of team control for a reliever on the final year of his contract, that’s a deal you make 10 times out of 10.

So, that solves the Zunino-sized hole at our catcher spot.

***

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s dig into the main course:  the Mets deal.

Robinson Cano has 5 years and $120 million left on his deal.  He’s old, but he’s still pretty effective; if I had to guess I’d say he has at least 2-3 more years left playing at his current level of productivity.  There’s always the chance that he’ll start his decline sooner rather than later – particularly on defense – but he’s too naturally talented to be a total black hole at the plate.  That having been said, as his legs go, it’ll end up being either singles, homers, or strikeouts, so unless he beefs up his homer totals, I can’t see him hitting a significant number of doubles from here on out.  With Nelson Cruz seemingly out of the picture, it looked like Cano was a natural to start to transition to his eventual destination as this team’s primary DH.  But, the M’s obviously had other plans.

So, what changed in a year?  Obviously, the PED suspension.  I’m trying to get a handle on if it’s a concern of a second suspension (and a yearlong ban), or if it’s just his attitude/personality and how it might clash with the new/younger direction this team is looking to make.  He’s obviously a big character on this team, and commands a lot of respect wherever he goes, and maybe the Mariners just want the players to learn from a different voice.  I mean, Cano is an All Star, so you can obviously learn a ton from a guy who built himself up from nothing.  But, there are the usual concerns about his hussle and his passion for the game.  I dunno.  I don’t know if we’ll ever get the real dirt about why the Mariners wanted out from under this deal.  I would assume the concern lies in the fact that he probably NEEDS the PEDs to keep up with his usual All Star level, and without them, his decline will start earlier.

With the $24 million per year contract, we obviously were never going to trade him by himself.  Unfortunately, the only real carrot we could dangle to get him out of here was our all-world closer Edwin Diaz.

I’ve been on record from the very beginning as saying this team should deal Diaz, and if I had it my way, we would’ve traded JUST him to the highest bidder, and gotten a REAL prospect windfall in return.  Honestly, I don’t believe he has it in him to stay at that level for very long.  I think with the way he throws the ball, he’s destined to sustain a serious arm injury, maybe even as soon as 2019.  It wouldn’t shock me in the SLIGHTEST to see him tear something and be out for a year.  I think, regardless of whether he injures his arm or not, he’s destined to lose velo on his fastball sooner rather than later – certainly well before he’s set to hit free agency – and with that I think his value as a closer will plummet.  This is, without question, Edwin Diaz at the peak of his value, and we were never going to have a better opportunity to replenish our minor leagues.

If it were up to me, and the Mariners are just hellbent on ridding this culture of Robinson Cano, then I would’ve just cut him and paid him his remaining salary, while trading Diaz for the highest bounty possible.  But, obviously, it’s not my money, so that’s easy for me to say.

That scenario just isn’t realistic.  I don’t see the harm in forcing him to exclusively DH (while maybe spot starting at second in an emergency), and riding out the remaining years of his contract.  Was he really so poisonous to this culture?  Would his presence alone have set us back so much?

Now, obviously, there’s the fringe benefit of making the Mariners worse by getting rid of him now.  Like I said, Cano can still play, and I bet he’ll be pretty solid for the Mets in 2019.  If our goal is to bottom out, then obviously you don’t want a guy in your lineup doing POSITIVE things like hitting for a high average, lots of extra-base hits, and lots of RBI.  So, that’s something.

In return, we take on some high-priced/low-performing contracts from the Mets.  Jay Bruce is set to earn $26 million over the next two years.  He’s a corner outfielder and I can’t imagine his defense is worth a damn.  Maybe he starts in left; maybe he platoons with Gamel (though, they both bat lefty, so that seems unlikely); maybe the M’s find a way to flip him to another team!  He was okay in 2017, but really had a bad 2018.  He does have some pop in his bat, and he’ll be 32 next year, so maybe we run him out as the DH?  Feels like the best way to preserve his legs and keep him away from anything related to defense.

Anthony Swarzak is on the hook for $8 million in 2019; he’s a veteran reliever who also had a good 2017, then bottomed out in 2018.

If we just talk about money, that’s $21 million for Bruce & Swarzak in 2019, and $13 for Bruce in 2020; that totals $34 million out of Cano’s remaining $120 million.  On top of that, the M’s chipped in an extra $20 million, meaning we ended up saving a total of $66 million going forward (not counting the remaining guys in the deal).  That’s not an insignificant number, especially when you hope that by the time 2021 rolls around, this team will be in a position to contend again.  That’s just the time when Cano should start to suck and Diaz should be recovering from a shoulder surgery!

As for the prospects, your guess is as good as mine.  Kelenic was the 6th overall selection in the 2018 draft.  He’s an 18-year old outfielder with all the tools; he just needs to develop them.  He would be the prize of this deal.  Again, if you can trade a reliever for a starting-calibre outfielder, you make that trade 10 times out of 10.  The question is:  do you trust this organization to develop him the right way?

Dunn is a 19th overall draft pick from 2016 and was the Mets’ highest pitching prospect.  He was in AA last year, so he appears to be on the right track.

Bautista is a reliever who can apparently throw 100 miles per hour.  Obviously, he has command problems, but we have a couple years to work out those kinks before hopefully he’ll stick in our Major League bullpen (or get flipped for still more prospects, if the ol’ rebuild hasn’t gone according to plan).

For what the Mariners were trying to do – acquire top-flight prospects while shedding some money and ridding the clubhouse of a possible cancer – this is probably as good as it gets.  If the outfielder pans out, it’s a terrific deal.  If he doesn’t, and the starter converts to relief, and the reliever flames out, then this could’ve busted SUPER HARD.

***

And, for dessert, I bring you the Jean Segura deal.

This one … REALLY makes me mad.  For starters, we traded for him prior to 2017 in what was at the time a CLEAR victory for the Mariners.  For Taijuan Walker (who doesn’t look like he’ll come close to being the ace we thought he could be), we got an All Star short stop and an All Star outfielder in the primes of their careers.  He started off strong in 2017, so we signed him MID-SEASON to a 5-year extension when we could’ve easily let him play it out through 2018 and seen what we had in him.

But, we liked him enough, so fine, 5-year extension.  He was officially part of our future.  And they didn’t realize until halfway through 2018 that he’s a headcase???  That he’s kind of soft and kind of a clubhouse cancer and we’re now bound and determined to do whatever it takes to be rid of him?

Look, I get the spirit of the rebuild, I really do!  But, this is an All Star player – particularly with the bat – on a very REASONABLE contract; he should be worth more than this!

Segura is due $14.25 million per year for the next 4 years.  In that time, he’ll almost certainly be worth that figure, if not be an outright bargain.  But, whatever, we save that money and we ostensibly get worse at the short stop position in 2019 (again, so we can tank and get that higher draft pick).  Then, there’s Juan Nicasio’s $9 million for 2019.  He, of course, sucked a fat one in 2018, but that could obviously flip entirely the very next year, because that’s how it is with relievers; randomness abounds!  Nevertheless, that’s a lot for an 8th inning reliever who may or may not be finished.  James Pazos has a nothing salary, which is most galling, because he’s both young and good!  Why couldn’t HE fetch a pretty penny on the open market?  Why the need to throw him into the mix?

Particularly when Carlos Santana is coming our way?!  He’s a first baseman (or a DH, depending on what else we do with that first base spot) who’s owed a combined $35 million over the next two years ($500,000 of that is a buyout for 2021, because you figure there’s no way in hell this team is going to pay a 35 year old first baseman another $17.5 million when they don’t have to).  Santana – like all these other useless veterans we’re getting back in these deals – was great in 2017 and stunk in 2018.  So, NOT GREAT, JERRY!

The prize in this deal, I guess, is J.P. Crawford, who will be a 24-year old glove-first/no-bat short stop in 2019.  If we can develop the bat into something halfway decent, then maybe that’s an upgrade in the end.  But, that’s obviously no guarantee.

And, that’s it.  A new short stop and a savings of another $31 million.  On the plus side, all these massive contracts expire after 2019 or 2020, so RIGHT ON TRACK FOR 2021 YOU GUYS!

As always, it’s hard to judge anything until you see the rest of the offseason moves.  But, you figure the biggest deals have been made (unless the team goes full boar and unloads Haniger for another bevy of prospects), and now it’s time for the rest of the roster moves to fill in around these guys.  But, on a surface level, it’s hard to get too excited, when so many variables are in play.

The Mariners Traded James Paxton, The Next Great Rebuild Is On

James Paxton to the Yankees
Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, and Dom Thompson-Williams to the Mariners

So, yeah, this is what we all wanted, right?  Stop pussy-footing around, trying to merely contend for a wild card spot, and start tearing things down to rebuild the foundation even stronger in the seasons to come.  Will the Mariners suck in 2019?  Absolutely.  Were they going to be worth a damn anyway, if we’d re-signed Nelson Cruz, maybe brought in a guy or two from free agency, and tried to run it back with the same core of guys?  Probably not.  The Mariners were going to suck – or at best be mediocre – for years to come; I’d rather they REALLY suck and hope to hit on some young prospects, while waiting out the Astros and A’s and whoever else who are already good now, and figure to be good for a long time.

I’ll start with this:  James Paxton had to be one of the first to go.  That guy is a walking injury waiting to happen, he’s at the peak of his value as a front-line, ace-type starter, so we had to get him out of here while his arm was still attached to his body.  Counting on him to survive a full Major League Baseball season is unrealistic, because he’s literally never been able to do it to date.  Does that mean he’ll NEVER do it?  No; I’m sure as soon as 2019 he’ll be a Cy Young contender.  But, over the long haul, he’s going to be on the DL more than his fair share of times, and it would’ve been frustrating to try and root for the guy who can never stay healthy for longer than a month or two.

There’s also the very real possibility that the Yankees figure something out about his mechanics or whatever and fix him, so he goes on to have a Randy Johnson-esque career in his 30’s.  Never rule out the ineptitude of the Mariners’ organization and its coaching staff.

As for the return?  It’s underwhelming.  It was always going to be underwhelming.

For starters, I’ll agree with what Mike Salk has said on 710 ESPN:  I also hate trading for Yankee prospects because they ARE the most over-hyped prospects in the game.  Now, part of that is due to the fact that they manage to find so many diamonds in the rough; their great teams are ALWAYS built on homegrown talent.  So, yes, they do have an eye for it, but more importantly, they keep what’s going to work best for them, and they ship off the duds.

So, yeah, Justus Sheffield might be their best prospect NOW, but Jesus Montero was once their best prospect.  It might be a down period for Yankee prospects (because so many of them have made it to the Major League level in recent seasons).  Sheffield has also been traded twice in his young career; are we sure we want to get too excited about a guy that two teams have already given up on?

Sure, he COULD be the next James Paxton, but he could also be a back-end of the rotation nothing.  He throws UP to 97 miles per hour, but how much do you want to bet he actually sits closer to 93-94?  And that doesn’t even go into how trading for ANY pitching prospect is risky business, with all the injuries that befall pitchers nowadays.

The bottom line is, scouts around the game feel he likely tops out as a #2 starter, whatever that means.  I guess it means he’s not going to be one of the top 10-15 starters in the league.  For the purposes of the Mariners’ organization, he’ll likely be our #1, but he’s a #1 starter like Freddy Garcia was once a #1.  It all depends on the rotation; someone’s gotta go on opening day.

That’s already underwhelming, and I haven’t even gotten to the throw-ins.  Erik Swanson is another pitcher who’s already been traded twice in his career.  He’s yet to actually make any Major League appearances, though (whereas Sheffield at least made it into 3 games in relief towards the end of last year).  Swanson did pretty good in AAA last year – and both of these guys figure to at least get a look in Spring Training in 2019 – but I’d bet the family farm that he starts out in Tacoma.  Swanson is projected to be a back-end of the rotation starter at best, with some guys projecting him to eventually end up in the bullpen.  In which case, whoop-dee-freaking-doo.

Then there’s Dom Thompson-Williams, an outfielder who made it all the way to the high-A level last year.  He’s young-ish, but probably should’ve made it higher than he has.  He figures to start in AA in 2019 and I guess we’ll see.  They say he plays center, but he projects more as a corner outfielder, and ultimately probably a 4th outfielder at the Major League level.  Either way, don’t expect to see him on the Mariners before 2020 or 2021.

Which, incidentally, is what Jerry Dipoto said is the target for the Mariners to start turning it back around again.  We’ll see.  That sounds pretty optimistic.

As I said up top, I’m all for trading Paxton, but I dunno.  Maybe we could’ve held off until AFTER Thanksgiving to see what we could get.  Is this really the best deal out there?  Are we sure there wasn’t another team willing to chip in just a little bit more?  Obviously, we were limited.  The teams who’d be in on Paxton are the teams who feel they’re World Series contenders RIGHT NOW.  There wouldn’t have been any rebuilding teams, or middling wild card teams in on him, because those teams would be looking for better bets on long-term health.  The Yankees are just hoping Paxton can keep it together for 1-2 years; if he has that in him, maybe they go to the World Series next year.  Or, if he lands on the DL a bunch in 2019, they can always trade him next off-season to recoup whatever they can get.

My thing is, the Mariners believe in their ability to develop players more than I believe in them.  The Mariners probably feel like they can get the most out of Sheffield, that with their coaches, they can turn him into an ace.  I’ll tell you right now, that’s not gonna happen.  Developing fringe talent into stars is probably the WORST thing the Mariners do.  Killing it on social media, engaging with the fans, having cool ballpark give-aways, celebrating their retired stars?  That’s more in their wheelhouse.  It’s fine, we all have our special talents.  Being good at baseball just isn’t one of the Mariners’.

Of course, I’m talking out of my ass, because I haven’t seen any of these guys play at all.  They could shock the world and prove Jerry Dipoto to be a genius.  Based on precedent, I have my doubts.  I’m a Mariners fan, and as such I’m destined to always root for a loser.