Heading into June, the safest bet in baseball was the one hinging on the Seattle Mariners trading away veterans ahead of the July 31 deadline. General manager Jerry Dipoto needs little cajoling to wheel and deal ballplayers with the capricious nature often reserved for schoolchildren at lunchtime. Yet Dipoto has plenty persuading him to continue the teardown he started during the winter. For one, the Mariners have collapsed, going 18-42 after beginning the season 13-2. For another, Dipoto’s boss — the club owner — reportedly wants anyone making real money stripped from the roster, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman:
Dipoto has already taken the mandate to heart by trading away Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion. In both deals, the Mariners sent money (about $29 million in total) without receiving an impressive return. The focus seems to be on saving costs where costs can be saved rather than leveraging Seattle’s financial might to acquire the best prospects possible. That’s rebuilding the right way — if the right way concerns only the owner’s wallet.
As Heyman notes, the Mariners may have to follow the same blueprint over the ensuing six-plus weeks if they’re to fulfill ownership’s wish. The best-compensated Mariners are Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager, Mike Leake, and Dee Gordon — and none of them are necessarily attractive trade chips. Still, those are the players — okay, salaries — that ownership wants gone. With the exception of rookie starter Yusei Kikuchi, everyone else on the roster is making less than $5 million this season. (Heck, remove injured reliever Arodys Vizcaino from the equation, and only one other Mariners player is making more than $2 million in 2019.)
Dipoto has three choices ahead of him. He can eat as much of the money owed to those veterans as it takes to move them, thereby saving a couple million a pop; he can attach a more attractive piece to the veteran in question to sweeten the pot — the way he did over the winter by including Edwin Diaz in the Robinson Cano trade; or he can do neither of the above and irritate his boss. We’re going to go out on a limb and say one (or both) of the first two are likeliest.
With that in mind, we decided to put ourselves in Dipoto’s place and dream up three fake trades that would 1) make sense for both teams involved and 2) ease the financial burden on Seattle’s poor billionaire owner. Note that this is more art than science, and more nonsense than art.
1. Mike Leake and Omar Narvaez to the San Diego Padres
The Padres have a need for rotation help and a reported desire to add offense behind the dish. This trade would check both boxes. Leake would be a stabilizing veteran presence in the middle of San Diego’s rotation, while Narvaez would be an offensive asset (albeit a defensive liability) at backstop. Narvaez’s cheapness would help offset the $28 million (or so) due to Leake through the end of next season, including a $5 million buyout in lieu of his 2021 club option. Worst case: Seattle eats most of Leake’s contract and gets a better prospect for their troubles. Lord knows the Padres have enough quality youngsters that they could stand to move one.
2. Dee Gordon and Wade LeBlanc to the Texas Rangers
We understand if you’re a Rangers fan and you grimaced at this idea, but bear with us. Gordon is hitting the ball harder than ever before during the Statcast era (though still, admittedly, not as hard as one would like) and is doing so at an improved launch angle. Perhaps the Rangers like Danny Santana enough to think they already have a Gordon proxy. If not, Gordon would provide Texas with a potential insurance policy at either second base or in center field, depending on how things shake out. LeBlanc, for his part, is a boring finesse lefty who has better numbers over his last three seasons (98 ERA+, 3.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio) than you might’ve realized. He could slot into the rotation or the bullpen, whatever Texas needs. The attrition risk with both players — it’s easy to imagine either and/or both being designated for assignment over the next year — would likely demand Seattle eats most of the $23-plus million remaining on their deals.
3. Kyle Seager to the Philadelphia Phillies
This one is pretty straightforward. The Phillies have received the worst third-base production in the majors, per Baseball Reference. Seager, who put in a lot of work on his body during the winter, doesn’t have to reach his old heights in order to represent an upgrade. All he needs to do is stay healthy and keep producing to the tune of a 95 OPS+. He’s due nearly $50 million through 2021, but the Mariners would likely send enough cash for the Phillies to find another taker later on, or to be fine with cutting bait once prospect Alec Bohm is ready to take over.