BRANDON GUSTAFSON

Led by France and Trammell, Mariners’ 2020 trade with Padres may be speeding up end of rebuild

Mar 29, 2021, 12:20 AM | Updated: 12:26 am
Mariners Ty France...
Ty France can play multiple positions, but it's his bat that has everybody talking. (Getty)
(Getty)

When you think about the best moves that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has made since Seattle’s rebuild starter after the 2018 season, the first and easiest trade to point to would be the deal that both brought top prospect Jarred Kelenic to Seattle and offloaded second baseman Robinson Canó’s massive contract.

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And for good reason. Kelenic is one of the best young talents in baseball, a five-tool player who many believe has the ability to become a regular All-Star once he makes his eventual MLB debut.

Dipoto has made other good deals along the way, such as acquiring 2020 American League Gold Glove shortstop J.P. Crawford and Justus Sheffield, who was one of the best rookie starting pitchers in baseball last season. But one of Dipoto’s more recent deals very well could wind up close to the level of the Kelenic deal.

That trade was made last year just ahead of the Aug. 31 trade deadline, the Mariners sending catcher Austin Nola and relievers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla to the San Diego Padres for four young players: infielder Ty France, catcher Luis Torrens, reliever Andrés Muñoz and outfielder Taylor Trammell.

France, Torrens and Muñoz had already made their MLB debut at the time of the deal, though they all came over with very limited big league experience, while Trammell had been a top 100 prospect for a few years. Now, three of those four players will be on the Mariners’ opening day roster and all figure to have big roles in Seattle’s plans going forward.

Let’s take a closer look at why the deal with the Padres already looks to be paying dividends for Seattle.

Selling high on a diamond in the rough

Before we dig too deep into what the Mariners got in return, I think it’s important to understand just who Seattle gave up.

Nola was one of the Mariners’ top bats from his MLB debut in 2019 until he was traded to San Diego as the headliner for the Padres, but he was someone who Seattle had picked up for basically nothing before flipping him as the main piece for four young, talented players.

After spending the majority of his eight years in the minors as an infielder, Nola moved to catcher, which also allowed him to become a super rare breed of utility player that could play just about any position on the field. He signed with Seattle as a minor league free agent ahead of the 2019 season, and after hitting exceptionally well with Triple-A Tacoma for a few months, he made his MLB debut at 29 years old for the Mariners at first base. He continued to produce strong offensive numbers after his promotion and played well as Seattle’s starting catcher ahead of the trade in 2020.

Adams was also someone the Mariners got for cheap, acquiring him in 2019 from the Washington Nationals for pitching prospect Nick Wells and cash. He has always had an incredible slider, but injuries and some inconsistency have held him back from being a true impact reliever, though he did shine for the Mariners at various points.

Altavilla, meanwhile, was a homegrown talent. He was drafted by Seattle in the fifth round of the 2014 MLB Draft by former general manager Jack Zduriencik, and he rose through the ranks quickly to make his MLB debut in 2016. Over the next few years, he, like Adams, struggled with injuries and inconsistency, resulting in him bouncing between the minors and the MLB roster.

All three players the Mariners sent to the Padres could absolutely help San Diego in its quest for a World Series, with Nola figuring to be a key part of the team’s lineup, but for where the Mariners were in their rebuild and for how little it cost them to get each of these three players to begin with, they came out of the trade in really good shape.

All eyes on two hitters with big potential

Muñoz and Torrens both could be key parts of Mariners teams for a number of years, but France and Trammell are the headliners, as least heading into this season.

Ty France

Take a look at France’s Baseball Reference page and you will see that the dude hits. That’s really all he does. From college to the minors to the pros, the guy just hits the baseball. What team doesn’t want or need that?

Career college slash line? .337/.432/.473.

Minors? .294/.389/..470.

And how about his MLB numbers? .265/.326/.431. Isolate just his 2020 stats – .305/.368/.468 – and it’s even better.

France, 26, will play a lot for the Mariners this year. Whether it’s as a designated hitter or at third base, second base or even first, France’s bat is something top Mariners brass have made clear that they love. France has showed why in the Cactus League as he’s been maybe the best hitter in all of baseball this spring training, slashing .327/.389/.714 with five home runs and 11 RBIs entering Monday.

The big question long-term will be his defense. France figures to get most of his at-bats at DH and second base in 2021, but he’s naturally a third baseman, and that spot could be open next year with Kyle Seager set to hit free agency next offseason. If France can be close to average defensively at the hot corner, that would help the Mariners big time going forward, as it would open up the DH spot and allow Seattle to use all four of their top young outfielders – Kelenic, Trammell, Kyle Lewis and Julio Rodríguez – in the same lineup.

In the short-term, expect France to do what he does, which is hit any and all pitching seemingly all the time.

Taylor Trammell

France isn’t the only one from this trade who has shined in spring training. In just a month in Arizona, Trammell went from clearly starting 2021 in the minors to cracking the opening day roster.

The 23-year-old Trammell has a ton of raw ability. He has power, is extremely fast, runs the bases well and can make athletic plays in the outfield. With his power-speed toolset, he has drawn comparisons to former Yankees and Tigers All-Star Curtis Granderson, who hit 344 career home runs and stole 20 or more bases in a season three times.

Trammell has played all three outfield spots this spring and has at least one highlight reel play at each position. But it’s at the plate where Trammell has impressed the most.

With no minor league season in 2020, Trammell was relegated to the alternate training sites for San Diego and Seattle, and it was unclear to the public how well he was performing. Not helping matters was the fact that he had a rather poor 2019 showing at the plate in Double-A, where he slashed .234/.340/.349 with 10 home runs in 126 games.

Trammell has made far more consistent contact this spring, slashing .302/.388/.628 with three home runs, five doubles and eight RBIs, and he has routinely made “loud” contact.

Entering spring, Trammell was seen as part of the Mariners’ next “wave” of prospects who would make their MLB debuts in 2021, along with Kelenic, pitcher Logan Gilbert and catcher Cal Raleigh. But because the Mariners hadn’t seen much of Trammell in person before this spring, he tended to be the last of those four to be mentioned when that topic came up. Now, after a great spring, he’ll be the first guy from that group to play meaningful games at T-Mobile Park.

But wait, there’s more

While France and Trammell will have a chance to make an immediate impact as everyday starters this season, the two other players the Mariners received in the trade have upside themselves even if some patience will be required before they get their shots in big roles.

Luis Torrens

The Mariners have a clear-cut starting catcher in Tom Murphy, who missed all of 2020 with a foot injury but clubbed 18 home runs in 75 games for Seattle in 2019. Don’t sleep on Torrens, though.

Despite making his MLB debut in 2017, Torrens is still just 24 years old. And while his career MLB slash line of .198/.275/.266 leaves a lot to be desired, he did much better in 2020, going .257/.325/.371. He also has a track record of hitting in the minors, with a .272/.343/.404 line.

Torrens hasn’t shown a ton of power to this point (27 home runs in 381 minor league games), but he has offensive potential. Additionally, he’s solid behind the plate, throwing out 40% of runners who tried to swipe a bag on him in the minors. In limited time with the Mariners last season after the trade, he showed he’s aggressive with the arm, regularly keeping runners on first base honest by attempting to back pick them.

Between Murphy, Torrens and Raleigh, the Mariners have some quality catching depth at the top of the system with good offensive profiles. Even if Torrens remains a backup catcher with Seattle, he should be a high-end backup with a solid bat and plays good defense. That’s extremely valuable for any team.

Andres Muñoz

Muñoz will be the last of these four players you’ll see in a Mariners uniform, but he may end up being the biggest surprise when all is said and done. He is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and won’t play until maybe second half of the season, but you should be excited about seeing him toe the rubber when he’s back.

Like Torrens, Muñoz has MLB experience despite being very young, turning just 22 in January. Despite his youth, Muñoz has one of the biggest arms in all of baseball, and he has the potential to be Seattle’s closer of the future and one of the more dominant relievers in the league.

Making his MLB debut in 2019, Muñoz’s fastball averaged 99.9 mph, which was in the 100th percentile for all of MLB, per Statcast. He also has a really, really good slider which opponents hit just .065 off of in 2019. Overall, Muñoz threw 23 innings with a 3.91 ERA and 30 strikeouts to 11 walks during his first taste of MLB action in 2019 at just 20 years old.

The Mariners have a lot of reliever prospects in their system, but during the rebuild, only Anthony Misiewicz has been anything close to an impact homegrown MLB reliever thus far. Once healthy, Muñoz figures to be a true late-inning option who could help solidify a bullpen that has been very poor since the rebuild began.

Covering all the bases

This was a trade that covered a ton of bases for what Dipoto and the Mariners want and need out of their roster.

France is an impact hitter who, while bat-first, does offer positional flexibility. He controls the zone well, hits to all fields and should be one of the three or four most valuable hitters on Seattle’s roster this season.

Trammell gives the Mariners speed on the bases and in the outfield. Dipoto and manager Scott Servais love fielding young, athletic lineups, and Trammell certainly checks those boxes while also having the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark on a regular basis.

Torrens could be one of the best backup catchers in baseball with his solid defensive profile and his track record of hitting in the minors.

Muñoz will soon be lighting up radar guns, blowing the baseball past opposing hitters while also utilizing an elite slider. He could be an Edwin Díaz-type talent for the Mariners’ bullpen.

And of course, all four are young, controllable, already at the MLB level and have the potential to be key pieces for the next playoff-contending Mariners ballclub.

All that for two inconsistent, oft-injured relievers and a one-time minor league free agent signing? Not bad, Jerry. Not bad at all.

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