Salk: 4 trade targets Mariners could pursue to improve playoff hopes

Jul 7, 2021, 11:55 AM | Updated: Sep 14, 2021, 10:54 am
Mariners Twins Nelson Cruz...
Nelson Cruz is in his third season with the Twins since leaving the Mariners. (Getty)

The Mariners have been playing good baseball. Crisp, fun, smart, winning baseball.

M’s growing confidence through close wins, so what’s been the key?

They find ways to win series, and they do it against both bad opponents (like Texas) and very good ones (like Tampa, Chicago and Toronto).

They’ve done it with hitting, fielding, starting pitching, a nearly perfect bullpen and some clutch moments.

They’ve done it despite being outmanned on paper most nights.

So with that in mind, this run they are on is shocking. And yet it’s exactly what it was supposed to be. Yes, they are competing a little early. And yes, some of it is likely unsustainable. But unlike their hot start in April, the heavy lifting is being done by potential pieces of the future.

J.P. Crawford, Logan Gilbert, Chris Flexen, Yusei Kikuchi, Shed Long Jr., Luis Torrens, Ty France and Jake Fraley have all played big roles, plus guys like Paul Sewald, JT Chargois and Drew Steckenrider have been great and certainly could be part of the future in the bullpen. This is very different from the “Seager and Haniger Show,” and that is really important.

Of course, while those two veterans haven’t carried the team this past month, their presence is still very important in that lineup. They bring credibility, patience, experience and leadership that takes pressure off of the young players.

All of this leads to a series of tough decisions facing general manager Jerry Dipoto and the organization. With the MLB trade deadline approaching on July 30, what should he do?

Option 1: Wait. As long as possible. Don’t commit. Wait to see where you are at the end of the month and whether the team continues to win enough to force you to have faith in them. Then you look for starting pitching, relief pitching and maybe an infielder (options below). If you win, you can keep Seager and Haniger, or you can deal them for players of a similar or slightly younger age. If you fall out of contention, you can trade your veterans (including some of your volatile bullpen arms) for players that can help next year and beyond.

Option 2: You invest right now in reinforcements to get you to July 30 and beyond. You don’t go crazy, but you recognize that you held back in the offseason and you right that wrong before commitment time. Get this team the help it needs to get it to the decision day. And if it backfires, you can still deal Seager and/or Haniger later in the month.

So who do you go after? Here are a few names I like, along with an assessment of what it would take to acquire them from MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, who I talked to on Tuesday with Bob Stelton while filling in on 710 ESPN Seattle’s Wyman and Bob.

Four trade targets for the Mariners

1. Nelson Cruz, Minnesota, DH

No, he doesn’t play a position of need, but he would provide something the Mariners don’t have: legitimate pop in the middle of the lineup. Cruz is a proven leader, a great professional hitter, and has a great relationship with Seattle’s veterans and Mariners manager Scott Servais, who he credits with resuscitating his career in the minors. He is in the last year of his deal. According to Morosi, acquiring Cruz would take “no more than (the Mariners’) eighth or ninth best prospect… or maybe even deeper than that.” Sign me up.

2. Kyle Gibson, Texas, SP

We’ve heard a lot of love for Rockies starter Germán Márquez, but I think he’s pitched himself into being too expensive. Morosi agrees, saying the Rockies would likely ask the Mariners for Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodríguez or Logan Gilbert to part with him. Meanwhile, the right-handed Gibson has another year left at a reasonable rate (less than $8 million) and has pitched his way to the All-Star Game this year with a sub-2.00 ERA and some complimentary stats to back that up. He’s older (33 years old) but still effective. Morosi says he would cost something like Seattle’s “sixth or seventh best prospect.”

3. Drew Smyly, Atlanta, SP

Don’t laugh. He’s been good. He started five games last year with an ERA under 3.50 and has kept it under 4.50 this year for an Atlanta team that may sell. Morosi says he could be worth even less than Gibson, and he’d be a free agent after this season.

4. Trevor Story, Colorado, SS

Maybe in some sort of a three-team deal that includes Seager? This is probably impossible, but it’s worth mentioning. The Rockies would like to trade Story before he leaves in free agency this offseason. And while I’d prefer the Mariners to target Toronto’s Marcus Semien as their free agent infielder in the offseason, Story could be a great option as well. The realistic fear is that he is a product of Coors Field, so seeing him on your roster for two-plus months now might be a great way of determining what you’d be getting long-term. He’d likely play second (or third if Seager was dealt).

Morosi mentioned three other interesting names for the rotation: Minnesota’s José Berrios (free agent in 2023), Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo and the Cubs’ Kyle Hendicks (both free agents in 2024). They might be more expensive to acquire because of how long they’re under contract but would help for the next few years. And with Dipoto having shown a willingness to acquire players like that in the past (Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake), he could very well go down that route again.

The current players on this team have succeeded in changing some of the math for this season. They’ve played better than expected. And they deserve some help.

Listen to a full conversation on the Mariners and Salk’s four trade targets in this week’s edition of the Brock and Salk Podcast.

Follow Mike Salk on Twitter.

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Salk: 4 trade targets Mariners could pursue to improve playoff hopes