O’Neil: Despite timing, Mariners’ Graveman trade is exactly the kind of move they should be making
Jerry Dipoto told you this was going to happen.
Not specifically. The Mariners general manager didn’t identify Kendall Graveman by name nor did he flag infielder Abraham Toro as a potential trade target, but for almost three years now he has said that the team would be making decisions to build a club capable of winning this franchise’s first championship, not one that could sneak into a wild card spot. And on Tuesday, the Mariners completed a trade that is about more than just winning right now.
It’s understandable if you bristle at that. After all, Graveman has been one of the league’s better relief pitchers this season and a rock in the bullpen that has been Seattle’s biggest strength while Toro – the main return – is a 24-year-old switch-hitting infielder whose status as one of Houston’s top prospects took a hit as his bat failed to impress over the past three years.
But look at this another way: The Mariners traded 60 days worth of a relief pitcher who was in line for a big raise for four years worth of control over Toro, whose best baseball is very likely ahead of him. The Mariners are selling high on an older player in Graveman, buying low on a younger guy in Toro. This is exactly the kind of trade a team like the Mariners should be making.
There are two objections to this deal. The first involves the return. That Toro isn’t a good enough player to warrant giving up Graveman. This is a question about baseball value. It’s a valid question and the answer will depend on what happens next with those players.
The second objection is about Graveman specifically, though. His importance to Seattle’s clubhouse, his connection to his teammates and how much work he has put into this season. But if Graveman’s importance to a team that has outperformed minimal expectations renders him untouchable in your opinion, you’re someone who’s happy with this team being just good enough to be relevant as opposed to one that’s capable of winning a championship.
In Seattle, we’ve spent way too long hoping for this baseball team to be just good enough, and I include myself in this group. I sat – and sometimes stood – in the stands for the final regular season game of the 2014 season, hoping that an Oakland A’s loss to Texas would give Seattle a chance to force a play-in game. The Mariners made it to the second-to-last game of the season two years later.
Ending the playoff drought would ease a national embarrassment, but the goal should be to win a championship. We should want a team that is great, not to settle for one that is (hopefully) going to be good. History shows us the dangers of just hoping to be good enough. It leads to trading Adam Jones and Chris Tillman to Baltimore for Erik Bedard, believing the franchise is one front-end starter away. It leads to spending $25 million a season for Robinson Cano. It leads to building a team that – at its best – might squeeze into the playoffs rather than one that can win championships. Trading Graveman was done with an eye toward doing more than just aiding a long-shot playoff run this season.
That doesn’t mean that this season doesn’t matter. It does. These Mariners have been tough, resilient and have a winning record in spite of allowing more runs than they have scored. These players have earned the right to have additions made for the closing stretch, or at the very least to be left alone, and I can understand how the initial reaction was that this team had compromised its ability to win this year for a lottery ticket at winning down the road.
Now, it’s not necessarily when you want to make it. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a way in which the timing was worse. Seattle had just won a fourth consecutive game in a crucial homestand against the two teams it is chasing in the division. Not only that, Graveman was being sent to the team the Mariners were playing that day, the one whose bullpen Seattle exposed the night before when it came back from a seven-run deficit.
It felt terrible for the players, who were losing someone loved by his teammates. It felt terrible for the city, which is now 20 years removed from its last taste of playoff baseball and was basking in the afterglow of a thrilling victory against the division leader.
We should understand that the fact Dipoto made this trade in spite of all that should provide evidence of how much he believes in the value of this deal instead of assuming that he’s blind to the impact. Instead of holding onto a reliever that might help the team sneak into the playoffs, he traded for a player who can help in the present while producing bigger dividends down the road.
In other words, he made exactly the kind of move he’s been telling us he would.
More Mariners MLB trade deadline coverage
• Drayer: Role M’s farm system depth could play at trade deadline
• M’s Takeaways: Trade addition Abraham Toro’s strong first impression
• Mariners trade prospects to Pirates for starter Tyler Anderson
• Mariners send Graveman, Montero to Astros for Toro, Joe Smith
• Mariners need another pitcher, so who should they target via trade?
• M’s Trade Deadline: The Whit Merrifield rumor may have legs