Mariners assistant GM details why Jesse Winker was ‘most special bat avaliable’

Mar 20, 2022, 12:55 AM | Updated: 9:39 am
Mariners Jesse Winker...
Jesse Winker of the Cincinnati Reds connects for a hit against the Giants on May 18, 2021. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Mariners assistant general manager Justin Hollander joined the Cactus League Report on Seattle Sports 710 AM Saturday, and among the topics addressed was his detailed, behind the scenes account of how the trade that brought Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez to the Mariners came down – and why Seattle targeted Winker in particular.

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The trade with the Cincinnati Reds that came to fruition four days after the MLB-instituted lockout ended was certainly an under the radar deal, seemingly coming out of nowhere to those who follow the team. It was anything but, according to Hollander, as he said the initial conversations with the Reds about Winker started just after the end of the 2021 season and continued at the GM meetings in November.

“We talked about a lot of different concepts, both involving players we did acquire and they talked about some of their pitching, as well,” said Hollander. “Then the lockout happens. Obviously we can’t speak to them. We come out of the lockout and I want to say (Reds general manager) Nick (Krall) reached out the first day.”

By the time Krall reached out, Hollander said things had changed. Winker was not just a target, he was the target.

“As we spent time on Jesse during the lockout, he just stuck out as the most special bat available at the post-lockout frenzy,” Hollander explained. “Whenever that ended we felt that was a bat that that was not available anywhere else on the market.”

In Winker, the Mariners saw what Hollander called the best pure hitter available. They were convinced and it was time to transact. Two days before the trade, Hollander received an early morning text from Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto, which he found out of the ordinary. According to Hollander, Dipoto usually waits until he gets to the office – with coffee – to summon him to go over ideas.

“He said he woke up at about 5 and couldn’t get out of his head how we might be able to add Suárez to this deal and how it might help us and some of the mechanics we had talked about,” Hollander recounted. “I walked into his office and he had it all laid out on the board, and then we vetted it through the whole baseball group and then we spent about 30 hours going back and forth with the Reds on different iterations, different names, more players, less players.”

Thirty hours is not a misprint. Hollander estimates they were in contact with the Reds for 30 hours over a day and a half to get the deal done.

“There were 10 different players in a deal at different points. More players, less players. Obviously, you vet things out differently at a pace coming out of a lockout,” he said. “It was just different than you would over the course of an offseason where things can stretch out over weeks. ‘I will call you Monday and we can talk about this.’ Everybody had some urgency.

“For us, we wanted the guys in sooner to integrate into our environment, to be a part of the team and to know this is what we are moving towards this mode rather than doing something else and having more uncertainty.”

Amazingly, the final stage of the trade process played out in front of the media in Peoria, Ariz.

Those who were covering the team that day saw Hollander and Dipoto exit the back door of the facility and go for a walk toward Field 1 in what looked like a deep discussion. About 20 minutes later, Dipoto could be seen on the phone near the back porch of the facility, pacing back in forth in the afternoon heat. When the call ended, Dipoto on his way back into the building said that he had been “transacting” and that we might want to stick close.

Did we witness the deal – Winker and Suárez to Seattle, and Brandon Williamson, Justin Dunn, Jake Fraley and either a player to be named later or cash to Cincinnati – getting done? It appears so.

“We went out to talk about a final iteration, somewhere we had to meet in the middle,” said Hollander. “I would say that was the goal line when I met Jerry. If I am remembering correctly, it was the player to be named later list and the timing on that and how we were going to work through that. I wouldn’t say that was I’s and T’s, usually medicals are I’s and T’s; it was like the 1-yard line and figuring out the last details on that. Both sides had vetted the other side enough that you knew there was no more ground to gain on either end and somebody had to say ‘yes’ at that point.”

The yes was reached and within an hour the trade was announced. The Mariners had landed their middle of the order bat, a bat that when Hollander was asked what excites him the most about it cited what hasn’t been seen yet. Specifically, production against left-handed pitching.

“I think it is what he is now and that he is getting better seemingly every year,” Hollander said, pointing to the trajectory of the 28-year-old Winker’s improving zone control and hard contact. “We think he’s more than a platoon player. He’s made massive improvements in his approach and contact quality versus left-handed pitching over the last couple of years. He’s just been a little unlucky and it hasn’t showed up. We think he is an everyday bat, and we think against right-handed pitching, if you just look at what he has done, sort the list, it’s roughly Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, Jesse Winker. It’s very hard to acquire that kind of hitter who fits in that kind of territory.”

With the addition of Winker, Hollander sees a better fit for a number of players in the lineup. Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez (once he is up in the big leagues) will be able to hit lower in the order. When Kyle Lewis returns, it won’t be “We know you have missed the better part of a year and a half, now go hit third” much like it was for Mitch Haniger a year ago. Winker’s bat is not only one that lengthens the lineup but also takes pressure off other areas.

“Now we have some breathing room for guys like K-Lew, Julio and Jarred Kelenic, hitting them in a spot where it is easier to ease in,” said Hollander.

If it all plays out, an interesting footnote may be the role the lockout played in the acquisition of Winker.

“When we started, we thought it was a very good bat,” said Hollander “As we dug into the underlying stuff, the stuff that is not always available to the public? Its a special bat. It’s special in the industry.”

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Mariners assistant GM details why Jesse Winker was ‘most special bat avaliable’