The different ways Mariners can approach 2022 trade deadline
It was roughly one month ago that Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto was asked about how his team wanted to approach the Aug. 2 MLB trade deadline.
“Where we reside is that to go into the trade deadline as a seller would mean that we no longer truly believe that the core of this team can go win a championship, and we’re not there,” Dipoto told Seattle Sports 710 AM’s Mike Salk on May 19. “This is what we intended to create. We have to get healthy players back on the field. Hopefully starting with Kyle (Lewis and getting) Mitch (Haniger) back and we start seeing some of our bullpen guys rotate back into the mix, and I feel like we’re looking at a different team.”
At that point, the Mariners were four games under .500 and coming off a series loss in Toronto. They’re now nine under .500 and eight back in the Wild Card race.
The trade deadline is still a little over a month away, and as things currently stand it’s unlikely the Mariners will be full-on buyers looking for the piece or two to really help put them over the top for this season.
So how could they approach it? There are a few different ways.
This one is the most simple, and that’s not really moving one way or the other and letting your current roster play out the rest of the season.
This strategy would allow the Mariners to get longer looks at newer players under contract for next year, such as Jesse Winker and youngsters Julio Rodríguez, Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Taylor Trammell, Cal Raleigh and potentially Jarred Kelenic and Matt Brash. It would also give the Mariners a chance to evaluate players on expiring deals like Haniger (if healthy) and Adam Frazier to see if one or both should return for 2023.
The Mariners may also debut prospects like pitchers Levi Stoudt, Emerson Hancock and Taylor Dollard with what’s likely a “soft” cushion with the team out of contention.
That isn’t the route the Mariners or their fan base thought they’d go down at this year’s deadline, but given where Seattle currently is in the standings, it would make some sense.
Sell expiring contracts
This one is also easy enough and makes plenty of sense. If you’re not contending and have players who will be free agents at the end of this season who you don’t feel will be re-signed, why not see if you can get something of value in return rather than just letting them walk in the offseason?
The only issue here is that the Mariners don’t have many players who fall into that category. That’s both a good and a bad thing.
It’s good because most of your best players will be back for next year unless you move them, and you have a pretty good idea of what your 2023 roster will look like. It’s bad because you find yourself falling further out of contention and don’t have many expiring pieces that can fetch you much return in a trade.
The players who are on expiring contracts are Haniger and Frazier. Ken Giles and Chris Flexen also could become free agents after this year, though Giles has a club option worth nearly $10 million for 2023 and Flexen has a club option that will likely become a player option if he pitches 120 1/3 innings this year, giving him 300 innings between 2021 and 2022 and flipping the option to his side.
Teams would love having Haniger in the middle of their lineup, but he’s played just nine games this year due to COVID-19 and an ankle injury. Can he come back and play enough before the deadline to be moved? And would the team consider moving him at all?
Frazier was an All-Star last year but had a poor second half after being traded to from Pittsburgh to San Diego, and this year he has been a negative-WAR player for the M’s. Would he command anything worth the Mariners making a move? Should they keep him around to see if he’s worth re-singing for 2023 as more of a 10th man/utility player?
Giles, like Haniger, is in the injury question mark camp, but contending teams always need bullpen help and it seems unlikely the Mariners will pick up his option for 2023.
And with Flexen, starting pitching is crucial at the deadline each season, and he could potentially net the Mariners a solid return via trade. That would also open the door for the Mariners to see one of their younger pitchers in the bigs and/or add a different starter at the deadline or this offseason.
I don’t think the Mariners want to – or will – be a big-time seller at the deadline. With so many players signed through at least 2023 on the 40-man roster, it doesn’t seem likely that “controllable” big-name players will be heading away from Seattle. But for the sake of the argument, if the Mariners were to trade players who fit that billing, there are some options in the lineup with Jesse Winker (signed through 2023), Eugenio Suárez (2024, club option for 2025) and Tom Murphy (2023). In the bullpen, Paul Sewald (2024) and Diego Castillo (2024) are pitchers a contender may be interested in. And we already mentioned Flexen.
First and foremost, I don’t see any of these players being moved. If one is, I’d say Murphy because good catchers are hard to find and can bring back a good return in a trade. But he’s still on the injured list and is seen as a leader in the Mariners clubhouse.
Really, moving many of these guys right now doesn’t make much sense.
Why buy high and sell low on Winker?
Why trade a fun player like Suárez who can help you for up to three more seasons and who is more valuable metrically than Kyle Seager was the last few years ?
Why trade good bullpen arms who can help next season and potentially beyond?
The Mariners won’t – and shouldn’t – have a “fire sale” this season. As disappointing as 2022 has been, there’s still enough to work with on the roster to make a stronger push in 2023.
At nine games under .500, the Mariners are unlikely to be looking to add “rentals” – players whose contracts expire after 2022. Dipoto hasn’t typically done that in-season even when the team has been in contention, and when he has, it’s been lower-end buys like Tyler Anderson last season and Denard Span in 2018, though the latter came with Alex Colomé, who was under contact beyond that year.
Just because the Mariners don’t have a winning record doesn’t mean they can’t be buyers while looking ahead to 2023 and beyond. There’s no reason deadline buyers have to be contending for the playoffs that same season.
Dipoto has always talked about the importance of acquiring players who are signed for at least one more season beyond when they joined the Mariners. Dipoto and the Mariners may feel that this season didn’t meet expectations because too many things didn’t go right, like key players (Winker and Frazier) struggling to adjust to a new team and league, being injured (Haniger and Lewis), or needing more time in the minors (Kelenic). But management can and may still feel that the core of this team can get the job done and 2023 should be better.
Enter “controllable” additions.
Do the Mariners look to upgrade the rotation with a Cincinnati Reds starter like Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle, both of whom are signed through next season? Or Oakland’s Frankie Montas?
Do they see the potential departure of Haniger as well as an inability to lean on Kelenic as reason enough to try and pry Bryan Reynolds away from Pittsburgh, who they could pair with Winker looking for a comeback season and a rising star in Rodriguez for 2023?
And, of course, bullpen arms are always on the move around the deadline. Could the Mariners acquire an arm with eyes beyond just this season like they did with Castillo last year? I mentioned the Pirates, and they have intriguing bullpen arms like David Bednar and Will Crowe who are young, pitching very well and under contract for years to come.
This is the most likely course, which is that the Mariners will do a mix of some or all of the aforementioned options.
Dipoto may not be seen as “Trader Jerry” like he was from 2016-19 but he’s still known to wheel and deal, and he’s aware the team isn’t where it needs to be.
Do I think the Mariners’ end-of-season roster will look markedly different than now? No. But I do think some members of the 40-man roster will be on other teams after the Aug. 2 deadline passes while at least one fairly notable player comes to Seattle with an eye ahead to 2023.