Salk: This trade deadline for Mariners is different — now is time to buy
We are exactly three weeks away from my favorite day on the sports calendar: the MLB trade deadline.
All of the leagues have some sort of deadline now, but because of the minor league system and the length of the schedule, I have always been especially partial to baseball’s version. It’s a moment of truth for each of the 30 teams. A chance for each general manager to declare him or herself in or out for the year. Are they ready to commit or not? Should they raise the stakes or fold and play for a better hand next year?
And I have always believed that almost every team should be active. Unless there is a good reason to hold pat, teams should be trying to make themselves better either in the short or long term. There is plenty of risk to this strategy, but lots of rewards as well. Sometimes you get a young Jeff Bagwell dealt for a reliever who blows out his arm. Sometimes you get Johnny Cueto helping to pitch the Royals to their first title in decades. That’s the fun of it!
While that’s my concept of the deadline, the last few years has shown us that Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto’s philosophy is a little different. He hasn’t made huge moves to go big in either direction. He’s acquired relievers (Diego Castillo in 2021, Zach Duke and Adam Warren in previous years for example) and some fringe-y utility types, but he has never really gone all-in. He has never been a true buyer. He has professed a desire to make moves that help the team inthe short and long term at the same time. That sounds great if you can pull it off, but is exceedingly rare and hard to do.
This year, he should commit. This year, the Mariners should be buyers.
As we sit on July 12, they have the exact same record as they did after 87 games last year – 45-42. That seems odd considering how different the seasons have felt. But it is the case.
Last year, the decision of what to do at the trade deadline was hard for Jerry. The Mariners were outplaying everyone’s meager expectations and their own expected outcome based on their run differential. They were also still developing some young players who needed the experience of playing meaningful games in the big leagues. To straight-up buy would have not only the usual risk, but it could have backfired by limiting the development of a young team.
But there are a few things that make this year different.
1. The Mariners have more talent.
I think this is pretty obvious. With the additions of Julio Rodríguez (top seven the American League in WAR), Eugenio Suárez (statistically outperforming Kyle Seager last year), Jesse Winker (based more on history than what he’s done this year), and Robbie Ray (starting to look like the 2021 Cy Young winner) – plus George Kirby, Andrés Muñoz and others – this roster is simply better than last year’s roster. Because of the talent upgrade, it is easier to believe that they will maintain their contention. And that makes it easier to commit to them.
2. The balance of the rebuild has shifted from development to winning.
This changed the moment the Mariners traded for Winker and Suárez early in spring training. That was a straight-up declaration that they were in “win now” mode, as they should be. With more talent and Seattle another year further from the start of the rebuild (which occurred after the 2018 season), they better be looking to contend. But it also means the need to find at-bats for young players has declined. Jarred Kelenic is still a part of their long-term future, but they don’t need to hold a spot for him in the second half of the season. The balance has changed.
3. There is an extra wild card spot.
It may sound obvious, but the risk of adding at the deadline has been lessened by the number of teams that make the playoffs. While making the wild card isn’t the ultimate goal (the World Series is, of course), it is an important step for a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs in decades. The Mariners need to show not only their fans but their players (and potential free agent acquisitions) that they are for real. Adding at the deadline and making the playoffs would be a good start.
4. The Mariners are expecting two REALLY important players back soon.
As good as things are right now, there is an expectation that it should get even better for the Mariners when Mitch Haniger and Kyle Lewis return from the injured list. The two have combined to pay in just a few games this season, but both have been productive when healthy in recent years, especially with their power. With two outfielders set to return, it limits the number of items on the shopping list. Jerry doesn’t need outfield help or another power bat. He can focus on starting pitching depth and a second baseman.
5. This is the chance to erase the mess from last year’s deadline.
Look, the trade of reliever Kendall Graveman to the Houston Astros for Abraham Toro the day after an emotional comeback win over Houston last season was defensible from Dipoto’s point of view. They needed to get Dylan Moore out of the lineup against righties and Shed Long away from lefties, and playing the switch-hitting Toro at second base would allow that. But it clearly was seen as an affront by many of the leaders in the clubhouse.
When Haniger challenged the organization to go for it this season in his Player’s Tribune letter after last season, it upped the ante. Did they do enough in the offseason to win the trust of the players? Maybe. But before the season began, Jerry said he viewed opening day as just another day, not the last chance to improve this club. He has been true to that, adding players like reliever Ryan Borucki and first baseman Carlos Santana, who both have helped them win.
Swinging a deal to buy at the deadline can be a further sign of trust in the players. It tells them that while last year was about buying and selling at the same time, this time they’re going for it.
I understand how Jerry was a little caught in-between last year. His team was competing ahead of schedule in the rebuild, and doing it in a way that seemed unsustainable. But that should be entirely different this year.
Now is the time to buy. Now is the time to go for it.
More on the Mariners from SeattleSports.com
• ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian: Julio will be one of MLB’s best “soon”
• Brock & Salk’s big takeaway from this huge M’s surge
• M’s Breakdown: Hot streak, trade targets with Bob & Rowland-Smith
• Mariners On Fire: Three things jumping out from their stellar run