Does a Luis Robert trade make sense for Mariners? Passan explains

Jun 11, 2024, 7:21 PM | Updated: 7:28 pm

Seattle Mariners trade target Luis Robert Jr....

Luis Robert Jr. of the Chicago White Sox is congratulated by teammates during a 2024 game. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

(Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

With the July 30 MLB trade deadline steadily nearing, the speculation on just how the Seattle Mariners could approach it is growing.

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The Mariners have been linked to a handful of players, including some of the biggest pieces thought to be available this summer. One of the players frequently coming up in those conversations is Chicago White Sox center fielder Luis Robert, and the organization and its fans are getting an up-close look at the Cuban-born star this week as the M’s host the White Sox for a four-game series.

ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan joined Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Tuesday for a conversation about the Mariners, and much of that conversation surrounded around the prospect of trading for Robert.

Passan noted that Robert may be the best option in the Mariners’ search for an impact bat, but “it’s going to cost a lot.”

“I don’t know that right now is necessarily the time that the White Sox are compelled to move Luis Robert,” Passan said. “He’s a guy who I think very easily could go this winter as well. So Chris Getz, the general manager, has the opportunity to hold out for a king’s ransom, and rightfully so. If he feels like he’s going to get more over this winter for Luis Robert, what’s the sense of dealing him right now?”

A tantalizing talent

What exactly would Seattle get if it acquired Robert in a trade? A power-hitting center fielder and a Gold Glove-caliber defender – really a skill set pretty similar to Julio Rodríguez.

Robert has been among MLB’s best players, regardless of position, when healthy. He is coming off a mammoth 2023 season in which he posted a 4.9 fWAR and a .264/.315/.552 with 36 doubles, 38 home runs, 80 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. The standout season led to a 12th-place finish in AL MVP voting, despite the White Sox’s struggles.

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In 380 career games since he debuted in 2020, Robert sports an impressive .276/.324/.501 with 86 doubles, 79 home runs, 218 RBIs and 47 stolen bases.

Robert, who competed in last year’s Home Run Derby at T-Mobile Park during All-Star weekend, showed off his tantalizing power during Monday’s game, demolishing a Logan Gilbert fastball 403 feet into the upper deck in left field with a 111.9 mph exit velocity.

The 26 year old also won the Gold Glove in center field as a rookie in 2020 and was the runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year behind ex-Mariner Kyle Lewis. He was tied for second among center fielders with 13 outs above average last season, per Statcast. That was actually one out better than Rodríguez.

Reasons for pause

While all the above numbers point toward Robert being a superstar-level player, they come with the caveat that he’s struggled to stay healthy during his career. Last season’s 145 games played were by far the most Robert played over his first four seasons. Robert did appear in most (56) of 60 games during the COVID-shortened 2020 season as a rookie, but he played just 68 games in 2021 and 98 in 2022. He also already spent nearly two months on the injured list this season with a right hip flexor strain.

Additionally, Robert’s approach at the plate gives some cause for concern. He ranked in the 15th percentile or worse in walk, strikeout, chase and whiff rate last season, according to Statcast.

Passan highlighted that those are aspects of Robert’s game that the team and its fans may just have to live with due to the lack of premium outfield bats thought to be available.

“When the supply is so limited, you can sit there and bemoan all the things that a guy doesn’t do, but the reality is Luis Robert – when he is healthy – is one of the best center fielders in baseball,” Passan said. “He’s a guy who in his only full or near full season last year, hit almost 40 home runs and played good defense in center field. Yeah, he has warts, he does not walk, he strikes out too much – sounds like a Mariner.”

The right price

Any trade for Robert would undoubtedly include a haul of prospects from Seattle’s loaded farm system, and how the White Sox value Robert may be a bit different than how the Mariners do.

As mentioned earlier, Robert has won a Gold Glove in center field, a premium defensive position. And while Robert’s offensive numbers play at any spot, they hold greater value in center field. However, he’d likely play in the corner outfield with the Mariners due to the presence of Rodríguez.

“I think the thing we have to consider though is we can’t look at trade ideas in a vacuum,” Passan said. “We have to look at them compared to what the price on other guys would be. If Tyler O’Neill (of the Boston Red Sox) gets healthy, you’re not going to have to give up a big-time prospect to get him, but he can provide a very similar sort of production as Luis Robert when he’s on, and beyond that, you’re not paying a center field premium for a guy who’s not going to play center field. … Chris Getz should charge center field prices for Luis Robert, and it just so happens that the Mariners, it’s a very first-world problem, but they have a center fielder. So do you want to pay center field prices for a guy who’s going to play in a corner when you could go and get Tyler O’Neill and not have to give up anyone who’s going to pain you long-term?”

Listen to the full conversation at this link or in the audio player near the top of this story. ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan joins Brock and Salk every Tuesday to give the national perspective on the Mariners.

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