Drayer: With James Paxton trade, Mariners make their offseason direction clear
The move was not unexpected. The signs had been there, we had heard the rumblings – it was just a matter of time.
With two years of club control remaining, James Paxton was a prime candidate to be traded, and that indeed happened Monday afternoon with Paxton being sent to the Yankees for prospects Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Dom Thompson-Williams. Paxton becomes the third player traded from the Mariners’ Major League roster this fall, and with that, the first acknowledgment of the direction Jerry Dipoto has decided to take with his club this offseason.
“We are going to re-situate our roster and look toward 2020, 2021,” Dipoto told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny, Dave and Moore shortly after the trade was announced. “We can take a step back this year to put ourselves in a position where we can be as competitive as we can be at that point.”
The path out of the dreaded middle of the American League hierarchy? It starts with a step back. The move – a rebuild of any sort – has perhaps been three years coming. Each year in the Dipoto era has been about adding to a core while trying to remain competitive and compete for a spot in the playoffs. This offseason Dipoto has been given breathing room and the chance to redefine and grow the core.
“This is something I have been trumpeting for three years now – just to get younger, to get more athletic to get more exciting,” he said on a conference call with reporters. “These are young and fast-moving players. This gives us the chance to be a very exciting team to watch in the not-too-distant future.”
While not impossible, it appears unlikely Edwin Díaz, Mitch Haniger or Marco Gonzales will be traded. Dipoto has said on numerous occasions those are players to build around. In the Paxton and Mike Zunino trades, he has acquired players who should join the trio quickly, with Mallex Smith in the outfield, Sheffield and Swanson given the chance to compete for spots this spring, and Thompson-Williams and Jake Fraley expected to move quickly in the organization.
Dipoto spoke of two other waves of players as well with Kyle Lewis, Evan White and Braden Bishop expected to be ready to be promoted to the big leagues within the 2020-2021 window, and Logan Gilbert and Josh Stowers not far behind. Dipoto believes the step back will help speed the development of those they view ready to break into the big leagues.
“It takes time for players to feel comfortable in the big leagues but the talent will play,” Dipoto pointed out. “If you give guys the opportunity and they don’t feel the anxiety of wondering if they are going back down in the next two weeks it tends to benefit the organization, and we are hopeful that 2019 can be that springboard for us, and by the time we get to midseason 2020 you see a young exciting roster of players.”
It remains to be seen what any of these young players will be at the big league level. There are some in the industry that believe Sheffield is more of a middle-of-the-rotation starter, whereas the Mariners see him closer to the top. There are no guarantees with any of the players, but with the Mariners making a commitment to development in at least the 2019 season, they will have an opportunity to navigate some of the pitfalls without the additional pressure of playoffs being on the line.
More moves will come as, at a minimum, Dipoto will need to add a starting catcher. He didn’t rule out adding a free agent nor moving one of the core three of Díaz, Haniger and Gonzales, although he said he would have to be blown away by a trade offer to do so. Regardless of what is to come, Dipoto’s direction this offseason is clear. The hope: short-term sacrifice for long-term success.
“The goal is to gather young players that can start creating the foundation of a team we feel can be a World Series contender versus a wild card,” he said. “We had tough decisions to make and we made them. We are pretty excited about the direction we have taken.”