Drayer: Mariners’ trade deadline goes from ‘boring’ to productive for Dipoto
Trade season from the inside of baseball was apparently what it appeared to be from the outside. According to Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, in the first year of the MLB’s one hard trade deadline, the weeks leading up to July 31 were, in a word, “boring.”
“There was a regular flow of phone calls, but they were going nowhere,” Dipoto said. “A lot of general discussion.”
The situation perhaps seemed grim for the Mariners, who had a number of veteran players on their 25-man roster that they would have liked to move. A trade deadline without a move by Jerry Dipoto was unfathomable, but thankfully activity picked up as the Wednesday’s deadline approached. Three days out, there was a higher volume of calls and more names were exchanged. Dipoto had discussions with teams on a number of players, some who ultimately were not moved. But on Tuesday things got interesting.
“In the last 24 hours, especially in the last two hours (before the 1 p.m. deadline), the activity got really heavy,” said Dipoto. “There were multiple teams that checked in on our relief pitchers this morning for the first time.”
Dipoto was able to strike a deal with one of those teams, sending Roenis Elías and Hunter Strickland to the Nationals for three minor league pitchers. As the clock ticked past the deadline it appeared that would be the only deal to report for the Mariners. Just minutes after, however, word got out that Dipoto had managed to trade Mike Leake to the Diamondbacks, the team he had Leake set to go to earlier in the season before ownership nixed the deal. Efforts to trade Leake since the original no-go were fruitless up until the very last moment.
“There was nothing imminent on Leake going into today, and even into the final hour of the deadline, until Arizona re-engaged and we were able to resuscitate that discussion,” Dipoto explained. “We had talks in May and really hadn’t revisited a whole lot. It picked up today with less than 20 minutes left in the deadline. I believe rumor has it, we clicked send and confirmed the deal with everybody with about 68 seconds left.”
With the Diamondbacks dealing ace Zack Greinke for a haul of prospects from the Astros, they needed starting pitching. Having already done their due diligence on Leake from the previous attempted trade, this deal was able to come together quickly. The Mariners got in return the player they had originally discussed in the previous nixed trade: Jose Caballero, a minor league infielder. The Mariners are reported to be responsible for $5 million of Leake’s salary in 2020 and a $5 million buyout in 2021, a price Dipoto appeared content to pay.
“We’re happy with the way our day went,” he said.
When all was said and done, three spots were created on Seattle’s 25- and 40-man rosters and four young players came back the Mariners way. All part of the “step back” plan.
“I think we have done what we said we were going to do,” said Dipoto. “I can’t overstate enough how much I think we have improved our farm system. Obviously it hasn’t been a good year for us on the field in the big leagues but we do feel like we are starting to get younger and more exciting there. We are very excited to see what happens when the clock turns on September and we get our first look at some of the younger players who will start to permeate our roster in 2020 and beyond.”
Players like outfielder Jake Fraley and starting pitcher Justus Sheffield are on the near horizon. Justin Dunn, who the Mariners will not risk burning a minor league option on and therefore will not call up until closer to September, is also coming into view. New bullpen acquisition Taylor Guilbeau, who came over in the Nationals deal, will debut this season, as will others.
Meanwhile, the farm system has been stocked to the point where players who once would have been ranked fifth- or sixth-ranked prospects have dropped back to rankings in the teens because of the quality of players that have been brought in. It is progress that is tougher to track than what is seen at the Major League level, but vital progress nonetheless to Dipoto’s plan.
“We knew what we were getting into,” said Dipoto. “We knew there would be some pain to tolerate at the Major League level, and we don’t expect that we will go into this offseason and be scouring the free agent market at the top end of the food chain. We understood that this was going to be a two-year process, we’re almost halfway home, and we feel like we have made great progress in laying a foundation. Now we have a lot of work continuing to develop these guys and identify where our needs are as we go forward, but we are really happy with where it’s gone so far.”