Jerry Dipoto has a reputation, and it’s well deserved.
The Seattle Mariners general manager is a trader. He has been since he held the same job with the Los Angeles Angels. He seeks out these trades. He listens when offers come his way. He pulls the trigger on deals like a Wild West gunslinger.
And now, the dealmaker is in a position to teardown the Mariners’ roster, possibly willing to sell anything not nailed into the Seattle soil in order to start a redo. Because as of now, the Mariners are stuck in the worst possible situation – good, but not good enough.
Sources: The Mariners are considering a full-fledged teardown this winter. If trade market is strong, they’ve told teams they’re willing to move just about anyone. And if that happens, they have indicated they’re willing to wait a few years to build a competitive team again.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 6, 2018
This is probably the best direction for the Mariners to go, a complete sell. But while reports say the Mariners are willing to go into full rebuild mode, giving away multiple seasons to build themselves back into a contender with staying power, there are also reports that dismiss that idea. Dipoto does not seem to want to sacrifice the next handful of seasons before the team is relevant in the American League West again.
But he also doesn’t seem to think throwing a bunch of money at the problem – going after a free agent like Bryce Harper or making blockbuster trades to bring in other big names on high-dollar deals – is the answer.
“I don’t think that makes a whole lot of sense,” Dipoto said in The Seattle Times.
That means the Mariners are likely looking for deals where they can receive prospects on the cusp of the big leagues. The problem with that is the assets at Dipoto’s disposal are the ones who are young, cheap and good – basically, the players the team would prefer to keep as they retool. But that perfect world doesn’t exist for this GM, not right now.
The players he’d like to trade – Robinson Cano, Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager – don’t have a market. Cano is still productive, but the $120 million he is owed over the next five years makes him untradeable.
Hernandez has been a franchise pillar since his arrival as a teenager, but he’s going to be 33 years old to start the year and will make $27.5 million. Again, untradeable.
Seager was once a coveted piece, but as he’s gotten older, his production and trade value have rapidly declined. His contract doesn’t make the situation any better as he’s owed $57.5 million over the next three seasons.
To move any of those players – and the returns would probably be unimpressive – the Mariners will have to gulp down a massive amount of money. And that’s just something they don’t seem willing to do.
That is why the only moves the Mariners have to make, aside from spending a port full of cash, is to trade who is attractive to others. In 2017, James Paxton had a 140 ERA-plus. Injuries hurt his production last season (108 ERA-plus), but when healthy he’s been one of the best in the league.
The problem with the return package is his health. Paxton has been on the DL in four of his five seasons, but he does have two years of club control, will make about $9 million next year and the market for starting pitchers is currently soft. So a playoff contender would be willing to make a move for him, but his health could stop them from giving up a hoard of top prospects, which the Mariners will likely seek starting this week at the GM meetings in California.
They will also seek a significant return for closer Edwin Diaz, who last season pitched to a 1.96 ERA and became only the second reliever ever to record 50 saves and 100 strikeouts in a season (Eric Gagne, twice). Diaz also has four years of control, and given the uptick in relief innings across the majors, his value will never be higher.
The Mariners also have Jean Segura, but his full no-trade clause and $60 million over the next four seasons are fighting his value. Outfielder Mitch Haniger had a breakout season and is making less than $600,000, but he will be 28 next season and doesn’t have a track record beyond last year’s production, so he can draw interest but not a franchise-changing return.
So, essentially Dipoto’s options are limited, and so might be his trigger finger this winter. And that could keep the Mariners in their current state of purgatory.