HOUSTON — It’s unlikely the days leading into the Major League Baseball trade deadline will be quite as tumultuous as last season for the Mariners, but it could be more active.
With Jerry Dipoto, president of baseball operations, known to make deals before the deadline, which is Tuesday at 3 p.m. PT, the expectation is for him to add at least a starting pitcher and possibly another impact bat for a team poised to lead the organization back into the postseason for the first time since 2001.
Possessing a restocked farm system and supposed payroll flexibility, Dipoto could add legitimate to elite MLB talent who could not only help for this postseason run, but 2023 and beyond.
Adding impact players comes at a cost. You have to give up talent to get talent. The idea of trades isn’t for one team to win, but for both teams to address needs. Teams that are giving up proven MLB performers are usually looking for talented prospects or promising MLB players with four-plus years of club control. The Mariners have both. But who is Dipoto willing to give up?
Automatic hang-up if they ask
Julio Rodriguez: It’s unlikely anyone would even bring up the rookie center fielder’s name in a conversation. They know what he’s done in his first MLB season, what he means to the Mariners and their fans and what he will be moving forward. The Mariners fan base would turn into “Lord of the Flies” if it were even rumored to be happening.
They’ll listen, but it better be worth it
Logan Gilbert, RHP: Gilbert looks like he will be a stalwart in the Mariners’ rotation for years to come. Coming into Thursday, he’s made 44 career starts, posting a 16-9 record with a 3.73 ERA and generating 4.4 FanGraphs WAR. In 236 1/3 innings, he’s struck out 240 batters with 58 walks. The Mariners love his competitive nature that extends beyond the mound. His desire to use data and new thinking to continually improve his pitches and mechanics coupled with his tireless work ethic make him special.
It would hurt, but if it’s the right player(s) in return …
• George Kirby, RHP
• Cal Raleigh, C
• Edwin Arroyo, SS
• Harry Ford, C
As Gilbert did in his rookie season, Kirby has offered an extended glimpse of why he was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball coming into the season. In 13 starts, he’s posted a 2-3 record with a 3.50 ERA. In 69 1/3 innings, he’s struck out 66 batters with 10 walks.
In the scenario of giving up either Gilbert or Kirby in a trade, multiple opposing pro scouts preferred to keep Gilbert.
“Gilbert is just a little better,” one scout said. “His fastball plays up a little more. And his breaking stuff is a little better.”
Another scout mentioned Kirby’s shoulder fatigue issues during 2020 and 2021.
Realistically, the only way the Mariners would trade Kirby is if they are getting an elite-level talent for multiple seasons.
Raleigh, 25, has blossomed into the Mariners’ everyday catcher and one of the better power-hitting catchers in baseball. While a .211/.288/.474 slash line and strikeouts in 30.5% of his plate appearances don’t wow, he’s accumulated a 2.0 fWAR in only 69 games played. His 14 homers are tied with Willson Contreras of the Cubs and Will Smith of the Dodgers as the most by a catcher in MLB. Raleigh reached that total in 236 plate appearances while Contreras needed 375 and Smith 343.
Teams covet catchers who can hit. But the Mariners organization is lacking in MLB-ready talent at the upper levels, and there really isn’t a way to replace him.
Ford was the Mariners’ first-round pick in 2021. A 5-foot-10 ball of muscle, he has a .260/.401/.411 slash line with 13 doubles, four triples, six homers, 44 RBI and 14 stolen bases for Low-A Modesto at age 19. But he probably won’t be big league ready for another four to five seasons.
The Mariners took Arroyo, a slick-fielding infielder, in the second round of the 2021 draft at age 17. They loved his speed and athleticism, the elite defensive ability with a big throwing arm and his switch hitting. But they weren’t sure about his hitting profile after he struggled in the Arizona Complex League in 2021. He’s exceeded expectations at the plate this season for Modesto, posting a .315/.384/.513 slash line with 18 doubles, seven triples, 13 homers, 26 RBI, 21 stolen bases, 34 walks and 89 strikeouts. He is the heir apparent to. J.P. Crawford and could debut by 2025 or 2026.
Giving up talent to get talent back
• Jarred Kelenic, OF
• Emerson Hancock, RHP
• Noelvi Marte, SS
• Matt Brash, RHP
In most trade scenarios, these four names are mentioned the most. Class AAA Tacoma has had a myriad scouts following it over the last two weeks. Per one scout, the Mariners have made it clear they are willing to trade Kelenic to fill their immediate needs.
The idea of trading Kelenic didn’t exist in spring training of 2021 or really even after he struggled in his initial call-up last season. But his continued struggles to refind his bat-to-ball skills, his failure or unwillingness to improve his two-strike approach and inability to hit breaking balls, even in the minor leagues, are glaring enough that the Mariners would consider it.
While he isn’t as coveted as he once was, he’s still only 23 and has all the tools to be a quality MLB player. Teams recognize that value.
There was a brief time when Hancock was thought to have more promise than Gilbert or Kirby. But concerns about time missed to injury and his delivery leading to more shoulder issues have arisen. Still, he was throwing 98-mph sinkers in the Futures Game, and his talent is legitimate.
Marte isn’t the shortstop of the future and questions about his arm strength and infield skills lead some scouts to believe he’s a left fielder. At 6-3 and 200-plus pounds, he’s a physical specimen at age 20. Playing for High-A Everett, he’s posted a .267/.359/.457 slash line with 18 doubles, 15 homers, 54 RBI, 42 walks and 81 strikeouts in 384 plate appearances.
Brash’s new role as a reliever doesn’t help his value. But he could always be stretched out into a starting role. His high-90s fastball and plus breaking pitches are attractive to teams.
Prospects who might get traded that most people don’t know
• Bryce Miller, RHP (No. 6)
• Taylor Dollard, RHP (No. 7)
• Gabriel Gonzalez, OF (No. 8)
• Adam Macko, LHP (No. 9)
• Levi Stoudt (No. 10)
• Lazaro Montes, 1B/OF (No. 12)
Scouts and prospect nerds know all about these players as they represent some of the top remaining prospects in a farm system that is still talented despite the “graduation” of players such as Rodriguez, Gilbert, Kirby, Raleigh and Kelenic.
Those rankings are based on Baseball America’s Top 30 prospect rankings for the Mariners organization. Most are playing at the lowest levels of the minor league system, making them “lottery tickets” in scouting vernacular. Their talent is legitimate, but their value in helping the Mariners win now is in filling out a trade package.
Miller has a 100-mph fastball and was recently promoted to Double-A Arkansas, but he profiles as a future reliever. Dollard doesn’t have an exceptional fastball, topping out at 94 mph. But he’s perhaps the most polished pitcher in the Mariners system. He’s 9-2 for Arkansas with a 1.54 ERA in 18 starts.
Of the group, Gonzalez and Montes are the most intriguing in terms of pure talent. Gonzalez is only 18 and has a .348/.408/.525 slash line with nine doubles, four homers, 15 RBI, eight walks and 20 strikeouts in 32 games in the Arizona Complex League. Montes is only 17 and stands 6-5. He was signed to a $2.5 million bonus out of Cuba this season. He has a .313/.434/.626 slash line with 10 doubles, four triples, six homers, 26 RBI, 20 walks and 50 strikeouts in 36 games in the Dominican Summer League.