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A very Seattle Mariners trade deadline
Oooookay then. A few notes on a dud of a deadline.
This is supposed to be the fun part. Or it’s one of the fun parts.
That the Mariners are of any intrigue at the trade deadline is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. There were and are many a year where the season is competitively over before August, if not June, and you find yourself talking into Trayvon Robinson and Mauricio Robles.
This was almost one of those years!
But as familiar as those deadlines once were, clearly selling and not even selling much of value, what we heard today was a loud and clear echo bouncing off similarly-dull deadline days from prior good-not-great Mariners teams.
It’s proven especially miserable the last couple years, hoping for one real hefty nudge of a move in the hours before the deadline. And that includes last year, when they landed the best pitcher on the market and had a club that could make some noise in the Postseason. They made some moves, yeah, but they could’ve made more.
However, this year is this year—and every year is different. They do all matter, though.
Let’s walk through this, hitting on a few different points.
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The only noteworthy deal—Paul Sewald for Dominic Canzone, Josh Rojas and Ryan Bliss
It was a smart trade. Let’s get that out of the way. Trading relievers is almost always the right thing to do. And that’s doubly true when finding and developing new relievers is one of the things your organization is best at.
And still, there is something about this trade and trades like it that will always feel funky.
Jordan of Cespedes BBQ fame put it well.
It’s just, hm.
It’s the type of move you make when you know you won’t compete with the game’s elite from a resources perspective so you have to get cute. You swap the closer out because, in a vacuum, relievers just aren’t that valuable and hope to hit on one of the two lottery tickets and raise the floor with Rojas.
It’s the type of move Cleveland makes. Or Tampa Bay.
But those are the organizations that, despite being cheap, manage to find ways to be competitive year-in and year-out.
Plus, people I trust do like the return.
And the thing is, while it will be the perception among the bulk of the fan base, this isn’t quite waving the white flag.
Some of the early contact quality peripherals around Canzone are noteworthy in his 16 games at the Major League level, and it wouldn’t be inconceivable for him to match Sewald’s 1.0 fWAR in just two months with the M’s. I don’t trust Triple-A offensive stats these days, but that 149 wRC+ sure is a big number.
to remember I learned yesterday is that minor league wRC+ is adjusted by league…and not by park. The road OPS is plenty high away from the hitters’ haven in Reno but he’s posted good offensive numbers in a good offensive league; I’m not sure it’s worth reading too much more into the 2023 minor league statline.
Plus, Rojas may raise the floor from a guy like Kolten Wong. Then again, he and his 61 wRC+ may not.
Finally, Ryan Bliss may be something. Setting aside the numbers—including that listed(!!!!) height of 5’6”—this guy did not come from nowhere. He’s not an analytical darling and figurative red balloon, he was a second-round pick after a stand-out career at Auburn.
He’s also just really fun to watch hit.
There’s plenty of reason to hope, for 2023 and beyond.
Lastly, and this is going to sound pessimistic, but it’s really the root of potential pessimism: I have cheered for so many different versions of these dudes. Like, so many.
Sometimes they’re Mitch Haniger. Most of the time, they are not Mitch Haniger.
And baseball is about more than constantly extracting the maximum value from a market. Or maybe it’s about less?
Doing well there obviously matters a lot, but it’s also fine if you wonder if it should matter the most.
This clubhouse earned upgrades
There’s been a lot of positive tension around the clubhouse for the last few days. Guys are competitive. They’re also real people. They’re going to be pissed when it sounds like they’re gonna sell and do end up shipping off their closer.
Cal Raleigh had this to say before the Sewald move, via Ryan Divish:
“You come into the clubhouse and would rather see ‘The Office’ or ‘Parks and Rec,’ but it’s on MLB Network every day,” catcher Cal Raleigh said. “You know something’s going to happen. We don’t know what. It is out of our control. We want to be in this thing. We don’t want to be giving anybody away. We want to be adding, not subtracting.”
Maybe this is phony, mumbo jumbo, and that’s definitely possible—but maybe, just maybe, figuratively looking your clubhouse dead in the eye and saying “We don’t trust you. We don’t have enough faith in you to expend any kind of capital.” has a negative impact?
This is an organization that talks an awful lot about culture. About building a sustainable winner.
All of this stuff matters. And it matters a lot when you’re asking fans and players to believe in a theoretical culture overhaul and a new era of Mariners Baseball.
Soooo…all the money saved was just a nice side effect?
The Mariners came into this season with fans justifiably up their ass about running a below-average payroll fresh off reporting on record profits.
And since then, they’ve only made more moves to save money. To save money they already planned to spend!
I’m not going to sit here and try to say Trevor Gott is some amazing reliever—he’s shown anything but in his time with the Mets—but that trade is one of the first I’ve ever seen where a GM just comes out and says “Yeah, we were trying to unload some money.” They did just that in moving Flexen and the cash he’s owed from his option vesting.
And somehow, some way, they managed to move AJ Pollock and the money he’s owed the rest of the way. That was looking like a surefire DFA.
Even Paul Sewald’s money was a factor here. Yes, he’s only due $4 million for the entirety of 2023 but he heads into his last year of arbitration in 2024 fresh off a career-high in saves that probably ends up north of 25. After a 21-save campaign in 2022.
Those arbiters love saves, so he’s due for a bump.
For a team like the Mariners, or a team that behaves as the Mariners have behaved financially, every sing $5 million to $10 million player really adds up.
That’s a factor in why they made some of these moves.
And it’s why, if Canzone isn’t a Major League regular and they—God forbid—head into 2024 with a Rojas/Caballero second base platoon, then the club is going to miss Sewald in what, again, should be a contending year.
With the Mariners, last a midseason division leader multiple presidential administrations ago, the trade deadline is often about caution in the face of an uncertain future and instead holding a steady course.
That is an angle one can take. It wouldn’t wrong to do so. I did it nine years ago when the Mariners picked up Austin Jackson.
But it isn’t the only one, though.
Every single year counts
They’re still going to play another 56 games. They could win enough of those games and against the right teams to go to the playoffs.
That is very much in play.
I’m being honest.
Like, I’m not leading you on to say it’s unlikely—though it is—I’m saying that is a possibility. And not that crazy of one.
These years count, too. They count as much as last year and the year before that and 2016 and 2014 and so on.
There’s the logic side to this, the smart case to make. You know the state of your team right now, both its talent level now and down the stretch, and its place in the standings—plus the competitive health of the teams still trying to win games.
That is known data. The predictive ability of the data is up for debate, but it is up-to-the-day data you know you have.
You know the starting rotation you have and you know their relative health. You know the type of year J.P. Crawford is having. You have pre-prime Julio healthily chugging towards a five-win season. You know the strength of your schedule down the stretch. You know how your club has looked in July once some of the dead weight was cleared out.
They got a shot. You could improve it—or make it hit harder if it lands.
Hindsight is a powerful thing, but how do you feel now about the 2022 deadline given everything that played out? That was a good team. It was better than this year’s team, that’s for sure. They were in playoff position already, too.
I don’t know, maybe you get that one more bat you knew you needed so you don’t get shut out in your first home playoff game in 21 years. Maybe you overpay for a shutdown lefty reliever out of the bullpen because you know you’ll need one to deal with a certain someone in the Postseason.
All these years count. They’re all an opportunity.
You can’t bank on steady improvement. You can’t bank on next year even being about the same. You just don’t know.
But you do know you could’ve taken a shot right now.
✤ ✤ ✤ ✤ ✤ ✤
This team still has an opportunity.
It may even have a better opportunity than they had a week ago. Like I said, they’re going to play these games.
I’m wrapping this up and I’m headed down to the ballpark again.
For the team, for you, for me, for all of us—these years do count. It’s 78 degrees out on a sunny evening in Seattle and I’m going to watch the Mariners play competitive second-half baseball.
I want it to be a lot more, we all want it to be a lot more.
And if that happens to come in spite of themselves, so be it.