Mariners add Jorge Polanco, continue to improve
But—and you won’t believe this—they still could use another move.
It’s good to get better. It’s good to try. And the Mariners’ move to add Jorge Polanco, even at the expense of multiple useful pieces, shows them doing both as spring training approaches.
Polanco does a lot to shore up the middle part of the roster, and this lineup—but but the trade with the Twins isn’t without its downsides. Every trade for a useful player is going to cost something, something you’d like to keep, but you do wonder how much their financials shaped the framework of the deal and what they mean for their ability to make another move.
If breaking posts up like I have been is a bit annoying, do let me know—but because no one has yet, hey, let’s do it again.
Mariners get a Major Leaguer
For years now, the Mariners have rounded out their roster with a collection of misfits, reclamation projects, quad-A hopefuls and general fodder. They still do that—but they used to, too (ayy).
Jorge Polanco is not that. At least, he is probably not that.
What are we talking about here? For a second baseman, Polanco can hit. Really rake.
Over the last three seasons, he’s the fifth-best hitting second baseman in the sport given a minimum of 1,000 PAs over that span.
Those numbers: .255/.333/.462., 10.1 BB%, 21.0 K%.
For context, here’s the top 10 via FanGraphs.
That will play.
The downside—had to set the minimum at 1,000 plate appearances.
Despite becoming a Major league regular in 2016 at the age of 23, Polanco didn’t hit the injured list until his age-28 season in 2022. Since then though, he’s seen it quite a bit.
At first, it was just a barking back that sat him down for a little more than the 10-day minimum. But then it was the knee, which ended his 2022 season at the end of August and kept him on the shelf until a few weeks into 2023. And then it was a hamstring, sitting him down for close to two months.
Those are real injuries. I mostly believe the adage that, when you’re talking about injuries in baseball to 30ish-year-old players, you’re mostly taking about age—except when it comes to injuries like Haniger’s busted arm on a beaning, the foul ball to the nether-region and so on.
But a back issue, a wobbly knee and a popped hammy? Those are aging injuries. And it is a valid concern for Polanco and a number of other players on the roster.
That bat though. All the big projection systems have him posting a 110 wRC+ or higher in 2024. The ZiPS version of FanGraphs’ depth charts have him notching 2.9 fWAR and a 114 wRC+.
The last time a Mariners second baseman exceeded those two marks, it was Robbie Canó in his PED-shortened 2018 season. He played 80 games and posted a 135 wRC+. Dude rocked.
There’s reason to hope, as well, that Polanco won’t linearly decline as has been the trend. His barrel rate in 2023—8.7 percent per PA—was the best of his career and 31st in baseball given a minimum of 100 balls in play. For second basemen, only Norman Gorman was higher.
In terms of future production, the overall line may not seem like a lot with these projections looking only marginally better than a guy like Luís Urias (or Rojas, as he’s more directly replacing) but, as I mentioned in the post on Chapman, it’s important to remember acquisitions are not replacing the next guy down on the depth chart, but most likely the dude at the very bottom—whoever that might be.
Instead of depending on both Luis Urías and Josh Rojas to handle the bulk of two positions—the latter the heavy side of a platoon—they’ll now combine to mostly play one, with a platoon at third looking likely.
In examining what makes a team good or great, we often fixate on the top of the roster, but talent is talent and wins are wins—whether they’re at the top of the roster, at the bottom or somewhere in the middle. The bottom of the Mariners roster got better by improving the middle.
It’s not a great roster, one where you’re so good you have certifiable regulars in depth roles, but it’s closer today than it was yesterday morning.
There’s always the money
The Mariners are cash-strapped. The Twins are cash-strapped. As such, we have an NBA-style trade where the money has to match—or be close.
But…we don’t have to have an NBA-style trade. Maybe it gets old but I will continue to reject this broke boi premise at every turn and highlight how it hurts the team.
In this case, the money clearly shaped the framework of this trade.
I want to loop in the quick reaction from a couple folks I trust—just as it’s helpful to get the perspective of evaluators who are mostly neutral.
And Baseball Prospectus senior prospect writer Jarrett Seidler:
Let me be clear: I am not a prospect hugger.
This is a win-now move and it’s encouraging to see the Mariners recognize where they are on the win curve and where they are in their contention window and act accordingly. This is exactly how you cash in on strong player dev (Gabriel González, Darren Bowen) and the bullpen lab (Justin Topa).
But then you get to Anthony DeSclafani. The salary dump.
In doing this trade, in taking on Jorge Polanco and the approximately $13 million he’s guaranteed, they wanted to rid themselves of at least some of the money they owed DeSclafani. So out goes the player, out goes the $6 million they got from the Giants to pay him and out goes an additional $2 million from the M’s.
So in trading away DeSclafani and his contract, they shed a whopping…$4 million in salary.
At that point, you have to wonder, maybe just keep him if it only saves you $4 million?
You also wonder if the outlay is as high as it is—a fringe top 100 guy, another interesting prospect, a useful reliever and your #6 starter—if you say “Hey, you know what, we’ll take Polanco and the $13 million he’s owed and not send any hefty contracts back your way.” Do you keep González? Topa? Maybe all it costs to take an expendable and pricey player from the Twins is one of the three players you moved to rid yourself of DeSclafani, not all of them.
The Mariners have a hard salary cap right now. The Twins do too, yeah.
But the M’s, we’re supposed to believe, are trying to win a title. And the majority of the teams striving for that same goal don’t have a cap as hard and as low as theirs.
The Mariners have moved a number of players this offseason purely to shed payroll. Then there are others, going back to last year, where it was clearly a factor. What if they just…didn’t have to do that?
If money weren’t an object, I sure wouldn’t mind still having Jarred Kelenic on this roster. Or Eugenio Suárez. Or even Robbie Ray. Or Paul Sewald.
This trade, on its own, is a good trade that makes the Mariners better.
But, yet again, ownership’s financial limitations continue to suppress the level of talent on the roster.
Hopefully, they’re not done
Usually, post-transaction media hits with the front office are not particularly illuminating. We know, you like the player. That’s why you got him. And you probably didn’t start trying to get him today. Good stuff. Papers and other publications need their quotes and it is nice to have them.
Still, after this move, I was curious to hear one thing—are they done? They probably won’t say “We’re done.” but does it sound like they’re done? Usually you can tell.
With the Mariners, I can’t tell.
It didn’t sound like they’re not not done. But it didn’t sound like they were done, either.
In actuality, it didn’t “sound” like either because all I have is the quote from the paper and not audio from the conference call.
Here’s Justin Hollander, via Divish:
“I do feel like our team is more complete than it was yesterday and it’s better than it was yesterday,” Hollander said. “I don’t want to rule anything out. I don’t want to promise anything. It’s just impossible to say what might come along between now and the start of the regular season.”
The Mariners managed to pull off a good version of their typical offseason. Quite good, even. But for them to get where we want them to go, we’d love to see a very un-Mariners offseason. We want them to look at their standing, firmly positioned as one of the better Wild Card teams, and say “No. We want more.”
You can pick whatever figure you want for payroll, between Darren Gossler and FanGraphs and SpoTrac and whatever for where the Mariners stand now but the most important thing is context.
FanGraphs has their payroll, after this mostly neutral move, at 18th in baseball. 18th!
They’d have to spend an additional $20 million to get to the middle of the pack—and $30 million to get to 13th.
I think if Jerry Dipoto told John Stanton, at any point in the GM/POBO’s tenure, “Hey, I can get you a division favorite for about a league-average payroll,” Stanton would have to leap at that.
Again, we’re not asking for much here. The bar is not high.
I still like Matt Chapman and think there’s a fit here. You could go bigger, try to chase down Cody Bellinger. Or you could go for the three-run homer by signing Blake Snell and moving one of your young starters for an elite hitter.
This is all within—honestly, below—the budget they told us to expect in a contention window. It’s below where they’ve been before, and by a good margin.
The hard part of this offseason is over. I don’t know how Dipoto, Hollander and company managed to pull off what they did, to make the team both cheaper and better than where they left off at the end of 2023, but they did it.
I’m excited to watch this ball club. It should be a fun team, a good team.
But, once again, the Mariners have the opportunity to be great.