The Seattle Mariners have had a few very busy days in advance of the Winter Meetings, as they have agreed to deals with two NL East teams. The first one sees Seattle shipping all-star closer Edwin Diaz and second baseman Robinson Cano to the New York Mets in exchange for their past two first-round picks in Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, reliever Gerson Bautista, and a pair of veterans in Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak to even out of finances.
Jerry Dipoto did an excellent job getting out from under Cano’s contract while acquiring some legitimate talent in return. Brodie Van Wagenen made a very bold statement in making this move, as it gives the impression that he is exceptionally confident in his current group of guys. Typically, when in the midst of a rebuild, teams steer clear of paying a lot to acquire a late-inning reliever, as they are superfluous when there are fewer save situations and less of an interest in “winning now.”
There is a lot of risk present in this deal for the Mets. First of all, adding Cano will limit their ability to retain their star guys, and could also make affording their current team with arbitration raises a bit difficult. While they managed to get out from under the Bruce and Swarzak contracts, those were shorter term and would each be up by 2021, which is two years before Cano’s deal expires. The 36-year-old second baseman is a bit of a question mark, as there are some unknowns about his performance in the near future, with the performance enhancing drug suspension and injuries. While many argue that when taken off the PEDs, players don’t come back and play worse, what they don’t consider is the idea that said players may have used the substances during the offseason, helping them to train more and to prepare harder for the upcoming season. Without that energy to go the extra mile, a guy in his late thirties could have difficulty doing those same training exercises and methods that helped him become more successful in the following season.
That being said, Diaz may be the most valuable reliever in the league. He can be retained for around the league minimum in 2019 while being controlled through arbitration through the 2022 season. While some have expressed concern with his control, he dropped his BB/9 to 2.09 from 4.36 (2017) and all of his peripherals support his strong bottom line numbers. Over 73.1 innings pitched, he posted a 1.96 ERA and a FIP that somehow managed to even better, at 1.61. His HR/FB number was in line with his career numbers, while his LOB and BABIP suggest that while he was fortunate to an extent, both figures were around league average.
While they traded Diaz, they were able to get out from under the majority of the Cano deal, sending just $20 million to the Mets. To help offset salary, the Mariners acquired outfielder Bruce and righty Swarzak.
Swarzak, 33, struggled mightily in 2018 after signing a two-year contract worth $14 million. He posted a 2.33 ERA with a 2.74 FIP over 77.1 innings pitched in 2017, but he followed it up with a 6.15 ERA and a 5.48 FIP with the Mets. Luckily for the Mariners, there are a few indications that Swarzak could bounce back in 2019, as his HR/FB jumped to an unsustainable 20.7 percent, which is almost double his career rate of 9.9 percent. Furthermore, hitters posted a .344 BABIP against him. At this point, as the Mariners are looking to rebuild, they can give Swarzak every opportunity to rebuild his value, and possibly trade him.
As for Bruce, he slashed .223/.310/.370 over 361 plate appearances, with nine home runs. There were a lot of injuries that limited his production in 2018, but he’s just one season removed from a .254/.324/.508 slash line with 36 home runs and 101 RBIs. There were a few things that were encouraging, as he posted a career high 11.4 percent walk rate, and a .263 BABIP. Assuming he’s healthy in 2019, his production seems likely to improve. It has been reported that he isn’t likely to be traded before the beginning of spring training and could remain with the Mariners through the 2019 season. He has two years remaining on his contract, in which he will earn $28 million. If he can succeed in 2019, he could have some value next offseason, as a one-year rental piece.
The real prizes of the deal, however, came in the form of a high upside relief pitcher and a pair of recent first-round picks.
Bautista, 23, was acquired by the Mets in the Addison Reed trade. Bautista struggled mightily in 2018, as he posted a 12.46 ERA and an 11.24 FIP over 4.1 innings pitched with the Mets. That’s a tiny sample size, but his Triple-A numbers weren’t much better, as he posted a 5.22 ERA. However, his peripherals suggested the potential for some improvement, as hitters posted a .444 BABIP and his FIP was a promising 3.52. Long term, Bautista looks like a high-octane taxi guy. He brings with him a very high ceiling based on his fastball that can reach triple-digits, worth a 70 scouting grade, and a 55 grade changeup. Unfortunately for him, that ceiling is limited by exceptionally poor command, which comes out to a 30 scouting grade, with a 40 potential future rank. He looks to me like a taxi guy for the Mariners in 2019.
The Mets’ 2018-first round pick, Kelenic, is a very high-risk, high-reward type player. He’s a left-handed hitting outfielder who was drafted out of high school. He showed some legitimate signs of life coming out of the draft, as he slashed .286/.371/.468 while walking 10.3 percent of the time, stealing 15 bases, and smashing six home runs. Adding onto that, he showed legitimate defensive value, posting a 2.51 RF/9 in center field, which is well-above average. All of his tools are expected to improve as he ages, with the potential for a plus bat, a plus arm from the outfield, and above average speed and power. I would estimate he will be in the majors around 2022, as he’s just 19 years old. He could be an above average center fielder who could lead off in the order.
Dunn, on the other hand, could see the major leagues this coming season. The righty starter was picked 19th overall out of Boston College. He spent the 2018 season between High-A and Double-A. Over 45.2 innings pitched in High-A, he struck out 10.05/9 with a 2.96 BB/9 with a 2.36 ERA and a 3.00 FIP. He regressed a bit in Double-A, posting a 4.22 ERA and a 3.37 FIP, but one thing to take into account is that hitters posted a .345 BABIP against him. At the end of the day, I would imagine he is moved to relief, based on the lack of a third pitch. His fastball could play up in shorter stints and his plus slider could be elite. While his curve and change work, they aren’t great, and could probably be abandoned without much consequence. He could be a closer in the long run.
I would have given the Mariners the win, even without acquiring those young prospects. While Diaz is excellent and valuable, he’s a reliever, and relievers have no legitimate place on a rebuilding team. At the end of the day, freeing up $64 million dollars through 2022 could be huge going forward, as they continue to acquire young and promising players who could become expensive through arbitration. I don’t believe the Mets are in the position to be making moves along these lines. In such a competitive division, they will need to continue making sizable moves to keep pace, but could struggle to do so as they just spent a considerable amount of money in acquiring Cano and don’t have much in terms of prospects.