The Seattle Mariners struck up their seventh trade/waiver claim of the 2019 season on Monday, as they acquired recently designated for assignment left-handed reliever Jesse Biddle and injured closer Arodys Vizcaino from the Atlanta Braves for Anthony Swarzak, who had also seen some difficulty in the early going.
While Vizcaino is the biggest name in the deal, he recently underwent Tommy John surgery and will miss the remainder of the 2019 season before becoming a free agent. He probably won’t be ready to pitch competitively again until around mid-season next year. He was included in the deal by Atlanta to help offset some of Swarzak’s salary, the rest of which was evened out by Seattle sending Atlanta roughly $2 million.
While this is purely speculation, if general manager Jerry Dipoto was able to negotiate a rehab contract extension for the 28-year-old Vizcaino, this deal could look like an absolute steal for the Mariners. I would expect that type of deal to have a base of two years worth roughly $8 million ($2 million in 2020, $6 million in 2021) with significant boosters that could bring the deal closer to $20 million if he can come back healthy.
The other piece that the Mariners are getting back is Biddle, who will join the Mariners major-league squad right out of the gate. The 27-year-old lefty, who was once a consensus top-100 prospect for the Philadelphia Phillies, saw his career derailed by injuries including a concussion that was the result of a large ball of hail smashing through his car window into his head. The Phillies traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for reliever Yoervis Medina before the 2017 season, and he was promptly lost on waivers to the Braves, who successfully stashed him on the 60-day injured list. He was one of the most productive relievers in the Braves bullpen last year, posting a 3.11 ERA with a 3.88 FIP over 63.2 innings pitched.
While he struggled with control to the tune of a 4.4 BB/9, his 10.1 K/9 was proportional. Unfortunately, he struggled alongside the rest of the Braves pen in 2019, posting a 5.40 ERA over 11.2 innings pitched with underwhelming peripherals including a 4.90 FIP and horrendous 7.7 BB/9. He will need to work out the kinks on the Mariners active roster, as he is out of minor-league options. Seeing as how the Mariners aren’t necessarily going for it in 2019, they can afford to give Biddle the opportunity to try to work out the kinks in an attempt to return to his 2018 form. I would consider the ceiling for Biddle to be that of a very solid, albeit sometimes inconsistent, setup man. He will be eligible for arbitration after this season and will not become a free agent until after the 2023 season.
As for the 33-year-old Swarzak, he’s in the final season of an ill-fated two-year deal that paid him $14 million guaranteed. He earned the deal after an excellent 2017 season, in which he signed with the Chicago White Sox on a minor-league contract and found immediate success that was sustained after being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Ryan Cordell. All told, he posted a 2.33 ERA over 77.1 innings pitched during that season with a 2.74 FIP, 2.6 BB/9 and 10.6 K/9. After signing with the New York Mets, however, the wheels fell off, as his control suffered and injuries limited him to just 26.1 innings. Overall, he finished the 2018 season with a horrible 6.15 ERA and 5.48 FIP. He was flipped to the Mariners in the Edwin Diaz blockbuster and struggled out of the gate, posting a 5.27 ERA and an 8.07 FIP over 13.2 innings. He will slide into the Braves middle relief corps, as they hope to find an answer in a bullpen that has struggled, as a whole, through the early months of 2019.
I give the Mariners a definitive edge in this deal. On one hand, yes, it’s essentially a swap of spare parts, but just look at where the players were within their respective organizations two months ago. Swarzak was a savings bond player who was attached to the Diaz deal to offset salary and the Mariners were simply hoping to flip for something a bit more long-term. Meanwhile, Vizcaino was expected to be the Braves closer, and Biddle was expected to be one of their main middle relief options. The Mariners did well to further improve their haul on the Cano deal, and while neither piece is anywhere near a certainty to produce positive results for the Mariners, the upside and long-term benefit are both greater than Swarzak could have provided.
This all being said, it wasn’t necessarily a bad move for the Braves either. While both players had high expectations going into the season, Biddle would have been claimed off waivers for nothing otherwise, and Vizcaino would have missed the season and left as a free agent this coming offseason, assuming they were unable to re-sign him. At the very least, the Braves got something to show for the pair who both ultimately already had a foot out the door.