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The Mariners and the AL East
Might the Mariners match up with the Rays, Red Sox (again), Yankees, Blue Jays, or Orioles on a major trade this winter?
The Seattle Mariners have roster inefficiencies, to put it kindly, and impact acquisitions, plural, are necessary if they are to take the step they’ve always planned for in their trek to be a consistent World Series contender.
The club has the option to be competitive in free agency, but the market may not bear what the organization needs, payroll aggression or not. A trade or two may be necessary.
President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto and GM Justin Hollander — good morning, gentleman — have made several deals with the National League West the past several years, and there may be opportunities to do it again this winter.
Let’s go team-by-team and see what pops.
Boston Red Sox
The two clubs just hooked up on a minor deal that sent RHR Isaiah Campbell to Boston for infuelder Luis Urias. I shared my thoughts on that move on Baseball Things right here. But I, for one, don’t subscribe to the idea that weakness + strength = trade match. The Red Sox need pitching. Seattle has it. So what? Seattle also needs that pitching.
But there are some interesting names on the Red Sox’s roster that could line up with Seattle’s needs, starting with outfielder Alex Verdugo. Verdugo has yet to repeat his 2020 season when he posted a 125 wRC+ with a .308/.367/.478 slash in 53 games, but he does play solid right field and makes consistent contact. He’s 27, controlled for one more year, and comes with rather high probability despite the lack of ceiling. He’s never been worse than average in any full season.
Considering it’s a one-year fix, the trade cost here isn’t among the likes of Logan Gilbert, Bryce Miller, or Bryan Woo, but it also appears the Sox plan to add significant pieces this winter, so any move they’d consider with Verdugo may have to be for immediate help to their own roster, a bit like the Toronto Blue Jays did a year ago when Seattle swapped RHR Erik Swanson for OF Teoscar Hernandez.
Outside of Verdugo, there’s not a lot of realistic, significant potential targets from Seattle’s point of view, but if I were the Mariners and the Red Sox inquired about the availability of my young pitching, I’d tell Boston I’d be willing to talk about Triston Casas, their 6-foot-5, 240-pound, power-hitting first baseman, who has future All-Star written all over him. Otherwise, no thanks, Craig Breslow.
Boston does have some farm talent that’s interesting, including shortstop Marcelo Mayer, multi-position defender Ceddane Rafaela, and 2023 first-round pick Kyle Teel, but Seattle really has no business trading from their rotation for a player they aren’t sure will help them in 2024. It’s winning time, not rebuilding season.
As clubs make trades and sign free agents, however, rosters change, which means strengths and weaknesses change, too. If the Red Sox were to sign, say, Shohei Ohtani, Breslow may feel moving Masataka Yoshida and the remaining $72 million on his deal makes more sense than using him regularly in the field, where he struggled in 2023.
Should Boston get into the market for a star outfielder, such as Luis Robert or Cody Bellinger, they may find themselves open to trading Jarren Duran (27, LHB, 120 wRC+) for a key arm or two.
Until then, it’s tough to see a major match between the two clubs.
New York Yankees
If I were the Yankees I’d be all over trading Gleyber Torres, who has one year left until free agency, and trying to get more athletic and focusing on pitching. I’d also throw prospects and young players at the San Diego Padres to try and grab Juan Soto, whom the Yankees would certainly have a great chance to keep around with a large contract extension.
But as far as what they havethat may interest Seattle? Not seeing much here. It’s a pretty bad Yankees roster overall, with age, injury, and bloated salary uncertainty in the outfield and on the mound.
There are some interesting relievers, but no position players to spare that don’t fit the above decription. DJ LeMahieu intrigues me, but is 35 and has slipped in production to league-average levels. He’s also more of a corner infielder now than an option at second base. Further complicating his fit in Seattle, he’s due $45 million total over the next three seasons.
Brian Cashman has his work cut out for him, and as someone who once believed Cashman was underrated, I’m a little surprised he’s still running the Yankees. Without a complete turnaround from the recent trends of that roster and in the win column, he probably should be out of a job in 2024.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays reportedly want to be aggressive in adding more than one hitter this winter. With Matt Chapman a free agent, GM Ross Atkins may be on the search for a third baseman, plus some outfield help. They’ve already been linked to Bellinger and Jeimer Candelario.
They’ve also discussed Eugenio Suarez with Seattle already.
Toronto may want to get some value for backup catcher Danny Jansen before he its free agency, but it seems unlikely Seattle would have significant interest there, particularly considering Jansen’s arb number likely soaring above $5 million.
Since the two clubs are after much of the same thing, it probably limits the chances of a trade match, but there are signs the club is shopping former ace Alek Manoah, and Seattle has been known to seek the upside in arms. Stay tuned on that front.
Where I find the Jays interesting from the Mariners’ standpoint is in their farm system with names such as infielder Orelvis Martinez, and a small handful of arms.
If the Jays, however, find little luck in replacing Chapman externally, they may end up needing to add multipke outfield bats, suggesting a re-homing of Daulton Varsho may be in order.
As for what the Mariners might be able to get from Toronto for Suarez? Probably not a lot. While I imagine Seattle would be focused on a return that helps them directly in 2024, one can argue acquiring additional prospects early in the offseason gives a club a legit shot to pass them along to another team for the big-league help they need.
Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are always a club to keep an eye on when it comes to trades, and three things happened in 2023 that may make it even more likely they move some talent this winter.
One, they lost their starting shortstop and have no obvious internal answer. Two, the club suffered several pitching injuries that further question their 40-player and 26-player depth. Three, the likes of Junior Caminero, Curtis Mead, and Austin Shenton, corner infielders with offensive profiles, are all either big-league ready or very close to it.
The third element suggests the club has plenty of depth to trade at least one proven hitter, perhaos Harold Ramirez, Yandy Diaz, or Isaac Paredes. Doing so can impact the first and/or second factor above, as can trading Tyler Glasnow and his $25 million salary.
Seattle has clear and present offensive needs and would be able to house a bat that can field at the infield corners, since the club doesn’t currently have a hitter that projects to DH regularly. Ramirez, Diaz, Paredes, as well as outfielder Randy Arozarena, whom I acquired in My Offseason Plan episode, fit to a great degree on the Mariners roster, and both Shenton and Mead are intriguing in their own right.
Whether or not they have exactly what the Rays would require in return is unknown, which is why I had to go the three-team route. ;)
The Rays also have Brandon Lowe under contract for one more year plus two club options, but the 29-year-old has had issues staying on the field the last couple of seasons. Tampa is shopping Manuel Margot, who bats right-handed and makes contact, two of Seattle’s search paramaters this winter, but isn’t a hitter, having posted just one firmly average season at the plate in seven years, including a .264/.310/.376 slash across 99 games in 2023.
Keep an eye on the Rays and Mariners.
The Orioles are another not-really for me. Anthony Santander’s name gets mentioned a lot by Seattle-oriented folks, but he’s a poor-fielding, one-year fix in the mold of Teoscar Hernandez. Seattle should be aiming higher — and beyond 2024 — with their most notable two offensive additions.
Baltimore’s prospects also get mentioned often, led by the likes of OFs Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad, and infielders Coby Mayo and Joey Ortiz. Add in 2023 rookie Jordan Westburg and that’s the “great match” some see between the two teams. I don’t see it at all, again because Seattle shouldn’t be trading rotation answers for prospects, and the Orioles shouldn’t be trading for question marks or prospects, either.
Two players that do make some sense, however, are 1B/DH Ryan Mountcastle (26, RHB, 114 wRC+) and OF Austin Hays (28, RHB, 112 wRC+). Mountcastle is hitting arbitration for the first time this winter and is set for free agency following the 2026 season. Hays has two years of control remaining.
Neither answer the Mariners’ No. 1 question of “who hits right behind Julio Rodriguez?,” but they’re solid complementary hitters.
Cowser and Kjerstad have more upside, but it’s difficult to pencil them in as regulars, which is what the Mariners sorely need, and a rotation piece-for-hitter-prospect scenario makes little sense.