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The Mariners and the NL West
Let's go through the NL West the same way we have the other two National League divisions and look for interesting players & scenarios.
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, at least in my brain.
The last deal the Mariners made with the Rockies was under Jack Zduriencik when Colorado sent right-hander Aaron Harang to Seattle in excange for right-handed relief prospect Steven Hensley.
The most significant deal the two clubs have made came in 2001 when Gm Pat Gillick traded lefty reliever Brian Fuentes, righty Jose Paniagua and right-handed pitching prospect Denny Stark to Denver for third baseman Jeff Cirillo.
The Rockies’ outlook for 2024 is a bit grim, considering the lack of talent and a mediocre farm system, but it does appear they are getting closer to some impact assistance from their development process, including outfielder Zac Veen, catcher Drew Romo, and a small handful of back-end starters and corner infielders.
The current roster faces an uphill climb after a 59-103 finish this past season, despite a CBT number near $200 million. To be frank, it’s not well-spent money, strongly suggesting the Rockies are another example of why throwing money at players is a terrible idea.
Kris Bryant will make $28 million in 2024 and then for four straight season will make $27 million per as his performanceand availability fade harshly into oblivion. As a result the 32-year-old is virtually untradeable. The same can be said for right-hander German Marquez, who signed a two-year, $20 million extension in September, extending his stay in Colorado and pushing back his free agency another two seasons after he missed almost all of 2023 with an elbow injury that required mid-May UCL surgery.
The Rockies, however, do have a small handful of interesting players they could dangle in trades if they’re looking toward 2025, when Marquez is most likely to return to form and the farm is ready to help with any significance.
Infielder Brendan Rodgers has two years of team control left and is set to make north of $3 million this coming season. The market for middle infielders is incredibly dry — the highest-ranking, and only, free agent second baseman or shortstop on my Top 50 Rankings is Amed Rosario at No. 34 — and the trade market appears to offer little more hope.
Rodgers, 27, is a right-handed batter coming off his own injury-marred season, but there’s some upside left in his bat, highlighted by above-average contact and a hance at 15 homers a year. He’s an above-average defender at second and can help at shortstop. Rodgers owns a career 119 wRC+ versus left-handed pitching, suggesting a club could see him as a strongside platoon bat, if nothing else.
His injury history hurts, so Colorado may feel they are better off seeing it through another year, but he’d interest me to some degree if I needed second base help.
Left-hander Austin Gomber has been mediocre to bad in 82 big-league starts, but as a swing arm should have value, as evidenced by his +30/+10/+35 slash improvements in a relief role. His splits in 2023 were massively reversed — lefties killed him — but for his career he’s managed rather equally, and could be a candidate for an approach change in a middle or long role. He reminds me a ton of former Mariners lefty Nick Margevcius.
Gomber is also controlled for two more arb-marked seasons, and is set to make over $3 million in 2024.
Relievers Daniel Bard ($9.5 million in 2024), and Justin Lawrence (pre-arb), as well as infielder Ryan McMahon also are interesting trade plays, led by McMahon, who will be 29 in December and is coming off another below-average season. He can handle second a bit, but belongs at third, and his bat has yet to play anywhere, despite the fact the Rockies threw $70 million at him on a six-year contract extension prior to the 2022 season.
I don’t see much beyond Rodgers and a reliever that should interest Seattle here, however.
San Diego Padres
The Padres are loaded with talent, despite the pieces not really fitting together to make one well-oiled game-winning machine. The writing seems to be on the wall with Juan Soto, and if it were me I’d try and move arbitration-eligibles Austin Nola ($2.35 million), Scott Barlow ($7.1 million) and Trent Grisham ($4.9 million), and would consider non-tendering all three if I can’t get something in return for them.
But the Padres’ issues for 2024 start on the mound, and end on the mound, sandwiched around a key position-play move or two, perhaps starting with an offensive upgrade at first base and center field.
As for other players that may interest other teams, it may depend on what the Padres do with their infield. There’s been chatter they’ll ask Xander Bogaerts to move off shortstop, presumably with Ha-Seong Kim sliding to shortstop, but whether that means Bogaerts moves to second base or first base is unclear.
Manny Machado remains a very good defensive third baseman, and isn’t expected to miss any of 2024 as a result of his elbow surgery. But this alignment scenario isn’t necessary a neat one. Cronenworth’s bat (career 109 wRC+) doesn’t fit well at first, and in 2023 he was below average across the board (92 wRC+), suggesting San Diego could look for first base help this winter. But Cronenworth’s seven-year, $80 million extension through his age-36 season makes him a tough trade target.
Aside from Soto and a reliever or two, it’s tough to find interesting pieces of the puzzle in Brown and Gold, unless inexplicably the club fields calls on Joe Musgrove, one of two projectable big-league arms on the roster right now.
There’s not a single player on this roster, including Soto, that seems remotely available I’d show strong interest in if I were Seattle. Not one.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants are giving indicattion they will again be aggressive on elite free agents, which suggests to me not only is Shohei Ohtani on their radar, but so are Cody Bellinger and a slew of veteran starting pitchers.
The Giants have some depth on the infield and outfielder corners, with Lamont Wade Jr., Wilmer Flores, J.D. Davis, Michael Conforto, Austin Slater, Mitch Haniger, Mike Yastrzemski, and Casey Schmitt (In my Offseason Plan episode of Baseball Things, the Mariners traded for Wade).
San Francisco’s roster may be greatly impacted by their free agent endeavors, too, possibly including their rotation. If they are aggressove and add two arms and their top pitching prospect, lefty Kyle Harrison, is in the plans to start 2024 after flashing in seven starts in 2023, an arm like Alex Cobb or Ross Stripling could help them fill another roster gap.
I could see some level of intrigue on Conforto, Wade, Flores, Davis, backup catcher Joey Bart, and perhaps a bullpen arm from the Mariners’ perspective.
He’s going to make around $7 million in his final year before free agency, suggesting reliever Paul Sewald is not a certainty to return to Arizona following the club’s World Series appearance in October.
The Diamondbacks aren’t big spenders, and Sewald’s $7.3 million arbitration projection represents nearly 7% of their current projected payroll for 2024. The same goes for first baseman Christian Walker, who is set to make closer to $13 million in his final go at arbitration before free agency next offseason.
I do wonder if Arizona might explore moving all of their veterans not named Zac Gallen or Merrill Kelly, including second baseman Ketel Marte, who is now 30, but is coming off two straight healthier seasons of above-average offensive production and has at least four years left on his deal.
Arizona also could attempt to land pitching, their greatest weakness on paper, by agreeing to include one of their young outfielders. It won’t be Corbin Carroll, so hold your jaw shut there, fella, but Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy are very interesting, young, athletic outfielders with some upside.
Neither are immediate upgrades for Seattle, however, so they’d have to be secondary or tertiary pieces, as would Pavin Smith, perhaps the most likely of Arizona’s outfielders to be moved, and none of these three appear to be clear and present upgrades 2024 over Dominic Canzone or Cade Marlowe.
I see now obvious matches here with Seattle for anything significant from the big-leage roster, depending on future moves made by each club.
Los Angeles Dodgers
From this perspective - looking for players that may be able to help Seattle in 2024 — I don’t like the Dodgers projected big-league roster.
They aren’t moving Mookie Betts or Freddie Freeman, James Outman appears to be a Dodgers special — perform early and provide big value prior to arbitration — and several other players such as Chris Taylor and most of the pitching staff have either not performed well of late, been hurt, or both.
I do, however, like the ideas of Michael Busch and Jorbit Vivas. Busch is a corner infielder with plus left-handed power and som swing-and-miss, and Vivas is a fringe second base glove with high contact and a chance to hit for high average, but limited, albeit playable power potential.
Outfield prospect Andy Pages may be one of the more underrated prospects in baseball, offering a chance at 30-plus homers with a history of plus walk rates and average corner defense. There’s risk in the hit tool and his insistence on trying to lift the ball could backfire some in Seattle, but he may also hit .240 with three dozen homers and a lot of bases on balls, too. For the record, his last name is pronounced PAH-hez. He’s Cuban.
The Dodgers have needs up the middle, but if that were to change with veteran additions, Gavin Lux has always intrigued me and prior to his injury he was starting to hit some, but there are some concerns his throwing problems my push him to left field where there’s more pressure on the power than if he were able to stick a second base.
While the Dodgers have always spent and are the heavy favorites to land Ohtani with a record contract, the fringes of their 40-man should always interest other clubs, and arbitration numbers can influence even teams that spend the most. Having said that, other than the $9 million projection on catcher Will Smith, that may not be much of a factor this winter.
I don’t see a lot going on here in terms of the Dodgers matching up with Seattle and vice versa, and the entire NL West seems to be in a similar place, but things can and probably will change as the Hot Stove heats up this month.
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