According to reports from Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan and Fancred’s Jon Heyman on Tuesday, the Mariners are considering the possibility of a complete teardown and a multi-year rebuilding process — though it appears that they’ll hang on to franchise building blocks Mitch Haniger, Edwin Diaz, and Marco Gonzales (who just signed a two-year deal):
Sources: The Mariners are considering a full-fledged teardown this winter. If trade market is strong, they’ve told teams they’re willing to move just about anyone. And if that happens, they have indicated they’re willing to wait a few years to build a competitive team again.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 6, 2018
Sounds now like Mariners intend to hold onto Haniger, Diaz and Gonzalez. Word is: “Everyone else is up for grabs.”— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 6, 2018
If they are indeed planning on keeping Haniger, Diaz, and Gonzales, their most attractive trade chips would seem to be shortstop Jean Segura, left-handed starter James Paxton, and setup man Alex Colome. Though the 28-year-old Segura has a no-trade clause, he’s under club control through 2023 at a rate that’s affordable for one of the league’s best-hitting middle infielders, and he has experience at both shortstop and second base.
Paxton, 29, has significant durability issues (he made a career-high 28 starts in 2018, his sixth big-league season), but he’s never posted an ERA over 4.00 and has an extremely solid 3.42 career ERA and a 1.19 WHIP over 102 major-league starts. He has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, and other than the large return he’d command, he wouldn’t be much of a gamble for a club in the middle of a competitive window.
Colome, 29, may quietly be the Mariners’ most in-demand asset. He has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining, and as teams around the league look to boost their bullpens as part of the arms race that is Major League Baseball in 2018, a guy who posted a 2.53 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over 46.1 innings in Seattle this year would certainly be a quality addition.
Though he’s never maintained much consistency at the plate, catcher Mike Zunino is still in the prime of his career, has significant power and is a good defender, and with the level of catching talent around the big leagues being rather low right now, he’d seemingly be an upgrade for more than a few clubs. And though the three years and $57.5 million guaranteed will likely be a hindrance, some clubs may be willing to gamble on Kyle Seager — who posted a career-worst .673 OPS in 2018 — turning it around.
Though teams deciding to tear down and save money unfortunately is never too surprising these days — you could argue that as many as seven or eight teams were actively tanking in 2018 — it’s a bit of a surprise to see the Mariners going this route, unless this is an ownership-driven decision. As you may recall, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto (who received a multi-year contract extension in July) criticized the widespread tanking around the league back in January, saying that “you could argue you’re going to compete with more clubs to get the first pick in the draft than you would to win the World Series.” It’d be ironic if his Mariners willingly joined the fray of wholly non-competitive teams this winter.
Obviously, with the Astros still poised to be dominant for at least another year, the Athletics possessing a great young core and coming off a 97-win season, and the Yankees and Red Sox likely to take up two playoff spots, it’s going to be an uphill battle for the Mariners to be a playoff team, even if they’re going all-out. But this news is another ugly indication of the direction that baseball is going — unless teams have expectations of dominance and legitimate World Series aspirations, there’s no obligation for them to actually make an effort. In fact, it’s getting to the point where it’s almost expected that clubs that aren’t prime World Series contenders will race to the bottom, attempting to rebuild by collecting high draft picks in the same manner that the Astros and Cubs did early this decade. To Houston and Chicago’s credit, that strategy worked and propelled them to World Series victories, but with up to a third of the league now attempting to do it at a given time — and watering down the quality of play in the process — its merits are much more questionable.
Though it’s left unsaid, this news also seems to mean that the chances of the Mariners re-signing Nelson Cruz are exceptionally low. While he’s essentially unplayable as a fielder, Cruz posted a park-adjusted OPS that was 35 percent better than league average as a 38-year-old this year while hitting 37 homers and driving in 97 runs (all while playing his home games in a park that isn’t remotely hitter-friendly). Even as teams get away from the “only a DH” sluggers that largely populated the position for most of its existence, Cruz would be a good addition for any club that is looking to add a game-changing power hitter with a ton of experience.