Colton Swanson, Online Reporter
He just can’t stop. It almost seems like Seattle Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto has some sort of addiction to making moves and trading players.
Since his arrival in late 2015, Dipoto has already sent away some fan favorites such as Brad Miller, Mike Montgomery, Logan Morrison and Danny Farqhuar. He continued to add to that list Nov. 23 when he sent former top prospect Taijuan Walker and young shortstop Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Jean Segura, Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis.
So much for an offseason that was not supposed to consist of as many trades as 2015, Dipoto said. Segura will be the starting shortstop in 2017, which is an upgrade of the 2015 version of Marte. Segura hit .319 with a .368 OBP and 20 home runs. If he can come within the ballpark of replicating his 5.0 WAR in 2015, Segura could be the spark plug at the top of the order that Dipoto and the Mariners have been looking for. Still, the move for the soon-to-be 27-year-old doesn’t come without risk.
Marte seemed to be the shortstop of the future even after he regressed a bit in 2016. The 22-year-old hit .259 with a .287 OBP and one homer in 437 at-bats, good enough for a 0.3 WAR. The M’s nearly made a trade for Zack Cozart at the trade deadline in 2015, which would have sent prospect Luiz Gohara to the Cincinnati Reds. If this happened, it seemed likely that Marte would be sent back to AAA Tacoma Rainiers to refine his swing, similar to the approach the team took with Mike Zunino. This would’ve allowed the M’s to take advantage of the year left on Cozart’s and would mean that some pressure would be taken off the young Marte. Time ran out at the deadline, however, and the deal fell through. It was expected that the trade would be revisited this offseason and possibly during the winter meetings early next month.
There is no doubt that Segura was one of the best shortstops in all of Major League Baseball in 2015 and can prove to be a top tier defender with Robinson Cano up the middle. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a concern about whether or not Segura can follow up 2015 with another solid campaign. Marte isn’t set to become a free agent until 2022, while Segura’s contract will end after the 2018 season. If Marte was the shortstop of the future for the M’s and is no longer on the team, Seattle will have to find a new person to fill those shoes after the Segura era. That may not be much of a concern. The M’s haven’t been to the postseason since 2001. The core of Cano, Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez is not getting younger and the window for the team to remain in contention may be closing. If that’s the case and the plan is to rebuild once these players have played through their prime, then it may not be necessary to find that young, controllable shortstop. It may make more sense for the M’s to look for a strong shortstop prospect in the upcoming drafts and then develop him for Seattle’s next bid for contention.
Seattle isn’t completely helpless on the shortstop front as 22-year-old Drew Jackson waits in the wings. The shortstop hit .258 with a .332 OBP at High-A Bakersfield last year, a bit of a step back from his .358/.432/.447 slash line in 2015 in less than half the at-bats. If the idea is for Jackson to fill the shoes of what could have been with Marte, then the two years the team will get with Segura could give Jackson just enough time to progress his way through the minor leagues and be ready to start for the team in 2019.
Dipoto did what nobody else had the courage to do when he traded Walker to Arizona. Walker has been seen as the successor of King Felix since he was drafted in 2010. While he has shown flashes of brilliance during his time in the major leagues, Walker hasn’t put together a dominant pitching run to give people the impression that he’d truly arrived. Still, Walker has been one of the most talked about names in baseball trade rumors in recent years, often deemed as untouchable by the Mariners front office. His potential was and still is something that could come in due time and Walker could be one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. He will join the ranks of Zack Grienke and Shelby Miller as pitchers who look to come back off of down years for the Diamondbacks.
Walker almost found himself with the Diamondbacks in 2013 when the teams agreed to a trade that would have sent Walker, Nick Franklin, Charlie Furbush and Stephen Pryor to Arizona in exchange for star outfielder Justin Upton. Upton nixed the trade, enacting his limited no-trade clause. Walker would’ve found himself with the Diamondbacks in the midst of a rebuild but will instead be pitching for a team which had high expectations coming into the 2016 season. The worry is that a few years down the line, Walker could come into his own and become a perennial Cy Young candidate while the M’s find themselves too old to contend.
Walker and Marte offered a combined 0.7 WAR in 2016. Compare that to Segura’s 5.0 WAR, this trade seems like a no-brainer. That 4.3 difference, which would equate to four wins, would’ve put the M’s in the first wild card spot in the American League and could’ve ended what’s become the longest postseason drought in baseball. The scary part is the potential that won’t be with the team any longer, but teams have to give up old talent to receive new talent. Segura gives the M’s a proven player at a premium position. Dipoto has already stated that he has every intention to give rookies Daniel Vogelbach and Ben Gamel their fair share of at-bats, so acquiring a guy with a track record such as Segura is a smart move.
Segura isn’t the only player coming to Seattle in the trade.
Lefty Zac Curtis has proven himself in the minor leagues but has yet to make his mark in the major leagues. In 13.1 innings with the Diamondbacks, Curtis pitched to a 6.75 ERA while struggling to find his command, walking 13 hitters while striking out only 10. Since 2014 however, Curtis has a career 1.95 ERA in the minor leagues while racking up a 13.7 SO9 ratio. For a team that’s desperately looking for left-handed relievers, Curtis could find himself on the M’s opening day roster come next spring. Curtis’ chances to make the club are more likely after Walker was traded because the door is now open for Ariel Miranda to take a spot in the rotation, leaving the bullpen void of a lefty reliever.
Haniger will fly under the radar in this trade but could become a force for the M’s and have a huge impact on the season. Going into his age 26 season, the righty hit .321 with 25 homers in the minor leagues last season. Those numbers didn’t translate to the major leagues, however, as Haniger hit just .229 in 109 at-bats. The Mariners are in need of a righty outfielder (although the trade for Dannny Valencia makes an extra righty more of a luxury) and Haniger fits the bill. The question is where he’ll fit in. The most obvious spot would be in a platoon with Gamel in left, but Dipoto has expressed his desire to give Gamel at-bats against both right- and left-handed pitching. Should that be the case, Haniger could slide over to right on days where the M’s face a lefty to relieve Seth Smith of his duties. This would turn Valencia into an exclusive platoon mate with Vogelbach at first, but Dipoto also said he expects Valencia to play every day, which would in turn mean that mean that either Vogelbach will remain a platoon player or Valencia will find at-bats in multiple positions.
The most likely solution is for Haniger to become either the fourth outfielder or to start the season in the minor leagues and play every day there until a situation arises for him to come to the major leagues once again. If Gamel or Smith get injured, the M’s would have the option to go with Haniger, Boog Powell, Guillermo Heredia or Tyler O’Neil. Powell still has to serve a few more games of last year’s PED suspension and the plan for O’Neil is to spend most of the year in Tacoma to get acclimated to the pitching there before making the jump to the major leagues. Heredia saw limited time with the M’s last year down the stretch and it seems he’ll likely open the season as the fourth outfielder. Seattle will allow that door to remain open to create competition in spring training for one of these players to win the job.
There it is, all cut and dry. The plan is laid out, but not so fast. Haninger may never see time with the M’s. When Dipoto made a trade of this caliber last year, he sent Miller, Morrison and Farqhuar to Tampa Bay in exchange for Nate Karns, Boog Powell and C.J Reifenhauser on Nov. 5, 2015. Then, less than a month later, Dipoto sent Reifenhauser and Mark Trumbo to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for catcher Steve Clevenger. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Dipoto do something like this again with Haniger to acquire a proven bullpen arm or even an everyday outfielder.
The Mariners infield is set. The platoon of Vogelbach and Valencia will take over at first, Cano and Seager will remain entrenched at second and third and Segura will be the man at shortstop. Zunino and veteran Carlos Ruiz will call pitches behind the plate.
The outfield is a different story. Leonys Martin will return to center and Smith and Gamel will man the corners. The trio of players lacks a superstar name but also has an abundance of depth to choose from. Whether or not Gamel will become the everyday guy that Dipoto wants him to be and if the platoon idea for Smith will work out is unknown for the team right now. Martin will bring back his stellar defense and hopefully add on to his decent year at the plate in 2015. It’s not out of the question for the M’s to make a move to solidify the moving parts in the outfield, although they may not have the resources to do so.
Dipoto may have just made a trade of this magnitude to avoid small talk over his Thanksgiving dinner the next day. Dipoto has been easily the most active general manager in baseball for over a year and who knows what he’ll do next. The revolving door of players from the Mariners in that time continues to spin as Dipoto fuels his trading addiction. With the winter meetings arriving in two weeks, the trade talks are only going to intensify as Dipoto will have access to every other general manager in baseball. Every player should have their bags packed and their phones charged during that time as nobody is safe from Dipoto’s wrath. Whether he’s a mad man or a genius, only time will tell. If Mariners fans have learned one thing since Dipoto took over, it’s that they need to be careful whose jersey they purchase this holiday season because that player may just be on another team the next day.
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