The expanded playoff field and the tightly bunched middle class of MLB clubs, so to speak, leaves few defined sellers, even with under two weeks until this year’s Aug. 31 trade deadline. It’s become increasingly common in recent years for analytically driven front offices to wait until the final day or two to make significant moves anyhow, but that could be all the more true in 2020. Baseball’s most active general manager on the trade front, Seattle’s Jerry Dipoto, spoke with Jim Bowden and Jim Duquette on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM recently (Twitter link, with audio) to discuss that notion and his expectations for a unique deadline season.
“A lot of teams are still trying to sort out whether they are actually in this or not and how much they want to push the chips into the middle of the table,” says Dipoto. “We’ve received a handful of phone calls, particularly on the pitching, which is where we may have some attractive targets toward the end of the month. We’re open, as we always are, to any type of inquiry and discussion.”
Seattle indeed has some arms that seem like obvious targets. Righty Taijuan Walker is healthy again and out to a decent start while playing on a cheap one-year deal. Reliever Matt Magill was blown up for five runs in his latest outing, but he’s pitched well for Seattle since last season outside of that nightmare appearance. It’s overwhelmingly unlikely that a team would be able to pry Marco Gonzales away from the M’s — he’s signed affordably through 2024 with a 2025 club option — but it’s only logical to think that clubs have at least inquired (and been rebuffed).
Dipoto, though, gives the impression that around the league — and not specifically with the Mariners — there could be a different vibe and a different trend at this year’s deadline. Without directly acknowledging the revenue losses brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic (but clearly alluding to them), Dipoto suggests that arbitration-eligible players and those on expensive, guaranteed contracts aren’t likely to change hands all that much. There’s already been plenty of speculation about a huge wave of non-tenders this winter as teams look to recoup their losses, and picking up such mid-range players only adds another pricey line item to an ownership group’s budget.
“It’s likely to be a little bit more young-player driven than normal trade markets,” Dipoto says. “…I think you’re going to see a lot of the typical moves where a pending free agent is moved on at the trade deadline, and you’re going to see at least some rumblings about young-player-for-young-player ’challenge’ deals, because the middle ground — the established veteran players either in the arb system or already generating high-level paychecks — I think those guys are likely to stay still. But the pending free agents and the younger players, I think have a chance to be movers in these last two weeks.”
Dipoto is but one general manager of course, and it’s notable that his club in particular doesn’t have many arb-eligible players who’d represent trade pieces at the moment. Injured players like Mitch Haniger, Tom Murphy and Carl Edwards Jr. aren’t going to be moved, and Mallex Smith was optioned to the team’s alternate training site yesterday after a dismal start to the year. J.P. Crawford is considered a long-term piece. That said, Dipoto surely has a sense of what’s going on elsewhere in the league, and a slow-moving market for arb-eligible players aligns with previous reports and speculation.
Viewed through that lens, perhaps this will be a relatively quiet deadline in Seattle. A deal involving Walker certainly seems feasible, but it’s tough to see the Mariners agreeing to part with much in the way of young pitching. Justus Sheffield is pitching well but is also controlled through 2025, just as Gonzales is. Parting with either would be more a step backward than forward. Swapping out a promising young arm who’s struggled (e.g. Justin Dunn) for a position player in a similar rut could fit the “challenge” deal mold that Dipoto referenced, but that’s reading pretty heavily into what appeared to be a broader statement about the league as a whole.
Whether the Mariners play a prominent role or not, trade chatter figures to ramp up considerably in the coming days. Dipoto’s comments offer an interesting glimpse into the type of rumors that could begin to swirl and the deals that could come together.