The Mariners and Rangers have agreed to a trade that will sent right-hander Rafael Montero to Seattle, ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reports (Twitter link). Texas will receive right-handed pitching prospect Jose Corniell in return, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports (Twitter links), with Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram adding that the Rangers will also get a second prospect. That other minor leaguer is a player to be named later, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
Relief pitching was a major offseason target for the Mariners, and GM Jerry Dipoto will now add a talented reliever from within the AL West. Montero posted a 4.08 ERA, 3.17 K/BB rate, and 9.7 K/9 over 17 2/3 innings last season, with ERA predictors painting a pretty solid view of his work (3.70 FIP, 4.85 xFIP, 4.00 SIERA), as his very low 49.4% strand rate was at least somewhat balanced out by a .227 BABIP.
2020 marked Montero’s first full (or as full as could be, given the shortened schedule) season back after he missed all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Montero returned to toss 29 innings out of the Texas bullpen in 2019, looking very impressive in posting a 2.48 ERA.
Once a highly-touted prospect during his time in the Mets farm system, Montero never really clicked while pitching in parts of four (2014-17) seasons in New York. Shoulder injuries, frequent shuttles up and down between Triple-A and the big leagues, and moving between both starting and relieving all contributed to Montero posting a 5.38 ERA over 192 1/3 innings in a Mets uniform.
The Amazins cut him loose following the 2018 season and Montero then inked a minor league deal with Texas, where he has gotten his career back on track. The move to full-time relief work has unlocked some extra velocity for Montero even post-TJ surgery. He has averaged 95.7mph on his fastball in 2019-20, after never topping the 93.7mph mark in his first four seasons.
Montero completed all eight of his save chances for Texas in 2020, and now looks to be the favorite to work as the closer in a Mariners bullpen that is lacking in ninth-inning answers. Montero turned 30 in October, though while he isn’t all that young, he is still controllable for two more seasons, projected to earn between $1.4MM and $2.5MM in his second trip through the arbitration process.
The trade marks another step in the Rangers’ plan to get younger this winter, as the team embarks on a mini-rebuild. (Moving Montero also clears a 40-man roster spot for the newly-signed David Dahl.) Given the low cost involved in acquiring Montero, trading him for a couple of young prospects isn’t a bad return for Texas, especially considering the relative difficulty in offering bullpen help in trade talks given the large number of other relievers available in free agency.
Corniell is only 17 years old, and was brought aboard by the M’s when the 2019-20 international signing window opened. He has yet to begin his pro career thanks to the minor league shutdown in 2020, but MLB.com ranks Corniell as the 24th-best prospect in Seattle’s farm system, touting a solid three-pitch arsenal of a changeup, a “power curve,” and a fastball that can hit the mid-90’s.