The Mariners are listening to offers on certain players on their roster, with Bob Nightengale of USA Today listing Ty France, Teoscar Hernández and Paul Sewald among those being discussed. Their openness on Sewald was reported last week.
The fact that the Mariners are listening to offers isn’t necessarily a shock, as most front offices these days take the approach that no one on the roster is untouchable and it’s worth hearing out all offers as a way to gauge the market. But the Mariners are in a position where dealing major league players might not be an outlandish thought.
Their 54-51 record is solid, but has them in fourth place in a strong American League West. The teams above them in the division have already been some of the most aggressive this week, with the Rangers recently acquiring Max Scherzer, Jordan Montgomery and Chris Stratton while the Angels grabbed Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López, C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk. The Astros haven’t been quite so bold but did get Kendall Graveman from the White Sox, in addition to welcoming Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez back from the injured list.
The Mariners aren’t totally buried, currently sitting 5.5 games back in the division and 4.5 in the Wild Card race. FanGraphs still gives them a 16.9% chance of making the playoffs while Baseball Prospectus puts them at 15.2%. But since their position isn’t strong enough to be firm buyers, they might have to at least consider some selling, something that president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto recently admitted.
Listening on Hernández is understandable, as he’s an impending free agent. This summer’s market is generally considered to be light on impact bats, which could lead to the M’s receiving notable offers that help them in the future. But they would have to weigh those offers against hurting their chances here in 2023.
Acquired from the Blue Jays in the offseason, Hernández isn’t having his best season. His .238/.288/.408 batting line amounts to a wRC+ of 93, or seven percent below league average. But he hit .283/.333/.519 with the Jays from 2020 to 2022 for a 132 wRC+. The M’s were undoubtedly hoping for something more when they gave up Erik Swanson and Adam Macko for Hernández, especially considering his $14MM salary, but perhaps they can still recoup something before the deadline. Despite his diminished production, perhaps some club is willing to bank on his track record, especially with the aforementioned market conditions.
France would be a very different situation, as he can still be retained via arbitration for two more seasons beyond this one. Like Hernández, he’s having a down year relative to his own previous production, having hit .285/.355/.443 from 2020 to 2022 for a 128 wRC+ but just .253/.324/.367 this year for a 100 wRC+. That means that trading him now would be selling low and also punting on a player who could still help in the seasons to come. He’s making $4.1MM this year and will be due raises in the next two years before reaching free agency after 2025.
The Mariners have received a tremendous showing from Mike Ford recently, who was added to their roster at the start of June and has hit 11 home runs since then, serving primarily as the club’s designated hitter. His .238/.302/.540 batting line amounts to a wRC+ of 131. He comes with three further seasons of arbitration control, so perhaps the M’s might have some willingness to cash in France and try to put Ford at first base, but that would be a risky path. Ford’s breakout this year has come in just 139 plate appearances while he’s continued to strike out at a 35.3% clip and see 30.6% of his fly balls clear the fence. Since he hit .201/.301/.387 in 468 plate appearances prior to this year, he seems ripe for some regression.
The M’s might have to make some difficult decisions between now and the deadline, given the spot they’re in. They’re not totally out of it but would have to leapfrog teams like the Angels, Yankees and Red Sox before they’re even on the edge of a playoff spot. They could decide to make some moves that help them next year, though it might involve further limiting their chances here in 2023. It might also require them to sell low on players like Hernández and France. But the trade market was already light on impact bats, even before the Cubs pulled Cody Bellinger off the market. It’s understandable why the M’s might want to assess their options and see what a light selloff can do for them, but it would surely be a tough pill to swallow after they made the postseason last year for the first time since 2001.