The out-of-contention Mariners cut some payroll Saturday when they traded pricey slugger Edwin Encarnacion to the Yankees. If Seattle ownership has its way, that won’t be the last payroll-slashing deal the Mariners make in advance of the July 31 deadline. Owner John Stanton & Co. would like to see general manager Jerry Dipoto move anyone making money, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
Considering the way the Mariners’ season began, this probably isn’t the news their fans were expecting in April. Although the Mariners retooled in the offseason and weren’t supposed to contend this year, they emerged as the story of baseball amid a blazing 13-2 start. The club has dropped 42 of 59 since then, though, now own the majors’ sixth-worst record (30-44) and is on track to increase its playoff drought to 18 years.
With no hope to push for relevance this season, the question now is which veterans will follow Encarnacion (and the previously departed Jay Bruce) out of Seattle. It’s “likely” the Mariners would prefer to deal right-hander Mike Leake and second basemen Dee Gordon more than anyone else, Heyman reports.
There have already been talks regarding Leake with at least one team – the Diamondbacks – though those discussions didn’t reach advanced stages. As a longtime innings eater who has typically prevented runs at a league-average rate, Leake could hold value to some team whose rotation needs shoring up. However, Leake’s still owed around $29MM through 2020 – including $9MM that his previous team, St. Louis, is paying him and a $5MM buyout for 2021 – and has a full no-trade clause. Therefore, even if the Mariners eat a sizable portion of Leake’s remaining deal, there’s no guarantee the 31-year-old would sign off on a deal.
Gordon, also 31, won’t be able to block a trade anywhere. The trouble is that the speed merchant has been little more than a replacement-level player since 2018. To make matters worse, Gordon still has about $20MM coming his way through next season (including a $1MM buyout for 2021), so there’s limited appeal in his case.
Other than Leake and Gordon, third baseman Kyle Seager, lefties Yusei Kikuchi and Wade LeBlanc, outfielder Domingo Santana, infielder Tim Beckham, and relievers Cory Gearrin and Hunter Strickland are each earning in the millions.
The Mariners won’t find a taker for the once-great Hernandez, an injured, sharply declining soon-to-be free agent on a $27MM-plus salary. Seager’s set for guaranteed salaries of $18MM-$19MM through 2021, and essentially has a poison pill contract that may be impossible to move. Seager would be able to convert his $15MM club option for 2022 into a player option if dealt. He’d no doubt exercise it.
Kikuchi hasn’t stood out during his first season in Seattle, but it’s hard to imagine the team cutting the cord on the Japanese import just a few months after he was a ballyhooed offseason addition. LeBlanc’s 34 and making $2.3MM this season, the last guaranteed year of his deal. He’s not pitching like someone who’d be able to help a contender, though.
Santana has been one of the Mariners’ best players in 2019, his first year with the club. It’s up in the air whether it would deal him, but as someone who’s only under control for two more years after this one, it could happen if Seattle doesn’t think it will contend by then. Santana, 26, would warrant a solid return considering his performance, control and current salary ($1.95MM).
Beckham has fallen off dramatically since a hot start to the beginning of the season, which has caused him to lose significant playing time. But the 29-year-old impending free agent may pique teams’ interest as cheap infield depth ($1.75MM).
Gearrin’s making a shade less than Beckham ($1.5MM), and because he has generally been a useful major league reliever, the Mariners may be able to trade him without a lot of trouble. Meantime, Strickland still hasn’t returned since suffering a right lat strain March 30. The former Giant could have been a trade chip this season had he shown well, as he’s making a mere $1.3MM and comes with arbitration eligibility through 2021. As of now, however, it appears he’ll say put this summer.
Aside from Santana, whom Seattle may want to keep as a building block, valuable commodities are hard to find among its million-dollar players. The Mariners combined for savings in the neighborhood of $10MM in the Encarnacion and Bruce deals, but continuing to cut payroll to a large extent will be difficult when the majority of their most expensive players aren’t producing.