The Seattle Mariners currently sit just one game over the .500 mark, but they are a mere 1.5 games out of a chance to participate in the Wild Card play-in game. The overall state of their organization — specifically, the lackluster minor league system — indicates that this is the time to buy rather than wait for a brighter future. Buying as a team with a limited amount of talent in the minor leagues causes some difficulties though. Seattle was forced to hunt for a bargain, and it seems like they may have found one by acquiring Yonder Alonso in exchange for Boog Powell.
Alonso is best known for his breakout start to the 2017 season that was mostly just a hot month of May. He hit 10 of his 22 home runs in that month alone. In 80 plate appearances in May, he slashed .303/.425/.803 with a 21.3 percent strikeout rate. That was good for a ridiculous and unsustainable .500 ISO and 217 wRC+. His remaining 291 plate appearances on the season brought a .257/.354/.455 line with a 24.4 percent strikeout rate. That’s certainly not horrible, producing an above-average 119 wRC+.
The recent going has been even worse for Alonso, with the month of July yielding a .227/.346/.443 line with a 26 percent strikeout rate in 104 plate appearances. His 114 wRC+ in July and August combined certainly leaves a lot to be desired. Alonso isn’t the player he looked like at the start of the season, but that doesn’t make the trade an automatic loss for the Mariners. Even the worse version of Alonso has found a way to produce as an above-average hitter. Perhaps it’s not an ideal level of offensive production from first base, but he actually does provide an upgrade at a position where the Mariners need one.
Currently residing at first base for Seattle is a combination of Danny Valencia and Dan Vogelbach that heavily favors Valencia in playing time. Valencia hasn’t been horrible by any means, but his 99 wRC+ is second-worst among the Seattle regulars, not what you want out of a position that provides almost no defensive value. His lack of power is especially concerning, as Valencia has just 12 home runs and a .152 ISO on the season. Alonso can easily provide an upgrade over that, especially if he returns to hitting home runs during the months of August and September.
Knowing that Alonso, even producing at a less impressive pace than he did in May, provides an upgrade over Valencia makes the trade a good one for a team in a sort of playoff hunt. What makes it even better is that the Mariners gave up almost nothing at all.
Powell made his major league debut this season after toiling in Triple-A for two and a half seasons. He’s only stepped to the plate 43 times in his short major league career, but he has failed to impress. His .194/.310/.194 slash line comes from a tiny sample size, but shows that he’s an outfielder with nearly no power at all. His strikeout rate isn’t outrageously high, while he does walk at a 14.0 percent rate, but there isn’t anything overly exciting about the general profile. Powell looks most like a Quad-A player who plays well in the minors but can’t make the jump to the bigs. He’s 24, so there’s a nonzero chance he figures things out, but this is his third trade of a relatively short career; it’s clear organizations don’t value him very highly.
What this boils down to is the Mariners making a small upgrade at a cheap cost. It’s the type of move that a team in their situation must make, and that can make a huge difference for an organization right on the cusp. They have a core that is capable of reaching the postseason. While they could certainly stand to improve in other places, they added to that core of good offensive players by replacing a replacement-level player with one that can provide an extra win or two. These types of moves might not be flashy, but they matter.
With the division out of reach, one could argue that making moves just to reach the Wild Card game is shortsighted. But teams seem to value such an appearance just as much as making a divisional series, and fans appreciate them too. The Mariners are in a position where they need to make the postseason with the core they have in place. Alonso should improve their chances of getting there. And even if things do go wrong, they gave up a hitter in Powell that was unlikely to make a major impact on present or future teams. Alonso’s recent performance means this isn’t an earthshaking trade, but it’s still a savvy move for the Mariners, regardless of the outcome.