There’s really no franchise that can claim as much of a Sisyphean existence as the Seattle Mariners. The Cubs have a World Series under their belt, and the Red Sox have a trio over the last fifteen years. The White Sox broke their endless drought, gnawing as their ownership may be, and even the goddamn Marlins have two World Series wins over the last couple of decades.
You can claim that the Marlins are more incompetent, which has been true, but even just a single win is better than nothing, compared to just the sheer nothingness of year-in-and-year-out losing. They’ve come a long way since their best record in baseball in 2001, and I can’t exactly say which of Dante’s rungs of hell this is.
Well, it may be the last one, as this rumor leaked early into the offseason:
Sources: The Mariners are considering a full-fledged teardown this winter. If trade market is strong, they’ve told teams they’re willing to move just about anyone. And if that happens, they have indicated they’re willing to wait a few years to build a competitive team again.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 6, 2018
We’ve heard this music before. The Astros, Cubs, and Royals did the exact same thing, and walked away with a Championship and a contention window, so why not them? Well, it all depends on what they do with the opportunity to tear down, and if their opportunity to contend is any indication, then... it’s not looking great in the Pacific Northwest.
Let’s put aside the talk of the Jack Z era and earlier, just for a moment. The sins of the son may be the sins of the father, but the signing of Robinson Cano, or the positives of the Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez procurement, cannot necessarily be projected on to the future, sans analysis on ownership. On GM Jerry Dipoto, there is a concrete history to analyze here. Let’s take a look:
- Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte for Zac Curtis, Mitch Haniger, and Jean Segura
Haniger was the win here, as he produced about 9 rWAR with the M’s. Segura had an All-Star season this year and has continued his productive pace of a three-to-four win player. While Walker missed all of 2018 due to Tommy John, he had a 134 ERA+ for the DBacks. Marte was slightly less valuable than, say, Segura would have been, so we’re going to put this in the win column for Dipoto.
- Danny Farquhar, Brad Miller, and Logan Morrison for Nate Karns, Boog Powell, and CJ Riefenhauser
Total wash. Morrison had one good, juiced ball season, but nothing was either lost or really gained from this. The latter is more important for the sake a rebuild.
- Chris Taylor for Zach Lee
Taylor has a 114 OPS+ in Los Angeles and plays decent enough defense; Lee was selected off of waivers and didn’t play a game for the organization. L.
- Mike Montgomery and Jordan Pries for Dan Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn
Montogmery has a 121 ERA+ in a Cubs uniform and Dan Vogelbach has been a non-factor, and Blackburn is no longer in the organization. L.
- Mallex Smith, Ryan Yarbrough, and Carlos Vargas for Drew Smyly
You know this is an L. Smyly never pitched for Seattle as he had to undergo Tommy John, and Yarbrough was famous this season for being correctly utilized as a post-Opener innings getter, recording 14 wins somehow.
- The Dee Gordon trade
Dealt for a trio of minor leaguers, Gordon immediately became replacement level and they failed at playing him in the outfield, where he recorded -8 DRS. Yet another L, unless he finds a way to turn it around.
This now brings us to last night, when the Mariners made yet another Mallex Smith trade:
Sources: The Mariners are working to finish a trade that would send catcher Mike Zunino and outfielder Guillermo Heredia to the Rays in exchange for outfielder Mallex Smith. Deal could be finalized in the next day.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) November 8, 2018
Another L in the making? It’s hard to tell. On one hand the L is that Mike Zunino was supposed to be the face of their last supposed rebuild, and he, despite playing and being a semi-competent big leaguer, has just one above-average season under his belt.
It’s also the second trade involving Smith in just the past year, which once again begs the question of why you’re merely passing assets back and forth instead of building towards something substantively better, despite the fact that Smith did have a good season in Tampa in 2018.
I could go on, but the point being is two-fold: on one hand, there aren’t that many trades that Dipoto wins. Yet, even in the losses, did they give away the greatest players in history? No, they’re not trading Babe Ruth. But when you’re a general manager, the point is to paper clip trade your way to higher levels of talent, not swapping 1 WAR players back and forth like a game of hot potato.
The Haniger/Segura deal was one that actually worked out, and I suppose it’s the model for what a rebuild what look like. And that’s the second point: all of these deals are very much at the margins, and we don’t know how he will craft a deal for, say, James Paxton.
It doesn’t change the unchangeable, though. It’s the same ownership, and it’s the same scouting and player development, largely. Tear-down trades are big, though, and it kind of seems like they brought a knife to a gun fight. Is the bright side that it gives something for Mariners fans to actually look forward to? Only time will tell.