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The Mariners, Indians, and Rays make a complex three-team trade

There are a lot of moving parts.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Many say that the Thursday of the Winter Meetings is boring. Well, on this particular Thursday, the Mariners, Indians and Rays beg to differ.

Today, the three organizations swung a three-team trade, a complex deal which included many moving parts. If you’re confused about what went down, don’t worry. It’s time to break it down in full.

First, the parts of the trade:

  • Mariners receive: Edwin Encarnacion (from Cleveland), $5 million (from Tampa Bay), No. 77 pick in the 2019 MLB Draft (from Indians)
  • Indians receive: Carlos Santana (from Seattle), Jake Bauers (from Tampa Bay), $6 million (from Seattle)
  • Rays receive: Yandy Díaz (from Cleveland), Cole Sulser (from Cleveland)

What a whirlwind! Now, let’s break this down, team by team.

Seattle Mariners

In this deal, the Mariners effectively shed Carlos Santana’s payroll commitment — $35 million over the next two seasons — for a player of seemingly equal caliber in Edwin Encarnacion.

Encarnacion isn’t as good as Santana (though not by much), but for a rebuilding club like Seattle, that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that, through this trade, the Mariners turned a $35 million, two-year obligation into a one-year, $25 million obligation in Encarnacion. They also dealt away a net $1 million, so the overall savings amounts to about $9 million in total.

Encarnacion, now entering his age-36 season, isn’t likely to suit up for the Mariners come Opening Day. But he slashed .246/.336/.474 (115 wRC+) with 32 home runs and 107 RBIs over 579 plate appearances last season, and could be an attractive option for teams who are looking for a big bat to add to their lineup. In any future trade, Seattle will almost certainly have to take on some salary, but they saved a lot of money in this trade that could make them more flexible.

Steamer projects Encarnacion to post a .242/.343/.471 (118 wRC+) line with 33 home runs and 97 RBIs next year; this would equate to him being worth about 1.4 fWAR.

Cleveland Indians

While the Mariners made this trade more for financial reasons, the Indians probably expect both pieces of their return to slide right into their lineup.

For now, according to Roster Resource, Jake Bauers projects to be their starting left fielder on Opening Day. He would fill the void of Michael Brantley, who is expected to sign elsewhere this offseason. Santana, then, would take Encarnacion’s spot at designated hitter.

Bauers is going into his age-23 season after having a decent rookie year in Tampa Bay. He mainly played first base there, but also spent 138 13 innings in the corner outfield. In Bauers’ short 388-plate appearance stint in the Majors, he slashed .201/.316/.384 (95 wRC+) with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs. His defense wasn’t great, but all in all, he was worth 0.6 fWAR. Steamer sees his offense ticking up to just above league-average next year, but the system doesn’t see him cracking one win of value.

On the other hand, Santana is a big add for the Indians. Effectively, with all of the moving parts in this trade, Cleveland is acquiring two years of him for just $4 million more than they would have paid Encarnacion for one. A longtime member of the Indians himself, Santana had a down year last year playing in Philadelphia, posting just a 109 wRC+ and a 1.9 fWAR. Steamer does expect a significant uptick in his performance in 2019—they see a 123 wRC+ and a 2.5 fWAR on his horizon.

Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays’ return in this trade is perhaps the most interesting.

Díaz, who notably comes with six years of team control, hit .312/.375/.422 (115 wRC+) with one home run and 15 RBIs in a small 120 plate appearance sample size last season. He wasn’t great on defense, perhaps mostly hurt from positional value; Díaz played 15 of his 39 games in 2018 at designated hitter.

Yet at third base, he was much more solid, and Steamer thinks that this will be where he generates the majority of his value in 2019. They see a .278/.368/.381 (105 wRC+) slash line in his future while producing 2.3 fWAR — that type of production would make him a huge pickup for Tampa Bay.

Sulser, who is 28, has never cracked the major leagues but could play a part in Tampa Bay’s bullpen in 2019. He posted a 28.4 K-BB% in 51 23 innings at Triple-A last year, good for a 2.42 FIP. His run-prevention numbers weren’t as solid (4.53 ERA), but if he could produce anything close to those peripherals in the Major Leagues, he, too, would be a valuable piece for the Rays as they look to make the postseason.

Overall Analysis

It’s hard to declare a “winner” in this trade, necessarily, as all three of these teams have different needs specifically and a lot of money was involved.

It’s hard not to like the return from the Rays’ end, but that depends on where they decide to play Díaz and whether he can put up a solid offensive season without huge power numbers. There are a lot of unknowns there, but that’s true for most trades, and if they see Díaz and Sulser as an upgrade over Bauers, then it’s a win for them.

It could also be a win for the Indians if Santana returns to old form, as he creates more financial flexibility while also being purely better than what they had to give up. Effectively, they hope the financial flexibility plus the difference in performance between Santana and Encarnacion outweighs Díaz’s and Sulser’s production.

And for the Mariners, this trade could also be a win if they’re able to turn Encarnacion into even more value. Just remember, a man once traded a paperclip for a house, so Seattle could be trying to do something similar here in the baseball world.

Anyway, this is a lot for a Thursday afternoon, but to whomever said that the last day of the Winter Meetings is boring, these three teams would tell you otherwise.


Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.