SEATTLE – If there is truth to the latest batch of rumors permeating on social media, the Mariners are trying to get creative with their best trade chip.
The premise is simple:
If you want a young (soon to be 25), club-controlled All-Star closer armed with a 100-mph fastball and fresh off a season in which he notched 57 saves and posted a 1.96 earned-run average, you will have to also take a 36-year-old second baseman coming off a drug suspension who is still productive at the plate but carries a massive, regrettable contract that doesn’t expire until after the 2023 season.
Starting with reports from Yahoo’s Jeff Passan and followed by various other national baseball writers and also confirmed from multiple baseball sources, the Mariners are shopping a trade to the New York Mets that would send closer Edwin Diaz and second baseman Robinson Cano to the Big Apple for two to three prospects.
These Hot Stove deals are a little different from Cyber Monday.
Let’s be clear. The Mariners want to trade Cano if possible. That much has been apparent since the start of the offseason, particularly after general manager Jerry Dipoto and Mariners ownership decided that a “step back,” not a reimagination of the roster, would suffice for future success. But Cano’s age, his recent 80-game suspension for violating the MLB-MLBPA joint drug-testing agreement and a contract that has $120 million remaining over the next five years isn’t exactly attractive to other teams. The Mariners would have to eat a significant portion – at least half – of any deal to move Cano by himself.
But attaching Cano to Diaz in a trade could mitigate some of the cost.
Dipoto always has been hesitant to commit to a full rebuild, but the willingness to trade Diaz – their most-valued asset – signals that the market to move him may be just too good to pass up. Even with a free-agent market that features Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller and Kelvin Herrera, Diaz has four years of club control and will make the MLB minimum in 2019 before going to arbitration eligibility. That figures to still be more cost effective than any other closer on the free-agent market.
Dipoto said he would have be “blown away” by the player return to move Diaz or outfielder Mitch Haniger, whom Dipoto has claimed to be core pieces. But the Mariners’ need for talent and opposing teams’ desire to get players with club control and making well under market or even arbitration value could lead to such a trade return.
Sources have indicated the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies have had serious interest in acquiring Diaz, and other teams such as the Washington Nationals, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox have inquired. The Mariners had discussed a possible deal with the Phillies that involved both Diaz and Jean Segura going to Philadelphia in a trade. While that trade offer never came to fruition, sources indicated the Mariners were still discussing a Diaz trade with the Phillies on Thursday. They should do that, since Diaz is an attractive player to most teams.
It makes this latest iteration a bit curious. Are the Mariners significantly limiting their potential return for Diaz by attaching Cano? And are the Mariners that desperate to get out from Cano’s contract that they are willing to make a deal for less of a player return?
What matters more – the quantity and quality of the talent acquired in this trade or salary relief?
Even in this sort of deal, it seems impossible for the Mariners not to take on some of the money owed to Cano. The amount would be dictated in the return of players.
Perhaps Cano and his contract are so untouchable that the Mariners can’t make a separate deal to move him even by taking on 60 percent of the dollars owed. But the Mets’ new general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, was previously an agent for CAA. And when CAA and Roc Nation were in partnership, it was Van Wagenen who represented Cano and negotiated a 10-year, $240 million contract with then-Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik. He’s more than familiar with Cano and his talent, but realistically Diaz is the prize for the Mets or any other team looking at a trade with the Mariners.
Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic listed the names of a few possible prospects that could be in return:
Jeff McNeil, 2B: He’s similar to Haniger in that he made his big-league debut a little late at age 26. McNeil appeared in 63 games last season, hitting .329 with an .852 OPS, 11 doubles, six triples, three homers and 19 runs batted in.
Jarred Kelenic, OF: The Mets’ first-round pick in the 2018 draft – taken sixth overall – from Waukesha (Wisconsin) West High School. He’s rated New York’s No. 4 prospect in its system by Baseball America and No. 3 by MLB Pipeline. This past season was his first in professional baseball. He hit a combined .286 with an .839 OPS, 10 doubles, six triples, six homers and 42 RBI in 56 games.
Justin Dunn, RHP: A hard-throwing right-hander with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s to go with a solid array of offspeed pitches, he is rated as the Mets’ No. 5 prospect by Baseball America and No. 4 by MLB Pipeline. Dunn was a first-round pick – 19th overall – in the 2016 draft out of Boston College. He reached Double-A this season, posting a 6-5 record with a 4.22 ERA in 15 starts.
Of this group, Kelenic is the must-have piece. Yes, he’s only 19 and one year into professional baseball. But various scouts have said that he’s the best of the group by far, while Dunn could profile more as a reliever. Any deal without Kelenic doesn’t make much sense.
Reports out of New York have said that McNeil won’t be part of any deal, and that hard-throwing reliever Gerson Bautista would take his place.
There has been additional reporting that the Mets may ask the Mariners to take on the contract of veteran outfielder Jay Bruce or reliever Anthony Swarzak or both as part of the deal. Bruce is owed $28 million over the next two seasons, while Swarzak is owed $8.5 million for next season before becoming a free agent. It’s unclear if taking on either or both veterans would add to the prospect haul given to the Mariners.
Any trade involving money switching hands to pay for contracts must be approved by MLB and the commissioner’s office to get finalized. With this many players, the reviewing of the medical records for each player will take some additional time. Cano must also waive his no-trade clause, which isn’t expected to be an issue.
Sources indicated that the trade has enough momentum that if the right players were agreed upon, it could be finalized as soon as Saturday morning .
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