SEATTLE – With access to his sometimes twice-daily games of pickup basketball limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller, a notorious hoop-a-holic, has seemingly channeled his frenetic energy on the court into player acquisitions for his team.
The Padres, featuring budding superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. and perennial All-Star Manny Machado, made the postseason this year for the first time since 2006. With a farm system rated among the best in baseball, Preller was aggressive around Major League Baseball’s trade deadline, completing six deals involving 26 players, including two with the Mariners that involved nine players.
The most hyped of the moves – adding All-Star right-handed starting pitcher Mike Clevinger of Cleveland – didn’t provide the expected dividends, as Clevinger was plagued by elbow issues and needed Tommy John surgery.
On Sunday, Preller made the biggest move of the offseason, acquiring former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell from the Rays for right-handed pitching prospects Luis Patino and Cole Wilcox and catching prospects Francisco Mejia and Blake Hunt.
But Preller wasn’t done.
On Monday morning, the Padres reportedly reached a deal to sign slugging Korean infielder Ha-Seong Kim, who had been posted by the Kiwoom Heroes, his Korean Baseball Organization team.
And by midafternoon, Preller was deep into talks with the Cubs to acquire right-handed pitcher Yu Darvish and catcher Victor Caratini.
But here in the Pacific Northwest and for Mariners fans, the news of the Snell trade elicited a series of reactions – ranging from relief to regret, anger to envy, dejection to disappointment.
It’s not so much seeing the former Shorewood High School star going to the Mariners’ hated “natural” rival and Peoria complex mate, or how it might affect the annual meetings between the teams.
No, it’s because the Mariners, a team that hasn’t made the postseason since 2001, didn’t make a move to acquire Snell.
On Nov. 24, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported: “The Rays have told other clubs that they’re open to the idea of trading Blake Snell, presenting a realistic possibility that a deal could be consummated this offseason. A source noted that Tampa Bay is not actively shopping Snell, who has three years and $39 million remaining on his five-year, $50 million extension.”
Feinsand wrote that the Mariners would be a logical trade partner based on the team’s many deals with the Rays in the past, Snell residing in Shoreline during the offseason and the fit for the Mariners rotation.
The problem with the fit, however, was the Rays’ asking price for Snell. Multiple MLB sources said the Rays would require one of the Mariners’ prized outfield prospects – Jarred Kelenic or Julio Rodriguez – in any trade. It was the starting and ending point for any potential discussion.
Though Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto has often said that no player is untouchable, there was no desire to trade Kelenic or Rodriguez under typical circumstances. Despite Snell’s obvious talent and potential, sources indicated that the initial asking price was simply too high for the Mariners.
As the trade market for Snell continued to generate interest, sources said the Mariners weren’t one of the teams making offers, not even cursory offers that didn’t feature Kelenic or Rodriguez.
Should Seattle have tried to put together a player return featuring outfielder Taylor Trammell – a top-100 prospect – and catcher Cal Raleigh and perhaps two other prospects or even an MLB-ready player to get Snell?
It’s unlikely that would’ve piqued the Rays’ interest. Given all the past trades with the M’s, they are more than familiar with Seattle’s farm system. Sources indicated there wasn’t a package that didn’t have Kelenic or Rodriguez or Kyle Lewis that would have created a done deal.
An opposing MLB scout said the Mariners couldn’t match the prospect package sent by San Diego without one of those three outfielders involved.
Though Seattle has talented pitching prospects in Logan Gilbert, George Kirby and Emerson Hancock – the No. 6 overall choice in the 2020 draft, the Mariners don’t have an MLB-ready pitching prospect to rival Patino and his projected ceiling.
Patino made his MLB debut Aug. 8 at age 20, making one start and 10 relief appearances, posting a 1-0 record and a 5.19 ERA. He struck out 21 batters and walked 14 in 17⅓ innings. His four-seam fastball averaged 96.7 mph, and his slider resulted in a swing and a miss 47.8% of the time.
Wilcox, a teammate of Hancock’s at the University of Georgia, was a third-round choice by the Padres in the 2020 draft. But by all indications, he was a first-round talent. As a draft-eligible sophomore with the leverage of going back to school for another season, he made it clear that he wouldn’t sign for less than a $3 million signing bonus.
He also fits the Rays’ pitching profile in terms of size and stuff, standing 6-foot-5 with a nasty sinking fastball that can touch 99 mph and a power slider and diving change-up.
The Padres signed Wilcox with a $3.3 million signing bonus, and he was slotted as the No. 12 prospect in their loaded and pitcher-heavy system.
The scout noted that Wilcox would be right there with any of the M’s top pitching prospects, including Hancock, in terms of projection and overall rankings.
The inclusion of two catching prospects in the trade package indicates the Rays’ lack of catching depth in the farm system, perhaps the one glaring need in their otherwise loaded farm system that ranks as the best in baseball.
So although Raleigh is close to MLB ready, he might not have the projected ceiling of Hunt and is only a year younger than Mejia, 26.
The Mariners weren’t in on the trade talks to acquire Snell from the Rays for a variety of reasons, including the understandable reticence of giving up either Kelenic or Rodriguez, both viewed as future stars.
Even if they had still worked to find a way to get Snell, they probably wouldn’t have been able to match the Padres’ reported trade package.
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