Marco Gonzales stared at the concrete floor of the Seattle Mariners dugout, occasionally lifting his gaze to the field of T-Mobile Park and revealing puffy eyes red from tears.
He appeared to be listening as manager Scott Servais intently explained a decision that neither he nor his teammates wanted to believe was real and a roster move that upon first glance does little to help the Mariners in their quest to secure the first postseason appearance since 2001.
And when the conversation ended, Gonzales stalked away like a student released from detention, clearly unsatisfied with the experience and the explanation.
Less than 24 hours after an improbable 11-8 come-from-behind victory over the Houston Astros, which included overcoming a 7-0 deficit in the third inning, a go-ahead grand slam from Dylan Moore and the benches nearly emptying after J.P. Crawford was hit by a pitch, all the good feeling from the best win of the season was replaced by confusion, anger and frustration at the Mariners front office.
Early Tuesday afternoon, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto completed a trade with those same Astros, sending closer Kendall Graveman, who pitched the eighth inning and got the win Monday night, and reliever Rafael Montero, who was recently designated for assignment, to the opposing clubhouse. In exchange, the Mariners received infielder Abraham Toro and veteran right-handed reliever Joe Smith.
While the Mariners were looking to add infield depth, which the switch-hitting Toro provides, trading Graveman, who was a popular leader in the clubhouse, was something more than perplexing upon first glance. It was infuriating for players and fans, who feel like the Mariners are refusing to commit to this team and its surprising success.
Asked why the move made sense for the Mariners, Dipoto offered this explanation.
“It probably doesn’t as a stand-alone, but it’s part of a context that I believe is going to be an ongoing story over the next couple of days,” he said. “So as we move toward the trade deadline (July 30). We have been pretty open in sharing the idea that we’re trying to both address present and future, and we remain actively engaged in the market and trying to address upgrades now, that will give us a chance to be as competitive as we can over the next 60 games and hopefully into the postseason.”
The vibe on the field before Tuesday’s game was expectedly subdued. The early work from the position players lacked the typical emotion and energy. Many disappeared into the clubhouse immediately.
“An hour ago, it was great,” said one player. “It was probably better than it’s ever been. And now, it’s the worst.”
Multiple pitchers emerged from the clubhouse with tears still in their eyes from saying goodbye to Graveman.
“You should’ve seen it earlier,” said a veteran player about the initial reaction.
Several players opted not to speak on the record about the move, but their anger was palpable. Sources said equipment was broken and smashed while one player “went absolutely mad.”
“Betrayed” was a word used often.
“Are you (expletive) kidding me?” said the same player. “It never changes. They don’t care about winning. How do you trade him and say you care about winning? And you trade him to Houston? It never changes.”
When the team was trending toward another losing campaign early in the season, Graveman figured he would likely be traded. He was on a one-year contract and a free agent after the season. With his success in his new role as a reliever, his value was high. But when the Mariners took three of four from the A’s and then beat the Astros on Monday to move to 55-46 and a game out of the second wild card, he thought his immediate future was to remain as the leader of this unexpectedly successful bullpen. A 4-0 record with 10 saves and a 0.82 ERA with nasty stuff made him valuable.
“I didn’t see it coming,” a tear-filled Graveman said while wearing an Astros uniform. “There’s that percent, and this game’s a business. I’m speaking truth and honest. The way I felt, we were nine games over .500 over on that side and playing some pretty good ball when I was there, so it kind of takes away from the last five days, honestly, I think. We’ll see if they bounce back from it.”
Dipoto admitted that the trade could disrupt the chemistry in the clubhouse and also affect the psyche of the team in the immediate aftermath.
“It’s definitely a concern, hopefully the next moves will make a little bit more sense of it for the guys,” he said. “I think they’ll find that we are very committed to adding to the team.”
Multiple players felt it was disingenuous for Dipoto to trade a team leader like Graveman at such an emotional time without offering some explanation for it in person. They found out from Graveman and social media.
“He hasn’t come down here,” a player said of Dipoto. “He sits up in his suite, playing fantasy baseball and rips apart our team without telling us anything.”
Another player via text said “no one has heard a thing.”
And later texted: “I’ve seen a lot of teammates walk out that door. But this one hurts the most and is the most (expletive) up. The team deserves an explanation.”
Perhaps Dipoto’s explanation to the players and to a fan base that feels hoodwinked after just becoming attached to this team and the goals of the front office and ownership had changed.
Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me for two decades, shame on the franchise.
But Dipoto felt confident in what would be accomplished before Friday’s deadline.
“This is the first move in what should be a succession of moves over the course of this week that I think will result in the present team looking deeper, and the future team looking deeper, and that’s been the goal throughout,” Dipoto said.
Several players scoffed at the notion.
“Prove it,” one said.
Dipoto did provide evidence of it when the team announced it had acquired lefty starter Tyler Anderson from the Pirates for a pair of minor leaguers, catcher Carter Bins, who is currently playing for Class AA Arkansas and right-handed pitcher Joaquin Tejada, who is 17-year-old and pitching in the Mariners’ academy in the Dominican Republic.
Anderson has a 5-8 record with a 4.35 ERA in 18 starts. He’s gone at least five innings in all 18 of his starts and at least six in eight of them.
Anderson, who will be a free agent after the season, was supposed to start Tuesday night for the Pirates but was scratched. He was going to be traded to the Phillies, but that deal fell through when one of the minor league prospects being sent in return failed a physical. Seattle capitalized on the situation to pick up a healthy arm to take the vacant fifth spot in the rotation.
Toro, 24, is a switch-hitting infielder that plays primarily third base but can play second base. He worked out with the Mariners before the game at second. He’s played in 35 games this season, posting a .211/.287/.385 slash line with a double, six homers and 20 RBI. He homered in the first inning Monday night.
He had a two-run, pinch-hit homer in the ninth inning Tuesday, but the Mariners fell short 8-6 loss to Houston.
Smith, 37, is a familiar side-arming reliever. He has appeared in 27 games with the Astros this season, going 1-1 with a 7.48 ERA (18 ER, 21.2 IP) with four walks and 17 strikeouts.
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