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Seattle Mariners

Mariners land former All-Star infielder Jorge Polanco in trade with Twins

The Seattle Mariners agreed to terms with the Minnesota Twins for former All-Star second baseman Jorge Polanco on Monday.  (Tribune News Service)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – The Mariners’ annual, but largely unfruitful search for consistent production from the second base position over the last five seasons continued with yet another new candidate for the upcoming season.

On Monday evening, the Mariners finalized a trade with the Minnesota Twins to acquire former All-Star infielder Jorge Polanco for a package of four players: veteran right-handed pitchers Justin Topa and Anthony DeSclafani along with minor league outfield prospect Gabriel Gonzalez and right-handed pitcher Darren Bowen and cash.

“We have liked and tried to acquire him for years,” general manager Justin Hollander said in video conference Monday evening. “I think I’ve personally made more calls on this trade than I ever have on any trade before, at the behest of both of my own want to add him and our group. So really big day for us and I feel like it makes us a lot better.”

Polanco, 30, played in only 80 games for Minnesota last season. A nagging left hamstring strain sent him to the injured list on two separate occasions. It allowed touted prospect Eduord Julien to flourish and take over as the Twins everyday second baseman. In 343 plate appearances, the switch-hitting Polanco produced a .255/.335/.454 slash line with 18 doubles, 14 homers, 48 RBI, 36 walks and 88 strikeouts.

But injuries have been an issue the past few seasons.

“We did a very thorough medical review,” Hollander said. “I think we understand what the injuries have been. One of the things that is important to us and was important to our training staff is understanding what kind of worker he is. All of our feedback was that he works as hard as anybody.”

Polanco made his MLB debut at age 20 in 2014. But his first extended time at the MLB level came in 2016. In 2019, he was named to the AL All-Star team. He played in 153 games that season, posting a .295/.356/.485 slash line with 30 doubles, seven triples, 22 homers, 79 RBI and 107 runs scored. In more than 3,500 MLB plate appearances, he has a career slash line of .269/.334/.446.

“The switch-hitting is huge for us the way our team is constructed,” Hollander said. “To have a guy who is split neutral, who can hit in the middle of our lineup from either side is a big advantage for Scott (Servais) as he stacks the lineup.”

A former shortstop, Polanco played second and third base last season in a crowded infield for the Twins. He will be the Mariners’ primary second baseman with Josh Rojas and Dylan Moore, who were going to platoon at the position to shift to utility/bench roles. Rojas could platoon with Luis Urias at third base if needed.

“It gives Scott a number of options every day to figure out who fits best depending on what the other team is doing from a pitching perspective,” Hollander said. “It’s flexibility and also gives us some injury protection. We’re not as uncomfortable as you would be with an injury.”

With the Mariners and Twins both on restricted payroll budgets, the deal needed to be financially viable for both teams.

Polanco will earn $10.5 million with a $12 million club option for 2025. DeSclafani will earn $12 million in 2024 before becoming a free agent. Topa will make $1.25 million in his first year of arbitration. Per sources, the Mariners are sending the $6 million they received from the Giants when they acquired DeSclafani and more of their own cash to the Twins.

Acquired from the Brewers in a trade for a minor league pitcher last offseason, Topa, 32, made a career-high 75 relief appearances for the Mariners in 2023. He posted a 5-4 record with a 2.61 ERA (20 ER, 69.0 IP) with 18 walks and 61 strikeouts.

“Justin Topa was awesome for us last year from day one of spring training,” Hollander said. “He showed up, he was open to coaching, he was open to new ideas, worked his butt off to make sure he stayed on the mound every day and was available to us. He got huge outs for us all year long. We’ll have to replace that — I think it’s most likely to be internally with the possibility of externally as well.”

DeSclafani was recently acquired along with outfielder Mitch Haniger in a trade with the Giants that sent lefty Robbie Ray to San Francisco. With Seattle’s rotation already set, DeSclafani was slated to be a depth starter/long reliever on the Mariners pitching staff.

Gonzalez, who turned 20 on January 4, was rated by Baseball America as the Mariners’ No. 5 prospect. He started the 2023 season in Low-A Modesto, posting a .348/.403/.530 slash line with 19 doubles, four triples, nine homers, 54 RBI, 23 walks and 46 strikeouts in 73 games. He was promoted to High-A Everett in mid-July and appeared in 43 games for the AquaSox. He struggled, posting a .216/.290/.387 slash line with four doubles, nine homers, 30 RBI, 13 walks and 43 strikeouts.

Bowen, who turns 23 on Feb. 2, was a 13th-round pick in the 2023 draft out of UNC Wilmington. He posted a 4-2 record with a 3.88 ERA in 15 starts and four relief appearances for Modesto.

Will there be more moves in these final two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to spring training or even the start of the season?

“I do feel like our team is more complete than it was yesterday and it’s better than it was yesterday,” Hollander said. “I don’t want to rule anything out. I don’t want to promise anything. It’s just impossible to say what might come along between now and the start of the regular season.”