Trading Season Is Open Early

It’s funny the way little, unpredictable things can change the course of a season. Baseball is about more than BaseRuns, of course, but, according to BaseRuns, the Rays should have a winning percentage of .528. The Mariners, meanwhile, should have a winning percentage of .529, and both team would be looking up at the .539 Angels. It would be a half-game separation from the second wild card. Despite everything the Rays have experienced and encountered, they might say they should be in the thick of the hunt.

BaseRuns sometimes has only a loose relationship with reality. According to what has actually gone on, the Rays have a winning percentage of .479. The Mariners, meanwhile, have a winning percentage of .592. The Mariners are 5.5 games ahead of the Rays, and, in between them, there are also the Angels and the A’s, to say nothing of some other teams in the neighborhood. Thanks to the early standings, the Mariners’ playoff odds have increased from 9% to 30%. The Rays’ playoff odds have decreased from 5% to 1%. As similar as the Rays and Mariners have arguably been, their current circumstances are undeniably different.

The Mariners also found themselves in a recent bind, requiring an outfielder after Robinson Cano was both hurt and suspended. The Mariners want to win, and they’ve been desperate for help. The Rays have become increasingly willing to shed short-term help. Given everything, it makes sense that we have a pre-draft trade. Such deals are uncommon, but when you have these two front offices in these two situations, you should never allow yourself to be shocked.

Mariners get:

Rays get:

When I examined the Mariners the other day, I wondered what they might be able to do to improve, given that they have the thinnest farm system in the sport. And yet, at the end of the day, “thin” isn’t the same thing as “empty,” and besides, the Mariners found themselves with about an extra $12 million or so, since Cano doesn’t get paid while he’s suspended. Improve, the Mariners have. Not dramatically, not by a lot, but Colome will immediately become an important part of the bullpen, and Span will immediately become an important part of the outfield. Colome essentially replaces the injured David Phelps, and he’ll provide cover in case Juan Nicasio’s ERA never matches his peripherals. Span essentially takes playing time away from Ben Gamel, who was thrust into a bigger role when Dee Gordon had to move to second to cover for Cano. If the Mariners had the healthy club they wanted, this move wouldn’t have been necessary, but you have to deal with things as they come up.

While Span is likely to become a free agent after the year, Colome will actually have another two years of arbitration. That’s a good thing, albeit not so good, since Colome’s closing background raises his salaries. And Colome is an interesting case for his 2018 season alone. He might be the one player most responsible for the Rays underperforming their BaseRuns estimate. He got off to a miserable start, and he’s allowed a bunch of high-leverage runs to score. There’s a lesson in here about relievers. Colome had one strikeout over his first five outings. On April 18, he had an ERA of 9.00. Since then, he’s been dominant. One of the better relievers around. It seemed like Colome nearly pitched himself out of a job, and then he figured it out overnight.

Just generally speaking, Colome is good without being great. He was an All-Star in 2016, but he doesn’t strike batters out like that anymore. The Rays weren’t able to find a big prospect exchange in the offseason. Colome leans heavily on a cutter that can get too predictable, but, shortcomings aside, he’ll help patch up what’s been a troublesome area. Not very long ago, a Mariners reliever received a standing ovation for throwing a 1-2-3 eighth inning. Edwin Diaz has been amazing, but the relievers in front of him haven’t been. As the trade deadline always reveals, teams never feel like they have enough bullpen depth.

Span is in here as a source of OBP. A source of disciplined, professional at-bats. If you want someone to hit for power, Span isn’t your guy. If you’re looking for a few dozen stolen bases, or for Gold Glove-caliber defense, Span isn’t your guy. What Span does is make contact, and reach. As a side effect of Cano going away, the Mariners have given more playing time to Guillermo Heredia, and that’s worked out well. Heredia might well deserve to start, and he’ll get the opportunity. There’s a little more doubt about Gamel, and, certainly, there’s doubt about the outfielders behind Gamel, who might as well collectively not exist. If the Mariners had greater organizational depth, they wouldn’t have needed to trade for a one-win corner outfielder. But it was on the to-do list, and Span provides a new and necessary layer.

If the Mariners are better, that basically means the Rays got worse. They got worse at an earlier date than teams are usually willing to do so. The Rays say they didn’t seek this out; they’ve said that before, about other moves. There’s no reason not to believe them. But other teams know the Rays are typically open for business, and they’re seldom averse to shedding salary. This is another move where the Rays immediately get a little worse and a little cheaper, but there’s still more of a baseball justification than you’d think. It’s not all about the money, even if the money is a factor in a year in which the Rays probably won’t make the playoffs.

The more significant current prospect is Moore. He’s already got nine major-league starts under his belt, and he shouldn’t be all that far away. With Moore, no one is ever wowed by the raw stuff. When Moore works, he works by virtue of his location. He’s pitched well in Double-A, and he’s pitched well in Triple-A. The big-league sample is too small to worry about much. It’s mostly a four-pitch repertoire, and while Moore’s fastball hangs close to 90-91, it’s also an overhand, rising four-seamer, that pairs pretty well with a changeup. When you watch Moore pitch, it’s not hard to see shades of Marco Estrada, which would count as a positive outcome.

You know the Rays’ rotation has only gotten thinner. Ideally, they wouldn’t have to be using relievers to start. Because of the Rays’ depth and injury situation, Moore is likely to get back to the majors in 2018. Which means he could help them soon and down the road. This is similar to the Rays’ addition of Wilmer Font, in a way. That also just happened Friday, and, with Moore and Font both, the Rays are choosing to overlook ugly lines in the majors. It’s an expression of belief in high-minors statistics.

As for Romero, he doesn’t have any high-minors statistics, but he has accumulated impressive low-minors statistics, as a big righty with plus control of a low-90s fastball. Over nine starts and 44 innings, Romero has whiffed 30% of his opponents while limiting walks, and he’s someone who might rise fairly quickly. When you’re a general manager trading from your own farm, you usually don’t worry too much about trading non-elite pitchers in the lower levels. But, well, a few years ago, Freddy Peralta was one of those non-elite pitchers in the lower levels. What we know about Romero is that he’s done well so far.

Maybe the timing is the only surprising part of this trade. Trading season usually doesn’t open in earnest until the later weeks of June. With Jerry Dipoto, you can understand why he’d be feeling some urgency. On the Rays’ side, I suppose they didn’t think they could hold out to get more for Colome in July. According to public statements, the Rays did this because they’re excited about Moore. Because of Moore’s stuff, he’s a polarizing figure. All things considered, it’s a very Rays trade to make. It’s also a very Mariners trade to make. When you put it that way, maybe nothing is surprising in the least. I mean, of course this happened, right? Of course this happened. It’s only our own fault for not seeing it sooner.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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5 years ago

Jerry Dipoto has to be one of the most fun non-players in baseball. I appreciate (like you said, Jeff), that this is a pre-draft trade, that the Mariners are going for it, and that bullpen of Diaz-Colome-Vincent-Nicasio is real, real good.

5 years ago
Reply to  dtpollitt

Don’t forget Pazos!