One of the jokes floating around the winter meetings this week in Las Vegas has been that activity has been low because Jerry Dipoto has been sick. As it turns out, the Mariners went so far as to take Dipoto to a local hospital for observation. That means the Mariners have understandably been operating at less than 100%. But that still didn’t preclude a meetings-closing three-way swap, which Dipoto at least partially engineered from his hospital bed. It is only ever so barely a three-way trade, as opposed to being two separate trades, but allow me to put this together for you.
- Carlos Santana
- Jake Bauers
- $6 million
- Yandy Diaz
- Cole Sulser
- Jake Bauers
- $5 million
As noted, this is almost just two independent trades, both involving the Indians. The only thing that really links them together is the $5 million the Rays are paying, which is ending up with the Mariners. This is half a bad-contract swap, and half an interesting-young-player swap. But since it’s all pushed together as one, we can look at this on a team-by-team basis. Might as well start with the Mariners.
The Mariners have made no secret of the fact they’re rebuilding. As part of that effort, they’ve been trying to accumulate more young talent. And as part of that effort, they’ve been trying to shed future salary commitments. This touches on both of those priorities. Just in terms of straight money moving around, the Mariners are up $5 million but down $6 million, meaning they’re effectively down $1 million. But Santana is owed about $40 million over the next two years. Encarnacion is owed about $27 million, over the next one year. The Mariners are going to save something like $12 million, then, when it’s all said and done, and while Santana is better than Encarnacion, and while Santana is younger than Encarnacion, the Mariners are hardly thinking about 2019 as a priority, and Encarnacion is likely to go somewhere else. The money for 2020 has been cleared off the books, and the Mariners are also adding the draft pick.
Santana’s contract is underwater. If he were a free agent, and if he were signing for two years, he wouldn’t get $40 million today. Encarnacion’s contract is also underwater. If he were a free agent, and if he were signing for one year, he wouldn’t get $27 million today. Any team would rather have Santana, all things considered, because he’s younger and better and can more capably play the field, but the Mariners are surely valuing their new draft pick at a few million dollars. This is basically a trade involving a prospect, only the prospect doesn’t yet have a name. It’s a prospect who’s going to be a few years away from having a chance at the bigs.
As the Mariners move around money, the Indians are also moving around money, taking on about $13 million in commitments, but also receiving $6 million in cash. That means the Indians are taking on $7 million, but it’s spread over two seasons, and they also get the benefit of the upgrade from Encarnacion to Santana. Santana, of course, is familiar, and he’s said to be thrilled to be going back to Cleveland. Both Santana and Encarnacion still profile as comfortably above-average hitters, but Santana is younger by more than three years, and he’s more able to play in the field. Santana projects to be a win more valuable in 2019, which is important for an Indians team that’s still looking to win its division, and now the Indians are that much freer to dump Yonder Alonso somewhere else. Santana gives them a couple of years of coverage, and this reduces the 2019 payroll.
The other part moves Diaz and Sulser for Bauers. This doesn’t have to be that hard to understand. Sulser turns 29 in the middle of March, and he wasn’t placed on the 40-man roster. From the Indians’ perspective, he’s looked like a non-prospect. So they’re seeing this as Diaz for Bauers, and while Diaz is 27, with six more years of control, Bauers is 23, with six more years of control. Diaz offered some coverage in the infield, but Bauers can play first base and the corner outfield. The outfield might be the Indians’ most pressing need. And Bauers has historically been a top-100 prospect. He was a top-100 prospect before 2017, and at least according to Baseball America, he was a top-50 prospect before 2018. In 2018 he reached the majors, and he had a lot of initial success before falling into a slump.
The Indians like Bauers’ age, and they like the potential they still see in his swing. They spent years trying to get Diaz to stop hitting the ball on the ground. Bauers doesn’t hit the ball on the ground nearly so often, and Cleveland probably sees him as part of their longer-term solution. They made this move for what you might generally consider scouting reasons. Scouts prefer Bauers. The Rays are coming from more of a performance-based perspective.
The Rays aren’t losing any team control here. Both Bauers and Diaz are basically under team control forever. It’s absolutely true that Bauers is younger by four years, and four years is a lot. Bauers, in Triple-A, has managed a .365 OBP. Diaz, in Triple-A, has managed a .415 OBP. The issue with Diaz, again, is that he’s long hit a bunch of ground balls. Yet, for one thing, Diaz made some gains in that area last year. And for another thing, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with spraying hard grounders and line drives.
And for as much as Bauers might catch your eye as a former top prospect, we can consider their respective major-league profiles:
Diaz has hit in the majors a few hundred times. Bauers has hit in the majors a few hundred times. Both of them have shown the ability to lay off pitches out of the zone, but it’s Diaz who’s been better able to get the bat to the baseball, and it’s Diaz who’s been better able to hit the ball hard. It’s easy for the Rays to look at Diaz and see someone who could become a premium hitter in the nearer-term future. There’s not actually all that much separating Diaz’s bat from, say, Tommy Pham’s. Diaz has some work to do, and he’s unlikely to win a Gold Glove at third base, but few hitters possess his foundational talent.
As for Sulser, given that he’s almost 29 it’s doubtful he’s a long-term weapon, but he’s one of those sneaky high-level relievers who the Rays like for his performance, and for the fact he doesn’t yet have to be on the 40-man roster. Sulser spent last year at Double-A and Triple-A, and over 60.2 innings, the righty racked up 95 strikeouts against just 17 walks. In 17 innings over his final month, he had 28 strikeouts and only two walks. Despite being a righty reliever, he struck out half of the lefties he faced, so it’s easy to see how Sulser could make a difference this coming summer for a team that’s constantly churning through pitchers. The Dodgers just signed Joe Kelly for three years and $25 million. Sulser isn’t even costing the Rays a roster spot. There’s not a bad chance Sulser could be the better big-league reliever today. He’s not just a throw-in here, even though his is the least-familiar name. Few Triple-A pitchers put up better peripherals.
The Indians have spread some money around, and in so doing, they’ve gotten better at DH. They swapped an intriguing righty infielder for a younger, intriguing lefty 1B/OF. The Rays got the other side of that, banking on Diaz’s performance over Bauers’ prospect pedigree. They also think they’ve found something in Sulser. And then the Mariners have reduced their future salary commitments while adding a draft pick. Santana and Encarnacion are the headliners here, because of how much they’ve done in their careers. But it’s Bauers and Diaz who will probably determine who ends up happiest about this down the line. I guess that excludes the Mariners, but you can be only so happy about dumping some millions. They can dream on their draft pick in a number of months, as they continue to address what became one of the thinnest farms in recent memory.
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.