By Ryan Divish / The Seattle Times
Two players, who both seemed untradeable for very different reasons, are now headed to New York as the Mariners’ offseason plan has evolved from “re-imagining the roster,” to “taking a step back” and now appears to have all the markings of the rebuild that general manager Jerry Dipoto has said the organization planned to avoid.
After five drawn-out days where social media ran rampant with speculation, rumors, scenarios and unhealthy amount of fan reaction, the Mariners have now finalized and announced a trade that sends veteran second baseman Robinson Cano and young flame-throwing closer Edwin Diaz and $20 million in cash to the Mets in exchange for a package of five players: veteran outfielder Jay Bruce and Major League reliever Anthony Swarzak, hard-throwing right-hander Gerson Bautista and talented prospects — outfielder Jarred Kelenic and right-handed pitcher Justin Dunn.
“This trade bolsters our player development system with the additions of Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn, while also providing immediate impact to our Major League club in Jay Bruce, Anthony Swarzak and Gerson Bautista,” Dipoto said in a statement. “We view Kelenic as a true 5-tool player with a very high ceiling. Dunn is another former 1st round draft pick, who we think has a bright future on our pitching staff. Bruce and Swarzak both bring proven production in the field and a veteran presence in our clubhouse. Bautista has demonstrated an impressive high-velocity pitch mix.”
The concept of trading Cano or Diaz in the days after the 2018 season seemed implausible for a variety of reasons.
Despite the obvious desire to get out of Cano’s unbearable and bloated contract that had five years remaining and $120 million owed, it seemed unlikely that any team would want to take on even half of the dollars owed to the 36-year-old second baseman. But enter the Mets’ new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen. In a fitting circle for his first major trade, Van Wagenen, a former agent for Creative Artists Agency, brings Cano back to New York, where he blossomed into a star with the Yankees. If you recall, it was Van Wagenen who negotiated Cano’s 10-year, $240 million contract with the Mariners on behalf of Jay Z’s then-fledgling Roc Nation agency.
Cano is coming off a season where he was suspended for taking a masking agent for performance enhancing drugs and played in just 80 games, hitting .303 with an .845 OPS, 22 doubles, 10 homers and 50 RBI. He’s still a productive hitter. But his contract, his age and expected regression are some aspects the Mariners wanted to get away from and few teams would welcome.
Meanwhile, Diaz, who turns 25 on March 22, is coming off one of the best seasons by a closer in Major League history. He converted 57 of 61 (93.4 percent) save opportunities, while posting an earned-run average of 1.96 (16 ER, 73 1/3 IP) with 124 strikeouts and 17 walks in 73 relief appearances with the Mariners in 2018. His 57 saves tied Bobby Thigpen’s total in 1990 with White Sox, which is the second most in MLB history. Francisco Rodriguez, who racked up 62 saves in 2008 with the Angels, holds the MLB record. Diaz became the second pitcher to record at least 50 saves and 100 strikeouts in a season, joining the Dodgers’ Eric Gagne, who accomplished the feat in 2002 and 2003 with the Dodgers, including his Cy Young season of 2003.
Of Diaz’s 57 saves, 27 came when he entered the game with a one-run lead, which is an MLB record, surpassing Gagne’s total of 24 one-run saves in 2003. The Mariners went 66-0 in 2018 when Diaz entered the game with a lead, including 61-0 in his save opportunities and 30-0 when he entered with a one-run lead.
And in the hours after trading James Paxton to the Yankees, Dipoto was asked specifically about trading Diaz or Mitch Haniger or Marco Gonzales — all quality young players.
“We are going to stay open-minded to anything with a general ‘never say never,’ ” Dipoto said at the time. “With Marco, with Mitch, with Eddie, we would have to be blown away to move players like that.”
Well, does this deal count as being blown away? The Mariners do get two coveted prospects in Kelenic and Dunn.
Kelenic was the Mets’ first-round pick in the 2018 draft — taken sixth overall — from Waukesha West High School (Wisconsin). He’s rated New York’s No. 4 prospect in its system by Baseball America and No. 3 by MLB Pipeline. This past season was his first in professional baseball. He hit a combined .286 with an .839 OPS, 10 doubles, six triples, six homers and 42 RBI in 56 games.
Dunn is a hard-throwing right-hander with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s to go with a solid array of off-speed pitches, he is rated as the Mets’ No. 5 prospect by Baseball America and No. 4 by MLB Pipeline. Dunn was a first-round pick — 19th overall — in the 2016 draft out of Boston College. He reached Class AA this season, posting a 6-5 record with a 4.22 ERA in 15 starts.
Bautista wasn’t listed on any of the top prospect lists for the Mets, but he does possess a fastball that touches 100 mph and some power stuff.
But this trade is also about money, specifically, who will pick up some of the cash that is owed to Cano. That’s how Bruce and Swarzak figure into the deal. The Mariners will assume their contracts, which frees up payroll for the Mets to pay what’s left on Cano’s deal. Bruce is owed $28 million over the next two seasons while Swarzak is owed $8.5 million in 2019 before becoming a free agent. With the $20 million sent to the Mets and the salaries assumed, the Mariners are basically paying $56.5 million of the Cano contract.
Bruce, 31, dealt with a hip injury for much of 2018, playing in just 94 games and hitting .223 with a .680 OPS, 18 doubles, one triple, nine homers and 37 RBI. If he can put together any sort of a bounce back year, the Mariners will try to trade him for something in return.
Swarzak, 33, will most likely be moved if a deal can be made. After a strong 2017 season, Swarzak struggled in 2018, posting an 0-2 record with a 6.15 ERA while dealing with an oblique strain. He’s a free agent after the season.