Mariners pick up reliever from St. Louis for minor-leaguer

Right-hander Sam Tuivailala heads to Seattle in exchange for righty Seth Elledge.

By TJ Cotterill

The News Tribune

The Seattle Mariners finally got in on the buzzing MLB trade market.

They acquired right-handed reliever Sam Tuivailala from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for a promising minor-league prospect, right-hander Seth Elledge.

Tuivailala is a 25-year-old with a 3.69 ERA (13 earned runs in 31 2/3 innings pitched) in 31 games with the Cardinals this season and has pitched 21 scoreless outings in 31 appearances.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said last week that they could have benefited from a situational lefty to pair with James Pazos in the back end of their bullpen, but after looking across the playoff contenders, their lineups are stacked with right-handed hitters. So Tuivailala adds another strong right-handed arm — and he isn’t arbitration eligible until 2020.

That means he couldn’t become a free agent until 2023.

“Sam is in the midst of his second consecutive solid big-league season,” Dipoto said in a press release. “And he’s pitched in parts of four major league seasons but has barely two years of service time. We view this as a move for our present and our future.”

Elledge was the Mariners’ fourth-round draft pick in 2017 and was 5-1 with nine saves and a 1.17 ERA in 31 relief appearances with high Single-A Modesto this season.

The Mariners had been high on what Elledge brought to their farm system, but Dipoto had said if they were going to cede one of their better prospects it wasn’t likely going to be for a rental, as in one of the pitchers on the trade market with an expiring contract.

Tuivailala’s club control made him a more coveted asset.

MLB’s non-waiver trade deadline is Tuesday.

This is the third pitcher the Mariners have snared from the Cardinals in the past two seasons. They got left-hander Marco Gonzales in exchange for outfield prospect Tyler O’Neill last July and a month later they acquired right-hander Mike Leake from St. Louis for middle-infield prospect Rayder Ascanio.

Here’s what Dipoto said last week when asked about the Mariners’ chances of adding a situational lefty out of the bullpen:

“If there’s an area we can improve on, it’s situational bullpen,” Dipoto said. “We’re comfortable with where we are in the eighth and ninth innings. The guys in the middle with Pazos and Nick Vincent and Juan Nicasio at various times have been hot. Paz has been consistent throughout.

“But just based on the lineups we’re looking at the rest of the way, both in the regular season and with the playoff contenders, they are pretty right-handed heavy. So it might be beneficial to view both left- and right-handed situational pitchers as targets. But if we could add another lefty in that mix, that would be a positive thing.”

And with Tuivailala, the Mariners now have another power righty. He averaged 96 mph on his fastball and sinker, according to Brooks Baseball, but he also adds an 89-mph slider and an 80-mph curveball, using his breaking pitches about 40 percent of the time.

Tuivalala, a third-round draft pick in 2010 out of Aragon High School in California, has limited right-handers to a .230 batting average this season, which would trail Edwin Diaz (.165) and Chasen Bradford (.219) and is tied with Pazos (.230) among the lowest average against righties in the Mariners’ bullpen with at least 20 innings pitched. Right-handed batters have hit .247 against Nick Vincent, .295 against Alex Colome and .330 against Juan Nicasio.

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