- Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto pulled off his latest blockbuster trade Thursday, though he did it from a hospital bed. It turns out Dipoto was dealing with “severe chest pains” stemming from blood clots in his lungs, Greg Johns of MLB.com reports. Fortunately, Dipoto was released from a Las Vegas-area hospital Thursday afternoon and cleared to fly back to Seattle. “It was pretty scary and quite painful stuff,” Dipoto told Johns via text. “I’m thankful to know there’s an issue while we can manage it.” MLBTR joins those around the game in wishing the always entertaining Dipoto a speedy recovery.
The close of the Winter Meetings brought with it a interesting three-team trade — authored by none other than Seattle dealmaker Jerry Dipoto, who was apparently operating from a hospital bed. The Mariners have added slugger Edwin Encarnacion while sending recently acquired first baseman Carlos Santana (Encarnacion’s former teammate) to the Indians in the deal. The Rays, too, involved in this swap. They’ll pick up corner infielder Yandy Diaz and righty Cole Sulser from the Indians and send first baseman/corner outfielder Jake Bauers to the Indians
Beyond the players involved in the trade, a reported $5MM will go to the Mariners from the Rays. Seattle, meanwhile, will send a reported $6MM on to the Indians and will also acquire the Cleveland org’s competitive balance pick in next year’s draft. It’s a Round B choice that currently sits at No. 77 — though the exact order of next year’s draft will be altered slightly by the compensation and draft penalization for teams signing players who have rejected qualifying offers. Regardless, the Mariners have likely added a top 80 selection to their slate of picks next summer.
Needless to say, there are some varying considerations at play here. Cash is king with regard to the notable veteran sluggers, who are certainly the most recognizable players in this deal. Encarnacion is owed $24MM through the 2019 campaign (including a buyout on a club option), while Santana’s deal promises him $35MM through 2020 (also with an option buyout).
It’s far from clear that Encarnacion will remain in Seattle when all is said and done. To the contrary, in fact, he may well go to Tampa Bay in a separate swap, per Scott Miller of Bleacher Report (via Twitter), though Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times emphasizes there’s nothing “in place or lined up” in that regard (Twitter link). With the M’s looking to shed payroll and boost their talent reserves, they’ll surely be willing to spin off Encarnacion — to the Rays or another rival — if there’s a favorable offer. After all, the organization already acquired and dumped Santana this winter.
Both Encarnacion and Santana will be looking to recover from relative down seasons. The former, 35, slashed .246/.336/.474 with 32 home runs last year, still a productive campaign but not to his usual standards. He’s seen mostly as a DH at this stage of his career, but can still line up at first base on at least a part-time basis. The 32-year-old Santana, meanwhile, turned in a .229/.352/.414 batting line and swatted 24 long balls in 679 plate appearances with the Phillies, who signed him after out-bidding the Indians but soured on the fit this winter. He’s regarded as a solid performer at first and still draws walks at an impressive clip; in 2018, in fact, he took 110 free passes while going down 93 times on strikes.
Working out the math for Seattle, the team will end up sending out $1MM while paring $11MM in obligations, resulting in a net savings of $10MM. They’ll only have one year of Encarnacion to deal along elsewhere, but they’ll also pick up the draft selection for their trouble.
The Indians, meanwhile, will open some additional 2018 payroll space by shedding the big hit on Encarnacion. Santana will cost more ($29MM) in the aggregate, but it’s spread over multiple years. The money from the M’s is split into $2MM and $4MM payments, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer tweets. Plus, there’s the post-2020 buyout. All said, there’s now added cash hung on the 2020 and 2021 ledgers. Presumably, the club is also pleased to bring back a long-time franchise stalwart. Of course, now that Bauers is on hand along with Santana, there are now new trade possibilities here as well. First baseman Yonder Alonso, who’s owed $8MM in 2019 along with a $1MM buyout on a 2020 option, could end up on the move, though Bauers could also factor in the outfield mix and the team could utilize Alonso and Santana as a first base/DH pairing.
On the Rays’ end of the swap, Bauers was long considered a top prospect but clearly wasn’t seen as a key piece for the club. Diaz will enter an ever-changing infield mix in Tampa Bay after a strong 2018 showing in which he posted .797 OPS figures at both the Triple-A (426 plate appearances) and MLB (120 plate appearances) levels. In addition to possessing some of the game’s most impressive biceps and the ability to line up at third base as well as the corner outfield, Diaz will come with six seasons of future control. Rays exec Chaim Bloom says the club likes the versatility and the upside that comes with the 27-year-old (video link on Twitter from Topkin). Sulser, 28, has yet to reach the bigs, but will presumably factor into a deep Rays relief corps after throwing 105 innings of 3.51 ERA ball with 12.3 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 at Triple-A over the past three seasons.
Jon Heyman of Fancred (Twitter links), Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (all Twitter links) and Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter links) were all at the forefront of the reporting on this news.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Mariners seem quite unlikely to make any big expenditures on veterans after embarking upon a strategy that prioritizes the near future over the present. Still, the organization is lined up to bring in some more solid and reliable pieces, TJ Cotterill of the Tacoma News Tribune writes. A veteran infielder that can spend time at short, established backstop, and right-handed-hitting outfielder are all on the menu, GM Jerry Dipoto has indicated recently. The relief corps may also be addressed through low-risk, open-market signings, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweets.
- Before the Mariners dealt Jean Segura to the Phillies for Carlos Santana and J.P. Crawford, Seattle also tried to obtain pitching prospect Spencer Howard in the trade, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports. The 22-year-old Howard was a second-round pick for the Phillies in the 2017 draft, and he has posted big strikeout numbers over his first two professional seasons. Salibury figures other teams will also ask, or have already asked, about Howard’s availability, though the Phils surely aren’t too eager to part with such an intriguing young arm. There is a fair amount of other pitching depth in Philadelphia’s system, however, to potentially make Howard somewhat expendable at the right price. MLB.com ranks Howard a fairly modest 18th in their ranking of the top 30 Phillies prospects, with seven other pitchers ahead of Howard on the list.
Yesterday at the Winter Meetings here in Las Vegas, I sat down with Nelson Cruz’s agent Bryce Dixon for an interview.
How are you positioning Nelson Cruz in this market when you talk to GMs?
He’ll be the straw that stirs in the drink in the middle of the lineup for you. He changes the entire lineup. When he’s in the middle there, the pitcher has to pitch completely differently and he’s the finishing piece that you know is going to go out there and give you exactly the production that you see on the back of the baseball card that you see every single year.
And when he gets into the playoffs, he’s already proven that the bigger the moment, the bigger he shines. You start to look back to some of the bombs he hit in the playoffs for Texas and you know he is a big-time player and he is burning to get back into the playoffs. He thought that the Mariners were going to do it this year. Obviously they fell short, and he was disappointed at that. Clearly he thought they had unfinished business, but the Mariners are going in a different direction so he’ll have to do it with another team.
He’s the guy that you plug in every single day in the middle of the lineup and rakes. Apart from that, he’s also a very good influence on the younger players, teaching them not only secrets of hitting, but how to conduct themselves on and off the field. He’s not a guy who is very vocal in the clubhouse. He’s not going to get up and start yelling at guys, but he’s definitely a one-on-one, lead-by-example guy, who’s going to take the younger guys and say, “If you want to be successful for as long as I’ve been successful, here’s how you do it.” That’s kind of how he leads because he’s definitely not a “ra ra” guy, but he’s always working hard, always having fun, and that rubs off on the younger guys for sure.
You mentioned a finishing piece. How important is it for Cruz to play for a contending team in 2019?
It’s important and I think where he’s at in his career, if you’re not a contender, you don’t really have a need for a Nelson Cruz. So the teams that are in on him want to win. He clearly wants to win and would love to get back to the playoffs and the World Series. He’s got unfinished business as far as that’s concerned. So yes, it’s of utmost importance, he wants to go back to the playoffs. Wherever he signs will be a team that has got designs on making the playoffs.
The general assumption is that National League teams can’t be in the mix for Cruz. Would you agree with that?
National League teams could be in the mix. He would love to play the field, but the last few years the Mariners have wanted him to exclusively DH. They had a ton of quality, quality outfielders so he didn’t play the field unless it was an NL park. Down the stretch he told the Mariners, end of August, September, “Start playing me more when we play the NL teams because we need to win these games and I know I can help out.” He did well there. He’ll do whatever the team wants, so if an NL team wants to put him in the field, he has no problem with that. Obviously he’s been DH, so the majority of the teams that are after him are American League teams.
If you’re looking at AL contenders with DH openings it looks like there are 4-5 suitors, and that feels a lot different than shopping around a reliever who might make sense for 20 teams. Have GMs been trying to leverage that against you?
Even though you’re clearly in a smaller universe because of who he is and which teams would have that need, they haven’t because there are enough teams that they don’t want to come in and lowball and try to act like there’s nowhere else for him to go. All 30 teams aren’t in like they would be on a middle reliever type, maybe, but there are numerous teams in so there’s enough to push his market where it needs to go. If there was only one or two, then maybe it would be a different answer. But there’s numerous, so he’s fine where he’s at.
In general when you have a free agent, how is it that you decide that you’ve got that last dollar or that the bidding has stopped?
There’s no perfect answer but you can sense from the team’s side, the tonal change, and it’s a feeling that you get. “OK, we’re at a point that we need to make a decision.” You have to try to read the future as much as possible. And think, if we don’t pull the trigger now, can this market collapse, or are we going to be fine waiting longer? It’s the totality of the circumstances. You’re looking at what happens with other players with other teams. Teams nowadays especially with trades, you’re kind of mixing them all together and coming up with the feeling, “OK, now is go time.”
The Indians continue to explore trade scenarios involving their veteran players, including some three-team proposals involving Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, and Yandy Diaz, Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The three-team discussions are mostly about unloading salaries, which is why Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer have “for the most part” not been involved in the multi-team talks, Hoynes notes. In general, Cleveland is exploring any and all possible options with their veteran players as the team looks to thread the needle between staying competitive in 2019 while still freeing up payroll space both for next season and in the future.
The Tribe was linked to Carlos Santana in trade rumors yesterday, and a reunion with their former first baseman would be possible if Cleveland was able to offload Encarnacion or Alonso in another trade (or potentially maybe even the same trade, if the Mariners were also involved in a three-team swap). Santana has already changed teams once this winter and continues to be a popular trade target given that the Mariners are another team looking to cut payroll. In the latest update, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal tweets that Santana could possibly be traded over the next few days.
If Santana did return to Cleveland, some financial juggling would likely have to take place due to the money involved with all of the first basemen. Santana is owed $40MM over the next two seasons, while Encarnacion is owed $25MM through 2019 (a $20MM salary in 2019 and a $5MM buyout of a $20MM club option for 2020) and Alonso $8MM in 2019, plus a $9MM vesting option for 2020 based on plate appearances and a clean physical. In reports from earlier this week, Hoynes suggested that the controllable Diaz could be added to a deal involving one of these larger salaries in order to make the salary hit more palatable for another team.
Speaking of big contracts, Hoynes also notes that Cleveland has been “linked” to Padres first baseman/outfielder Wil Myers in trade rumors. That would be an even more surprising addition for the cost-conscious Tribe to make, and it would require even more salary-shifting given that Myers is owed $64MM through the 2022 season. It isn’t clear if the Indians were strongly pursuing Myers or just doing their due diligence in overall talks with the Padres. Hoynes mentions that the Tribe has interest in some of the MLB-ready young players in San Diego’s organization, though there has been “little headway” in those discussions.
There has also been “little interest” in Jason Kipnis as the Tribe tries to market the veteran second baseman/outfielder. Given that Kipnis has posted below-average hitting numbers in each of the last two seasons, it isn’t surprising that the Indians are struggling to find a trade partner, especially given the $17MM remaining on Kipnis’ contract.
Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger is not untouchable, but if they’re going to trade him, it’s going to take a substantial offer. General manager Jerry Dipoto is holding out for a three- to four-player package headlined by a pair of “high-level prospects,” including a pitcher, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reports. While Haniger may continue in Seattle, there’s a growing likelihood they’ll trade first baseman Carlos Santana for prospects, according to Divish. The expensive Santana, who’s only a little over a week into his Mariners career, has drawn interest from several teams since the M’s acquired him from the Phillies.
Mariners first baseman Carlos Santana is drawing a fair amount of interest just over a week into his tenure with Seattle. The Rays, Indians, Rockies and Marlins have all reached out to the Mariners regarding the 32-year-old switch-hitter, per reports from Corey Brock of The Athletic and colleague Ken Rosenthal. The Indians and Marlins jump out as particularly interesting clubs on the four-team list. Santana played in Cleveland from 2010-17, but the team wasn’t willing to match the Phillies’ three-year, $60MM winning bid for the then-free agent last offseason. He now has $40MM left on that deal, which looks high for an Indians team trying to reduce payroll and get younger this winter. The Marlins certainly aren’t big spenders, meanwhile, and unlike the Indians, they don’t figure to contend during the two remaining years of Santana’s contract. In any case, it seems like a solid bet that the rebuilding, payroll-slashing Mariners will flip Santana, whom they acquired largely to help balance out money in a swap with Philly that was headlined by pricey shortstop Jean Segura.
The Cardinals are among the many teams pressing the Giants with interest in southpaw Will Smith, according to Mark Saxon of The Athletic (Twitter link). Another San Francisco lefty, Tony Watson, appears to be of secondary interest to the Cards, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch tweets. Goold notes that the St. Louis club is interested in swapping slugger Jose Martinez for a lefty reliever, though it’s fair to wonder whether he’d be of much interest to the Giants.
More on the pitching market:
- There’s at least some preliminary interest from the Reds in southpaw Wade Miley, per MLB.com’s Jon Morosi (Twitter link). Given the Cincinnati organization’s need for significant rotation help, and its recent hiring of former Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson, it’s not particularly surprising to hear of this link. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of deal the 32-year-old Miley is ultimately able to secure after an odd 2018 campaign in which he worked through injury to compile 80 2/3 innings of 2.57 ERA ball. He managed only 5.6 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 on the year, though did sport a healthy 52.8% groundball rate while allowing a stingy (but perhaps not sustainable) 0.33 homers per nine.
- Pitching appears to be a key focus of the Blue Jays this winter, with the club occupying a potentially interesting place in the market. Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports that the Toronto ballclub is considering players that’d require multi-year commitments as well as bounceback types. But GM Ross Atkins emphasizes that the club won’t be “looking for free-agent pieces with the goal of trading them,” though of course future dealmaking would always be a possibility. Meanwhile, as Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi explores, Atkins evinced an increasing openness to weighing deals for existing starters Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez in his most recent comments. While the team’s own valuation of the two talented-but-uncertain hurlers has surely not changed, Atkins suggests that rivals have shown sufficient interest that it’s worth further exploring trade scenarios. Whether any deal will come together isn’t clear, but it does seem evident that the Toronto club has gained clarity on the demand for these pitchers and that, as Davidi puts it, there’s at least a realistic path to trade outcomes.
- Yankees GM Brian Cashman indicated yesterday that his club is taking a look at Japanese southpaw Yusei Kikuchi, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports. The New York powerhouse is presently engaged on other players, via trade and free agency, but Cashman says that Kikuchi is “somebody that’s worthy of having conversations about potentially landing.” Having taken a long scouting look at Kikuchi already, the Yanks surely have a price point in mind. Cashman says the team will continue to stay “very active, but disciplined” in its pursuit of pitching.
- The Mariners are another clear possibility for Kikuchi, as TJ Cotterill of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto made clear that the club both holds the Japanese hurler in high regard, calling him a “very good” starter, and is interested in trying to work out a deal. While they are taking a step back in the near-term, the M’s feel the 27-year-old “does fit our timeline,” per Dipoto.
- It seems there’s at least some interest around the game in Orioles righty Alex Cobb, as Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com reports. While his early showing in Baltimore was simply brutal, Cobb did turn things around in the second half, when he held opposing hitters to a .232/.288/.377 slash and carried a 2.56 ERA in 59 2/3 innings. Of course, the $43MM still owed Cobb over the next three seasons presents quite a barrier to a deal.
- The Mariners have signed catcher Jose Lobaton to a minor league deal, as per the Mariners Minors Twitter feed. Lobaton will earn $1MM if he makes Seattle’s big league roster, MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo adds, and the catcher will invited to the team’s Major League spring camp. Lobaton amassed 57 PA over 22 games with the Mets last season, his lowest total in either category since 2011. The 34-year-old veteran will head into camp to compete with David Freitas for the backup job behind newly-acquired Omar Narvaez.