In case you have been living under a baseball for the last week, the Seattle Mariners are in the midst of a remarkable dismantling just months after posting an 89 win season. They waved goodbye to slugger Nelson Cruz and regular left fielder Denard Span as each reached free agency, and immediately backed that up by trading catcher Mike Zunino, top-flight reliever Alex Colome, and resident ace James Paxton, too. Then, GM Jerry Dipoto turned up the heat, trading star closer Edwin Diaz and superstar Robinson Cano to the New York Mets in a blockbuster deal, which preceded a trade of all star shortstop Jean Segura to the Philadelphia Phillies by mere nanoseconds.
(That 89 win season was quite fluky and featured a -34 run differential, after all.)
The immediacy and effectiveness of this instant Mariners rebuilding effort has been both surprising and mesmerizing, and one gets the impression that they’re nowhere near finished with the deal-making. After all, the foursome of Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager, Mike Leake, and Dee Gordon are set to make some $76 million combined in the 2019 season - with all but Felix under contract for big bucks beyond just next year - and as fans of the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds are painfully aware, it doesn’t make a whole pile of sense to keep paying huge sums to a handful of players when
epic losing a rebuild is underway.
The Reds, we hope, are finally on the cusp of emerging from that rebuilding abyss, and for the first time in a half-decade seem primed to add players that plan on doing big league damage in calendar year 2019. The question here, though, is whether the Seattle fire sale has anything that should catch the Reds eye - and whether the price is right to make a deal.
Mike Leake is the obvious place to start, since the Reds need established starting pitching and Leake, well, is an established starting pitcher. The 1st round pick of the Reds back in 2009 has carved out a right respectable 9-year career to date, compiling 15.6 career bWAR while posting a near perfectly mediocre career 99 ERA+. With 2 years and a guaranteed $36 million left due his way (including an option buyout), that seems a bit steep for the now 31 year old righty, as that’s ideally the kind of money the Reds would want to be doling out for a top-flight starter, not someone who projects to merely help eat innings at the back of the rotation. That said, the M’s have taken on the hefty financial obligations due to Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana, among others, to facilitate the Cano and Seager deals, meaning they’re clearly willing to eat a bit of money to get their biggest commitments off their ledger and to bring back some decent prospect hauls in the process. Eat half of Leake’s contract, and suddenly his price-point would look a lot better as a #3/4 starter.
The next most obvious potential fit is Dee Gordon, I suppose, especially since the Reds just jettisoned CF Billy Hamilton with a non-tender and still have Scooter Gennett despite him entering his final year of team control. Gordon, also now 31, once had a 2-year run in which he hit a remarkable .311/.342/.398 in 1303 PA, swiping 122 total bases and posting a brilliant 7.6 bWAR in the process. Unfortunately, that came back in the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and he has posted just an 86 OPS+ and 4.5 total bWAR in the three seasons since then. That said, the longtime 2B took over in CF for Seattle to accommodate Cano at 2B (until the latter’s PED suspension), and the Reds certainly appear to be lacking in concrete CF options heading into 2019. With 2-years and some $28 million left on his deal, he could potentially provide depth both in CF and in the infield - depending on where the Reds choose to deploy Nick Senzel - but seems a bit pricey given his lack of great production lately and increasing age.
Hernandez’s 1-year, ~$28 million deal and steep decline make him an imperfect fit fairly obviously. Kyle Seager, on the other hand, has the most total money and years left - 3 years, $57.5 million - but has spent all but 25 of his career starts at a position where the Reds are quite set and just posted a brutal .221/.273/.400 line in 630 PA in 2018, by far and away his worst production to date. Seager, though, was athletic enough coming up through the minors that he spent ample time at SS and has averaged 25 dingers a season despite his home park being brutal on hitters, so there’s perhaps a chance he’d be a decent option in a corner outfield position if the Reds chose to shake things up in a major way.
In other words, none of the high-priced salary dumps the Mariners are looking to shed appear to really be great fits for the Reds, nor are any of them likely bad enough contracts to allow the Reds to shed, say, Homer Bailey while taking one on in return. Barring the M’s digging themselves into a five-year rebuild by trading a cheap, pre-arb star like Mitch Haniger - who can play CF and would be an absolute dream fit with the Reds - it just doesn’t look like there’s much in the way of a perfect fit here, at least now that Paxton has been dealt to the New York Yankees.
It’s unfortunate, but it does seem pretty clear that the first rebuild we’ve seen since the Reds have begun ramping up intentions to win simply doesn’t have the kind of pieces for sale that would fit seamlessly in Cincinnati. Now, we just hope a few more teams take the rebuild plunge this winter.