Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto went to the hospital on Wednesday with a blood clot in his lung. On Thursday, he completed a three team from his hospital bed with assistant GM Justin Hollander standing next to him.
The move in its entirety sees the Mariners receive 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion, and the 77th pick in the 2019 Competitive Balance draft from the Indians for 1B Carlos Santana and $6 million. The Mariners also get $5 million from Tampa Bay. The Indians are also getting 1B/OF prospect Jake Bauers from Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay gets infielder Yandy Diaz and RHP Cole Sulser from Cleveland.
Let’s start with the Mariners. The addition of Encarnacion to the Mariners is exciting on the surface, as his plate production is unrivaled by other designated hitters in the game right now. Since 2012, no other designated hitter has been able to match him in home runs, or RBIs (263, 764 respectively). The closest to him in those categories is Nelson Cruz, who remains a free agent, and is still drawing attention from Tampa Bay. But Encarnacion’s contract flies in the face of what the Mariners clearly stated goals for this off season have been. Encarnacion is set to earn $25 million this season, leaving it safe to say that his services might be a little expensive for the Mariners’ tastes. The Mariners have not announced any intentions to flip Encarnacion, but a key phrase was used by Hollander when asked about it. “We’ll see where the market takes us,” is a common phrase out of the mouths of Mariners front office personnel. In the word cloud of the Mariners, that phrase would be in exceptionally large letters, and likely close to the middle, and it has come to mean, “if you want him, come get him.” Despite the Mariners claims that they do not intend to move Encarnacion, it might be safe to assume that a jersey fitting is not in his future.
The real key to this trade for the M’s was acquiring the Competitive Balance draft pick. Assistant GM Justin Hollander said that he and Dipoto are excited about adding Edwin Encarnacion to the team, but was sure to be clear that, “we wouldn’t have done the deal without the draft pick.” The Mariners thinly veiled ‘re-imagining’ gave way to an all-out rebuild weeks ago, and the acquisition of an extra draft pick helps them shore up the holes that still remain in their farm system despite their recent acquisitions. This is the first move made during the rebuild with clear intention to add players in the organization that can come up with them after they intend to compete, which they hope is 2020 or 2021.
On the Indians side of things, their acquisition of Carlos Santana exchanges right hand production for left hand production. This is Santana’s second stint in Cleveland, as well as his second move of the off-season, as he went to Seattle from Philadelphia as part of the deal that sent SS Jean Segura eastbound. His return to Cleveland brings his patient bat, and measured approach back to the middle of the lineup. Santana is coming off a 2018 season that saw him play 161 games where he hit .229 with 24 home runs and 86 RBIs, and 110 walks in 560 at-bats.
Cleveland also welcomes 1B highly touted prospect Jake Bauers from Tampa Bay. Both Bauers and Santana are left-handed hitting first baseman and it might not be a coincidence that both of them enter the organization at the same time. Bauers is a top 1B prospect who played his first big league games in 2018. In 96 games, he hit .201 with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs. It is possible that 2019 could see Bauers putting some polish on his bat with help from Santana. Bauers’ swing has drawn comparisons to Mark Grace, and might just be a couple small adjustments away from being a strong middle of the lineup bat. Where Bauers fits on the team defensively is a question going forward. Bauers profiles as a potential heavy hitting first baseman, but has played some games in the outfield in the the minor leagues and it is possible his glove could be used in left field by Cleveland. He could however, end up seeing time at first depending on how many games Santana plays at DH.
The Rays added two pieces from the Indians with their end of the trade. 27 year old Yandy Diaz is a corner infielder from Cuba, who plays both third and first base, but shows more promise at third. His versatility on the field is clearly important to the Rays going forward. At 27 years old, he has played in 88 games between 2017 and 2018. In that time he has managed to hit .283 with a single home run and 28 RBIs. While he doesn’t swing for a lot of power, his ability at the plate is notable, and clearly improved from 2017 to 2018 when he his average went from .263 in 49 games to .312 in 39 games respectively, and this seems to be what has the bulk of the Rays attention.
Cole Sulser also goes south. The right-hander has spent five seasons in the Indians farm system. Over those five years, his stand out number seems to be his K/9 of 10.1. In three years at the AAA level, that number is even higher, at 12.3. The 28 year old will likely find a home as a middle reliever for the Rays if he can keep striking people out. While Diaz and Sulser are clearly on the lower end of the deal, the Rays are clearly putting a great deal of value on them as part of the deal involved Tampa Bay sending $5 million to Seattle, meaning they put at least that much more value on Diaz and Sulser than they had on Bauers. This serves as sufficient proof of just how much the Rays have shifted fully into win-now mode. It seemed to many familiar with the Rays that Bauers was being setup as the first baseman of the future for Tampa, and dealing him to Cleveland, and sending $5 million to Seattle on top of that, shows that the Rays were not as high on Bauers as they had said publicly. It becomes clear that they did not think he was going to be able to help them win this year, unlike some of the other young talent that they are hoping will be ready soon, including Nathaniel Lowe, Brent Honeywell, and Jose De Leon.
All three teams have moves left to be made this offseason, as all of them still walk away from this trade with holes to be filled, and questions to be answered. The Mariners still have depth needs to fill in their farm system that will likely be addressed, as Jerry Dipoto won’t even allow a hospital visit to slow his off season plan. The Indians still hold a couple large trade pieces in their hand in Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber. The Rays have needs to fill in their bullpen, and despite the addition of C Mike Zunino last month, still remain in the sweepstakes for Marlins C J.T. Realmuto, as well as free agent Nelson Cruz. But all three teams will likely walk away from this move feeling pretty good about what they’ve done for now. As always, time will tell who won and lost, but for now, the Mariners have saved money and acquired draft stock, which is basically their entire off season plan. The Indians acquired two good bats and some defensive flexibility, and the Rays acquired a promising hitter, and a middle reliever to shore up their empty bullpen. With the Winter Meetings drawing to a close, the remaining moves will likely wait for a little while to pan out, as general managers return home to take stock.
Featured Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images