Mariners, Braves Swap Expiring Contracts in Trade That Barely Involves Baseball

marc w · May 20, 2019 at 2:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The Mariners traded their one-time closer, Anthony Swarzak, for the Braves’ one-time closer, Arodys Vizcaino today. So far, so normal for a trade involving the M’s – there’s a bullpen arm, there’s targeting players in their final year of arb or contract. But this trade isn’t like most of the others in that Arodys Vizcaino will never play for the Mariners.

Vizcaino had a solid season last year, with 16 saves and a low ERA thanks to a lot of strikeouts and the resultant high strand rate. But it was cut short when Vizcaino’s shoulder began troubling him, and after a couple of games this season, that shoulder issue was back and worse than ever. Thus, Vizcaino’s final year of arbitration ended very early when he went under the knife for shoulder surgery. He’s on the 60-day DL, and he’ll remain there for the rest of the season.

Swarzak dealt with injuries last year, too, and skipped the M’s early start, making his first appearance in early April, in the team’s 8th game. He was sharp early, but has had trouble putting hitters away. That issue became a critical flaw on May 7th, when he threw an awful 0-2 pitch to the Yankees’ Gio Urshela, who hit it out to CF for a 3-run HR and a Yankee win. It was his second consecutive loss, both on HRs, and that was essentially that for Swarzak’s tenure as a high-leverage reliever. His next appearance came early in a disastrous Erik Swanson start, an eventual 14-1 loss. Owed $8M this year (he was acquired to match salaries in the Robinson Cano deal), the M’s could’ve just DFA’d him. But by throwing a bit of money at the Braves to essentially match numbers with Vizcaino’s dead money, the Braves threw in Jesse Biddle, the lefty they’d DFA’d back on May 15th.

So, one way to look at this is that the M’s *paid money* to acquire an injured player who’ll never pitch for them and a DFA’d LOOGY. The other is…no, there’s not really too many ways to slice and dice this. The Mariners like Biddle, who wasn’t bad last year, and throws 95 with a couple of breaking balls. But in general, you don’t have to give up much for DFA’d players, especially DFA’d players whose clock was running out. The M’s response may be that they were about to DFA Swarzak, so the money’s sunk anyway. They’ll still pay a roster spot they aren’t using, but technically speaking, they’ll pay about $1.6M less than they would’ve if they’d just let Swarzak go. That’s because they’re splitting the money with Atlanta, with both teams spending $6.4 M (Vizcaino’s owed $4.8M this year. Add $1.6 M to that, or take $1.6 M from Swarzak’s $8 M, and you’ve got parity).

This is fine in theory, but the optics stink. Beyond the optics, the whole idea here is that they are the club to unlock Biddle’s potential – he’s been undone by control problems – but yet they’re also the team that had to cut bait on Swarzak, a guy with some MLB success on his resume. That they had an opening at LOOGY in the first place is the result of their failure to help Zac Rosscup overcome his own control issues. How is this supposed to work?

It’s hard to say. It’s also hard to care. The M’s aren’t trying this year, and with this accountant-style trade of non-useful parts (it’s tempting to call this a write-down rather than a trade), they’ll do so by continuing to cycle through low-leverage relievers. With their bullpen in ruin, it’s tempting to go with someone else – anyone else. But I think we’d all like to see growth/development in the pen, even if it comes too late to help in 2019. The continual cycling makes that goal nearly impossible to achieve.


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