Game 104, Mariners at Rangers – Deadline Day Fall-out

marc w · July 30, 2021 at 4:03 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Logan Gilbert vs. Kolby Allard, 5:05pm

Soooo, a day after gutting the team by trading closer Kendall Graveman to the division-leading Astros, Jerry Dipoto made good on his statement that the move couldn’t be seen in isolation, and that he had plenty more irons in the fire. The M’s moved prospect 3B/1B Austin Shenton to Tampa Bay in exchange for new closer, Diego Castillo. Castillo’s a hard-throwing FB/SL righty who generates more whiffs and strikeouts than Graveman, but doesn’t have Graveman’s sinker, and thus his ground ball rate. Castillo’s arb eligible this coming off season, so could be with the M’s for several years.

So, the M’s raised the white flag the other day, and are now…taking it down? I think Jerry Dipoto simply couldn’t resist turning two months of Graveman into 3-4 years of a comparable player, and, in effect, swapping Austin Shenton for an older, more MLB-ready IF was just gravy. I’ll be honest: I absolutely love Shenton, who’s hit from Day 1 as a professional. While he started the year as the #17 or whatever prospect means nothing; he was shooting up the rankings, but is clearly beneath some of the Untouchables in the M’s system. Tampa got a good one. But if you do not care a whit about the M’s clubhouse, or how the team would take this, I kind of understand where Dipoto is coming from, especially if you see this team for what it is: a flawed team that’s where they are largely due to factors not directly related to their talent.

So the M’s didn’t foolishly go all-in after a lucky start, kept their prospects, and got precious club control to boot? That’s pretty good, right? Well, not exactly. Much of the anger surrounding the first trade comes down to the fact that a team that hasn’t been to the postseason in 20 years would be so blasé about punting on a year like this one. There’s simply no doubt that the M’s are lucky, and that counting on them to keep up…whatever it is that’s causing this is a fool’s errand. Jake Mailhot looked into it at LL, I’ve done it here, national writers have talked about it. The M’s have not played like a 90-win team, but they were in a position to get there. It wasn’t exactly *likely*, but they had a chance, because all of their “lucky” wins are already in the bank. They don’t have to win 90 anymore, just 35. And a team that has a great bullpen can get to 35 in a number of ways, and *especially* if they can upgrade their line-up.

But the M’s *real* contending year is 2022, right? Won’t they have more/better chances then? Here’s the rub: I honestly don’t know, but I kind of doubt it. Dipoto’s repeatedly said that the rebuild may be a bit ahead of schedule, but I think looking at *how* this unlikely team got to 55 wins is instructive. If the team got to 55 because the young stars that they’ve been hyping arrived and immediately put the league on notice, that would be one thing. If they got there partially through breakout years, and partly through unreal performances by non-roster invitees, journeymen, and sequencing, that would be rather another.

I’ve said for a while that something seems off in how the M’s hitters handle the transition from the minors to the majors. This season began with Evan White and Taylor Trammell face-planting. White’s now rehabbing a serious injury, and Trammell is in AAA. Jarred Kelenic finally made his debut, and has…hit worse than Evan White, somehow. The stars of previous ad campaigns like Shed Long and Marco Gonzales have had down years. The team really made the case that Justus Sheffield was an elite starter after 2020, then watched him put up a sub-replacement level campaign in 2021. Now, all of this could turn around, of course. Young players can be volatile. But it has to be at least a little concerning that the M’s have whiffed on so many young hitters. Kyle Lewis hit right from the get-go, and while he’s had some severe ups and downs, he can’t be lumped in with the rest of these guys. JP Crawford has been, well, I guess it depends a bit on what month we’re looking at, but he’s still a starting MLB SS. But it does not take a completely contrarian, needlessly-negative view to worry that next year might not be a walk in the park, *even with* positive regression from Kelenic, Trammell, Sheffield-and-or-Dunn, Gonzales, etc.

Because of that, I think punting on 2021 would make no sense. Yes, the team may be better from a true talent standpoint (and even that’s debatable), but if this year’s taught us anything, it’s that true talent does not correlate to wins 1:1. When you’re in a position to win, I think you’ve got to improve your team. I’ll be honest, I’m fine with the M’s not trading any of their top 5 prospects. I don’t think you go hog-wild just because you’re a game out of the second wild card. But you can’t just say “our prospects will lead us to glory” when Kelenic, Trammell, White, Sheffield, Long, etc. are playing the way they are.

Further, as so many have ably said, the time to *really* improve without moving top prospects isn’t at the trade deadline, it’s in the offseason. The M’s have essentially sat out the past two hot stove leagues, saying that the time wasn’t quite right. That excuse is now gone. Dipoto’s “ahead of schedule” comments all but closed the door on saying that they need to wait and see what they have. It’s still a great free agent class, and the M’s have major, major needs in their rotation and line-up. They cannot – cannot! – fail to address them. I’m not sure anyone’s convinced that they will.

1: Crawford, SS
2: Haniger, RF
3: France, 1B
4: Seager, 3B
5: Torrens, DH
6: Toro, 2B
7: Murphy, C
8: Kelenic, CF
9: Moore, LF
SP: Gilbert

Reasonable people can differ on what Dipoto “owes” the team or the fans. Reasonable people can differ on how to weight the cost to M’s morale in making the Graveman swap, and reasonable people clearly do differ on Abraham Toro’s current and future value. That’s great. But reasonable people cannot say that Toro projects to produce more WAR in 2021 than Graveman. I’m sorry, this is just a pet peeve, but I’ve seen it a lot in the analysis of the trade. Such a comparison (and it’s true, per Fangraphs’ rest-of-season WAR projections from ZiPS or Steamer, or your projection of choice) ignores what teams are buying when they get a closer, and what’s driving a player’s WAR totals. Relievers get a lot less WAR because they play less. Fewer innings, fewer chances to rack up what’s essentially a counting stat. But those innings are insanely high leverage, and especially after the deadline, the games in which he appears mean so much to playoff odds and playoff seeding. In a vacuum, sure, 20 IP of Kendall Graveman isn’t valuable. But that doesn’t mean the Astros “overpaid” any more than the White Sox just did when they acquired Craig Kimbrel. Great teams want to win every game they have a lead in, because some of them will be playoff games. They have no need for the *additional* WAR some random IF would produce should he get the playing time.

The best way to illustrate this is through an example. At present, Fangraphs projects Elvis Andrus to be more valuable from now through the end of the season than Graveman or Craig Kimbrel. Andrus projects to add about as much WAR as Graveman and Kimbrel combined. Why are teams irrationally sending away prospects and young big-leaguers for closers? Why not add some veteran grit in Andrus? I would hope the answer’s obvious here, so please, don’t claim that Graveman’s ROS WAR or his WAR in comparison to another player answers anything. It doesn’t. You can love the trade and make all sorts of wonderful arguments for it, but not this one.


18 Responses to “Game 104, Mariners at Rangers – Deadline Day Fall-out”

  1. Sportszilla on July 30th, 2021 5:37 pm

    Marc, I’m a huge fan of your work here, and I think it’s quite possible that you’re right on in general.

    That said, I think you’re both dramatically overstating the M’s real chance of even staying in contention through September (barring totally selling off the farm I guess), let alone even making it to a one-game playoff. Even given their incredible luck/sequencing/bullpen performance this year, they’re on the outside looking in behind a number of teams that profile as better than them, with the Yankees looming behind them. If they had the same record but were 2.5 games ahead instead of 2.5 games back I think there’d be much more of a case for maximizing 2021, but that’s just not the case.

    That said, I think the one thing that this year has definitely proven is that if the M’s don”t make real and substantive upgrades this off-season, guys who can help in 2022, we should all be angry.

  2. Stevemotivateir on July 30th, 2021 8:26 pm

    My two cents…

    1. Saying that the Graveman trade *had* to go down when it did because Montero’s DFA limbo status was coming to an end sounds ridiculous. Not getting Montero really would have been a deal-breaker?

    2. Graveman netted Seattle Toro; Kimbrel netted Chicago Madrigal. MADRIGAL! I realize Kimbrel has been even better and has a team option for 2022 (and has more experience without the same health concerns), but he’s due another 5 million or so this year and 16 next year, if they exercise his option. Is he that much better?

    I can’t help but wonder if hanging onto Graveman a little longer could have brought back a better return. Not necessarily Madrigal (for Graveman alone, anyway), but someone with more MLB success than Toro doesn’t seem like it would’ve been a stretch.

  3. Stevemotivateir on July 30th, 2021 8:29 pm

    That said, I hope Toro keeps this up and exceeds expectations.

  4. 3cardmonty on July 31st, 2021 1:59 am

    I just don’t understand the negative reactions to the Graveman trade, especially after adding an even better closer the next day in a deal we clearly won. The argument isn’t just comparing ROS WAR for the two guys. But I have no problem believing that the 2021 upgrade from Long/Moore to Toro is bigger than the downgrade from losing Graveman when you consider the effects of bullpen chaining. I liked the move even before Castillo was brought in and I like it even more now. 4.5 years of Toro is just way too much value to turn down for two months of Graveman. Give me Toro and Castillo over Graveman, Chargois, and Shenton every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

  5. bookbook on July 31st, 2021 3:38 am

    Dissipating the magic of an against-the-odds playoff run is something I can’t measure or really guess at. Noting the cost in team wins of excessive Moore/long/Bauers at bats is not ignoring the greater leverage of closer innings. The magical bullpen can’t protect leads that don’t exist. The Graveman trade really depends for me on how probable It is that Toro has already figured the majors out. That’s far from certain.

    When the M’s miss the playoffs (a 95% probability before the deadline frenzy began) Dipoto will be blamed for these trades. It won’t be fair.

    (The Ms have been extremely lucky with wins, but also very unlucky with injuries (6 SPs!) and COVID stupidity: both Graveman and Fraley’s refusal to vaccinate have really cost the team.)

  6. Stevemotivateir on July 31st, 2021 7:23 am

    There absolutely is reason to be skeptical. The team chemistry, dare I say ‘brotherhood’, was shaken, and part of the ‘pen was essentially sacrificed for a rotation boost that expires at the end of the season; two rising prospects resulted in one ready-now, yet still unproven, Infielder, and Seattle’s competition for a wild card got stronger.

    Lost: A solid mid-innings reliever, a closer–who was an extension candidate, and 2 rising prospects.

    Gained: The arbitration years of a closer, an unproven infielder, however promising, and a rental, back-end starter.

    Pardo the cliché, but it is kind of like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. The team is probably a little better now, but not enough to get into the postseason, and the same problems with the rotation, and arguably the infield, for next season and beyond, remain.

  7. Stevemotivateir on July 31st, 2021 7:33 am

    No matter what fans seem to think, the reality is that Seager’s option getting picked up is highly unlikely. 15m isn’t chump-change, and apart from decent defense, Seattle isn’t likely going to bet on a season’s worth of clutch stats to excuse a bad batting line as he enters his mid-30’s. I’d be perfectly okay with him sticking around, but I don’t see it happening.

    So, even if Toro looks the part and Seattle saves some dough replacing Seager with him. There’s still a hole at sevond base, and arguably a need for two or three starting pitchers for 2022, unless you’re convinced Kikuchi is good enough to exercise the 4/66 team option and Flexen’s home-road splits are nothing to worry about.

  8. Sportszilla on July 31st, 2021 10:17 am

    Oh, I agree that the M’s can’t just roll into 2022 with essentially this roster and claim they’re trying to win. Even if Toro looks like an everyday player (something I think is somewhat likely) and Kelenic performs at the level we hope (also somewhat likely), I agree that they need to find at least one more infielder and a couple of starters in free agency or via trade before Opening Day 2022.

    The chemistry arguments to me are pretty tenuous. Sure, some of the players were upset, as were fans, but it’s not like Graveman were some long-tenured and beloved player. I’m glad they were able to get real value out of him, and he was certainly fun to watch, but frankly if they want they can go out and try to sign him this offseason.

    Also, to Marc’s point in the initial post about not just comparing WAR, I also think it’s important to remember that those very high leverage innings that Graveman will be throwing for Houston are MUCH more valuable for a team that is legitimately trying to win the World Series this year, both to ensure that they win the AL West and that they are able to advance in the playoffs: the teams have vastly different playoff odds and thus different priorities, AS THEY SHOULD! If you’re going to argue that Graveman’s 20 IP should be heavily weighed by leverage (in game and as regards playoff/WS odds), then I’m not sure how you possibly can claim that the Mariners should have kept him, because even in a generous reading 90% of the time their September games are essentially meaningless.

    We all want the M’s to be good. I get that past attempts to rebuild have not worked for a whole host of reasons, including some that might not have been fixed. Yet we also know that trying to shortcut our way to contention is almost certain to fail, and just because we’ve failed at building a sustained winner before does not mean that doing so is either wrong or some sort of betrayal of the fans.

  9. Goob on July 31st, 2021 10:44 am

    I am genuinely perplexed with how the Graveman trade is still being spun as “punting on 2021.”

    The Mariners roster today is better than it was a week ago, both for the rest of 2021 and next few years.

  10. eponymous coward on July 31st, 2021 11:40 am

    I don’t think there’s even a remote chance the M’s are going to be able to drop enough money in the FA market to get enough pitching to replace Flexen and Kikuchi AND add a top flight starter, unless the MLB-MLBPA negotiations break the union and there’s massive salary regression.

    The M’s right now are missing a top of rotation starter unless Logan Gilbert takes another step forward, but they are going to have to grow their own or pony up a lot of cash.

    Also… if you figure Seager is gone, this means you’re probably putting France at 3B and giving Evan White another shot at 1B. That could end… badly. (White’s going to be 26 next year, so he’s not exactly a spring chicken any more, France is going to be 28… we’re getting very close to “finished product”).

    Taking this team over the hump to consistently good isn’t going to be easy, especially if we keep getting extended flameouts from the kids (add Trammell’s, White’s and Kelenic’s combined MLB PAs together and that’s over 600 PAs of sub-.600 OPS, yikes).

    The teardown and bounce back to .500 isn’t that hard, it’s the 90 win consistency for an extended period of time that’s hard. Look at the Cubs if you want an example of how hard it is. They produced some outstanding talent in guys like Bryant and Baez. Got a ring. And five years later broken up for parts, even though Super Genius Theo Epstein was the guy who built that team…

  11. eponymous coward on July 31st, 2021 11:52 am

    The fallout is probably a poisonous clubhouse atmosphere where management isn’t positively viewed by the players (you can see this in the media the last few days). Every so often this rears it’s head, like when Mather blathered.

    Ball players oddly enough don’t like being pieces of meat that are “controlled”, and team management wants them cheap and interchangeable.

    To put this another way, the Cubs basically decided investing in 27-29 year olds who are about to get big MLB paydays wasn’t worth their time. This is a team in a market where they have seemingly limitless fan support and cash. That kind of cynicism (and that the M’s buy into) might not lead to great results.

  12. Sportszilla on July 31st, 2021 12:01 pm

    Flexen is under contract for next year. Kikuchi’s option is complicated, so it’s hard to say what the team should or will do.

    I think Gilbert has something like top-of-the-rotation potential, and he’s far from the only prospect that the M’s have, but they also certainly COULD go out and spend either in free agency or via trade to acquire a more proven ace. Obviously that’s not a given either.

    As for the broader points about the clubhouse and all that: first of all, I think it’s a bit much to claim that the clubhouse atmosphere is and will be poisonous. If the new guys play well, and/or if the team keeps winning, that will largely fix itself.

    Sure, players don’t like being treated as commodities, but that’s obviously not a Mariners-specific problem, and in fact there are a lot of teams that are self-evidentially MORE calculating than the M’s have been, including those Cubs you mention.

    I agree that we’re a long way from having a core of players anything like the 2016 Cubs, but I also think it’s unfair to claim that the M’s will not retain players that turn into stars. For whatever it’s worth, this team has NOT shied away from spending to keep their own players, Felix most notably. Who have they let go who was both a legitimately very good/great player reaching free agency and who actually wanted to stay here? You could maybe argue Beltre, and I don’t recall exactly what they offered him, but he obviously wanted out of Seattle and also that was over a decade ago.

    The real problem is that since Felix, the M’s have not developed any players who were good enough to even get into this conversation. That, more than anything else, explains why they’ve been so mediocre-to-bad for so long.

  13. Celadus on July 31st, 2021 3:46 pm

    If memory serves, Mike Cameron wanted to reup with the Mariners after the 2003 season and wasn’t tendered an offer. He had six good seasons after that.

  14. Stevemotivateir on July 31st, 2021 7:36 pm

    I don’t think there’s even a remote chance the M’s are going to be able to drop enough money in the FA market to get enough pitching to replace Flexen and Kikuchi AND add a top flight starter, unless the MLB-MLBPA negotiations break the union and there’s massive salary regression.

    I wonder if Jerry would consider making a trade to address a team need?

    Meanwhile, the upgrade in the bullpen just upended the game.

  15. eponymous coward on July 31st, 2021 8:00 pm

    They’re not getting an ace in a trade without parting with a lot of farm system jewels, even if they take on massive salary.

    Kikuchi and Flexen are fine in the rotation. What they aren’t is 1-1A guys. And the team talent base isn’t so flush that they can just dump off guys for a guy like that.

  16. Stevemotivateir on July 31st, 2021 9:24 pm

    Who said anything about an ace in a trade? You suggested free agency couldn’t provide all their answers. I simply reminded you that Jerry prefers trades. He’s said as much. Not a stretch that we could see player from both avenues.

    For the record, I don’t expect both Kikuchi & Flexen to be out of work in Seattle. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Kikuchi’s option was declined or if Flexen eventually ends up in a swing role.

  17. eponymous coward on August 1st, 2021 10:25 am

    The M’s don’t really have a surplus of talent yet such that they are going to turn into Padres North. MLB trades are very often “I’m giving you WAR now for WAR later”, the M’s don’t really have enough WAR now (unless we want to believe that the M’s have discovered clutch hitting as a skill as a team, something you can barely find for individuals in sabremetrics among many, many thousands of players).

    The problem with the team isn’t the guys like Seager, Kikuchi and Flexen who are clocking in 2-3 WAR level performance, which is fine (if the M’s are being cheap bastards, and saying they can’t possibly pay a 2-3 WAR player more than a buck-twenty five that’s on them). The problem is basically that outside of Crawford (who took a pretty long time to get there) and (provisionally) Gilbert they haven’t hit on any of their kids yet (as stated above). Kyle Lewis is on his second major injury and the other kids are all struggling.

    They don’t have a superstar/consistent All Star level player… and as Sportszilla said, that’s a problem for building a consistent 90+ win team. Grabbing a guy like that isn’t going to be cheap, either in trade or FA.

    Looking at deadline deals… the established 2-3 WAR guys weren’t that cheap, either. Maybe it’s different in the offseason. Or maybe we’re in Spring Training 2022 and we’re being sold in the media of an infield of White, Toro, Crawford and France, with an OF of Haniger, Lewis, Kelenic and Fraley, Raleigh and Torrens at C (plus DH time with whichever OF isn’t starting), Kikuchi left because the team declined their option, he declined HIS and got someone to bite on a multiyear deal, and the M’s are not so mysteriously pretty cheap on payroll still, no major adds in FA or trade.


    “He hasn’t come down here,” a player said of Dipoto. “He sits up in his suite, playing fantasy baseball and rips apart our team without telling us anything.”

    Might not be the most desirable FA destination if players talk to each other. Though $$$ might change some minds I guess.

  18. Stevemotivateir on August 2nd, 2021 8:55 am

    Seattle absolutely needs stars. And with Toro apparently being given second base, rather than third, would the fans really be thrilled if Seager stays? Right now, France is probably the first baseman, so what we see now would be exactly what we would get. Is it enough?

    Then there’s the outfield.

    Kelenic is looking better & better, but still figuring things out. Haniger has a year left and Lewis’ ability to handle center full-time remains to be seen. Fraley is in the small sample boat (along with Toro).

    Yes, Julio should debut next season. Does that make Haniger expendable at the deadline? In the offseason? Maybe Jerry is less likely to move a beloved veteran mid-season after the fallout over Graveman.

    Catcher should be set, but are they going to keep all three? Waste Torrens as a DH? Sell high on him or use him as a lateral move for pitching?

    The rotation is the biggest area of need. But there’s plenty of uncertainty and a limited ceiling among the current fielders collectively. Good & above average is nice, especially for depth, but I would argue there’s a need for a star infielder and outfielder, as well as a front-line starter (and a mid/back-end starter).

    Tall task, and I certainly don’t anticipate this order getting filled in the offseason, but I’ll hold out hope. I’m simply transferring the little hope I had for this season to 2022.

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