BY Art Thiel 05:33PM 06/02/2019

Thiel: Mariners trade to get worse, and succeed

The Mariners off-loaded Jay Bruce and his big contract for a modest prospect, then had the daily horror, a 13-3 loss to the Angels. Bruce is a lucky dude.

Of Jay Bruce’s 35 hits in Seattle, 25 were for extra bases. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

In a season that is tantamount to extended spring training, any game outcome or personnel development can’t be considered large, because there is little incentive to care about either for 2019. Nevertheless, Sunday and Monday may be seen as benchmark days in the larger plan of general manager Jerry Dipoto to get the Mariners competitive before the polar ice caps melt.

Sunday, the Mariners had a small wish turn into a small reality when they were able to unload 1B/OF Jay Bruce, 32, and some of his onerous contract. He was traded to Philadelphia for a Class A outfield prospect Jake Scheiner, 23, and induce the Phillies to pay $3.5 million of the $21.3 million balance due on the contract through 2020, according to the Associated Press.

If that doesn’t seem like much of a deal, it isn’t. But it’s better than zero, which is what was staring at the Mariners.

The market for aging, expensive, limited veterans is small, made worse by the fact that the post-season berths are already almost decided before the midpoint of the season. Numerous teams besides the Mariners are tanking, so the drama that used to attend the July 31 trade deadline is vanishing because fewer teams are one player away from contention.

Regarding Bruce, all parties understood he was a temp hire as part of the seven-player player deal with the Mets in December that got the Mariners out from under the odious contract of 2B Robinson Cano. But it also cost them All-Star closer Edwin Diaz.

In exchange, the Mets forced the Mariners to accept the remaining two years and $26 million on Bruce’s contract. They also gave Seattle two journeymen relievers, Anthony Swarzak and Gerson Bautista, and two good prospects, OF Jarred Kelenic, 19, and RHP Justin Dunn, 23.

The prospects were the goal, and both are playing well in the minors. Cano and Diaz are not doing so well with the Mets (28-31).

Diaz is 1-3 with two blown saves and a 3.22 ERA with 13 saves. He’s already given up five homers — his total all of last season. Before going on the injured list with a strained quad, Cano was hitting .241 with a .658 OPS, three homers and 13 RBIs. His only noteworthy feat was getting benched for a failure to run out two ground balls.

Bruce did well enough in his short Seattle tenure — a .212/.283/.533 slash with 14 homers and 28 RBIs in 47 games in left and right fields, as well as the first 15 games of his career at first — and was a clubhouse leader. He was never part of the future, but Mariners had to give him playing time to create a modest market.

The Phillies have the National League’s second-best record at 33-26, but have lost four in a row and have a spot in the outfield next to Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen after Odubel Herrera was arrested in early May for domestic violence allegations.

In 38 career games in Citizens Bank Park, Bruce has hit .294/.354/.559 with 10 home runs, so he has to be happy.

“I figured this would be the situation,” he told reporters pre-game in the clubhouse as he packed his bags. “You never really know when it’s going to happen. It’s bittersweet. I really like the group of guys here. I got to know some of them and had great relationships.

“It’s part of the business, though. I get to go somewhere I have a chance to win, and at this point in my career, that’s pretty paramount for me.”

The Mariners’ next goal is to create the same fate for 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion, 36, who is making $21.6 million this season, with a $5 million buyout option for 2020. They will likely have to eat a handsome chunk or that contract too. But for those of you new to this sensibility, throwing money away is also part of the customs and traditions of tanking.

As mentioned above, Monday also looms large: It’s the start of the annual amateur draft.

The Mariners have four selections in the top 100, starting with No. 20. While it is easy to presume, given their draft history, that this is akin to handing a metal fork to a toddler near an electric outlet, Mariners fans have to be brave because, well, stepping back from the draft is a step too far, even for them.

Obviously, results of the two days won’t be known for years. Not light years, just ordinary ones. But that’s the spectrum that must be embraced.

Sunday’s daily horror, a 13-3 loss to the Angels (box), was the 13th defeat in the past 18 games, yet dust in the wind.

The Mariners gave up double-digit runs for the 13th time this season — the next-worst team has done it nine times — and their 7-21 record in May was not only tied for the worst in MLB, it produced a minus-71 run differential, which was the worst. Haplessness is the planned outcome.

“We’ve played this game a few times this year,” said a disgusted-sounding manager, Scott Servais. “I’ve had enough of it, quite frankly. We will switch up some things tomorrow.

“When you don’t throw strikes, when you don’t play defense, when you don’t make plays, that’s hard to watch . . . it’s bad baseball. I know we’re young in some spots, we’re inexperienced in other spots. But you’ve got to do the right things.”

It’s a grim situation for Servais. But he signed up for what he thought was the right thing: Extended spring training.

It’s hard to see what can be done with the lineup and roster when the mission is to let go of helpful players such as Bruce, Cano, Diaz, Nelson Cruz, Jean Segura, James Paxton, Mike Zunino and Alex Colome for a distant goal that may not be realized.

But at least there was one Seattle winner Sunday. To repeat: “I get to go somewhere I have a chance to win,” Bruce said.

Braggart.


YourThoughts

  • Alan Harrison

    Didn’t see that you’d written this until after seeing your Felix comment on the Twit board. I’m just curious why this deal and why now? A 23-year old High-A utility player? Couldn’t they have gotten that in July? Or, if the Phils were desperate for an outfielder with the Cabrera thing, surely a pitcher in their system might have been included? I’m all for the teardown, but this one’s a puzzler. It’s closer to the deal they’ll have to take for EE, but only because EE is really a DH and part time 1B, which limits his appeal to one league.

    • art thiel

      As the column states, there’s a very small market for expensive, limited 32-year-olds. The fact that the Mariners could get anything was a teensy miracle, and will still cost them $21M. Dipoto didn’t want to be caught with Bruce on the roster at the end of July when all the playoff spots will have been set while 20-some clubs besides them are in full tank.

  • Kevin Lynch

    “We’re taking a step back”…one small step for Jerry, one very large step for credible belief in the years to come. What I don’t understand is the train wreck. Since you already stepped off the cliff, how can you hit a train halfway down?

    • art thiel

      That is similar to my initial response: Step back . . . from what?

  • This will be Dipoto’s fourth draft as the Mariners GM, and let’s hope he gets this one right. The M’s have six players on MLB’s preseason Top 100 prospects list, but the top three were drafted by other orgs, and Rodriguez was a signee. Sadly, Kyle Lewis, taken 11th overall in 2016, will soon be 24, yet is nowhere near ready.
    Justus Sheffield – No. 34 (Indians, 2014)
    Jarred Kelenic – No. 42 (Mets, 2018)
    Justin Dunn – No. 74 (Mets, 2016)
    Evan White – No. 89 (M’s, 2017)
    Julio Rodridguez – No. 96 (International signee)
    Logan Gilbert – No. 99 (M’s 2018)

    • art thiel

      Thanks for the update. As far as prospect rankings, Mike Trout got past 23 teams, and the Seahawks took Malik McDowell at 35.

      • Chuck Henry

        Malik McDowell?

        • art thiel

          Football. Sorry. I just wanted to point out that bad personnel decisions in this town aren’t confined to the Mariners.

      • And then there’s the homegrown roster construction (3) – Roenis Elias, Kyle Seager and Felix Hernandez, with the clock ticking on the latter. Meanwhile, the Red Sox can run out homegrown starters at 2B, SS, 3B, C, LF and CF. Impressive – and depressing.

        • art thiel

          You describe the biggest personnel indictment of the post-Gillick Mariners.

  • Will Ganschow

    Funny.

  • 1coolguy

    “given their draft history, that this is akin to handing a metal fork to a toddler near an electric outlet, ” – Another great line Art, you of the svengali journalism skills. Unfortunately what you write is spot on.
    With as lousy a record as they achieve every year, why do the M’s have the 20th pick? Did they trade a higher pick?
    Also, no truer words have EVER been spoken, and what a slap on the M’s:
    “I get to go somewhere I have a chance to win,” Bruce said.
    M’s season ticket holders: Personification of “There’s a sucker born every minute”! Ah, has PT ever been more accurate? These people should just save half their money and hold a camp fire in the T’s parking lot, fueled by the other half!

    • art thiel

      They won 89 games last year. Did you forget already?

      Given the forecast for massive wildfires this summer, let’s pass on the campfire, and confine our gagging to watching Mallex Smith’s random walkabouts in center.

  • Chuck Henry

    I would guarantee you when Dipoto came up with the little step back scheme, ownership thought they would still be in the middle of the pack, not a joke. I have been reading other blogs with comments that Dipoto and Servais jobs are 100% safe because of “trusting the process”. No owner would have expected this trash can fire. They are 19th in attendance in baseball. This must surely go lower. St. Louis has been rebuilding but still competitive in their games as they work there way back to playoff caliber and they are drawing 44,000 per game. The trick is they are always competitive in regular season games and are fun to watch. Other teams are like this as well. Soon, they will have to fire sale players not to improve but to save money. Attendance takes a long time to recover once a team gets the reputation of not even being entertaining. That’s a lot of money to take your family to the ballpark to watch something that is not just bad baseball, but sadly pathetic. The attendance is what will do this administration in before “the process” has a chance to do anything. If Theo Epstein said he was stepping back, which he would never do, people would believe him because well something I like to call proven track record. I think Servais will go before the end of the season when Dipoto throws him to the wolves. He will be forced hire to Mike Scioscia by ownership, HA!

    • art thiel

      I seriously doubt ownership misunderstood the potential bad outcome for 2019. The surprise was the 13-2 start. But the fact that they are still in the middle of the attendance pack tells me the attraction remains the mallpark in a Seattle summer. That never has a slump.

      The biggest unplanned disappointment has been the Gonzales collapse and the ho-hum season of Haniger. Injuries to Seager, Strickland and LeBlanc were costly. That said, the breadth and depth of errors is astonishing. And Perry is a top-flight infield coach.

      • Chuck Henry

        Are you in fact implying they are bad at baseball?

        • Chuck Henry

          But good at pinball?

          • art thiel

            Local/regional and national TV revs are plenty sufficient to keep teams in the black despite so many deliberately lousy teams. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a reckoning after several seasons of games that are nothing but strikeouts and home runs, where real competition is over by the Fourth of July.

  • Tman

    Uncontrolled demolition.

    • art thiel

      Think of it as Godzilla in stirrups.

      • Chuck Henry

        That sounds disgusting

  • Gary Patrick

    This last deal gives the Mariners the 2nd highest payroll in the NL East!

    • art thiel

      Regarding payroll, this ownership has never been cheap. They are confident you will keep covering for their excesses.

      • Gary Patrick

        This ownership should be reminded that if we are to cover their excesses they should invest in players that actually play at the Big Pink. For now I’m hanging on to my ante and sitting out of this hand. This season fans are betting on two cards to an inside straight.

        • art thiel

          Wise move. Gotta know when to fold ’em . . .

  • Steve Buckholdt

    Bruce seems like a decent guy. I’m happy for him to be able get out of Seattle. I’m starting to feel a little sorry for Servais, as he tries to field a competitive team with the caliber of players he has been given.

    • art thiel

      Servais is in a bad spot in a long season. The 13-2 atart made things worse.

  • Ken S.

    And the bright side? I get to watch some pretty decent teams play. The down side? They’ll likely beat the M’s.And life goes on.

    • art thiel

      You want TWO quality teams at your game? Pure gluttony.

  • Phil Caldwell

    Reading your stuff Art …. I forgot how great of a writer you are. We don’t get much of that anymore (guys that know how to write) in this world of Regator and canned article sites. Reminds me of how much I miss the old-school guys. It means I need to remember this site and stop doing the click-baiting habit at these relic newspapers that control feeds in today’s media world. It’s my fault as the consumer, and I know that, because I let these sites do that to me. It’s easier to consume what they control and throw at me, and me being the typical lazy dolt, I fall for their crap and get what I deserve. But …. reading your stuff is reminding me that it’s worth putting the effort into finding the talented writers. With sports AND political news.

    • art thiel

      You made my day, Phil. Thanks.

      Indeed, there is a lot of automated dreck out there, but I will also advocate on behalf of several talented young writers coming up in the area. I’m not sure why they’re doing it — it isn’t for the money in an industry that has yet to hit bottom — but I am eager to see them flourish. Their platform owners may be clueless click-baiters, but those are the terms and conditions set out by Facebook and Google, the two most pernicious threats to quality American journalism.