We are less than two weeks away from the MLB trade deadline and the talks may be heating up. We know Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto is neck deep in the discussions, but doesn’t have a lot of obvious candidates to trade away. Most teams will desperately be searching for pitching and Dipoto doesn’t have a lot of valuable pieces. But what Dipoto does have is a fairly young catcher with an above-average bat, average glove, and the versatility to play five other positions. You can see why Austin Nola might be an attractive trade chip.
Of course, the same reasons Austin Nola would be valuable to a contending team make him valuable to his current team. Nola is young enough and cheap enough that he very well could be in the plans for the Mariners and with Tom Murphy likely missing at least 2/3 of the shortened season, Nola is getting an extended look behind the plate for the first time.
But a rebuilding team has to make difficult decisions. Sure, Nola could be the long-term backup catcher whose versatility allows him to play 100+ games a year. But in a year where almost anything can happen and half the league makes the playoffs, they need to at least consider the possibility of moving Nola now. There are no shortage of playoff contenders who could use Nola. The Rockies, Rays, Indians, and Padres are getting almost nothing from the position. But even teams that are a year or so away from truly competing should have interest in Nola. He won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2022 season and won’t start to make “serious” money until 2024.
Nola may be a better candidate to be moved in the off-season, but these types of trades often have the ground work laid out weeks in advance. But enough about why Nola could be traded. Let’s look at what one of the teams who would have interest in Nola might have to offer Seattle. We are going to start with Tampa Bay today. Why? Because the Rays and Mariners haven’t made a trade in over a year and that streak has got to end. But also because they have the deepest farm system in the league.
Tampa Bay Rays who could interest Seattle
One name that immediately jumps out as a player who screams Seattle Mariner is Yandy Diaz. The former Cleveland prospect is off to a great start for the Rays, hitting .301/.433/.329 with a 127 wRC+ and a ridiculous 18.9% BB rate. The Rays have found a way to get Diaz every day at bats, mostly by using him at third base. But the Rays have other options there and their catchers are currently producing a 29 wRC+.
As for other MLB players, Manuel Margot is a good athlete who plays a mean centerfield. Used primarily as a 4th OF, Margot still has some plate skills, but isn’t likely going to knock Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, or Julio Rodriguez, off a starting spot. Jalen Beeks has interesting stuff and the possibility of becoming a #4 type of starter or a solid multi-inning middle reliever.
But for most Mariners fans right now, they care about prospects and thankfully, the Rays have more than a few interesting names. One name that immediately jumps to mind is Randy Arozarena, the former St. Louis Cardinals outfield prospect. The 25-year-old has just a cup of coffee in the big leagues, but has a solid hit tool and fringe-average raw power to go along with his plus speed and outfield defense and a strong throwing arm. Arozarena broke out in 2019 and his small sample of success makes him a risky centerpiece of a trade, but one who could be a 20/20 everyday outfielder with above-average defense.
If Seattle wants to add a young catcher to their organization, perhaps Ronaldo Hernandez is an option. Hernandez has plus raw power and one of the strongest arms in the game but lacks a coherent game plan in the batters box and needs to improve his pitching framing and game calling along the way.
Can it work? Will it work?
Ultimately, if the Mariners are willing to shop Austin Nola seriously, the Rays are going to have serious interest. Nola might be the best catcher available on the trade market and his versatility and monetary cheapness will make him ultra appealing. But the real question I can’t answer is whether or not the Mariners are going to be interested in trading their starting catcher and rolling with Joe Odom and Brian O’Keefe the final 30 games of the season.
Nola will have plenty of trade value this winter and Seattle will have an opportunity to address the position for a year while Cal Raleigh continues to work his way to the big leagues. It is a delicate balancing act for Jerry Dipoto. He doesn’t need to trade Nola and won’t unless he gets a rather significant return. But there will be plenty of interest and Dipoto must engage on serious inquiries on his starting catcher.