The Seattle Mariners are good. Or maybe not. Who knows? But what does that mean for the trade deadline? Probably, a lot more chaos.
The Mariners currently sit 3 games out of the playoff race, chasing the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland A’s. However, they’re also just a half game ahead of the Blue Jays and Cleveland, and just a game ahead of the Angels and Yankees. So, things are certainly crowded. But the Mariners will give us a lot of information in the next two weeks, as they set out to play the Yankees for 3 games and the Angels for 6 games. After a two game set with the Rockies, they head out on the road for 3 in Oakland and 3 in Houston. So we should have a strong idea of how “real” the team is before the trade deadline on July 30.
However, Jerry Dipoto may not be able to wait until the last minute to make moves if he wishes to stay in the race. This creates a bit of a catch-22. Does he spend the extra capital now to try and improve his odds during the rest of a difficult July? Or does he wait and see, hoping his young club can keep pace while half a dozen or more teams fall out of the race, lessening the heavy sellers market that currently exist?
These are questions much too big for us to answer, but that won’t stop us from being prepared. So today, we are going to discuss what happens if the Mariners continue their hot play heading into the final week of July. If they are still in the thick of things then, who could they target? Let’s take a look at a few potential names.
Charlie Morton, Atlanta Braves
This takes a lot to make a possibility, mostly it takes the Braves falling further out of the playoff race. They’re 4 back of the Mets in the NL East and the Wild Card hunt isn’t a realistic option. The Braves aren’t going to move their anchors like Ronald Acuna Jr., Freddie Freeman, or Ozzie Albies, but some of their rental options could be appealing. Chief among them is the two time All-Star and former Astros starter, Charlie Morton.
Over the past 4.5 seasons, Morton has posted a 3.43 ERA, a 3.30 FIP, a 10.6 K/9 and a 3.0 BB/9. He’s having a solid 2021 campaign as well, posting a 3.50 FIP and 10.5 K/9 in 92 innings. He would immediately become the best starter on the Mariners staff, rivaled only by Yusei Kikuchi. Morton would give the team a legitimate 1-2-3 punch (assuming Kikuchi and Chris Flexen continue to pitch well) and take pressure off its best unit, the bullpen.
You’d probably need to give Atlanta a back-end Top 10 prospect, like Matt Brash or Adam Macko, plus another solid prospect inside the Top 15-20, like Juan Then. This is only a move you want to make if you’re either leading the wild card race or are just a few games back with some distance between you and the other contenders behind you. But if that scenario plays out, Morton is an ultra-appealing option for Seattle and other contenders in late-July.
Drew Smyly, Atlanta Braves
Yes, we’re back to Ole’ Soggy Arm, who is having a mediocre year in Atlanta, but is less than a year removed from an excellent 2020 season. Smyly could be available now, as the Braves could either look to improve their rotation from outside the organization or go with one of their talented young arms. He’ll be far cheaper than Morton, and we know Dipoto has no problem re-acquiring talent. He’s at least an upgrade over Justus Sheffield and while he’s not going to make anybody do backflips, he’s cheap and incremental upgrades can make a difference of 1 or two games.
To wrap up the unintended Atlanta Braves section, we should mention Guillermo Heredia as well. As you may recall, Heredia is a right-handed bat who can play all 3 outfield positions and brings good speed as well. This season, he’s slashing .274/.358/.452 and would make an ideal platoon partner with Jake Fraley. But speaking of platoon partners, I have a different name in mind.
Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia Phillies
Yes, that Andrew McCutchen(you can all thank Jason Churchill for mentioning McCutchen on the Baseball Things podcast, because now most of the next month, I’ll be obsessed with him). While he’s no longer the superstar he was in Pittsburgh, McCutchen still brings some serious tools to the ballpark, include some real cache to a fan base starving for star players (or former stars in this case) and some real veteran pressence to a young club. But all of that means nothing without on-field production and McCutchen can still deliver in the right role.
For the season, his slash line of .234/.354/.433 isn’t eye popping, but is still quite solid. But a closer look at his numbers show that his overall slash isn’t indicative to how he’s swung it as a whole. April was an absolute disaster for McCutchen, but since May 1st, Cutch is hitting .261/.357/.511 with 12 home runs and 12 doubles. Those are all-star quality numbers and he’s been great against lefties as well.
As the Phillies continue to slide further down the standings in the NL East and with no hope of making it into the playoffs as a wild card team, Philadelphia could very well shop the 34-year-old. As of now, the Phillies still owe McCutchen about $9 million for this season and his $15 million team option for 2022 comes with a $3 million buyout. McCutchen is going to have multiple suitors, but teams like the Rays and A’s, and even Cleveland, aren’t likely to cut checks for $12 million for 70 games of McCutchen (with an option for another season). Are the Mariners? It is easy to assume the answer to be “no”, but we do not know. If the Mariners are convinced that Cutch will bring value to the team in 2022, they could pick up the option and add a quality bat to their lineup.
McCutchen has never been a great defender, but with the DH available to the Mariners and with Jake Fraley and Dylan Moore available for late-inning substitutions, Seattle can mitigate that flaw better than other potential buyers.