In a trade with Tampa Bay Friday, the Mariners turned Robinson Cano’s suspension into a veteran outfielder and a veteran relief pitcher. The most remarkable aspect of the deal is that it cost only two minor leaguers from a farm system believed nearly bereft of trade-worthy major-league prospects.
If this works out, general manager Jerry Dipoto will qualify for sainthood, and the Rays will be relocated to North Korea.
Acquired were Denard Span, 34, a career .282 hitter in 11 MLB seasons with four teams, and Alex Colome, 29, who led MLB with 47 saves in 2017.
Departing are pitching prospects Andrew Moore, 24 next week, who started 11 games for the big club last year but struggled in spring training, and Tommy Romero, 20, a 15th-round draft pick who did good work for Class A Clinton this season — 3-3 with a 2.45 ERA in nine starts and 54 strikeouts in 44 innings.
“Span’s skill set fits our team quite well,” Dipoto told reporters before the game with the Twins, which Seattle won 2-1 (box). “And the impact we felt like we were getting in Alex Colome trumps what we thought we could get into in the starting pitching market.
“We left ourselves some (payroll) wiggle room that if a starter or something otherwise is needed as we get into the season, we still aren’t entirely cut off. We have the ability to go for it if we can.”
The trade relatively early in the season was driven by the 80-game absence of Cano, who violated MLB’s PED policy. His absence also leaves unspent $12 million, half of Cano’s annual salary.
The Mariners will pay a pro-rated $6.24 million of Span’s $11 million salary, and $3.8 million of Colome’s salary. In addition, the Rays agreed to give the Mariners $4.75 million in cash, according to the Associated Press.
So the investment is modest enough to allow the Mariners to make a bigger move as the trade deadline approaches at the end of July.
The acquisitions signal the Mariners, back to 10 games over .500 at 30-20, are serious about 2018.
“I think it’s an awesome message that (despite) everything we’ve dealt with in the last eight to 10 days here, that we’re all in on this season,” manager Scott Servais told MLB.com. “That even though we had a setback with Robbie and the injury and suspension, it’s not going to derail us. Our eyes are set on the goal and that’s getting to the playoffs. This helps us.”
Colome, an All-Star in 2016 with a 1.91 ERA and 37 saves, likely is headed for the eighth-inning set-up role, where Juan Nicasio has been shaky. The spot originally belonged to David Phelps, who was lost for the season to Tommy John elbow surgery. Phelps was moved to the 60-day disabled list to make room for Colome.
Span, who spent most of his career in center field, is destined to start in left field ahead of Ben Gamel, hitting .226. Guillermo Heredia remains in center after Dee Gordon was moved to second base, his original position, to replace Cano. Gordon is on the 10-day disabled list with a broken big toe, although he was taking grounders pre-game.
This makes us a more complete club in the present while also offering impact beyond this season,” Dipoto said. “Colomé brings an all-star resume, fortifying what we believe is an already solid back end of the bullpen. Span adds length to our lineup as a steady and smart player with consistent on-base skills in addition to a veteran presence that enhances our environment.”
Colome is fourth in the AL with 11 saves, converting his past 10 in a row. In 2017, he led the AL with 47 saves, including six of four or more outs, also leading the league. Since the start of the 2016 season, his 95 saves are second-most in MLB, trailing only the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen. He’s spent his career with the Rays, which began in 2013.
In his past 17 outings, his ERA is 2.16 and opposing batters are hitting .194.
Span reached base safely in 35 of 43 games with Tampa Bay, batting .238 with 27 runs, with seven doubles, a triple, four home runs, 28 RBI, 28 walks and six stolen bases.
In the game, James Paxton struck out 11 in seven innings and Edwin Diaz closed for his 18th save. Nelson Cruz and Mitch Haniger had run-scoring singles for the Mariners’ eighth win in 11 games, providing the best 50-game start since the 2003 team went 32-18.