Since the Mariners pitching staff was, entering Sunday, 26th in MLB in strikeouts (561), next to last in earned run average (5.49) and WHIP (1.47), and last in batting average against (.274), it is understandable that general manager Jerry Dipoto senses a bit of a deficiency there.
It was not surprising, then, that he sought from the New York Yankees RHP Juan Then, not for now, but for later. Even though Dipoto had him before.
Now that the word play is out of my system, I vow to tread that ground no more — at least until Then becomes now, which, at 6-1 and 155 pounds, is not likely soon.
Regarding actual baseball, Dipoto’s trade Saturday for a 19-year-old the Mariners signed at 16 from the Dominican Republic and traded to the Yankees in 2017, is the the way actual baseball is played these days. If a team is not contending at the top level, the prime directive is to go Donner Party on the current roster and hope for spring.
Whether a fan chooses to watch depends on one’s sensitivity regarding unpleasantness.
The cost was Edwin Encarnacion, who was leading the American League in home runs (21) and playing a remarkably acceptable first base. His age (36) and his contract ($21.6 million at season’s start) made him unacceptable, a short-timer for a tear-down team. But he lasted in Seattle longer in Seattle because Dipoto misread the marketplace.
Acquired in December from Cleveland as part of a three-way trade that sent Carlos Santana, picked up from Phildadelphia, to the Indians, the Mariners also added a competitive balance pick in the June draft and $5 million cash. (The pick became third-rounder RHP Isaiah Campbell out of the University of Arkansas, 76th overall.) The Mariners and Yankees reportedly have agreed to split the balance owed on Encarnacion’s contract, where the Mariners can apply the $5 million.
The hope of Dipoto and Encarnacion was to move the slugger to a contending team in spring training for perhaps a top prospect or two, but it didn’t happen. Instead, Dipoto, despite Encarnacion’s 2.0 WAR and .888 OPS so far in an uptick season, settled well before the trade deadline for one guy who was No. 27 on the talent-rich Yankees’ prospect list created by MLB Pipeline.
Here is what the website wrote about Then:
MLB Pipeline scouting grades (20 is worst, 50 is average, 80 is best)
Fastball: 55 | Curveball: 50 | Changeup: 55 | Control: 50 | Overall: 40
The Yankees acquired Then (and lefty J.P. Mears) from the Mariners in November 2017 in return for Nick Rumbelow. Signed for $77,500 out of the Dominican Republic in 2016, Then has successfully navigated two years of rookie ball thanks to advanced pitchability. In his first season with his new organization, he led the Gulf Coast League in WHIP (0.98) and finished third in opponent average (.210). He was waiting to make his 2019 debut when he was sent back to the Mariners Saturday.
Then doesn’t miss a lot of bats with his 90-95 mph fastball because it’s fairly straight, though that allows him to command it better than most teenagers can. He also throws strikes with a change-up that’s advanced for his age. He has promising depth on his curve ball, which ranks as his third-best pitch yet has solid potential.
Then isn’t very physical, but he could make it as a No. 4 or 5 starter because he keeps his pitch counts down and limits his mistakes. He has a high floor, and it’s possible that he could develop a plus pitch or two as he matures. He probably won’t make his full-season minor league debut until 2020.
Naturally, manager Scott Servais was more optimistic.
“Juan is a great kid and his stuff has really jumped, velocity and breaking ball, we really like it,” Servais told reporters Saturday in Oakland, where the Mariners were bludgeoned 11-2 in a four-error goof-fest. “He has chance to be a starter. He’s a young pitcher that kind of fits in the mix of guys we just drafted. It’s a nice arm to bring back.”
Quite a mix. The club spent eight of their first 10 draft picks on pitchers. The Mariners are loading up on arms the way Gulf Coast residents buy toilet paper ahead of a category-5 hurricane.
Whether the stockpile proves helpful is unknowable. What is clear is that the tactic of taking on salaries/players temporarily to facilitate trades is not as fruitful as it once was. Teams tanking like the Mariners see the market shrinking because relatively few teams are in a middle class that can improve to playoff class during the season with a trade or two.
In an interview last week with ESPN 710 radio that foreshadowed the trade, Dipoto used the term “polar” to describe the haves and have-nots in the American League.
“It is a very polar league,” Dipoto said. “Part of what we are doing as a team (the “step-back”) is because of the way the American League in particular is stacked up. There are some dynamic teams right now, with the Rays and Yankees, to a degree the Red Sox as the defending champs, the Houston Astros, and the team that we just played, the Minnesota Twins, (who) might be better than all of them.
“Once you get past that layer in the American League, the gap widens considerably, and many of the teams at the top don’t have a lot of pressure on them, nor do they have a lot of holes to address.”
It remains a bit of a mystery how the Yankees believed they had a need at designated hitter. They need another slugger like a shark needs another tooth. But it doesn’t cost them much money, and the prospect surrendered is more or less return-to-sender.
Having recently unloaded another costly veteran, Jay Bruce, to the Phillies for a similar pittance, Dipoto figures the blue-light warehouse sale will continue until all that remains is mismatched shoes, left-handed catcher’s gloves and kids.
“I suspect, like we believed from the very start, that we will be active between now and the deadline,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a mass exodus, so to speak, because there just aren’t that many needs around the league. But we’re going to try to make efficient moves that maximize the potential return for our future.
“We do plan on continuing forward with the plan we put in place.”
Then likely is destined for short-season A ball at Everett. Unless of course, most of the Aquasox roster gets advanced shortly to T-ball Park. He can’t do much worse than the relievers they have now.
If the plan is to self-induce a hurricane, you can never have too much toilet paper.