General manager Jerry Dipoto told reporters Tuesday he expects more shoes are going to drop. Which Mariners fans hope is the case, because the first episode of the suddenly intriguing trade-deadline drama was a real clodhopper.
The day after the most implausible win of the season, Dipoto injected some buzzkill into the euphoria.
He traded the club’s best reliever, Kendall Graveman, to its most irksome rival — the Astros, whom they stunned Monday night with a rally from seven down for an 11-8 victory. Graveman was credited with the win, and 16 hours later, joined them after beating them. Right across the T-ball Park field, where the second of a three-game series would get underway.
Before the game ended with an 8-6 loss to the Astros (box), the Mariners announced another trade, acquiring lefty starter Tyler Anderson, 31, from Pittsburgh in exchange for two prospects, C Carter Bins and RHP Joaquin Tejada.
The fact that Graveman, 30, was part of a deal wasn’t a big surprise. The pending free agent was among the few affordable veterans on the roster with value the market would want. But the return was meager, and the resentment strong in the clubhouse.
The Astros gave up switch-hitting INF Abraham Toro, 24, who had a homer in Monday’s game as an Astro, and a pinch-hit, two-run shot in the ninth Tuesday in his first at-bat as Mariner. But in 32 previous games, all but two at third base, he is hitting .211 in 109 at-bats with six home runs and 20 RBIs as the Astros await the return of injured All-Star Alex Bregman.
They also threw in a reliever as mundane as his name — Joe Smith. He’s 37 and has a 7.48 ERA in 27 games, and is at the end of a two-year, $8 million deal. Smith “balances” a throw-in from the Mariners side, Rafael Montero, who had been designated for assignment after a 7.47 ERA in 40 games.
Graveman, a popular clubhouse figure who hasn’t given up a run in his last 12 appearances, has an 0.82 ERA in 33 innings with 10 saves. He’ll help fix the bullpen, the one Astros weakness, that has a competent closer in Ryan Pressly. Graveman also missed 16 games on the COVID-19 list when he was symptomatic.
Speaking with reporters before the game, Dipoto talked patience, indicating the trade was was one moving part among several.
“It probably doesn’t (make sense) as a stand-alone, but it’s part of a context that I believe is going to be an on-going story over the next couple of days,” he said. “We have been pretty open in sharing the idea that we’re trying to both address present and future, and we remain actively engaged in the market and trying to address upgrades now, that will give us a chance to be as competitive as we can over the next 60 games, and hopefully into the postseason.”
Dipoto partially backed his claim with the acquisition of Anderson, a six-year veteran with an expiring contract. He’s a classic rent-a-player for the final two months of the regular season. With the Pirates, he was 5-8 with a 4.35 ERA in 103.1 innings with 25 walks and 86 strikeouts. The Las Vegas native was drafted out of the University of Oregon with the 20th pick in the first round of the 2011 draft by Colorado.
Bins, 22, had 50 games with Class A Everett and AA Arkansas, hitting a combined .247 with 10 doubles, eight home runs, 34 RBI, and 42 walks. Tejada, 18, had a 7.20 ERA in five innings with one hit allowed, four walks and eight strikeouts in two games with the Dominican Summer League Mariners.
So the cost to acquire Anderson was small, and eliminates the need for more bullpen starts in the five-man rotation that is still missing injured starters Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn.
Dipoto said he was “definitely concerned” about clubhouse chemistry after the unpopular Graveman trade, “but hopefully the next moves will make a little more sense. And then for the guys, I think that they’ll find that we’re very committed to adding to the team.”
He has reason to be concerned. The Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish reported players were sufficiently upset pre-game to damage clubhouse equipment and generate talk of management betrayal. Graveman was acquired in 2020 to be a starter but made a strong transition to the bullpen. For most of the season, the pen has been ranked among the top three in baseball.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Graveman told reporters while wearing an Astros uniform and choking up. “There’s that percent, and this game’s a business. I’m speaking truth and honest. The way I felt, we were nine games over .500 over on that side and playing some pretty good ball when I was there, so it kind of takes away from the last five days, honestly, I think. We’ll see if they bounce back from it.”
In the first game, they didn’t, falling behind 3-0 and 6-2. Then Toro’s homer was part of a rally that twice brought the winning run to the plate.
“I think,” said manager Scott Servais, “we have the attention of the Houston Astros, that’s for sure.”
Meanwhile, the Astros have the Mariners’ best relief pitcher.