Seattle Mariners: Reimagining vs. Rebuilding

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JUNE 11: Mallex Smith #0 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks on from the dugout during the fourth inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 11, 2018 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JUNE 11: Mallex Smith #0 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks on from the dugout during the fourth inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 11, 2018 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /

Conflicting reports about Seattle’s plan this offseason have left many fans confused. Rumors of a full teardown flooded the newswire last week, though general manager Jerry Dipoto quickly classified the report as an “over-dramatization,” rephrasing their approach as a “reimagining” of their roster. So, what exactly does that mean?

Rebuilds usually consist of two things: a willingness to punt several future seasons, and a crop of players that can help you acquire young, controllable talent. Windows open and close all the time in baseball, but the Mariners have that one window that slightly stays open no matter how hard your push down on it. By the time a rebuild would come full circle for Seattle, a 39-year-old Robinson Canó will still be earning $24 million per season, Kyle Seager‘s $18 million AAV will have just come off the books, and the likes of Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales will be entering their 30s.

Where they currently stand, the Mariners have a better shot of being good enough to compete than being bad enough to tank. Canó, Seager, and Félix Hernández have little-to-no value on the trade market, due in part to either on-field performance, their contract, or a mixture of both. All three will be Mariners until their contracts respectively expire. The duo of Seager and Canó are good enough to carry most teams to a middle-of-the-road result, so even dismantling the team around them may not automatically spell a sub-70 win season.

Sure, the M’s could trade Haniger and Jean Segura and get two very nice packages in return. At ages 27 and 28, respectively, on team-friendly deals, Segura and Haniger make more sense as the players you acquire amidst a rebuild. You can win with them, and they may very well be more valuable to you than any package of prospects you could get for them.

That’s where the idea of reimagining the roster comes in.

Take the recent Mike Zunino-Mallex Smith swap, for example. Reimagining the roster is a teardown of sorts, but not in the sense of trading your most valuable Major League pieces for prospect packages. Instead, it’s about identifying the players you feel are most attractive to other ballclubs, determining if you can win with them or not, devising a plan to supplement them, and receiving equal Major League talent to fill other holes on your roster.

Given the rich market of free agent catchers this offseason, the Mariners felt confident in parting ways with the young Zunino to fill a much bigger need in their outfield. They had identified the value in Zunino on the market, determined his worth to their ballclub in 2019, saw a great opportunity to replace him, and received an affordable, exciting piece to immediately put atop their lineup for next season.

You will likely see a similar result when James Paxton is finally dealt. Paxton has just two years left on his contract, just turned 30, and only contributes to the Mariners once every fifth day. While starting pitching is the most valuable position in all of baseball, a potential deal to the Yankees would line up perfectly with their plan of acquiring young, controllable MLB-ready talent and ultimately be of more worth to them. Five years of Clint Frazier, or the superstar potential of Estevan Florial, paired with a pitching prospect or two, is significantly more valuable to this team than Paxton, and doesn’t sacrifice the 2019 season in the grand scheme of things. With even more freed up payroll, the Mariners could find a long-term solution for their rotation in 2019 or 2020.

You see, trading players like Paxton or Zunino don’t drastically shift the needle the way you think it would. Considering the talent the Mariners aim to get in return for these players, along the lines of Mallex Smith, this not only keeps their window open while Canó and Seager are still capable of contributing, it stretches it further to the early 2020s. The only thing I don’t agree with is keeping Edwin Díaz, though it’s likely that the M’s could get a lot more for him at next year’s trade deadline. But the Mariners can win in 2019 with or without Díaz, despite how good the 24-year-old closer was in 2018.

I truly believe that Haniger, Smith, and Segura is a core to build around, not trade from. The Mariners have enough pieces they can deal from that don’t greatly hurt their outlook for 2019, and acquire players better suited to help them now and in the future.

Next. SoDo Mojo's 2019 Off-Season Plan. dark

Rebuilding was never an option, but reimagining the roster, adding by subtracting in a sense, may be exactly what the Mariners need to take the next step in 2019 and beyond.