Seattle Mariners secret weapon in trade talks could be Tuivailala

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 31: Sam Tuivailala #62 of the Seattle Mariners pitches during the seventh inning in his debut for the team against the Houston Astros at Safeco Field on July 31, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - JULY 31: Sam Tuivailala #62 of the Seattle Mariners pitches during the seventh inning in his debut for the team against the Houston Astros at Safeco Field on July 31, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images) /
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We know what Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has said about this off-season being a tame one for Seattle. But we also know a leopard can’t change his spots. But with few MLB players with good value to deal, how can he add value to his franchise?

Well, the answer is quite simple but is often overlooked by Mariners fans… or any fan base for that matter. We typically think of trades as being a big leaguer for a minor leaguer or a big leaguer for a big leaguer. But trades can also include an MLB piece and a prospect for just a prospect. Basically, teams can add a “sweetener” to their offer to land a player they want or to off-load a big contract.

But for a team like the Mariners who are rebuilding and in the business of hoarding prospects more so than “sweetening” deals, parting ways with a promising talent can be tough. Thankfully, the Mariners do not have to add prospects to these types of deals as they have the perfect sweetener on their current MLB roster; Sam Tuivailala.

You may remember that Seattle acquired Tuivailala in July of 2018 from the St. Louis Cardinals. Unfortunately, Tuivailala injured his Achilles tendon in a run down and was lost for 2018 shortly after making his debut. The injury also cost him half of his 2019 season.

But upon returning to the Mariners on July 16th, Tuivailala was simply incredible. In just 23 innings, Tuivailala posted a 2.35 ERA, a 3.13 FIP, a 1.04 WHIP, with a 10.6 K/9 rate, and a 188 ERA+. All this amounted to a 0.8 bWAR, a good full season from most relievers.

In addition to the borderline dominant results in 2019, Tuivailala is a reliever with very few bullets spent who is entering his physical prime and has 3-years of club control remaining. By himself, Tuivailala is probably worth more than the Mariners gave up to acquire him.

Remember that the Rangers got legitimate SP prospect Taylor Hearn for Keona Kela. And while Tuivailala doesn’t have the track record of Kela, it isn’t ridiculous to ask for something in the ballpark.

The Mariners could very well shop the young arm by himself. Or, they could attach him to any number of players who may come up in trade talks such as Domingo Santana, Mallex Smith, Mitch Haniger, Daniel Vogelbach, Omar Narvaez, and Tom Murphy.

The value of attaching a solid, cheap bullpen arm to any useful piece can vary. Perhaps the addition of Tuivailala pushes the other team to include that extra player you really want? Or maybe instead of getting your partner to add another piece, it persuades them to give up the one piece you actually want.

By way of a random example, trading Mallex Smith to the Cleveland Indians would net you somebody in the Ernie Clement level range. Clement isn’t a terrible prospect, but there isn’t much upside in his game.

But adding Sam Tuivailala in this deal may make the Indians more inclined to substitute Clement with a better prospect. Perhaps somebody like Daniel Espino, who currently ranks somewhere on the fringes of Cleveland’s Top 10.

The Mariners are going to have to get creative this off-season. While we typically think of a team getting multiple prospects for one major leaguer, Dipoto could add value by taking the opposite approach: 2 major leaguers for a better prospect.

There are numerous variations off of this idea that Dipoto could employ if he is creative enough. And if there is one thing Mariners fans should trust about Jerry Dipoto, it is that he is creative.

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