On a lazy NFL Weekend and the first official day of the MLB Winter Meetings, we were, of course, curious about what the Mariners will get done this week if anything.
The newest trend in Major League Baseball is a bit disturbing as big market teams are trying to shed payroll, using the luxury tax as justification. Even the most popular team in the world is deploying this strategy and the Seattle Mariners may be in a unique position to take advantage.
The Yankees are reportedly the heavy favorite to land free-agent prize Gerrit Cole this winter but are worried about rising above the luxury tax and as such, have reportedly made left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ “very available” in a trade.
The Yankees’ goal is to move as much of his $17 million as possible and according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic(click here for article), they are willing to attach good prospects to make it happen. In essence, they are waiting for a team to give them $17 million for a few of their prospects.
The Seattle Mariners have 2 things working in their favor here. First, they have money to spend. The current payroll hovers around $100 million and with no major expenses coming, they can absorb quite a bit of salary and not touch their starting payroll from last season. Second, they have an actual need for a starter to round out there rotation.
So unlike other teams, Seattle could actually use Happ, at least until this summer when he would hopefully regain some trade value and you can flip him for more prospects. While Happ wasn’t great last year, he still posted a 1.30 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, and he did eat 161 innings. And in 2018, he was an All-star, posting a 3.98 FIP, with 9.8 K/9, and a 1.13 WHIP. If he returns to level, he will fetch a nice prospect in return.
But obviously, the key in such a deal would be the prospects coming back. There are actually a few guys with MLB experience who appear to be on the way out of New York, such as Clint Frazier, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Jordan Montgomery. But all 3 should carry enough value to use in other deals and would require the Mariners to send back more in return.
Keeping in mind that the Mariners are basically trying to buy prospects for the cost of JA Happ, here is our initial proposal:
So for taking on Happ’s contract and parting ways with a talented but raw Juan Querecuto, the Mariners receive Roansy Contreras and Nick Nelson, 2 RHP with some nice upside. Contreras, a 20-year-old Dominican prospect, offers a plus fastball that sits 93-95 with a high spin rate, giving in the rising appearance hitters struggle to catch up with. He also offers a hard curveball and can really spin it, giving him 2 MLB pitches now, both with a chance to be plus.
Contreras has feel for a changeup, which could give him his 3rd above-average or better offering, and throws plenty of strikes. Thanks to his 2 established pitches, Contreras has the floor of a middle reliever but could be a #4 starter or better in the big leagues in the next 4 years.
As for Nick Nelson, well he should see the big leagues in 2020, though whether that be as a starter or reliever will likely be determined by how well he throws strikes. Nelson has the stuff to get through a lineup multiple times, including a 96 MPH fastball that he carries deep into games.
Nelson also offers a hard curveball, a quality split-change, and a cutter that can all be above-average offerings, but Nelson can have a hard time throwing them for strikes. While he has managed to keep his walk rates in the mid-4BB/9 area, his lack of control often leads to leaving pitches in the middle of the plate. He can get away with these mistakes thanks to his stuff, but Major League hitters won’t let him off so easy.
Nelson is a good athlete but his inconsistent mechanics need to be figured out, or Nelson will spend his career as a middle reliever. But if the Mariners think they can help him, he has #3 upside and thanks to his proximity to the big leagues, could be a valuable trade chip this summer if the team decides to add.
While neither prospect is going to generate a tremendous buzz, both are quality arms who would slide into the Mariners Top 20 on our ranks and each has a good chance to be a big leaguer for many years.
These types of deals are also tough to figure out, especially without knowing what type of players the Yankees are willing to give up to move on from Happ. But these types of trades are ones worth exploring for Seattle. If they aren’t going to spend money on free agency, they should spend it on the kind of prospects that can help them in the near future.