When you talk to most Mariners fans, they are happy having Marco Gonzales near the top of the rotation. He’s quite consistent, will get you six innings of work on most nights, and outside of rough starts to the year, rarely gets shelled.
However, there is always going to be something that hangs around, and inevitably gets brought up in conversations about Marco. Back in 2017, the Mariners agreed to send Tyler O’Neill to St. Louis for Marco Gonzales. The Mariners were trying to get a stalwart for their rotation, and the Cardinals were gambling on a young outfielder with a high upside. We talked about it last year, but these need to be re-visited each season.
I still don’t know if the Mariners won the Marco Gonzales for Tyler O’Neill trade…
Marco is finishing up his age-29 season, having put four solid, and incredibly consistent, seasons as a starter under his belt. For the majority of his career, he has sat around a 4.00 ERA, a 4.10 FIP, 1.27 WHIP, 2.1 BB/9, and 7.2 K/9, just shy of 6 innings per start. Those are all good, respectable numbers. He flashes a higher ceiling, bordering on leading your rotation as a One (but not an ace… that’s still a big difference).
The Mariners signed him to a 4/30M through 2024, with a $15M club option in 2025. If Marco sticks with the numbers he has put up, they’ll keep him around through 2025, which would be his age-33 season.
On the other side, you have to look at Tyler O’Neill whenever you look at Marco. O’Neill is three years younger (and change) and is under team control through 2024. Marco was under team control through 2023, but with the extension, they pushed past that. For his first three years with the Redbirds, he played sparingly, flashing incredible speed in the outfield that didn’t translate to the bases, while hitting for a decent average.
2021 has shown a completely different player. O’Neill is slashing .282/.352/.539, tallying 29 home runs, 24 2Bs, and 13 steals. He plays good to great defense in left and actually won the Gold Glove there in 2020. That sums up to a 5.6 WAR so far this year where he is T-8th in the entirety of the National League.
If that’s the kind of player that O’Neill is going to be, then the Mariners easily lost this trade. O’Neill is already catching Marco in WAR (9.1-7.9), and will likely pass him next year. Marco has never put up a large number in that category, maxing out at 3.5 in 2019.
A big part of the reason that the Mariners went after Marco was adding a pitcher in to help them compete, making a push for wins. It’s not Marco’s fault, but the team didn’t end up in that position until this season. The year that Tyler O’Neill is also flourishing. The year that the Mariners dealt with youth, inexperience, and injury in their outfield, and sorely needed a consistent player out there.
Also, the Mariners dealt with tons of injuries pitching, so not having Marco would’ve made that worse. But, if they didn’t have him, they would’ve gone after other pitchers over the last few offseasons… yada yada yada… rabbit hole… yeah, I’ll stop before it gets out of hand.
Look, Marco is awesome. He’s a great guy to root for, is fairly consistent, and rarely misses starts. He’s another crafty lefty in the LONG line of likewise pitchers that the Mariners have had. I enjoy watching him pitch and am glad we have him on the team.
Thinking about an outfield of Kelenic, J-Rod, and O’Neill though… oh man. That’s exciting. Especially if it’s the O’Neill that has been showing out in St. Louis this year. A big part of this, though, is remembering that the Mariners haven’t done the greatest job of developing hitters of the years. Which is putting it nicely. I don’t think either side thought the player they traded would turn into who they have, but that’s the risk of trades.
I still don’t know who won the trade. I feel a lot less confidant after seeing O’Neill dominate this year, while Marco struggled early, likely while injured. Remember, since coming back from the injury, he has a 3.79 ERA since June 1st, and even better, a 2.84 since August 6th. Marco is incredibly consistent, and a good-to-great pitcher. If he can pitch for an entire season as he did during the shortened 2020 season, this is going to be a great argument for years to come.
However, if Tyler O’Neill can continue putting seasons together like he has in 2021, it’s going to be a different story. I might whisper this quietly… but as the end of the 2021 season comes to a close, I think that the Mariners may have lost the Marco Gonzales trade for Tyler O’Neill.