Mariners Trade Target: A Mackenzie Gore Reclamation Project

PEORIA, ARIZONA - MARCH 05: Pitcher MacKenzie Gore #89 of the San Diego Padres throws against the Seattle Mariners during a Cactus League spring training baseball game at Peoria Stadium on March 05, 2020 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
PEORIA, ARIZONA - MARCH 05: Pitcher MacKenzie Gore #89 of the San Diego Padres throws against the Seattle Mariners during a Cactus League spring training baseball game at Peoria Stadium on March 05, 2020 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images) /

The Seattle Mariners have one of the best player development systems in all of Major League Baseball, and one of the best at developing pitching. The Mariners have proven to be one of the best organizations at developing both starting pitchers and relievers. They have shown their prowess by developing players such as Chris Flexen, Marco Gonzales, Paul Sewald, JT Chargois, and others. One player in need of being “fixed” is Padres lefty, Mackenzie Gore.

Mackenzie Gore offers the Mariners tremendous upside, but also massive risk

First of all, Mackenzie Gore has spent time as an arguable top-pitching prospect in the game prior to this season. He was the third overall pick in the 2017 draft as a left-handed prep pitcher. He carried the risk of being a high school arm, but also tremendous upside due to his immense upside. Gore also has a tremendously strange delivery. He lifts his arms above his head and has a very high leg kick that adds to his deception, which is a big part of his game.

Mackenzie Gore was pretty widely considered the top lefty pitching prospect and by some the top pitcher in the minor leagues. He started his career with a good 21 innings the summer after his draft, posing a sub 1.5 ERA. He played the whole 2018 season at full-season A ball, the Mariners equivalent of Modesto, pitching over 60 innings, having a 74 to 18 strikeout to walk ratio. He did all of this as a teenager.

2019 was where he showed his dominant future potential, posting a 1.02 ERA in just under 80 innings in advanced A ball. He earned a promotion to AA at the end of the year where he would make 5 starts and give up 10 runs, but it was a small enough sample size that no one was worried. After this, had Gore as the #3 overall prospect in the game. They had 60 grades on everything: 60 fastball, curveball, slider, change up, and control. All 60s. That is extremely rare.

It was expected that Mackenzie Gore would start 2020 in AA and he could possibly make an appearance in San Diego before the end of the season. Baseball America similarly thought he was a superstar in the making. Only altering in having a 55 grade on his curveball. They had a 70 overall grade on him too. It was mentioned in their 2021 Prospect Handbook…

"“Gore’s ability to throw four quality pitches for strikes gives him front-of-the-rotation potential”."

Mackenzie Gore was clearly one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, so what happened to him?

2020 was a total loss for Gore, who was unable to play in games like every prospect. He would start 2021 in AAA, facing Jarred Kelenic in each of their first games at the level. He could just not be consistent with anything in AAA. In 20 innings he had a 5.85 ERA, a .289 batting average against, and almost as many walks as strikeouts. He was inconsistent with his mechanics, command, and repertoire. He was pulled from game action and sent to the Padres complex in August.

He spent a decent amount of time there working on his game away from the competition. He ultimately pitched over 16 innings in complex games, which should be noted was against super young and inexperienced players, so Gore should have put up a sub 2 ERA as he did. They then sent him for a decent 5 inning outing in high A ball before sending him to AA for two starts there. He might have found something after his stint at the Padres complex, but it is impossible to know.

The future for Gore is an uncertain one, but the Padres are in a spot where they have to contend now, so could they deal Gore for the right package? This is the exact space that the Mariners fit into. They have a great pitching development team and it is possible the Padres hired Pitching Director Rob Marcello away from Seattle to fix Gore himself. The Mariners are a good fit for Gore to land because they have the staff capacity to help him fix his issues from 2021.

For the Mariners, they have certainly had some well-profiled instances where they take a player from nothing and turn them into a star. They did this with multiple relievers: Paul Sewald, Kendall Graveman, and Casey Sadler. These players all did not have much upside at the time, but made their way to Seattle and found great success in the bullpen. Another name is JT Chargois. He and Paul Sewald were both minor league free agent signings last year and started the year in Tacoma.

They both worked with then pitching coach Rob Marcello and made their way to the big leagues. They both were very good for the Mariners and Chargois was sent to Tampa Bay for Diego Castillo at the deadline. Marcello could be expected to fix Gore in San Diego, but the Mariners could be an option as well. The Mariners also have a history of improving starting pitchers, not just bullpen arms. Seattle has shown that they can help both starters and relievers under Jerry Dipoto.

Chris Flexen had a nice year in the KBO in 2020 and came over and was pretty impressive in 2021.  Teams were starting to figure him out and then he kept getting better and better. He could have done something all on his own, but the Mariners certainly had a hand in something with Flexen in 2021. They showed they can help pitchers become more consistent in mechanics and approach.

The team has also shown over time that they can develop starting pitchers. Marco Gonzales was also a top pitching prospect with the Cardinals before having Tommy John surgery. They traded then top prospect Tyler O’Neil for him and Gonzales has been one of the most consistent starting pitchers in the American League. This could be a similar situation to Gore. Both were considered top pitching prospects, and they have both had significant instances that dropped their value.

The Mariners could offer a match for the Padres, who have partnered in several trades the last few years, including last month in a deal for Adam Frazier. Jerry Dipoto has made some really good trades with San Diego in the past including the one that netted them Matt Brash.

The Mariners could get creative in a trade package for Mackenzie Gore, offering either a straight-up one-for-one swap or a package of both win-now players and some close to the big leagues prospects.

One For One Prospect Swap

The baseline for this deal should be the deal where the Mariners got Marco Gonzales from the Cardinals for then-top prospect Tyler O’Neil. It was similar to this scenario, except Gore is a much more highly touted prospect than Gonzales was, and Gore has not made it to the big leagues yet. This deal here is the same idea, both sides just upped the ante. The Mariners get a younger, better left-handed pitcher who has had some problems, while the Padres get a young catcher.

Harry Ford is a top 100 prospect by many different publications, has him as their 98th prospect, but he was just drafted last year. The only potential snag in this deal is that Ford is very young, only 18 as a high school catcher. The upside with Ford is that he is very athletic, and could even play another position besides catcher. Some say he could be a second baseman or even an outfielder. He is a very young, very athletic, and exciting prospect.

The snag comes because the Padres are trying to win now, and Ford doesn’t really help them do that, but it gives them a very good prospect who had a strong debut season in rookie ball. The deal could be swung here because the Padres might have lost all hope in Gore, and could be looking to get whatever they can for him. The Mariners should be looking to pounce on Gore if they believe that they can turn him into something valuable.

The only other top prospect the Mariners should even consider dealing for Gore would be Emerson Hancock. The top three of Julio Rodriguez, George Kirby, and Noelvi Marte are absolutely off the table when it comes to trading for Gore. If the Padres ask for Hancock, the Mariners would have to consider the deal, but it would be really hard for the Mariners to say yes. The Mariners would be giving up on their second-best pitching prospect according to many for a huge risk.

Many would say no, don’t trade Hancock for Gore straight up. The Mariners should not hang up the phone if they are offered that deal, but they should also not say yes right away. They should only make that deal if the Mariners are 100% certain that they can turn Gore into an above average starting pitcher. If the Mariners are sure that they can do this, and they have to give up Hancock, then they should consider it, but ultimately pursue a deal with Ford instead of Hancock.

A Mix of Prospects and Win-Now Pieces Trade

This deal is a lot more complicated because the Mariners are not just sending over a top prospect in return. This deal gives the Padres a multitude of players that both help them win now and give them some prospects that are not too far from the big leagues. First, the win-now pieces are Drew Steckenrider and Jake Fraley. Steckenrider helps the Padres because they want to win a World Series next year, and a back-end bullpen piece would help them a ton.

Fraley is the least valuable piece in this deal because he is just a part-time outfielder, but the Padres only have three outfielders on their 40 man roster, so they need a quality 4th outfielder. The fits for Steckenrider and Fraley are big for the Padres because they fill genuine holes in their roster. The two prospects they get are Zach DeLoach and Brandon Williamson. The two prospects offer a safer potential than Gore right now, due to his really down 2021 season.

DeLoach is an outfielder who could impact the Padres outfield as soon as next season. That would be the target for him, and he could be a nice left handed presence in a lineup with many right handed stars in San Diego. The Padres also get a safer lefty than Gore in Williamson, who could be ready to make his debut sometime this season. He has shown some really positive signs in the minor leagues, but is ultimately probably a #3 starter at best.

The Mariners should only make any trade for Mackenzie Gore if they are absolutely certain that they can turn him into at least a good high leverage reliever some day. If Jerry Dipoto and his front office are sure that in two years, they can have Gore as a really good back end of the bullpen piece, then it would be worth at least something. Would that be worth a Harry Ford, Emerson Hancock, or a larger package? Probably not, but they would get value in return.

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If the Mariners can turn Mackenzie Gore into at least a #3 starter, then they should absolutely pull the trigger on a Harry Ford swap or a package deal. The only way the Mariners stay out of a potential deal for Mackenzie Gore is if they simply like their prospects better, and that is okay. The Mariners should certainly be intrigued by trying to acquire a potential left handed ace, who is only 22 and still could turn out. They should be calling the Padres to try to acquire the potential stud.