Mariners Draft, Develop, Trade philosophy is a good thing

Curtis Christianson
Alika Jenner/GettyImages
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Some fans have been upset about Seattle Mariners President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto saying that he wants the team to be focused on being an organization that drafts, develops, and trades at a high level. These are all key aspects of a successful Baseball Operations department, and skipping over those to overspend on free agents is not the way to build an organization that wins consistently at the big league level.

This offseason, fans wanted Dipoto and co. to throw hundreds of millions of dollars at one of the four free-agent shortstops. Would signing one of those players improve the Mariners in 2023 and beyond? Yes, their roster would be better if they signed one of those players. However, history has shown that even if talented players perform well in the first half of a ten-year contract, it is not going to work out in the long run.

Three players who signed very lengthy contracts in the last decade and are now well past their prime and did not live up to their contracts are Robinson Cano, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera. Cano is going into the last year of his ten-year, $240 million contract. The Mets are still on the hook for that, even though he is 40 years old and not on an MLB roster. Cano did have two great years for the Mariners at ages 31 and 33, but since he got suspended for PEDs at age 35 he has not been the same.

Pujols and Cabrera have similar stories as well. From age 36-41, Pujols only had one year where he had a positive WAR, and since age 34, Cabrera has been worth -2.2 WAR. All three of these players did not live up to their contracts, and it is hard to believe that a similar group of players will do the same. Paying players once they have reached free agency for all of their 30s and into their 40s is not a way to build a consistent winning ball club. Drafting, Developing, and trading are extremely important ways to build a winning organization.

Drafting

The draft is important to building a winning team because teams will never be able to go out and fill all of their holes via free agency. Being able to promote players from within your organization is vital because rookies and players throughout their first few years in the big leagues have the most value. The Mariners only had to pay Logan Gilbert the MLB minimum salary of $700,000 in 2022. His performance far outweighed the cost the Mariners paid for him, giving them great value.

This is not the Mariners being cheap either. Young players also have the best chance to break out and have better seasons than they will later in their careers. Looking at all of the three players who are now 40 years of age or older, they all had their best season by Fangraphs WAR before their age 30 seasons. That is nothing new, and players in their 20s are better than those in their 30s.

Drafting quality players not only gives you players to supplement your Major League Roster, but you need to use the players you draft to make trades. If a team drafts players that do not have much value, then a team will not be able to trade those players for current big leaguers that they want. Brandon Williamson, Edwin Arroyo, and others did not get promoted to the Mariners, but they were key pieces of trades to land impactful players for the Mariners.

Another part of this is signing international free agents, which is important because those players come up through the system just like drafted players would. Those players would have the same value as prospects because they could either make their way to the big leagues or be traded for current big league assets.

Player Development

Player Development is extremely important to a winning organization because teams that get the most out of their players are the ones that can find the hidden gems, or turn a good player into a great one.

The Mariners have proved to be an organization with an eye for pitching traits that they can maximize. They looked at Paul Sewald and loved his slider, but made the change to throw his fastball at the top of the zone rather than the bottom, and he was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2021. They have been able to do similar things with many other pitchers like Drew Steckenrider, Matt Festa, Penn Murfee, Matt Brash, and many more.

It is not only important to be able to turn no-name players into contributors, but it is also important to develop your most talented prospects and help them reach their highest potential. The Mariners have done that with first-round picks Logan Gilbert and George Kirby. Both look like they are going to be mid-rotation or better starters, and the change that both have had since being drafted by Seattle proves the Mariners can develop pitching.

Kirby went from a command over stuff pitcher to having plus command and now plus stuff. He added velocity and movement to his pitches. Gilbert also gained velocity from his first year in the majors to his second, and he looked to be sharper in 2022 than in 2021. Both have bright futures and have the ability to grow even more, and the M's development will hopefully help them along the way.

Getting highly drafted players to reach their highest potential is vital to a team's success because there has to be star players developed for a team to win a World Series. The Astros have many homegrown stars including Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Jeremy Pena. The Braves had Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna, and Austin Riley. Teams have players that break out to reach the height of their potential, and the Mariners hopefully have some of those types of players now.

Trading

Making trades is a vital way to improve an organization because making trades allows a front office to augment their big league roster, or to trade big leaguers for prospects who a team believes will help be a part of their next competitive window. The possibilities are limitless when it comes to trades because you can improve your organization is tons of different creative ways.

Many describe Jerry Dipoto as "Trader Jerry" due to the sheer amount of trades he has made. Sure some have not worked out, like trading Chris Taylor to the Dodgers. However, he has also made many that have worked out, including getting Andres Muñoz, Ty France, and Taylor Trammell from the Padres. He also unloaded Robinson Cano's contract, and even if Jarred Kelenic doesn't turn into a superstar, dumping that contract was such a big move for the franchise by itself.

Making trades gives teams lots of flexibility because they can acquire players who are in the prime of their careers. In free agency, teams end up paying more for past performance than what they will do in the future, so acquiring players who are under contract for the years that they are more likely to produce at a high level is a smart move in the long run.

If you compare Brandon Nimmo and Bryan Reynolds, both are similar in the position they play and the value they offer. Nimmo just signed an eight-year contract that will be for his age 30-38 seasons, and Reynolds is under club control from his age 28-31 seasons. Based on his age alone, Reynolds has the edge on Nimmo and would be more likely to have a better season. Reynolds would also not come with a $20 million salary for the same three-year period, or have to be paid that same rate until he is 38.

Reynolds has accumulated 12.5 WAR in four seasons, and Nimmo has 17.9 in 7 seasons. So both are similar players in terms of their WAR according to Fangraphs but based on the historical examples of Pujols, Cano, and Cabrera paying players past their age 35 season is not a great idea.

Not only can you trade for players on cheaper contracts and who are in their 20s, but teams can also identify players that they believe will be great fits for their clubhouse chemistry and their on-field fit as well. A team that I believe the Mariners should try to be like is the St. Louis Cardinals. They always draft and develop well, but also have made some key trades in the last five years to bring in veteran players who are now cornerstones of that organization.

The Cardinals acquired both Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt after their age-30 seasons, and both have been key contributors to that organization. This season, Arenado had his best season by Fangraphs WAR of his career, and Goldschmidt had his second best by only 0.1 WAR. So trading for players doesn't always have to be getting a 27-year-old like Reynolds, you can get players who you know will produce.

The Mariners got Eugenio Suarez from the Cincinnati Reds last offseason, and he had one of his best seasons at age 30. Making trades allows teams the ability to go out and get a player to fill a hole that they otherwise would not be able to fill. No, trades don't always work out, but if the Mariners continue to make trades with the philosophy of acquiring the right types of players who fill holes on their roster, then they will continue to be successful.

All three of these ideas, drafting, developing, and trading, complete a circle of winning within an organization because young players get drafted, develop in the minor leagues, and can either be promoted to the Major Leagues or be traded to acquire a big leaguer who will help the big league club. It creates a machine that is constantly churning out players for the big league team, or players to be traded to help the big league team.

By building this type of machine, the Mariners will continue to be successful for years to come. After having a 20-year playoff drought, I would love to see the Mariners have a 20-year playoff appearance streak. By having a winning machine, built on the foundation of drafting players, developing them for the big leagues, or by trading them for players who will help the Mariners win, they will be set up very well for that to be a reality in Seattle.

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