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Out of Right Field: A look toward the trade deadline as losses start to pile up

May 5, 2019

This season for the Seattle Mariners was never really about this season. The “step-back year,” as general manager Jerry Dipoto called it over the offseason, is about evaluating young talent and acquiring more as the season goes along in an effort to build the next great M’s team.

But then, the great start happened, and folks got all fired up. Hope is a dangerous thing.

The Mariners were 13-2, then swept by the Astros and Indians in a six-game homestand. They bounced back briefly, but have lost six in a row and nine of their last 11. That’s not a slump, it’s a collapse.

Add in Sunday’s game at Cleveland, which the M’s are 0-5 against this season, and seven games against the Yankees and Red Sox over the next week, and the Mariners could very well have a losing record to set up a battle of the basement against Oakland in their short two-game series on May 13-14.

The team is on an historic pace for errors and the pitching is showing the cracks many predicted at the start of the season. The M’s will continue to slug with teams, but it’s hardly likely the playoff drought will end after 18 seasons.

We’re still weeks away from Memorial Day and we could already start talking about which pieces Dipoto might be tempted to sell off as we head toward summer and, eventually, the trade deadline at the end of July.

Let’s look ahead toward candidates who may be siphoned off, how likely they get moved (expected/possible/unlikely) and what M’s fans might expect the return to be (high/moderate/low).

Edwin Encarnacion: Expected/moderate

Encarnacion is part of the M’s five-headed designated hitter situation, along with Dan Vogelbach, Jay Bruce, Ryon Healy and Domingo Santana, all of whom really shouldn’t have to be forced to wear a glove between the lines.

Encarnacion is hitting .234/.372/.486 with nine homers and 21 RBIs, but he’s severely limited on defense and anchored to first base. He’s -30 runs below average per 135 games – at first base – according to Baseball-Reference.com.

An AL team starving for offense could tempt Dipoto with a couple of C-level prospects for the 36-year-old slugger, but temper your expectations on the long-term viability on any return.

Jay Bruce: Expected/low

Bruce brings multiposition flexibility, at least, playing right field and first base, but is certainly not a Gold Glove candidate at either.

He’s mashing home runs, leading the team with 10, but that’s all he’s doing. The homers represent 55.5 percent of his hits, and his slash line (182/.261/.525) reflects it.

The 32-year-old has always sacrificed on-base skills for power, but now that he’s in full decline the problem is exacerbated. If Dipoto could nab an organizational arm for Bruce it would be a win.

Domingo Santana: Possible/moderate

The 6-foot-5, 225-pounder is an outfielder in name only, really, but he’s willing. Noticing a pattern? He’s already flat-out dropped two fly balls this year in left.

At just 26, he’s a guy the M’s would probably like to show well over the summer to attract a suitor, as he’s just one season removed from a 30-homer year and a .278/.371/.505 slash line. Or, in the alternative, be a piece for next year if they could re-sign him cheaply.

So far he’s hitting .275/.340/.457 – pretty good, but not enough to form a queue for him.

Mitch Haniger: Possible/???

Here’s the wild card.

If the 2018 All-Star was performing at that level again this season, the 28-year-old would command the biggest return of just about any piece Dipoto could put up. Problem is, he’s not. He leads the AL in runs, but is slashing just .237/.320/496.

If Haniger, who is still arbitration-eligible, were to catch fire through June and July, he could probably return a couple of B-level prospects, or maybe even a near MLB-ready arm like Justus Sheffield – the main component in the James Paxton deal with the Yankees. That is, if Dipoto is inclined to trade that valuable an asset.

Others

Really, none of the players on the active roster is nailed down. Healy, Dee Gordon, Omar Narvaez and even Vogelbach could be had for the right price. I don’t think Dipoto sees any hitter on the roster as an integral part of the M’s when they are ready to be competitive.

On the pitching side Marco Gonzales, and maybe Roenis Elias, are the only realistic arms that could bring a return worth trading. I think Gonzales’ contract (two years, $1.9M through next year) and his local ties make him more valuable to the Mariners than most other teams.

What about Felix?

Don’t hold your breath.