Mariners Trades: 54% of the Time They Work Every Time

In my last article for BTV, I analyzed this offseason’s trades by Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves, focusing on their overall approach of “purchasing” field value at the expense of salary (and surplus value). 

Now let’s look at this offseason’s trades by the Mariners, which follow a different methodology.

The latest controversy surrounding Seattle’s President of Baseball Operations Jerry Dipoto has to do with comments he made this past December in response to catcher Cal Raleigh, who called for more investment in the team. In an attempt to answer for Seattle’s unwillingness to add to the 2024 roster, Dipoto said:

“If what you’re doing is focusing year to year on, ‘What do we have to do to win the World Series this year?’ You might be one of the teams that’s lying in the mud and can’t get up for another decade. 

“So, we’re actually doing the fan base a favor in asking for their patience to win the World Series, while we continue to build a sustainably good roster. If you go back and look in a decade, those teams that win 54% of the time always wind up in the postseason, and they more often than not wind up in the World Series. 

“So, there’s your bigger-picture process. Nobody wants to hear the goal this year is, ‘We’re going to win 54% of the time.’ Because sometimes 54% is — one year, you’re going to win 60%, another year you’re going to win 50%. It’s whatever it is. But over time, that type of mindset gets you there.”

Those comments were not appreciated by a Mariners fan base that has watched its team make the playoffs just once in 22 seasons, but they offer a window into the way Dipoto aims to run the team. 


Payroll approach

According to Cot’s Contracts, the Mariners' payrolls have plummeted in the league rankings in recent years. After signing Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract in December of 2013, their payrolls climbed to just outside the top 10 in each year from 2015 to 2019. 

Those rosters produced a total of zero playoff appearances over that stretch, averaging 82.25 wins per regular season. Dipoto inherited those high-payroll rosters when he took over the job in September 2015 and maintained them until the Covid season in 2020, when the Mariners’ Opening Day payroll dropped to 23rd. 

Their payroll remained in the bottom third of the league until 2023, when it ranked 18th. They won 90 games in both 2021 and 2022 (when they made their lone playoff appearance), and 88 games in 2023.

It’s clear that over the past three seasons, the Mariners have been getting more bang for their buck, and the series of trades they’ve made continue to signal this as their priority. 


Offseason trades

In November, Dipoto completed two trades, the first sending reliever Isaiah Campbell ($1.9M surplus value) to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for infielder Luis Urias ($1.2M surplus value). 

The second deal, made just a few days later, sent third baseman Eugenio Suarez ($8.2M) to the Arizona Diamondbacks for reliever Carlos Vargas ($1.4M) and catcher Seby Zavala ($0.5M). 

The Mariners lost surplus value in these trades but replaced their $11 million commitment to Suarez at third base with a $5 million commitment to Urias. By acquiring Zavala, they were able to let backup catcher Tom Murphy walk, replacing the $8 million guarantee over two seasons he received from the Giants with a pre-arb player. In the process, they swapped a couple of controllable right-handed relievers for each other, although Vargas likely projects to contribute more at the big-league level than Campbell does in 2024.

Their next trade was a pure salary dump. By including young outfielder Jarred Kelenic ($19.4M) and $4.5M cash in the deal, the Mariners were able to offload the contracts of left-handed pitcher Marco Gonzales (-$8.8M) and first baseman Evan White (-$13.6M). In exchange, they received a pair of young pitchers, Jackson Kowar ($0.0M) and Cole Phillips ($3.2M). 

Kelenic, the prized acquisition from the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz trade, had yet to live up to the high expectations the Mariners and their fan base placed on him. He showed some promise in the early part of the 2023 season, but in the midst of an extended slump in July, he fractured his foot kicking a water cooler out of frustration. 

Though they’ll miss out on the opportunity to see if Kelenic can ever recapture his early season form over a larger sample, it was hardly a guarantee that he would do so in Seattle. The chance to relieve themselves of the $29.2 million owed to Gonzales and White proved to be worth more than that opportunity to the Mariners, and so Kelenic will get a new start in Atlanta.

At this point, the M’s had succeeded in cutting costs but lost two key offensive contributors in the process. The often up-and-down Suarez mustered a wRC+ of just 102 in 2023, but he was just one season removed from a year in which he posted a 130 wRC+ with 31 home runs, despite Seattle’s difficult home park. 

Kelenic’s 108 wRC+ in 2023 was nothing to write home about either, but his 169 wRC+ in April showed he still has potential. Backup catcher Murphy also produced a 140 wRC+ in 47 games played in 2023, which shouldn’t be overlooked. 

In return, the Mariners added only Urias, who managed just an 83 wRC+ in his 52 games played, and Zavala, who had an even worse showing at the plate with just a 45 wRC+ in 73 games played, to their offensive mix. 

The Mariners were also showing minimal interest in retaining outfielder Teoscar Hernandez (105 wRC+), who eventually signed a one-year, $23 million deal with the Dodgers in free agency. M’s fans were right to wonder where the offensive production on their team would come from.



On Christmas Day, the Mariners signed DH/catcher Mitch Garver (138 wRC+ in 87 games played) away from the division rival Texas Rangers on a 2-year, $24 million pact. 

More reinforcements came just over a week later with another pair of trades, acquiring old friend Mitch Haniger (-$29.7M), starter Anthony DeSclafani (-$1.1M), and $6M in cash from the Giants for starting pitcher Robbie Ray (-$43.2M) in one, and Luke Raley from the Rays for infielder Jose Caballero ($4.8M) in the other. 

The headline of the first trade was the swap of the remaining 3 years and $73M on Ray’s contract for the remaining 2 years and $33M on Haniger’s. Both players have opt-outs after 2024, but neither is considered likely to exercise them thanks to their respective injury concerns. 

Ray is expected to miss most of the 2024 season following Tommy John surgery, making it unlikely he’ll establish enough value in his platform year to garner more on the open market. A variety of injuries have plagued Haniger over the years, as the Mariners are well aware. He was only able to play 61 games in his lone season with the Giants, accruing just a 73 wRC+, the lowest mark of his career. He posted a 120 wRC+ for Seattle in his last healthy season, however, so the Mariners are hopeful he can regain some of that production in his return to town. 

With the rotation being a significant strength for the Mariners even without Ray, they would much rather spend that money rolling the dice on a return to form for Haniger. 

In the second deal, the Mariners upgraded their lineup again by dealing the defense-first Caballero for the offense-first Raley. Raley posted a 130 wRC+ for the Rays last season, and as a left-handed hitting outfielder with five years of control makes a great, affordable replacement for Kelenic.

Just before Spring Training, the Mariners made another flurry of trades for us to analyze. 

The first was a deal with the Twins, acquiring infielder Jorge Polanco ($9.4M) for reliever Justin Topa ($7M), recently acquired starter Anthony DeSclafani ($-1.1M), prospects Gabriel Gonzalez ($11M) and Darren Bowen ($0.4M), and $8M in cash. 

In the second, they acquired reliever Gregory Santos ($7.8M) for two minor leaguers, relief pitcher Prelander Berroa ($3.3M) and outfielder Zack DeLoach ($4.5M), and the #69 overall pick in the upcoming draft ($2M). 

In Polanco, the Mariners acquired another bat for their previously depleted lineup and a more potent replacement for the infielders they parted with earlier. Polanco put up a 118 wRC+ in 2023 but, like Haniger, has struggled with injuries in recent years. He played just 103 and 80 games respectively in his last two seasons, resulting from injuries to his knee and hamstring.

In Santos, the M’s acquired a replacement for Topa, the reliever they lost in the Polanco trade.


Field value vs. surplus value

Based on our modeling at BTV, we can demonstrate numerically how differing strategies and financial situations can impact each team’s trade philosophies, and then validate how a trade or group of trades accomplishes the team’s goals within that framework.

In the Braves’ series of trades, an emphasis was put on field value rather than surplus value. In their position, both financially and competitively, the Braves could afford to make trades that were “lost” by our model but added to their big-league club. 

In the case of the Mariners, the initial emphasis was on surplus value, trying to maximize their team’s production per dollar spent on payroll. So how did that net out?

Let’s look at how all of these trades fit into our model in the aggregate:

In           Out        
Player Years AFV Salary Surplus   Player Years AFV Salary Surplus
Luis Urias 2 13 11.8 1.2   Isaiah Campbell 6 5.8 3.9 1.9
Carlos Vargas 5 8.6 7.2 1.4   Eugenio Suarez 2 34.5 26.3 8.2
Seby Zavala 4 2.9 2.4 0.5   Jarred Kelenic 5 36.4 17 19.4
Jackson Kowar 5 0 0 0   Marco Gonzales 1 3.4 12.2 -8.8
Cole Phillips       3.2   Evan White 2 3.4 17 -13.6
Mitch Haniger 2 5.8 35.5 -29.7   Cash to Braves     -4.5 4.5
Anthony DeSclafani 1 10.9 12 -1.1   Robbie Ray 3 29.8 73 -43.2
Cash from Giants     -6 6   Jose Caballero 6 15.3 10.5 4.8
Luke Raley 5 21.4 11.3 10.1   Gabriel Gonzalez       11
Jorge Polanco 2 31.9 22.5 9.4   Justin Topa 3 14.5 7.5 7
Gregory Santos 5 25 17.1 7.8   Darren Bowen       0.4
            Anthony DeSclafani 1 10.9 12 -1.1
  Totals 119.5 113.8 8.8   Cash to Twins     -8 8
            Zack DeLoach       4.5
            Prelander Berroa 6 7.2 3.9 3.3
            Comp B Pick       2
              Totals 161.2 170.8 8.3
              Net -41.7 -57 0.5


You can see that the Mariners come in at an overall net of $0.5M in total surplus value from the seven trades. 

It’s actually pretty impressive that these trades match up so closely by that measure. In effect, Dipoto improved his 2024 team while essentially breaking even in surplus value.

The totals also show that the Mariners shed $57 million in salary via trade this offseason. You can make the argument that by swapping Ray (who is replaceable in Seattle and unable to contribute fully in 2024) for offense, the M’s improved their position more than the net loss in field value suggests. 

It’s also noteworthy that the Mariners can part ways with both Urias and Polanco at the end of the season to clear future payroll if those players underperform. Urias is still in arbitration and can be non-tendered, and Polanco has a club option for 2025, though the same could have been said for Suarez’s 2025 club option.

Overall, I think it’s fair to call this sequence of trades a reallocation of resources in the short term. In the longer term, they were able to rid themselves of a potential $25M commitment to Ray in 2026 which, again, given their young depth in the rotation, makes for a good piece of business. 

With star center fielder Julio Rodriguez’s hefty extension increasing in financial value next season, and young star pitchers like George Kirby and Logan Gilbert only getting more expensive as they reach arbitration, these savings could go a long way toward keeping the core members of the team in Seattle for years to come. If that is the outcome, all of the effort will be worth it in Dipoto’s eyes. At least, of course, if they continue to win 54% of their games.


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Thanks for this breakdown. It's helpful to see how all of those moving pieces balance out. As an Ms fan, it still feels like a shrug of an off-season. We were hoping for added value for 2024, not 2026. I get the need for small market teams to be smart about their long-term outlook... but are we really that small? Idk. Headed into the off-season, I felt like Garver was the best bat we could realistically add, so I am excited to see that part. The rest... sure. Shuffling expensive deck chairs.