Mariners, Cubs Could Be Match on Trade Involving Top 2018 Draft Picks

If you clicked this expecting to see analysis of a possible blockbuster deal, let me spare you the time of reading further to be disappointed. Those of you who enjoy the machinations of offseason roster maneuvering, unearthing bounceback candidates, and finding ways to improve a team around the fringes may find the following commentary a bit more entertaining.

Speaking of which, it’s hilarious to me that this time of the year makes it nearly impossible to write anything that isn’t polarizing. Put out something on the Cubs being interested in Carlos Correa and the overwhelming response is that he’s too expensive. Cover the possibility of claiming a third baseman off waivers and everyone complains that the Cubs never spend money to move the needle.

This latest bit of speculation falls squarely in the “shrug your shoulders and move on” category for most folks, though it could make a lot of sense for two teams with complementary needs. The Cubs have a bunch of infielders and might reach the too-many stage if they indeed land a premier free agent, while the Mariners have a wealth of outfielders and are reportedly seeking more.

After already trading for Teoscar Hernández to pair with Rookie of the Year Julio Rodríguez, Seattle has reportedly checked in on Andrew Benintendi, Brandon Nimmo, and Michael Conforto. They’ve also got Jesse Winker, Taylor Trammell, and Jarred Kelenic on the roster and probably don’t want to carry six or seven outfielders. It’s the latter we’re interested in, but we’ll get to that here in just a bit.

The Cubs operated a revolving door at second base this past season, giving at least 106 innings to six different players. Three of those players — Nick Madrigal (487.1 innings), Christopher Morel (242), and Zach McKinstry (156) are still on the roster — and the Cubs have added infielder Miles Mastrobuoni in a trade with the Rays.

Signing a top shortstop would mean Nico Hoerner getting the everyday reps at second and displacing one of those aforementioned players in particular. Madrigal is the only member of that group without positional versatility and he’s also the only one with the kind of elite hit tool that could be enough to entice other teams to add him as sort of a final piece.

As we noted in regard to Patrick Wisdom prior to the trade deadline, win-now teams are often looking for a specific trait to gain an edge as they head down the stretch. Think of how many times the Cubs added a player late in the season simply because he offered elite speed that could be deployed situationally. The Mariners, who finished near the middle of the pack in strikeout and contact rates, might be interested in improving those results.

Ken Rosenthal noted that they’re in the market for a lefty-batting second baseman to platoon with Dylan Moore. Kolten Wong is mentioned specifically, but Rosenthal says the M’s could opt for a cheaper option in a trade with the Rays. Most of the free agents who fit the bill are way past their prime — this guy here is dead — which brings us back to Madrigal, who is name-checked in the MLB Trade Rumors piece on this topic.

He’s not a lefty, but maybe his hit tool is enough to make up for it. Madrigal’s actually got slightly better splits against righties and his .286 average is 82 points higher than Moore’s in those situations, plus the strikeout rate is much better.

Perhaps the Cubs and Mariners could put their heads together on a deal that would swap the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft for the man who was taken just two selections later. Kelenic was picked by the Mets out of Waukesha West High School and was traded to the Mariners as part of the Robinson Cano/Edwin Díaz deal six months later. He proceeded to destroy minor league pitching through Triple-A, but caused a stir prior to the 2021 season by speaking out against service-time manipulation.

Spurred by ill-advised comments from then-team CEO Kevin Mather about keeping top prospects down to extend their control, Kelenic said the team told him he’d have been called up in 2020 if he had signed their extension offer. The lefty-batting outfielder was eventually called up in May of ’21 and hit a very disappointing .181 with a 74 wRC+ in 93 games, though he did blast 14 homers. Things got even worse in ’22, when Kelenic batted .141 with a 55 wRC+ and seven dingers in 54 games.

There may be players with better change-of-scenery potential, but this dude has got to be close to the top of the list. Between the acrimony with the front office and the strong possibility of being left without a regular gig, if he even gets a spot on the active roster, Kelenic’s time with the Mariners may be running short. Jerry DiPoto probably isn’t looking to give players away for free, but he’s a deal-maker who could see a swap with the Cubs as a way to make necessary improvements to his team.

And hey, maybe one of Mastrobuoni or McKinstry makes more sense in addition to being alliterative. They certainly fit the left-handed hitter bill.

The Cubs would get a left-handed bat with 60-grade raw power and an outfielder who can play all three spots while still earning a minimal amount under his rookie deal. Kelenic also has an option remaining, so he can be stashed in the minors if his offense doesn’t come around. If it doesn’t, well, there’s very little investment in terms of either time or money and the Cubs could walk away after next year.

I’d put the likelihood of this deal happening at just a little higher than that of the Cubs landing both Correa and an ace pitcher, so this is more of a thought exercise than anything. And hey, maybe Jed Hoyer will read it and think it’s such a tremendous idea that he’ll get DiPoto on the horn immediately.

With that in mind, I’m interested in hearing from our audience when it comes to deals like this you’d like to see made. Any thoughts on fringe players who could be swapped in mutually-beneficial trades? We’ve got little else to do while we wait on the Winter Meetings Fairy to bring us gifts of free agent signings, so have at it.

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