LAS VEGAS – Just when it seemed as though the Winter Meetings might conclude quietly, Seattle, Tampa and Cleveland combined on an intriguing three-team trade that likely foreshadows even more activity around baseball.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised the ever-active Jerry Dipoto found a way to overshadow the Rule 5 draft Thursday morning. After all, it had been a full 10 days since he had made a trade.
He made this one from a hospital bed in Las Vegas, apparently fist-bumping nurses after completing the deal (a blood clot was discovered in Dipoto’s lung, but he’s expected to be released from hospital Thursday).
The trade centres around the exchange of two veteran first basemen on near-identical three-year, $60-million deals as Edwin Encarnacion goes from Cleveland to Seattle in exchange for Carlos Santana. But this being the Mariners, the trade gets more complex.
Cleveland also acquires first baseman Jake Bauers from the Rays, who get third base prospect Yandy Diaz and right-handed pitcher Cole Sulser in return. In addition to the players, there’s cash changing hands with a reported $5 million going from Tampa to Seattle and $6 million going from Seattle to Cleveland. Lastly, Seattle acquires the 77th overall pick in next year’s draft from Cleveland.
Got it? If not, don’t worry. You’re in the company of the many MLB executives who were still making sense of this trade as they filtered out of the Rule 5 Draft and made their way to the airport.
On the field, Cleveland obtains Santana, a productive if unspectacular first baseman they know better than anyone. He takes the place of Encarnacion at first base while Bauers, who hit 11 homers with a .700 OPS as a rookie this year, offers depth in the outfield or at first.
Then there’s the financial side of the trade. Cleveland gets money back in the deal, presumably a motivating factor for a franchise that has been looking to shed payroll. Santana’s under contract for one more year than Encarnacion, so Cleveland does take on more term while the Mariners get out from under Santana’s commitment in the latest move of their rebuild.
Even after moving Bauers, the Rays have left-handed hitting first base options including Ji-Man Choi and prospect Nathaniel Lowe, so the trade doesn’t deplete their major-league depth too badly. Plus, the prospects Tampa obtains from Cleveland are intriguing.
The 27-year-old Diaz posted a .797 OPS in 120 big-league plate appearances this year and has a .311 average with more walks than strikeouts in five minor-league seasons. Sulser, the other prospect going to Tampa, struck out 95 hitters in 60.2 innings in the upper minors last year, an indication that he could soon join the Rays’ stable of effective but unheralded relievers.
A lot of moving pieces, right? And yet in some ways this is just the beginning.
Cleveland might flip Yonder Alonso now that Bauers and Santana are in place. The Rays could still add a big bat such as Nelson Cruz, even after spending $30 million to land starter Charlie Morton.
As for Seattle, you know Dipoto’s not done dealing. Some in the industry expect the Mariners will now flip Encarnacion, potentially to Houston or another contender seeking offence.
When Seattle’s involved, the only certainty is more activity.