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Mariners Acquire Jorge Polanco

The Mariners and Twins have lined up on one of the bigger trades of the offseason. Seattle announced the acquisition of second baseman Jorge Polanco for four players: reliever Justin Topa, starter Anthony DeSclafani and prospects Gabriel Gonzalez and Darren Bowen, as well as cash considerations. The Mariners are reportedly including $8MM to cover two-thirds of DeSclafani’s $12MM salary for the upcoming campaign.

Seattle and Minnesota have long seemed an on-paper fit for this kind of move. The M’s didn’t get much out of their second basemen last season. Opening Day starter Kolten Wong was released midway through the year. Landing Josh Rojas in the deadline deal that sent Paul Sewald to the D-Backs helped to an extent, but the position still seemed a weakness entering the offseason.

The M’s further thinned the infield with a trade sending third baseman Eugenio Suárez to Arizona. Seattle brought in non-tender candidate Luis Urías in a deal with the Red Sox to add a contact-oriented hitter to the mix. While Rojas and Urías could split time between second and third base, it’d have been risky to count on both players as regulars.

As a result, Seattle lands one of the top offensive middle infielders on the trade market. The switch-hitting Polanco has posted above-average numbers at the plate in four of the past five seasons. Since the start of the 2019 campaign, he owns a .267/.337/.458 slash in nearly 2400 plate appearances. Knee and hamstring issues bothered him early last season, but he hit at a typically solid level when healthy. Polanco connected on 14 homers over 80 games, running a .255/.335/.454 line through 343 trips to the dish.

That steady production made it an easy call for the Twins to exercise a $10.5MM option on his contract. That’s a below-market price for a quality regular. Yet even with Minnesota triggering the option, there was a general belief that he could find himself on the move this offseason. The Twins have an enviable collection of infield talent that already threatened to bump the 30-year-old Polanco from his natural position.

While Polanco was on the injured list, 24-year-old Edouard Julien mashed his way to the second base job. He hit .263/.381/.459 as a rookie to secure a spot atop Rocco Baldelli’s lineup. The Twins gave Polanco 103 innings at third base once he returned, his first action at the hot corner since 2016. With former first overall pick Royce Lewis emerging as a star down the stretch and into the postseason, that wouldn’t have been an avenue to regular playing time moving forward.

Minnesota could have used Polanco at second base while deploying Julien at designated hitter. That would have limited their flexibility to cycle other players through the DH spot while potentially pigeon-holing one of Minnesota’s more talented young hitters to a bat-only role. Polanco had some experience at shortstop early in his career, but he moved off the position because of defensive shortcomings and clearly wasn’t going to start over Carlos Correa. Minnesota also tendered arbitration contracts to utility infielders Kyle Farmer and Nick Gordon. José Miranda remains on hand as an option at the corners, while former #8 overall pick Brooks Lee could make his MLB debut in 2024.

It surely wasn’t an easy call for the front office to move on from one of their longest-tenured players. Polanco had been in the organization since signing as a 16-year-old back in 2009. He reached the big leagues before his 21st birthday and established himself as a regular by 2016. Polanco earned an All-Star nod and down-ballot MVP votes in ’19 and played a key role on four playoff teams.

The amount of infield depth nevertheless made a trade a distinct possibility. Minnesota’s pitching staff took a hit with free agent departures of Sonny GrayKenta Maeda and Tyler Mahle. The Twins had done very little to balance the roster, citing payroll constraints related to their expiring local broadcasting contract. Minnesota was willing to field offers on their infield surplus, although president of baseball operations Derek Falvey made clear they’d seek MLB help as part of that return.

Seattle was open to parting with both a pair of big league arms and at least one of their top minor league talents to get the deal done. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times writes that the M’s plan to use Polanco as their primary second baseman. That could leave the lefty-hitting Rojas and the right-handed swinging Urías to share time at third base. The M’s could keep Polanco at the keystone for two years. They’ll take on this year’s $10.5MM salary and hold a $12MM option for 2025 that comes with a $750K buyout. If Polanco performs at the level the Mariners envision, they’d likely exercise that option.

The Mariners relinquish some of their pitching depth to make that happen. Topa has less name value of the two MLB players headed to Minneapolis, but he’s the more appealing trade asset. The right-hander was a key part of another excellent Seattle bullpen a year ago. Acquired from the Brewers for a minor league outfielder in what seemed an insignificant trade last winter, the righty put together a career year.

Topa, who had 17 career MLB appearances going into the season, pitched 75 times for the M’s a year ago. He worked to a 2.61 ERA across 69 innings. Topa’s 21.9% strikeout rate was a little below average, but he did an excellent job keeping the ball on the ground. Working with a 95 MPH sinker and a pair of breaking pitches in his cutter and slider, he induced worm-burners at a very strong 56.7% clip. His production increasingly earned the trust of manager Scott Servais. By year’s end, he’d picked up 23 holds and a trio of saves.

If Topa can maintain that kind of production, he’d be an asset for the Minnesota relief corps. There’s a fair bit of risk with the 6’4″ hurler. Topa will turn 33 before Opening Day and has a lengthy injury history. He had undergone two Tommy John procedures and a flexor tendon surgery during his time in Milwaukee, a major reason he hadn’t logged extended MLB action until last year.

He accrued a decent chunk of service time while on the injured list and surpassed the three-year mark a year ago. Seattle and Topa agreed to a $1.25MM salary to avoid arbitration. He’ll go through that process twice more and won’t reach free agency until after the 2026 campaign. Topa still has a pair of minor league options, so the Twins could send him to Triple-A if he struggles unexpectedly.

DeSclafani spent less than a month as a member of the Mariners. Seattle acquired the righty alongside Mitch Haniger in the trade sending Robbie Ray to the Giants just after the New Year. His inclusion in both trades is motivated in large part by finances.

The 33-year-old (34 in April) is set to make $12MM in the final season of a three-year free agent deal he inked with San Francisco. The Giants are paying half of that, sending $6MM to Seattle as part of the Ray trade. Seattle is moving that $6MM to Minnesota and including an additional $2MM. The Twins are responsible for the final $4MM on the deal.

It has been a tough couple years for DeScalfani, who was limited to five starts in 2022 before undergoing season-ending ankle surgery. Injures were again an issue last year. This time, a flexor strain in his throwing elbow ended his season in late July.

Before the arm injury, he had pitched 19 times and logged 99 2/3 innings. The nine-year veteran worked to a 4.88 ERA with a below-average 18.9% strikeout percentage. He walked fewer than 5% of opponents but he’s lost a few points off his strikeout and ground-ball numbers since his excellent 2021 campaign, when he posted a 3.17 ERA over 31 starts.

The Mariners were set to use DeSclafani in a long relief capacity. Minnesota could afford him a chance to battle for the #5 spot in the season-opening rotation. The Twins have Pablo LópezJoe RyanBailey Ober and Chris Paddack in the top four spots. DeSclafani and right-hander Louie Varland are the top options for the final rotation job. Whichever of those two starts the season in long relief could move into the rotation as injuries necessitate.

Gonzalez, who turned 20 this month, isn’t going to contribute at the MLB level anytime soon. He’s nevertheless arguably the headliner of the deal from Minnesota’s perspective. The right-handed hitting outfielder signed with Seattle for $1.3MM out of Venezuela during the 2021-22 international period. Baseball America recently ranked him the #5 prospect in the M’s system, while MLB Pipeline has him as the game’s #79 overall minor league talent.

Evaluators praise Gonzalez’s natural bat-to-ball skills. Those were on display in Low-A, where he hit .348/.403/.530 with a modest 13.7% strikeout rate in 335 plate appearances last year. However, Baseball America notes that Gonzalez has an extremely aggressive offensive approach that was exposed when he was promoted to High-A midseason. He struggled to a .215/.290/.387 slash while fanning at a 21.5% clip in 200 plate appearances at that level. Gonzalez walked in fewer than 7% of his plate appearances at both stops. As a below-average athlete who projects as a corner outfielder, he’ll need to improve his plate discipline to reach his potential.

Bowen, 22, was a 13th-round draftee in the 2022 draft. A product of UNC-Pembroke, he worked to a 3.88 ERA through 55 2/3 innings at Low-A in his first pro season. The 6’3″ right-hander ranked as Seattle’s #25 prospect at BA. The outlet credits him with low-mid 90s velocity and a potential above-average breaking pitch. Bowen draws praise for his athleticism but presently has below-average control, evidenced by a 10.9% walk rate in the minors.

Taking on Polanco’s contract will push Seattle’s payroll commitments into the $135MM range, as calculated by Roster Resource, depending on how much of the DeSclafani contract they’re retaining. They opened last season around $137MM. President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto indicated early in the winter that Seattle expected to top last season’s spending and they’re now right near that mark. Minnesota’s payroll estimate drops to roughly $119MM, leaving them some flexibility to supplement the roster over the next few weeks.

Mark Feinsand of MLB.com first reported the sides were finalizing a trade sending Polanco to Seattle. Jeff Passan of ESPN confirmed an agreement was in place. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported the Twins were acquiring four players, two of whom were big leaguers. Robert Murray of FanSided reported Topa’s inclusion, while Dan Hayes of the Athletic had DeSclafani’s and Gonzalez’s involvement. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel reported the Twins were receiving Bowen and the presence of cash considerations, which Rosenthal specified were coming from Seattle’s end. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reported the Mariners were paying upwards of $6MM in cash considerations. Hayes and Rosenthal specified the M’s were including $8MM in cash considerations.

Images courtesy of USA Today Sports.


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