March 23, 2023
The Athletic

Breaking the Ice: What a deal between the Jays and Mariners might look like

The last time we saw the Mariners and Blue Jays, it was on October 8 at Rogers Center where Seattle scored a madness and eliminated Toronto from the American League Wild Card Series.

The Mariners, down 8-1 after five innings, rallied to a 10-9 win that stunned a sell-out crowd and sent Seattle into the AL Division Series against the Astros.

But that was last month. Now the calendar has shifted and the focus for both teams is firmly on 2023, not 2022.

No hard feelings right?

With that in mind, how about we 1977 expansion friends get together to finalize a deal to officially open a very interesting off-season for both clubs?

For all their success in 2022, the Mariners and Blue Jays have had their share of warts. There is no such thing as a perfect team. Every team has a to-do list that needs to be done, and this is where we offer our help.

Our esteemed Blue Jays writer Kaitlyn McGrath and I put our heads together to dream up a deal that works for both clubs.

Dear readers: Please read this again. this is that First Moving of the winter we propose. It’s not her only Movement.

So, without further ado, here’s the deal we’re proposing, with some context in terms of what each team is looking for this winter and why this particular deal might work. – Corey Brock

The deal

The Mariners trade right-handed pitchers Chris Flexen and Penn Murfee to the Jays for second baseman Santiago Espinal and right-handed pitcher Alejandro Melean.

Why would Seattle do this?

I think it’s perfectly clear what the Mariners need most this offseason: offense and more of it.

You haven’t forgotten the 18 innings scoreless in the ALDS vs. Astros deciding game, have you?

OK, so that might be a little unfair (the Astros have been very good), but the point is clear: If the Mariners hope to win 90 games for a third straight season — feels weird to say that — they will need more offensive power.

The good news is that there are more than a few ways they can achieve that goal this winter, and we’ll go into more detail as we delve deeper into the off-season.

For now, adding Espinal is a very good place to start. — Brock

Why would Toronto do this?

One of the roster gaps the Blue Jays need to fill is the mid-rotation job previously occupied by Ross Stripling, who stepped in to replace Hyun Jin Ryu in June and became one of the team’s most consistent starters. Stripling is now a free agent and the timing couldn’t be better for him after a season that included numerous career highlights.

The Blue Jays could decide to bring him back but in the pitching market he stands out for many clubs. Toronto can be outbid. To fill out their starting rotation, they may be able to go the trade route instead, using their surplus of positional players.

The Blue Jays also need more help with their bullpen. Obviously, the last memory of Toronto’s bullpen against the Mariners wasn’t great, but it’s fair to say they’ve been fine for most of the year, with their ERA right in the middle of the pack in the AL. But good isn’t good enough – especially when a team like the Blue Jays has championship aspirations. – Kaitlyn McGrath

Why it works for the Mariners

Let’s face it: The Mariners have a type.

They talk over and over again about the virtues of controlling or dominating the attacking zone, and honestly they’re not wrong about it. Offensively, this means more walks, fewer strikeouts. They like bat-to-ball guys (when they can get them). And they’re big on running prevention.

Friends, Espinal would be a good fit – and a great start – to start this off-season. Let me tell you why.

Espinal is 27 years old but has had a 2.3 fWAR season. He can also play shortstop and third base, but the Mariners would push him to second base and let him go. Espinal is a .280 hitter in just over 800 major league plate appearances and a .286 hitter in the minors.

He has a 14 percent strikeout rate and an 8 percent career walk rate. And he’s a very good defender wherever you put him. How good you ask?

Espinal was saved in runs plus four last season. Two years ago he played third base for the Jays and was a plus eight. Plus eight is elite.


How the Blue Jays’ Santiago Espinal smashed down all the doors to become an everyday player

Is this the sexy move you were hoping for? No probably not. Will the Mariners do better in 2023? It should, although a lot of that depends on what else the team is doing. This is just a start.

What you’ve done by adding Espinal – which is likely to make just over $2 million in 2023 – is add a steady hitter to the end of the order.

I think adding an everyday player that you control for another four years is a good way to maximize the value of Flexen. Flexen will be a free agent after 2023, so from Toronto’s end it makes sense to include Murfee, who had a breakout year in 2022, in the deal, even if it leaves a hole in Seattle’s bullpen.

But remember, the Mariners are hoping to get Casey Sadler back sometime in 2023, and there are ways to cover Murfee’s loss going forward. The Mariners have their warts like any other team. Assembling a powerful bullpen is not one of them.

Melean is a 22-year-old right-hander who had a 3.34 ERA over two minor league stops in 2022. He’s got a plus slider and a changeup, and maybe the Mariners’ pitching squad can coax more speed out of him later.

Either way, he’s a lottery ticket. However, Espinal is not. He does a lot of things that the Mariners – and good other teams – appreciate. — Brock

Why this works for the Jays

Flexen doesn’t throw particularly hard or knock out a ton of batters. But since returning to the majors in 2021 after regrouping as a pitcher in South Korea, the 28-year-old right-hander has been consistent and durable as a center rotation arm, posting a 3.66 ERA in 64 appearances, including 53 starts.

Flexing isn’t flashy, but the Blue Jays don’t need flashing to replace stripling. If you look at Flexen’s Baseball Savant page, guess who is one of the pitchers listed under Most Like Him?

Strippers of course.

They’re pitchers who rely on precise command and a tricky turn to succeed. Like stripling, flexing has proven adept at swinging between the rotation and the bullpen. Flexen would give the Blue Jays a starter they can trust to pitch five to six innings every fifth day and keep them in the game. And should one of their pitching prospects emerge in the second half — um, Ricky Tiedemann, um — Flexen could slip into a bullpen role.

go deeper


Finding Flexen: How the KBO’s scouting led the Mariners to sign the revised starter

Flexen is also a bargain at $8 million in 2023. As the Blue Jays’ roster gets more expensive — their 2023 payroll is currently estimated at more than $190 million per roster resource — trading Flexen could be a value play. He’ll probably be cheaper than stripling, and he’s a free agent after the season, so it’s not a huge commitment either. This might not have to be Toronto’s only move to begin with. Maybe they’ll take on Justin Verlander or someone at the top of the free agent market. But Flexen gives them some reliability that they missed in 2022.

Murfee is coming off a career season, averaging a 2.99 ERA in 64 games with a strikeout rate of nearly 28 percent. He’s a late bloomer, but thanks to his unique arm angle, a wipeout slider and excellent command handling, he was one of the main reasons the Mariners’ 2022 bullpen was among the best. Does a 28-year-old helper just touching 89 mph with his fastball make me nervous? Definitive. But the Blue Jays have Adam Cimber who is similar and he makes it work.

Relievers are particularly volatile, so this part of the deal could backfire. But Murfee’s slider, which he uses half the time, kept batters at a .125 batting average and .272 slugging percentage with a 32.4 percent touch rate in 2022. It’s a real weapon that Toronto’s somewhat needed swing and-Miss could lend. Pen. Murfee would also come with plenty of team control as he’s still in his pre-arbitration years. The Blue Jays would need more help in their bullpen, of course, but Murfee could be another piece of the puzzle.

It’s really difficult to walk away from Espinal. The 27-year-old was a feel-good story in 2022, putting on an excellent first half and being named to his first All-Star team. His defense in the middle would also be missed. But this could be the time to trade it at its value. The Blue Jays have plenty of other options with Whit Merrifield, Cavan Biggio, Otto Lopez and rising infield prospect Addison Barger. — McGrath

(Photo by Espinal: Steven Bisig / USA Today)

#Breaking #Ice #deal #Jays #Mariners

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