Pittsburgh Pirates: Interesting Trade Idea With the Seattle Mariners to Boost the Starting Rotation

The Pirates could take on the salary of one veteran pitcher to get another younger pitcher from the Mariners.
Mar 13, 2023; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Robbie Ray (38) throws against
Mar 13, 2023; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Robbie Ray (38) throws against / Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates could take on the salary of one veteran pitcher to get a younger pitcher from the Seattle Mariners

In my article re-analyzing the trade targets the Pittsburgh Pirates should pursue, I briefly mentioned the idea of a salary dump between the Bucs and the Seattle Mariners. The Pirates are now in desperate need of starting pitching, and the Mariners are overloaded with pitching depth. But what if the Pirates could get two pitchers from the M’s by taking on some salary?

The salary the Pirates would need to take on would have to come from either Robbie Ray or Marco Gonzales. But the idea would be to also get one of Emerson Hancock, Bryan Woo, or Bryce Miller from the Mariners as well.

Ray was signed with the Mariners in the 2021-2022 off-season after coming off a Cy Young campaign with the Blue Jays in 2021. His first season in Seattle was good, albeit not on the level of his last season in Canada. In 189.1 innings pitched, Ray owned a 3.71 ERA, 4.17 FIP, and 1.19 WHIP. He had a healthy 27.1% strikeout rate with a walk rate of just 8%. But home runs, which have always been an issue for Ray, gave him some trouble, and he had a 1.52 HR/9.

These numbers aren’t significantly different from his first handful of seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he had a 3.96 ERA, 3.92 FIP, 1.33 WHIP, 29.3% strikeout rate, 10.6% walk rate, and 1.24 HR/9 from 2015 through 2019. While his strikeout rate has moved in the wrong direction and his BB% has gotten much better, the bottom line ERA/FIP/WHIP is comparable to his 2022 numbers.

I already previously covered why Gonzales would be a good trade target. Even though he’s coming off a season where he pitched just 50 innings, he still pitched relatively well, and his 5.22 ERA, 4.28 FIP, and 1.46 WHIP don’t tell the whole story. One of the last starts of his season prior to his injury saw him allow eight earned runs in just 1.2 innings. Outside of this one outing, Gonzales performed to the tune of a 3.91 ERA, 3.86 FIP, and 1.30 WHIP.

Gonzales was also both a steady and durable contributor for the M’s from 2018 through 2022. In these five seasons, he owned a 3.94 ERA, 4.35 FIP, and 1.24 WHIP. The lefty only struck out 17.7% of the batters he faced with a 1.26 HR/9, but he also had a 5.9% walk rate. Gonzales had started a whopping 131 games with 765.2 innings pitched. He was one of just seven starting pitchers with a sub-4.00 ERA and at least 130 starts.

Of the two, I would think the Pirates and Mariners would be more interested in moving Gonzales. Ray only pitched 3.1 innings in 2023 before undergoing Tommy John surgery. While he will be back sometime during the summer, the last thing the Pirates need is to add another TJ victim. We’re looking to improve the starting pitcher depth, not further lengthen the Pirates’ list of pitchers who will be out for an extended period of time because of Tommy John surgery.

The second reason is Ray is owed a lot more money than Gonzales. Ray will be paid $23 million next season. While he could opt out, I doubt he will, given he’s coming off Tommy John surgery. He is then owed $50 million between 2025 and 2026 ($25 million each season). Gonzales will be healthy and is only owed $12.25 million in 2024 and $15 million via a team option in 2025.

The third and final reason Gonzales is more likely to get moved before Ray is because between two pitchers, the M’s would probably want to move Gonzales before Ray because he would take less prospect capital to get off their books. Over $20 million a year for three years isn’t cheap, especially given he will miss about half, if not more, of the first season. The M’s are probably better off seeing if Ray can become the fourth monster behind George Kirby, Luis Castillo, and Logan Gilbert.

But why would the Mariners even consider this offer? Well, let’s look at one of their most recent trades, as it wouldn’t be the first salary dump-like trade they’ve made. The M’s sent veteran third baseman Eugenio Suarez to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Seby Zavala, a defense-only backup catcher (whom Pirates fans hate), and Carlos Vargas, a hard-throwing right-handed reliever with poor command.

Suarez was coming off a season where he had about league-average production with the bat with a 101 OPS+/102 wRC+, 22 home runs (the 7th time he’s hit 20+ in a 162-game season), and a career-best +11 outs above average. He is owed just $11,285,715 in 2024, with a $15 million team option and a $ 2 million buyout for 2025. Sure, Suarez isn’t an MVP candidate, but he’s averaged +3.6 fWAR/+3.1 bWAR over the last two seasons. The Mariners may have been able to get back a decent minor leaguer had they eaten even just the cost of the buyout.

The Mariners may also be looking to save money to go after arguably the best pitcher currently on the free agent market, Blake Snell. Snell even stated he was open to signing with Seattle, given it is his hometown. Not only would trading Gonzales and a prospect clear some money, but it would clear some room on their depth chart.

So, let’s say the Pirates take on Gonzales. Which one of the other pitchers are the Pirates going to get with the veteran lefty? If the Pirates only take on the salary and only send a low-level minor leaguer in return, the most likely of the M’s young pitchers would be Emerson Hancock. Hancock skipped Triple-A and went straight to the Bigs after posting a 4.32 ERA, 4.08 FIP, and 1.23 WHIP in 98 innings at the M’s Double-A affiliate. Hancock had a healthy 26% K-rate with a 0.75 HR/9, albeit only a so-so 9.2% walk rate. Hancock only pitched 12 Major League innings, however, so there’s not much to go off of based on that.

But what if the Pirates included a young player? Let’s say that Liover Peguero and-or Nick Gonzales are involved, along with a single mid-tier pitching prospect (like Hunter Baco, Jackson Wolf, or Po-Yu Chen) included in the deal. The Mariners need infield depth, so Peguero or Gonzales headlining the package going to Seattle may interest them. The Pirates, assuming they are taking on all the salary for Gonzales, may be able to get Bryan Woo or Bryce Miller from the deal.

Woo pitched 87.2 innings in MLB last year, working to a 4.21 ERA, 4.35 FIP, and 1.21 WHIP. The righty had a 25.1% K-rate, 8.4% walk rate, and 1.33 HR/9. But Woo was above the 80th percentile of both hard-hit rate and exit velocity, so his HR/9, which plagued his rookie season, may go down moving forward. Miller pitched 131.1 innings and had a 4.32 ERA, 3.98 FIP, and 1.14 WHIP. While his 22.2% strikeout rate and 1.23 HR/9 were roughly league average, he owned an outstanding 4.8% walk rate. Like Hancock, both Woo and Miller skipped Triple-A and went straight for the Major Leagues.

This is all simply just food for thought on my end. However, I think this trade would work out for both sides. The M’s clear some space to pursue a top free agent and get an infielder, while the Pirates get two pitchers: one who has a history of being a durable and solid starting pitcher and a young arm with potential who can slot into a starting rotation spot right now.

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