The Mariners are “very motivated” to find a way to rid themselves of Robinson Cano and as much of the five years at $120 million left on his contract, according to an executive involved in trade talks with Seattle. So much so that the Mariners are — at minimum — exploring attaching star closer Edwin Diaz to a deal to further stimulate interest.
The Mets, Yankees, Braves, Phillies and Red Sox were expressing the strongest interest in Diaz — though not all of them were willing to take on Cano to acquire the reliever.
“What are those teams willing to part with in dollars to players” to get Diaz, an official involved in the discussions said.
Translation: How much of Cano’s unappetizing contract will a club devour will determine how much in prospects it would have to give up for Diaz, who led the majors with 57 saves in 2018 with a 1.96 ERA and an average of 15.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Those not willing to take on Cano obviously would have to pay full price in prospects.
Seattle’s hyper-active general manager, Jerry Dipoto, has moved James Paxton and Mike Zunino already this offseason and had initially talked about not dealing prime-aged standouts not yet making big dough — Marco Gonzales, Mitch Haniger and Diaz.
But multiple executives believe Diaz ultimately might be pried away — in part because having an elite closer on a non-contender has minimal value, and why run the risk of Diaz’s value dipping after an elite season?
Diaz, with four years until free agency, is the kind of piece that gets the Mariners multiple long-term building blocks. But Seattle is willing to consider less if a team takes on Cano, who is 36 and served an 80-game suspension last year for testing positive for a banned substance.
The Yankees talked to the Mariners about having Jacoby Ellsbury (two years at $47.3 million left) as a salary counterweight, but wanted Seattle to eat even more of Cano’s contract in addition. That could quash any chances of a deal.
The Mets have $53 million tied up in Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Anthony Swarzak and Jason Vargas and could have Seattle take on pieces of that to reduce the sting of absorbing Cano. New Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen, while working as a CAA agent, shared Cano as a client with Roc Nation and negotiated the 10-year, $240 million pact that Seattle now wants to escape.
Cano would serve as first-base/second-base insurance for Peter Alonso and Jeff McNeil for the Mets, but the prize would be Diaz, who would give them a difference-making closer.
Braves banking on late life
A familiar baseball axiom is not to be fooled by what you see in March or September. Yet, to upgrade their offense — the Braves’ top offseason priority — they are leaning heavily on September results for Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann.
Atlanta signed that duo for $25 million — $23 million going to Donaldson — with the belief that their true skills shined late in injury-devastated seasons. Donaldson played just 52 games in 2018 due to shoulder/calf ailments. But in 16 September games after joining the Indians, Donaldson had a .920 OPS.
The Braves used Nick Markakis (14 homers) as their prime cleanup hitter and see a healthy Donaldson hitting behind Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna and Freddie Freeman to form a dynamic top four. Can he stay healthy enough to do that?
McCann was bedeviled most of last season by a right knee injury that led to two DL stints and finally surgery in July. Overall, he had a .640 OPS, but after returning from the surgery, McCann’s OPS was .784 in September, not far off his .791 career mark.
The Braves came to believe that if the Marlins ever trade J.T. Realmuto, they would avoid doing so within the NL East, thus, Atlanta created a lefty (McCann)/righty (Tyler Flowers) catching duo.
The Braves were willing to gamble on Donaldson/McCann, in part, because they are one-year deals and if they do not work, Atlanta will have money to reinvest next year. Atlanta will now look for a corner outfielder, bullpen upgrades and possibly a starting pitcher.