10 Midseason Trades That Shaped Seattle Mariners' History
The Mariners have been both buyers and sellers at the deadline at various points in their history, although they have been hesitant to pull off major blockbusters in the past decade, with some noteworthy exceptions. Just like any team in the league, the Mariners have attempted to shore up the present while mortgaging the future or vice versa through trades, changing the course of the franchise.
This season’s Mariners need only look to franchise history to see the kind of impact that deadline deals can have. Midseason trades helped set up Seattle’s first-ever run of success in the 1990s and early 2000s, but have also contributed to Seattle’s downward spiral ever since.
Everyone remembers the Mariners giving away Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe and David Ortiz for little return at the deadline. But Seattle also acquired Randy Johnson, the best pitcher in team history, through a midseason trade.
Ten such trades have shaped Mariners’ history more than any other, ranked based on impact they had on the team for better or worse and what the club may have looked like if they didn’t occur. This only takes into account in-season trades, so Erik Bedard and Horacio Ramirez don’t appear.
These two trades either had some impact or might in the future, but they didn't shape franchise history as much as some others.
Doug Fister Traded to Detroit Tigers
Adding Fister to the Mariners’ roster over the past two years would have improved the team but wouldn't have turned it into anything resembling a contender, so this trade didn’t have too much impact overall. Still, trading a cost-effective young starter with several years of club control remaining for a limited return didn’t make much sense at the time, and it looks really bad in retrospect.
It’s one thing to second-guess past trades based on results, but this particular one was bad process. If and when the Mariners evaluate if Jack Zduriencik should be retained in the future, trading Fister will surely be a mark against him.
Ichiro Traded to New York Yankees
This 2012 trade had plenty of emotional impact, but it didn’t affect the team on the field much. It was difficult to see the beloved Ichiro leave town, but his best years were clearly behind him at that point, although he has played well in a limited role with New York this year.
Meanwhile, the Mariners got an interesting high-upside reliever in Danny Farquhar, who ran a strikeout rate of 34.7 percent last year and is again pitching well in 2014. If the Mariners do indeed keep contending this season, Farquhar will be pitching in a lot of important innings.
10. Mariners Acquire Vince Coleman
The Trade: August 15, 1995. Mariners trade P Jim Converse to the Kansas City Royals for OF Vince Coleman
The Result: The Mariners haven’t been too big on half-season rentals in the past, but found some success with Coleman in 1995, the first playoff season in franchise history.
Coleman posted a respectable .290/.335/.390 line in 40 games with the Mariners, a significant upgrade over Seattle’s prior situation in left field. As with the rest of his career, Coleman’s biggest asset was his speed, as he stole 16 bases to close out the season.
Obviously Coleman was just a minor role player on a talented Seattle roster, but the Mariners needed everything they could muster to erase an 11.5-game deficit on August 24 and defeat the Yankees in the 1995 ALDS, which Coleman scored six runs in.
Coleman would leave the Mariners after the year and sign with the Cincinnati Reds, but would only play in 39 more games over the rest of his career.
9. Asdrubal Cabrera Traded to Cleveland Indians
The Trade: June 30, 2006. Mariners trade SS Asdrubal Cabrera to the Cleveland Indians for 1B Eduardo Perez.
The Result: Why Bill Bavasi decided to trade a promising young shortstop for an aging platoon first baseman that would retire 43 games later remains a mystery. Cabrera went on to be solid at the plate and in the field (depending on which defensive metric you look at) for Cleveland over the past seven years while Seattle is still searching for answers at shortstop.
Cabrera has posted 14.4 WAR and been named to the All-Star Game twice, including during a great 2011 season where he posted a 119 wRC+ and 25 home runs. The best season the Mariners have got out of a shortstop since Cabrera was traded was Brendan Ryan’s 2.8 WAR campaign in 2011 and his value came almost exclusively on defense.
Keep Cabrera, and at least it’s one less black hole the Mariners would have had to deal with over the past few years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even the most impactful trade Seattle made with Cleveland that summer.
8. Shin-Soo Choo traded to Cleveland Indians
The Trade: July 26, 2006. Mariners trade OF Shin-Soo Choo and P Shawn Nottingham to the Indians for 1B Ben Broussard.
The Result: That would be sending Choo to Cleveland and receiving very little in return. Choo has brought great value to three different teams since the trade while Broussard was gone after 99 games.
At least you can sort of see what Bavasi was going for here, as Choo wasn’t a terribly exciting prospect and Broussard was a young power hitter with upside. But in hindsight, the Mariners have desperately needed a player with Choo’s skill set over the past few years.
Choo has posted an OBP of .394 or higher in four separate seasons and accumulated 10.7 WAR between 2009 and 2010 with Cleveland. The 2009 Mariners finished 85-77, still the club’s only winning season since 2003, despite receiving a grand total of 1.0 WAR from the left field position.
Adding Choo to that team doesn’t make up for the 10 games the Mariners finished behind in the Wild Card race that year, but it sure makes things more interesting.
7. Cliff Lee Dealt to Texas Rangers
The Trade: July 9, 2010. Mariners trade P Cliff Lee and P Mark Lowe to the Texas Rangers for 1B Justin Smoak, P Blake Beavan, UTIL Matt Lawson and P Josh Lueke.
The Result: This has been the defining trade for the Mariners organization over the past four years. The Mariners had a rare opportunity to sell a top-of-the-line half-season rental and shore up their future, but have not seen the return yet despite showing extreme patience with Smoak and Beavan.
With this one, it’s hard to fault Zduriencik for the process, as Smoak was a highly-rated prospect by just about everyone. But Smoak hasn’t panned out, Beavan has struggled and likely has the ceiling of a long-relief man at this point, and the other two players are elsewhere.
Smoak has shown ever-so-brief flashes of ability, but has a career line of .225/.310/.383 and is likely running out of time to prove his worth as a major leaguer. We can’t possibly know what other offers the Mariners were considering, but you expect to get a franchise centerpiece in return for a player like Lee.
The Mariners have had a lot of holes since 2010 and likely wouldn’t have contended even with a good result from the Lee trade. For that, it doesn’t rank as important as some of the trades in the 1990s (both good and bad), but it is impacting the current roster more than any other trade in Zduriencik’s tenure.
6. Mariners Acquire Jamie Moyer
The Trade: July 30, 1996. Mariners trade OF Darren Bragg to the Boston Red Sox for P Jamie Moyer.
The Result: For a low price, the Mariners received one of the favorite players in franchise history at the 1996 deadline. Moyer pitched in Seattle for the next decade and had some of the best seasons in his career in a Mariners uniform, starting on Opening Day four times and becoming the team’s all-time leader in wins and innings pitched.
Moyer was far from dominant, but found a way to be successful with a low-80s fastball well into his forties. He helped the Mariners win at least 91 games per year during the best stretch of his career from 2000-2003, Moyer’s age 37-40 seasons.
While Moyer wasn’t as critical as some of the building blocks brought in from the Randy Johnson trade, he was an important piece of the rotation during the best period of sustained success in franchise history.
5. Jay Buhner Acquired from New York Yankees
The Trade: July 21, 1988. Mariners trade DH/1B Ken Phelps to Yankees for OF Jay Buhner, P Rick Balabon and P Troy Evers.
The Result: When a trade gets referenced by George Costanza on Seinfeld (in a positive way for the Mariners), you know something went right. Phelps didn’t give the Yankees much in parts of two seasons, while the fan-favorite Buhner would spend the next 13 years in Seattle and eventually be inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame.
It’s easy to overlook Buhner in a Seattle lineup that featured Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Alex Rodriguez, but he was a major contributor to the Mariners’ success in the 1990s nonetheless. Buhner posted an OPS over .900 three times, hit 307 home runs with Seattle and finished fifth in the A.L. MVP voting in that magical 1995 season.
Overall, Buhner was one of the most important players in a decade that saved baseball in Seattle.
4. Randy Johnson Traded to Houston Astros
The Trade: July 31, 1998. Seattle Mariners trade P Randy Johnson to the Houston Astros for P Freddy Garcia, SS Carlos Guillen and P John Halama.
The Result: The Mariners received two big contributors to the best stretch in franchise history in exchange for a half season of Johnson. While it was difficult to let a star like Johnson go, it was pretty clear he wasn’t going to sign an extension in Seattle, so the team turned to the future instead.
Garcia was the staff ace for the 116-win 2001 Mariners team and finished third in A.L. Cy Young votes. Guillen had the series-winning bunt single in Game 5 of the 2000 ALDS against the Chicago White Sox and was a decent everyday shortstop for the Mariners for the next three years.
While those Mariners teams were deep and had a number of contributors, Garcia and Guillen were important pieces. Without them, the team might have not been as competitive between 2000 and 2003.
Both Guillen and Garcia only had three or four good years with the Mariners, so the Johnson trade doesn’t quite crack the top three, which all had long-term importance.
3. David Ortiz for Dave Hollins
The Trade: September 13, 1996. Mariners trade DH David Ortiz to the Minnesota Twins for 3B Dave Hollins.
The Result: The Mariners were set for a long while at DH with Martinez, so they sent Ortiz (then David Arias) to the Twins in exchange for a player that would appear in 28 games for the club. After leaving the Twins for Boston, Ortiz would become the greatest designated hitter the game has had since Martinez’s retirement.
Ortiz has hit 446 home runs with a career OPS of .927. He finished in the top-five of MVP voting every year between 2003 and 2007. Meanwhile, the Mariners have been searching for a power hitter since Griffey Jr. and Rodriguez moved on and Martinez began to decline with age.
Obviously Ortiz’s stats would look different playing all those years in Safeco Field instead of Fenway Park, but there’s no denying he would have filled one of the biggest needs the Mariners have had for over a decade. The Mariners were awful during Ortiz’s best years, so hypothetically adding his production to the team from 2004 to the present wouldn’t have made Seattle an instant contender, but it would have changed the complexion of the team and the culture surrounding that.
Adding Ortiz would have made a number of bad team much better. But adding Lowe and Varitek to a contending team in the early 2000s could have made the Mariners champions, meaning Ortiz’s trade does not rank quite as important for franchise history.
2. Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb
The Trade: July 31, 1997. Seattle Mariners trade C Jason Varitek and P Derek Lowe to the Red Sox for P Heathcliff Slocumb.
The Result: This trade always appears high on worst deadline deals lists, and with good reason. The Mariners traded two players who would go on to be consistent contributors in the majors for a closer who would struggle his only two seasons in Seattle.
Lowe was a strong closer for the Red Sox in 2001 and had an outstanding 2003 season as a starter, finishing third in the Cy Young voting. Varitek put up 24.3 WAR with the Red Sox, with his best seasons at the plate coming between 2002 and 2005.
Looking at it from the other side, the 1997 Mariners had probably the best lineup in team history but a truly awful bullpen. Slocumb wasn’t the main culprit, but he certainly didn’t help the team any after being dealt.
The Mariners teams of the early 2000s didn’t have many holes, but Lowe and Varitek at their best would have been upgrades. Maybe if you add both of them the Mariners have enough to beat the Yankees in the 2000 or 2001 ALCS or make the playoffs the following two seasons. Anything could have happened after that.
That’s getting a little hypothetical, so the Slocumb deadline trade doesn’t rank as the most important in team history, which brought actual on-field results.
1. Randy Johnson Acquired from Montreal Expos
The Trade: May 25, 1989. Mariners trade P Mark Langston and P Mike Campbell to the Montreal Expos for P Randy Johnson, P Brian Holman and P Gene Harris.
The Result: Despite years of deadline futility, the most important in-season trade in Mariners franchise history is actually a positive one. With Johnson, the Mariners received one of the most dominant pitchers the game has ever seen and an icon who ranks right up with Griffey Jr. and Martinez in establishing Seattle as a relevant franchise.
Johnson’s statistics speak for themselves. He struck out at least 15 batters 17 times with the Mariners, threw the first no-hitter in franchise history and won the 1995 A.L. Cy Young Award.
Langston was quite a good pitcher himself, but he was not on the same level as Johnson. The Mariners of the 1990s desperately needed a dominant ace and, without Johnson, they likely would not have made the playoffs in 1995 and 1997, which secured baseball’s future in Seattle.
For both the on-field results and the change of culture, Johnson’s acquisition ranks as the most important trade, not just midseason trade, in Mariners’ history.