The Mariners Re-Tooled Their Offense by Trading Paul Sewald

When Jerry Dipoto and co. shipped Paul Sewald off to the Arizona Diamondbacks, they reeled back a return they simply couldn’t pass up.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 01: Paul Sewald #38 of the Arizona Diamondbacks looks on before the game against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on August 01, 2023 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Trading a fan favorite is never an easy pill to swallow.

Especially when said player has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the course of the last three seasons, the way Paul Sewald has been.

Since 2021, the Mariners have ranked in the upper echelon of the game when it comes to the bullpen. And Sewald has been the key constant through all of it. 

But these days, it is also widely discussed that relievers are replaceable. Seattle has proved that. They have not been shy to trade high-leverage bullpen arms – such as Kendall Graveman, Erik Swanson and now Sewald – when they believe they are getting impact bats in return.

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With that, their bullpen turnover and ability to find reinforcements have been as prolific as anyone’s in the last trio of years (Andrés Muñoz, Matt Brash, Justin Topa, Gabe Speier and Tayler Saucedo, just to name a few).

When Jerry Dipoto and company shipped Sewald to the desert to join the Arizona Diamondbacks, they reeled back a return that they simply couldn’t pass up: three position players with years of club control that all have the chance to make a significant difference in the Mariners long-term offensive success.

Dominic Canzone

Canzone is the headline of the return. An eighth-round pick out of Ohio State in 2019, Canzone, now nearly 26 years old, has torn the cover off the ball throughout his minor league tenure.

When he arrived in Double-A Amarillo in 2021, Canzone slashed .354/.425/.592/1.017 with seven home runs and a 171 wRC+ across 35 games played. He began his 2022 season back in Double-A, but after hitting .400 with a video-game-like 220 wRC+, he was promoted to Triple-A Reno.

Canzone’s first season in Triple-A was one to hold his head high about. Posting a .284/.349/.489/.807 slash line with 16 bombs and a 107 wRC+, Canzone was the second best bat on the Reno roster by OPS (min. 70 games played). The Pacific Coast League is very hitter-friendly, which is why his wRC+ didn’t quite level up to his other numbers, but it was a productive year nonetheless.

It doesn’t even hold a candle to 2023.

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Canzone was not just the best hitter for Reno before his big-league call-up, he was the best hitter in all of Triple-A. He hit .354 with another 16 home runs, tossed up a 1.065 OPS and a 150 wRC+. His BB% and K% were nearly neck and neck (12.8% and 13.2%, respectively).

You get the picture. He was a menace at the plate in the minors. He also has a keen awareness of the strike zone. Since 2021, his BB% has always sat between 7.5% and just shy of 13%, all while keeping his K% right around the 20% mark, if not lower. 

Canzone has played just 18 career big league games, so it remains to be seen how long it will take him to acclimate to MLB arms. But if what he did throughout the minors translates to at least some extent, you are looking at a polished hitter that can swing it with both some average and power, all while keeping his strikeouts down – a guy that can be a driving force in Seattle’s offense for years to come.

And by the way, the Mariners are not unfamiliar with trading for an older outfield bat from the Diamondbacks that was slept on in the minors despite putting up gaudy numbers. 

Mitch Haniger posted a .730 OPS and 107 wRC+ at Double-A for the Diamondbacks in 2015 at age 24. He then muscled up a 156 wRC+ and .869 OPS in 55 games back in Double-A in 2016, got promoted to Triple-A within the same year, put up 20 home runs with a 1.098 OPS and 185 wRC+ in 74 contests, was called up to the big leagues at age 25 for 34 games at the end of 2016, and then the Mariners acquired him with six years of club control.

Sound somewhat familiar?

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Josh Rojas

Rojas is the lone established big leaguer going back to Seattle. After finally getting his opportunity to play close to a full season of games in 2021 after limited playing time in 2019 and 2020, Rojas began to cement himself as a viable utility player for the D-backs. 

Putting together a .755 OPS, a 102 wRC+ and a 1.7 fWAR in 139 games, Rojas proved that he could also draw walks (71st percentile in BB%) and not chase pitches off the plate (88th percentile in chase rate). He did that all while playing five different positions throughout the year – second base, third base, shortstop, left field and right field – though it was a bit of a whirlwind for him with the glove (third percentile in OAA).

In 2022, he took another step forward. While his OPS slightly dipped down to .739, his wRC+ went up by six percent to 108 for the season. His walk rate also increased to 10.8%, while his strikeout rate went down from 24.9% to 19.2%. This resulted in his fWAR increasing by a full win, sitting at 2.7 in 125 games, 14 fewer than he played the season prior.

Rojas strictly played second and third base last year, and he had his struggles on defense again (11th percentile in OAA). Still, that didn’t stop him from having a very productive season.

This year just has not been the same for Josh Rojas. The utility man pieced together 20 long balls over the last two seasons; he has yet to pop one over the fence in 2023. His wRC+ sits at a measly 56 with a .221/.284/.287/.572 slash.

His BB% has dropped down to 8.1%, and his K% has climbed back up to just shy of 24%. Both are about league average. But when paired with his lack of success at the plate, it doesn’t help his case much these days.

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To the credit of Rojas, his defense has taken a massive step forward this season. Now back to playing both the infield and outfield, he is all the way up to the 73rd percentile in OAA. Rojas has an above-average arm as well, sitting in the 64th percentile in Statcast arm strength. Even for the outfield that will play, but that is a massive uptick when he is at second base compared to Kolten Wong, who ranks in the second percentile in arm strength.

The Mariners are buying Rojas as a bounce-back candidate at the plate, hoping that the first four months of this season can prove to be a one-off, while also banking that his defensive improvements are for real.

If that is the case, he can be another Dylan Moore for this ballclub, a utility player who has played an imperative role over the last couple of years. Moore has proven to thrive against southpaws, while Rojas, when at his best, succeeds against righties. A year ago, Rojas held a 114 wRC+ against right-handed pitching.

Rojas has three and a half years of club control remaining, not hitting free agency until after 2026. He also has two minor league options. If he truly cannot get the bat going, a demotion to Tacoma is always a possibility, especially with Sam Haggerty lighting the world on fire down in Triple-A these days.

Ryan Bliss

Bliss is the lone player of the three yet to see the big leagues. A second-rounder out of Auburn in 2021, Bliss is just 23 years old and already at the Triple-A level. He was in Reno shortly before the trade, and the Mariners assigned him to Tacoma after he was acquired.

While Bliss has gotten off to a bit of a slow start in Triple-A (though it has only been 16 total games between his two organizations), he, much like Canzone, was nearly the single best hitter across all of Double-A this season (to be exact, he was second by wRC+ behind Coby Mayo of the Orioles).

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Bliss, in spite of his 5-foot-6, 165-pound frame, slashed .358/.414/.594/1.007 with 12 home runs and a 162 wRC+ at Double-A Amarillo this season, along with just a 17% strikeout rate. Yet again, another bat with fantastic plate discipline.

Bliss had a rough go of it in his first two minor league seasons, but following some offseason adjustments and noted swing changes, he has absolutely exploded ever since.

Playing it on the safe side, expect to see him in the big leagues in 2024 (with a call-up this season not out of the question). He has a chance to be the team’s everyday second baseman going forward if the bat holds up.

Final Thoughts

When you scour the reliever market across the rest of the league, other clubs were not getting this type of return package for bullpen arms. Look at the Jordan Hicks trade as an example. At face value, the Cardinals got nowhere near the package the Mariners did.

Part of that has to do with Sewald possessing a year and a half of club control compared to a rental reliever such as Hicks, but the Mariners received a lot back regardless. They didn’t exchange rental pieces for rental pieces. They received three players that all have the chance to help the offense in the long run – an offense that ranked in the bottom third of the league in wRC+ during the first half of 2023. Not to mention, they will have Canzone and Bliss through at least 2029 and Rojas through 2026.

Dipoto has a very sound process when evaluating and pulling the trigger on trades. And as tough as it is to lose Sewald, considering what he has done both on and off the field for the team, this offer was simply too enticing to refuse.

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Stats and rankings as of August 6.