Stop us if you’ve heard this before: the Seattle Mariners are wheeling and dealing.
Jerry Dipoto worked his trade magic once again, this time acquiring second baseman Jorge Polanco from the Minnesota Twins for a package of four players headlined by reliever Justin Topa and starter Anthony DeSclafani. Outfield prospect Gabriel Gonzalez and pitcher Darren Bowen completed the exchange, along with cash considerations from the Mariners. The deal became official on Monday night.
At first blush, this trade appears to be solid for both sides, with Seattle landing another bat to bolster its lineup while Minnesota improves its pitching depth and nabs a pair of prospects with legitimate upside.
Why This Deal Works for the Mariners
Plain and simple: the M’s needed another bat and got one in Jorge Polanco.
Polanco, 30, is a switch-hitter with sneaky power who will slot perfectly into a stout lineup core of J.P. Crawford, Julio Rodríguez, Ty France, Cal Raleigh and Mitch Garver. And considering the Mariners had some combination of Josh Rojas and Luis Urías penciled in at second base, Polanco’s presence makes for a true upgrade at the position.
The 30-year-old was an All-Star in 2019 but arguably had his best season in 2021 when he clubbed 33 home runs for the Twins on his way to a 124 wRC+ and a career-high 4.2 fWAR.
The Steamer projection model at FanGraphs doesn’t believe Polanco will mirror that kind of output in 2024, but it nonetheless expects a productive season for the second baseman, highlighted by 21 home runs, a 110 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR over 141 contests. These figures would instantly make Polanco one of Seattle’s most productive players.
Last season, the second baseman hit 14 home runs, finishing with 1.5 fWAR and a 118 wRC+ in just 80 games played due to injury. Extrapolated over a full year, that production would lead to about 30 home runs, illustrating how potent Polanco’s bat can be.
On the flip side of this deal, the Mariners likely won’t miss Justin Topa or Anthony DeSclafani in 2024, as the club boasts immense pitching depth in both their rotation and bullpen.
Seattle could be hurt by the loss of top-100 prospect Gabriel Gonzalez, but after finishing last season in High-A, he’s got a ways to go in his minor league journey. Ditto Darren Bowen, a pitching prospect who wasn’t even ranked in the Mariners’ system last season. For a team focused on winning now, that’s a price worth paying.
Lastly, Polanco is controllable through 2025 (on a $12 million club option), meaning Seattle paid for a player who could have an impact beyond this coming season. Savvy work by Jerry Dipoto.
Why This Deal Works for the Twins
For Minnesota, this trade’s purpose was two-fold: shedding payroll and bolstering pitching depth.
To the first point, Seattle included cash considerations in its package, which presumably will cover the salary imbalance between Polanco and Topa/DeSclafani for 2024.
The Twins opted not to re-sign starters Sonny Gray (Cardinals), Tyler Mahle (Rangers) or Kenta Maeda (Tigers), or reliever Emilio Pagán (Reds) this winter. Collectively, that represents a ton of lost depth as a consequence of decreasing the payroll.
For a team that clinched the AL Central title last season while also winning a playoff series for the first time since 2002, this course of action comes as a mild surprise. And yet, the Twins have carried on with this plan even as the Royals and Tigers have improved this winter.
In Topa and DeSclafani, the Twins were able to land cheaper replacements for Pagan and one of Gray/Mahle/Maeda. Minnesota still has ace Pablo López leading the way in 2024, along with Joe Ryan, but things get dicier at the back end of the rotation once the Twins turn to Bailey Ober, Chris Paddack and Louie Varland. DeSclafani should serve as valuable rotation depth, although he doesn’t raise the unit’s ceiling much (projected 4.09 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 0.5 fWAR, per Steamer).
The real gold in this trade for the Twins comes in the form of prospects, particularly outfielder Gabriel Gonzalez. Coming in at No. 70 on Just Baseball’s latest Top 100 ranking, it’s no surprise that Minnesota would covet a player like Gonzalez.
Just 20 years old entering the 2024 campaign, Gonzalez fared decently in his first full season in the minors, finishing the year in High-A. However, he did struggle in those final two months after his promotion (.677 OPS, 83 wRC+ in 43 games), despite hitting 18 combined home runs on the year.
The biggest knock on Gonzalez’s game is that his exit velocities have not developed even with the power he flashed last season. Perhaps with a full season in High-A, the Twins can tap into his raw power more effectively.
Minnesota also landed right-hander Darren Bowen from Seattle, but he was an unranked prospect last season (TBD if/where he will rank for the Twins). Like Gonzalez, Bowen also completed his first full minor league season last year. He’s already 23, however, which means his developmental timeline should be shorter.
Bowen was solid in his organizational debut with the Mariners, striking out 59 hitters over 55.2 innings (3.88 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) and appearing in 19 games (15 starts) for the Low-A Modesto Nuts. The Twins can expect Bowen to serve as organizational depth for now, with the potential to become more polished over time.
Time will tell who ultimately emerges from this trade with the upper hand, but for now, Seattle and Minnesota should both be pleased with their respective returns.
Jorge Polanco undoubtedly makes the Mariners better today, while the Twins were able to recover some of their lost pitching depth.
Additionally, Minnesota landed two prospects that each possess upside, which is a nice coup as well. Nabbing a top-100 talent in Gonzalez is especially impressive considering Polanco isn’t quite a star (though he’s underrated).
Polanco will make his return as a visitor when the Mariners visit Target Field for a four-game series with the Twins from May 6-9.