The Undertaker is traded...to HOUSTON?
The Undertaker is now an Astro
July 27, 2021
OK, didn't see this one coming.
Today the Mariners traded closer Kendall Graveman. That's not a surprise. What is a surprise is that he was traded to the division rival Houston Astros, and that he was not dealt for anyone that that helps the M's right now.
Graveman will conveniently cross the ballpark to the visitor's side today in exchange for young infielder Abraham Toro. In addition, reliever Rafael Montero, who had been designated for assignment last Friday, also returns to the Astros and veteran reliever Joe Smith comes to the M's in a swap of unwanted dead weight.
It's long been speculated that Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto would use Graveman as a trade chip. "The Undertaker" is having an outstanding season, with a sub-1.00 ERA and a sub-0.700 WHIP to go with ten saves, which makes him quite desirable to contending clubs, and is on just a one-year contract, making him expendable for the Mariners—though the M's, too, are contending.
Unless Toro is going to be flipped in a second trade—entirely possible with Dipoto pulling the strings—this deal doesn't make a whole lot of sense at first glance. The Mariners need help, preferably experienced help, at second base and in the outfield, and they really need a starting pitcher. This trade provides none of that help. Toro is certainly an intriguing player; the 24-year-old switch-hitter hasn't shown much at the big-league level in just under 100 games—the Astros had been giving him a lot of playing time lately with their regular third baseman, Alex Bregman, on the injured list—but he's torched Triple-A pitching in a small sample (.392/.497/.600 over 147 plate appearances) and throughout his minor-league career has posted impressive on-base numbers at all levels. With a tad more development time, Toro could become a formidable hitter. But he doesn't look like much help right away, and he's predominantly a third baseman. Today's M's have Kyle Seager ensconced at the hot corner and Ty France figures to take it over in 2022.
Toro has played some second base in the minors (and in one game for the Astros last season), so it's conceivable Dipoto and Seattle manager Scott Servais may try and convert him to the keystone. Or, they may be thinking of giving third base to Toro next year and keeping France as a DH/utility infield guy. Or—the most intriguing possibility—Dipoto may be trying to flip Toro in a deal with Kansas City for Whit Merrifield. As we speculated yesterday, Graveman would be attractive to clubs who wouldn't deal established Major Leaguers and if he were to be part of a deal to upgrade at second base, outfield, or the rotation it would likely mean a three-team trade, or as in this scenario, a pair of trades.
With speculated Mariner trade target Adam Frazier now off the table—Frazier was sent to San Diego—Merrifield is the top infield possibility remaining, and the price to get him would be high. What pitchers might be on Dipoto's radar is less clear, but with Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn still on the injured list for a while, one is needed to fill the fifth starter's role.
As for Montero and Smith, it's likely that the only way to get any team to take on the remainder of Montero's salary was to take on an unwanted contract in return. The M's actually get the short end of that monetarily, as Smith is making more money, but at least there's the potential for Smith to turn in effective innings while Montero is a lost cause, at least as a Mariner. Smith is having a terrible year, but prior to 2021 the veteran right-hander was pretty decent. In 13 prior big-league seasons, Smith had posted a career ERA of 2.98. He didn't play in last year's wacky mini-season, but in 2019 he posted a 1.80 ERA and 0.960 WHIP in an injury-shortened campaign, having missed the first half recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Montero returns to the team that the Mariners got him from in the first place, as Houston dealt him to Seattle last December for teenaged Rookie Leaguers José Corniell and Andres Mesa in a head-scratching trade that has now gone full circle.
So, The Undertaker is gone, now a member of the Hated Houston Astros, and the return for him is actually really good—it just doesn't fill a need. There's very likely more to come.