The Giants and Mariners have completed a trade, per announcements from both clubs, that will send left-hander Robbie Ray to the Giants, with outfielder Mitch Haniger, right-hander Anthony DeSclafani and cash considerations going to the Mariners. It’s an out-of-nowhere trade involving significant pieces going in both directions. Per Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic, it’s approximately $6MM going to Seattle.
“As we continue to build out our team for 2024 and beyond, we feel this trade accomplishes a couple of our objectives,” said president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto in the official announcement. “In Mitch, we get a player we know well, and hold in very high regard, as another piece for our outfield, while Anthony – who can start or pitch out of the ‘pen – gives us depth in our pitching staff. And the deal allows us to put the best team possible on the field from Opening Day on.
“I do want to thank Robbie for his time in Seattle. On the field and in the clubhouse, he was a key part of taking us to the postseason in 2022 and in allowing us to remain in the race down to the final days in 2023. He provided leadership to our young pitchers that will be felt here for years to come. We wish he and his family nothing but the best in San Francisco.”
Ray, now 32, won the American League Cy Young with the Blue Jays in 2021 and parlayed that into a five-year, $115MM deal with the Mariners, with the ability to opt out after three seasons. His first year with Seattle was strong, as he made 32 starts with a 3.71 earned run average. He struck out 27.4% of batters faced while issuing walks at just an 8% clip. But in 2023, he made just one appearance before being shut down and eventually requiring elbow surgery to both repair his flexor tendon and reconstruct his ulnar collateral ligament.
As Ray sat out the rest of the 2023 season, the Seattle rotation actually managed to fare well in his absence. Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby were in the front, with prospects Bryce Miller Emerson Hancock and Bryan Woo stepping up to help out. All six of those players were still under club control going into 2024, giving the Mariners something of a rotation surplus that led to some trade speculation.
They have held tight to that group so far and could have had Ray rejoin the rotation later in the year, perhaps as soon as midseason. But instead, it seems they have decided to exchange him for players that can help them throughout the entire year. Ray had a full no-trade clause for 2022 and 2023 but could be moved without his input now that the calendar has flipped to 2024.
For the Giants, their rotation was inconsistent in 2023 as they were arguably the club that was the least committed to traditional starter usage. Logan Webb and Alex Cobb were mainstays but pitchers like Ross Stripling, Alex Wood, Sean Manaea and DeSclafani were often moved to the bullpen or the injured list or both.
Looking ahead to 2024, it’s possible that the rotation will again evolve over the course of the season. Cobb underwent hip surgery and may not be ready for the beginning of the campaign, meaning he and Ray will be jumping into the mix once they are healthy. But at the start of the season, Webb currently figures to be joined by Stripling, but with plenty of uncertainty beyond that. Younger pitchers such as Kyle Harrison, Keaton Winn and Tristan Beck could be in the mix but none of that group even has a full year in the big leagues to this point. But with Cobb and Ray hopping on board along the way, the rotation could be in a much different place at the end of the season.
Of course, there’s nothing to suggest that the club is done with their offseason moves. There’s still over a month until Spring Training and the Giants have been connected to big name free agents like Blake Snell, Jordan Montgomery and Shota Imanaga. Bob Nightengale of USA Today says the Giants are still in on Snell even after this trade. There are also plenty of other free agents still available if the Giants don’t nab any of those three.
In exchange for Ray, the Mariners will bolster their lineup with a familiar face, as Haniger was with the club from 2017 to 2022. Health was an ongoing issue, including missing the entire 2020 season, but he was a tremendous offensive asset when on the field. He hit 107 home runs in his 530 games during those seasons, slashing .263/.337/.480 for a wRC+ of 124.
After reaching free agency, he signed with the Giants on a three-year, $43.5MM deal going into 2023, with an opt-out opportunity after the second season. His first year in San Francisco didn’t go well, as he made trips to the injured list for a left oblique strain, fractured right forearm and low back strain. He only played 61 games and hit a tepid .209/.266/.365 when he was in the lineup.
The Giants recently signed Jung Hoo Lee to be their center fielder, which will nudge Mike Yastrzemski over into the corner outfield mix alongside Michael Conforto. There could have been room for Haniger in there still with the designated hitter slot, but the Giants also have Wilmer Flores as a good candidate for that spot, perhaps making Haniger more useful in Seattle than in San Francisco.
The Mariners did a lot of subtracting from their lineup in the early parts of the offseason. They didn’t make a qualifying offer to Teoscar Hernández, then traded away Eugenio Suárez and Jarred Kelenic in separate deals. That removed three potent but strikeout-prone bats from the lineup as the Mariners looked to find more contact and juggle their finances amid uncertainty around their broadcast revenue.
They have subsequently switched their focus to additions, signing Mitch Garver to serve as a backup catcher/designated hitter and now Haniger will join the corner outfield mix. Haniger won’t help too much with the strikeout issues, as he’s been punched out at a rate of 24.5% or higher in each of the past four full seasons. But his right-handed bat should pair well with lefties likes Dominic Canzone, Taylor Trammell and Cade Marlowe. Another left-handed outfielder, Luke Raley, was also acquired from the Rays today in a separate trade. Haniger doesn’t have huge platoon splits but his 129 wRC+ against lefties in his career is a few points better than his 114 versus righties.
There’s also DeSclafani heading to Seattle, adding to their pitching staff. He had some solid seasons as a mid-rotation guy with the Reds but struggled badly in the shortened 2020 season, an all-timed down year as he was heading into free agency. He then settled for a one-year pillow deal with the Giants, earning $6MM in 2021. He posted a 3.17 ERA that year over 167 2/3 innings and parlayed that into a three-year, $36MM deal to return to San Francisco.
That second deal hasn’t worked out nearly as well for the Giants, however. DeSclafani only made five starts in 2022 as he dealt with ankle issues that eventually required surgery. In 2023, he threw just under 100 innings, missing time due to right shoulder fatigue and a right elbow flexor strain, posting a 4.88 ERA in the process.
In Dipoto’s statement quoted above, he explicitly mentioned that DeSclafani can pitch out of the rotation or the bullpen. 169 out of his 180 major league games have been starts but it seems as though the Mariners won’t be guaranteeing him a rotation spot. As mentioned, they have Castillo, Kirby and Gilbert in the front three spots. Miller, Woo and Hancock all had encouraging results in 2023 but they’ve yet to pitch a full season in the big leagues. Perhaps DeSclafani’s role will be determined by his health and performance, as well as how those youngsters look. If they surpass him on the depth chart, he could be moved to the bullpen, and injuries could always open up opportunities as the season goes along. It also can’t be ruled out that the Mariners have yet another trade in the works between now and the start of the season, giving the way they typically operate.
Turning to the financials, it will be close to cash neutral in 2024 but there are many ways that it could play out down the road. Ray and Haniger each have $1MM assignment bonuses for being traded, so that’s a wash. Ray is going to make $23MM this year and is set to make $25MM in the next two campaigns, but he can opt out after the 2024 season, meaning he’ll have to decide whether or not to leave two years and $50MM on the table. If he’s healthy and effective this year, it’s easy to see him opting out and beating that on the open market, at least in terms of total guarantee. But if things don’t go smoothly in the months to come, perhaps he would take the security of the proverbial bird in the hand.
Haniger will have a $17MM salary this year and $15.5MM next year, though he can also opt out after the 2024 campaign. Another injury-marred season like he had in 2023 would likely lead to him staying put, but another bounceback from him would obviously change the calculus. DeSclafani is set to make $12MM this year, the final season of his deal. With $29MM owed to Haniger/DeSclafani this year and $23MM owed to Ray, the approximately $6MM coming from the Giants will cover the difference. But into the future, it will depend on the opt-out decisions.
The Mariners have had some payroll concerns due to their uncertain broadcast situation and had a decent chunk of their budget tied up in Ray, who wasn’t going to be able to help at all in the first half of the season. They are giving away the upside of his late-season return for a lineup upgrade and a pitcher who can hopefully be a more immediate factor for them. For the Giants, they took two players who were getting squeezed for playing time and turned them into an upside play on a potentially-elite lefty who could be a significant wild card down the stretch.