In December of 2018 the Mets and Mariners lined up on a huge trade that seemed so obviously won by the Mariners. Time to rethink that.
When the move was first announced, fans of the game everywhere could not believe the Mets would trade away two top prospects in outfielder Jarred Kelenic and starting pitcher Justin Dunn. The deal was immediately labeled as a loss by the Mets by fans and pundits in the industry alike (see reactions from NY Post, ESPN, Yahoo Sports).
Here we are a month and a half into the 2022 regular season, and Robinson Cano is on the verge of signing a new contract with the San Diego Padres after the Mets opted to release him, prompting a look back at this trade that was so heavily labeled as a win by the Mariners and loss by the Mets.
Robinson Cano trade: Who won?
*Note: Stats are current as of the morning of May 13th, 2022.
Who did the Mariners get in the deal?
We’ll start with Jay Bruce, one of the most fearsome left-handed sluggers when he was in his prime. Bruce joined the Mariners at 32 years old and continued to struggle for the second straight season, perhaps signaling the end of days for his playing career.
Bruce played in 47 games for the Mariners before being traded again to the Phillies. After short stints in Philly and for the Yankees, Bruce retired from professional baseball. His Mariners career consisted of 14 home runs, 28 RBI and a slash-line of .212/.283/.533.
Anthony Swarzak and Gerson Bautista were two un-exciting arms shipped from New York to Seattle in this deal. Swarzak, a serviceable reliever in his heyday, made just 15 appearances for the Mariners before also being traded away early on in the 2019 season. His 5.27 ERA and six home runs over 13+ innings were not a good look for the then-33-year old.
Bautista’s Mariners tenure was even worse than Swarzak’s. He made eight appearances for the club, posting an ERA of 11.00, striking out seven and walking nine in as many innings. He was outrighted off of the club’s 40-man roster at the conclusion of the 2020 season and was most recently seen in the Mexican League on the Mariachis de Guadalajara.
Young outfielder Jarred Kelenic had made it up to the No. 69 prospect in MLB per MLB Pipeline and was labeled as ‘arguably the highest-ceiling prospect in the Mets’ organization’. Many had said that he should be the only prospect off-limits in the Cano trade talks.
19 years old at the time, he routinely received rave reviews of his tools, many saying he had the chance to be a true superstar and a five-tool player, a label that is hard to find in today’s game.
Kelenic’s tenure in Seattle has been, in a word, awful. Debuting last season for the M’s at the young age of just 21, his .181/.265/.350 slash-line was ugly but could’ve just been due to his young age and growing pains. Through his first 30 games this season, Kelenic has somehow gotten even worse, putting up a slash-line of .140/.219/.509, striking out in 37.5 percent of his plate appearances. Since his debut last year, he has been worth -0.5 oWAR and -1.3 dWAR per Baseball Reference.
Justin Dunn was the other high-end prospect shipped from New York to Seattle and he, like all others in the trade but Kelenic, is now on another squad. Dunn made 25 starts for the Mariners across 2019 to 2021 and posted a respectable 3.94 ERA in 102+ innings. Walks were an issue for him and the Mariners flipped him to the Cincinnati Reds this offseason in the Eugenio Suarez/Jesse Winker deal.
Who did the Mets get in the deal?
Starting with Cano, the Mets were acquiring an aging second baseman who can no longer play a decent second base on defense. Cano was coming off of an 80-game PED suspension and had seemingly taken himself out of the Hall of Fame conversation that he had been firmly in the middle of throughout his entire career.
Joining the Mets at the age of 36 with multiple years left on his massive 10-year, $205MM contract, many in the industry were concerned about his slumping production and PED issues. While he promptly homered off of Max Scherzer in his first at bat as a Met, injuries became an issue for Cano and he was striking out at a higher rate than he had at any other point in his career.
After a poor showing in 2019 and something of a resurgence in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Cano was once again suspended for PED use, this time for 162 games, effectively ending his tenure with the Mets. He resurfaced for a short time in the big leagues this season but the Mets DFA’d and released him after he hit just one home run and had a .195/.233/.268 slash-line through 12 games. All told, Cano posted a 2.2 oWAR with the Mets in parts of three seasons.
Edwin Diaz, the gift that keeps on giving for the Mets, has continued to dominate hitters as he did for the first three years of his career in Seattle. Coming off of a season in which he had a 1.96 ERA with 57 saves and an eighth place finish in the AL Cy Young race, Diaz was included in the deal to make Cano and his contract more attractive and while he has had his fair share of ups and downs for the Mets, his tenure has largely been a success in New York.
After a 5.59 ERA effort in 2019, Diaz bounced back and posted a 1.75 ERA and a ridiculous 17.5 SO/9 rate in 2020 and had continued success last season with 32 saves and a career-best 0.4 HR/9 rate. To begin the 2022 season, Diaz has 14 games under his belt, earning seven saves and has a 1.93 ERA with 24 strikeouts in just 14 innings. He has been worth 2.4 bWAR since joining the Mets, a number lowered by his poor showing in 2019 but one that will continue to climb with his continued success.
So, who won the deal?
The easy answer here is the Mets. That is a comment that absolutely nobody thought would be made at the time of this trade.
There are multiple different ways to look at it and one can come to the same realization. Just looking strictly at WAR between the players traded, the Mariners acquired players that ended up being worth a combined -0.5 bWAR while the Mets ended up with 3.6 bWAR as of now.