As the Mariners casting call for arms continues amid legitimate suspicions they are cursed, it’s tempting to re-evaluate the Thanksgiving Eve trade that sent starting pitcher Taijuan Walker to Arizona.
Sustaining a trend that characterized his early career in Seattle, Walker has neither dominated nor disappointed. He began the weekend with 40 strikeouts and 40 hits allowed, a 3-2 record and a 3.83 ERA.
The stat most salient to Mariners fans is his seven games started. Compared to the hard-luck pitchers who used to be his teammates, Walker defines durability.
It’s fair to wonder if general manager Jerry Dipoto regrets surrendering the rarest of commodities — a healthy, 24-year-old starter — in exchange for shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger.
Despite his dilapidated rotation, I’ve got a hunch Dipoto sees the trade with the long-range perspective of somebody who understands how injuries tend to be temporary setbacks, not season-killing shipwrecks.
Had the Mariners obtained Segura in a simple one-for-one swap for Walker, they still win the trade: an All-Star shortstop figuring to challenge for a batting championship is more valuable than a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
But the jackpot was sweetened with the acquisition of Haniger, considered by some to be a throw-in piece in the five-player trade that brought pitcher Zac Curtis to the Mariners while sending shortstop Ketel Marte to Arizona.
Before suffering the oblique muscle strain that put him on the disabled list almost three weeks ago, Haniger was a Rookie of the Year candidate who combined offense (a .342/.447/.608 slash line) with equally impressive defense.
Haniger was doing this with a club-friendly contract the Mariners will control for five more years. And though Segura’s future is less settled — he’s eligible for free agency in 2019 — don’t dismiss the possibility the team will work out a contract extension that keeps him in a Seattle uniform beyond next season.
While the Mariners’ season is playing out as a version of the Sisyphus myth — the poor guy sentenced to push a rock up a mountain, then forced to start all over upon reaching the top — I’m taking solace that Dipoto’s bold trade with Arizona has worked out to the point it ranks among the shrewdest in Mariners history.
Yes, there’s also been lots of swings and misses, but that’s a topic for another day. (Besides, since the Mariners got to Toronto, I’ve seen too much swinging and missing by the hitters to dwell on the missed swings of Dipoto’s predecessors.)
A brief synopsis of the team’s best trades:
1. May 25, 1989: Pitchers Randy Johnson, Brian Holman and Gene Harris from Montreal in exchange for Mark Langston. In return for a lefty ace on the cusp of free agency, the Mariners acquired Johnson’s Hall-of-Fame talent for the turbulent decade that determined Major League Baseball’s destiny in Seattle.
2. July 21, 1988: Right fielder Jay Buhner and a pair of forgotten farmhands from the New York Yankees in exchange for DH/first baseman Ken Phelps. When a trade is referenced on the most popular television sitcom of the 1990s, it’s a pretty good indication of a one-sided steal.
3. July 30, 1996: Starting pitcher Jamie Moyer from Boston, in exchange for outfielder Darren Bragg. What looked like a wash — Moyer was a soft-tossing lefty trying to reinvent himself at age 33, and Bragg was a fourth outfielder — turned into a coup for then-general manager Woody Woodward. Moyer went on to win 145 games in Seattle.
4. Dec. 19, 2009: Starting pitcher Cliff Lee from Philadelphia, in exchange for B-list prospects Tyson Gillies, JC Ramirez and Phillippe Aumont. Although Lee started only 13 games before he was flipped to Texas midway through the 2010 season, this was a Cy Young-caliber hoss who made Jack Zduriencik look like the genius he wasn’t.
5. July 31, 1998: Starting pitchers Freddy Garcia and John Halama, and infielder Carlos Guillen, from Houston, in exchange for Johnson. The “Big Unit” was an impending free agent determined to resume his career in Arizona. That Woodward was able to swing an 11th-hour trade with the Astros — three future big leaguers for a two-month rental — might have been the crowning achievement of his career as an executive.
Woodward met with reporters the following day, to explain his disappointment in his bosses nixing of a Johnson trade, not nearly as fruitful, he had arranged with the Dodgers.
As for Dipoto, his decision to part with a serviceable starting pitcher last November is subject to some second guessing. But not by me.
Acquiring Segura and Haniger will be remembered as a success story for the Mariners, who are six weeks in, three games under .500, and trusting they’re due a break that isn’t diagnosed a fracture.
John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath