Two of this winter’s most disappointing teams combined to jolt MLB out of its offseason doldrums on Monday night, as the Minnesota Twins sent longtime infielder Jorge Polanco to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for a four-player package that includes two Major Leaguers (reliever Justin Topa, swingman Anthony DeSclafani) and two Minor Leaguers (outfielder Gabriel Gonzalez and right-hander Darren Bowen).
MLB righties Anthony DeSclafani and Justin Topa along with prospects OF Gabriel Gonzalez and RHP Darren Bowen is the four player return for Polanco, per sources. Believe cash is also involved. https://t.co/GQDKtwaogh— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) January 30, 2024
Minnesota, cash-strapped amid uncertainty surrounding their TV deal, were in desperate need of financial flexibility — and had a logjam in the middle infield. Seattle had already undergone its own belt-tightening earlier this winter, and was now looking to find ways to add impact position player talent around young superstar Julio Rodriguez.
On paper, this deal checks all of the above boxes. But which of these two would-be contenders came out ahead here? Where do they both stand now — and what other moves need to follow in the coming weeks? Let’s break it all down.
Jorge Polanco trade grades
Polanco was the longest-tenured Twin, a 2019 All-Star who’s posted a combined 120 OPS+ over the last three seasons. But he was also due $10.5 million this season, with a $12 million player option for 2025, making him an obvious trade candidate for a Minnesota team looking to slash payroll. And more importantly for Minnesota, he was expendable: Edouard Julien burst onto the scene in Polanco’s absence last season, and top prospect Brooks Lee is nearly ready for his own Major League debut. Julien, Royce Lewis, Carlos Correa and Alex Kirilloff — not to mention utility men like Kyle Farmer, Nick Gordon and Willi Castro — are still a very formidable infield, and now GM Thad Levine can take these savings and attack other needs on this roster.
One of those needs? Bolstering a pitching staff that’s seen starters Sonny Gray and Kenta Maeda depart via free agency this winter. Levine will likely continue to add arms on the open market, but he also added a couple of pieces here that could prove valuable in 2024. DeSclafani struggled amid injury with the Giants over the past couple of years, but he’s not far removed from posting a 3.17 ERA in 31 starts with San Francisco back in 2021. In a pitcher’s park with a solid defense behind him — and in a very weak AL Central — it’s not hard to envision him having a bit of a bounce-back season, or at least serving as some much-needed depth either at the back of the bullpen or in a long relief role. Topa, meanwhile, was the latest in a long line of breakout Mariners relievers in 2023, with a 2.61 ERA over 69 innings of work; he’ll pair with righty Griffin Jax, lefty Brock Stewart and all-world closer Jhoan Duran to form a dynamite late-inning formula for Rocco Baldelli.
In addition to some much-needed pitching help, Levine also landed a couple of intriguing Minor Leaguers. Gonzalez is the headliner, a corner outfielder who could find himself edging onto the back of some top-100 lists after slashing .298/.361/.476 across two levels of A-ball as a 19-year-old last season. Bowen was primarily a reliever for Division II UNC-Pembroke, but a wicked sweeper helped him surprise in his pro debut last year — with a 3.88 mark and 59 Ks in 55.2 innings spent mostly as a starter in 2023. Both players come with at least some hype, and two legitimate prospects plus two useful Major League pieces is a pretty good return here.
There’s no question that Polanco fills a need for Seattle; the Mariners’ in-house options at second base included Dylan Moore, Jose Rojas and Sam Haggerty, none of whom are near the hitter that Polanco is. After trading away Eugenio Suarez and Jarred Kelenic earlier this winter, the Mariners needed to add as many professional hitters as they could, and Polanco certainly checks that box while stabilizing a position of need and bringing some switch-hitting versatility.
In a market very thin on position players, GM Jerry Dipoto did well to land one of the few above-average options available. And he did so while dealing from surplus: The Mariners have as much starting pitching as any team in the league, and their history of building solid bullpens from other teams’ scraps earns them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to replacing Topa. The price they had to pay to get Polanco isn’t nothing, but theirs is also a farm system overflowing with low-Minors hitting talent, and Gonzalez’s low walk rate and lack of defensive value mean he’ll really have to hit if he’s going to carve out a Major League career. It’s still more than fair to raise an eyebrow at Dipoto’s approach to this offseason as a whole — there’s no reason a team with Rodriguez just entering his prime and this starting rotation shouldn’t be all-in, with spending to match — but this is a tidy bit of work.