BY TIM BOOTH
SEATTLE (AP) — Rather than waiting to see where the Seattle Mariners are sitting by the time the trade market heats up, general manager Jerry Dipoto decided to be proactive.
Rewarding a strong start in spite of numerous injuries and the suspension of Robinson Cano, the Mariners pulled off the first big trade of the season Friday, landing outfielder Denard Span and right-handed reliever Alex Colome from the Tampa Bay Rays for two minor leaguers.
It’s not a blockbuster deal, but it does immediately improve the Mariners after spending the first two months dealing with a number of significant injuries and still finding themselves near the top of the AL West.
“They’re going to fit in our clubhouse and really fit too to what we think are critical needs,” Dipoto said. “The fact we were able to do it and maintain another four, five months of their contribution for this year, it’s so much different than an ordinary in-season or July-type of pick up.”
Seattle was seeking outfield depth and a boost for a heavily used bullpen to keep up momentum from a strong start to the season, despite injures to five starting position players, including Cano prior to his suspension. The Mariners entered Friday nine games over .500 and off to their best start since 2003.
“I think it’s an awesome message that everything we’ve dealt with in the last eight-to-10 days here — it starts at the ownership level and front office — that we’re all in on this season,” Seattle manager Scott Servais said. “That even though we had a setback with Robbie and the injury and suspension it’s not going to derail us. Our eyes are set on the goal and that’s getting to the playoffs and I think this helps us.”
Tampa Bay will send Seattle $4.75 million to cover a portion of the $13,840,860 the Mariners took on with the acquisition of Span and Colome, although the Mariners had an unexpected $11 million freed up due to Cano’s suspension.
Span is assured $10,193,548 — $6,193,548 remaining of this year’s $9 million salary and a $4 million buyout of a $12 million mutual option. Colome has $3,647,312 left in his $5.3 million salary this year and can become a free agent after the 2020 season.
Seattle sent minor league right-handers Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero to Tampa Bay, but the Rays continued to shed salary from a roster that was already 28th out of 30 clubs on opening day according to MLB figures.
“This usually is the time where you’re still learning about your club and where you’re at competitively,” Rays GM Erik Neander said. “I think some circumstances changed in Seattle with respect to where their team is at, where their finances were at and that led to some motivation from them to seek and try to find ways to improve their team.”
Colome may be the most important piece of the acquisition for Seattle because of what he’ll add to the bullpen, and he will be under club control for a few more years. He was an All-Star in 2016 with the Rays and led the major leagues with 47 saves last year, but will likely need to accept a setup role in Seattle with closer Edwin Diaz leading the AL with 17 saves this season.
Colome has 11 saves this year, but has allowed 10 earned runs in 21 2/3 innings.
“I just think it adds an unbelievable depth to a really good group already,” Servais said. “When you’re running guys in there three, four days in a row, you don’t have to over-extend anybody.”
Span has played both center field and left field in his career. He was hitting .238 in 48 games with the Rays, but his ability to play multiple spots in the outfield is the big benefit to Seattle after Dee Gordon’s move to second base following to Robinson Cano’s suspension. Dipoto said Span will likely be the regular left fielder with Ben Gamel transitioning to a reserve role and Guillermo Heredia holding down center.
Tampa Bay acquired Span from San Francisco in December after he signed a three-year free agent contract with the Giants prior to the 2016 season. Span was still processing the deal before leaving Tampa Bay. He said when he got through spring training without being traded, he believed it would be closer to the trade deadline before possibly getting moved.
“I’m really looking forward to this new challenge, but this is home for me,” Span said. “It is disappointing. I can say that for sure. I was just trying to get settled in here and we were winning, we were having a good time. Maybe if this had happened after the first week of spring training or whatever, I would have been more prepared.”
The Rays also sent minor league right-hander Peter Bayer to Oakland for right-hander Wilmer Font. Oakland acquired Font from the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 25 and designated him for assignment Wednesday.
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