MLB news: Seattle Mariners, Atlanta Braves make late night swap

While you may have been sleeping on Sunday night, the Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves made a trade to kick off the MLB Winter Meetings.

Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners
Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

Late Sunday night, the Seattle Mariners made their second trade of the week, sending Jarred Kelenic, Marco Gonzales, Evan White, and cash, to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Cole Phillips and Jackson Kowar. The full move was first reported by Ryan Divish.

Obviously, the headliner is Kelenic, who was traded for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz ahead of the 2019 season. The 2023 season was Kelenic's best as a big leaguer, slashing .253/.327/.419, hitting 11 home runs and swiping 13 bases. The former first-round pick still strikes out a scary amount, 31.7 percent in 2023, but has enough speed and raw power to excite.

What the trade could mean for the Atlanta Braves

Keep in mind, Kelenic will turn just 25 mid-season, so there is still room for growth in his skillset. At worst, Kelenic could handle the bulk of a left field platoon, hit towards the bottom of a loaded lineup, and play roughly average defense. That skillset in a little more than half a season of at-bats in 2023 was worth a 2.0 bWAR.

The other pieces going to Atlanta are more of a salary dump, with both Marco Gonzales and Evan White falling out of the big league picture. Gonzales made just 10 starts last season, pitching to a 5.22 ERA and 5.27 xERA. The soft-tossing left-hander does not have much room for error, and walked 8.4 percent of the batters he faced in 2023, his highest total since 2014. This season is the final guaranteed season on Gonzales contract, at $12.25 million. Where exactly he slots in on the Atlanta pitching staff is still unclear, but this is a pure bounceback lottery ticket.

White was once a highly-regarded prospect for Seattle, drafted in the middle of the first round in the 2017 MLB Draft. White signed a six-year guaranteed contract, with three years of team options, in November 2019, before he had made his MLB debut. Since, White has appeared in just 84 big league games, hitting .165 with 115 strikeouts across 306 plate appearances. White has not appeared in a big-league game since 2021. The 2023 minor league season was a wash for White, who appeared in just two games for Triple-A Tacoma before a groin injury and hip surgery ended his season. In terms of skillset, White is a strong defender at first-base, and still possesses a keen eye and solid foot speed, but has just been incapable of hitting big-league quality strikes. Under contract for two more seasons before the three years of team options kick in, White is unlikely to play any sort of role for Atlanta.

What the trade could mean for the Seattle Mariners

Returning to Seattle, besides salary relief, are prospect Cole Phillips, and Jackson Kowar, who has now been traded twice this offseason. Phillips is highly-regarded in the industry, a second round pick in the 2022 draft. A mid-high 90s fastball with average command and an average slider earned Phillips a $1.5 million signing bonus, but Tommy John surgery in April 2022 has delayed Phillips' professional debut. Right now, Phillips is a total wild card, with extreme outcomes ranging from mid-rotation starter to organizational depth. Prospect publications across the internet have differing opinions of Phillips, with holding the highest opinion, ranking Phillips seventh in the Braves' system.

Kowar, who was a Brave for roughly a month after being acquired from Kansas City, is a former first round pick who has yet to live up to expectations. Analysis on that move, which included a deeper dive on Kowar, can be found here. Realistic expectations for Kowar would be to eat some lower-leverage innings out of the Seattle bullpen.

After dumping salary between this move and the Eugenio Suarez move, what exactly does Seattle have cooking? Juan Soto has been the subject of endless rumors this offseason, and free agents Cody Bellinger and Joc Pederson would fit nicely in the Seattle lineup. Seattle may not have the pieces necessary to pry Soto away from other suitors, but these moves likely clear enough money for a run at Bellinger or Pederson. With Jerry Dipoto in charge, Seattle can never be counted out of anything.