Astros, Mariners could match up on trade for hitter

In the Astros’ search for some offensive punch, they could find a trade partner in a division rival.

The Seattle Mariners are wheeling and dealing, with GM Jerry Dipoto seemingly trading everything that’s not nailed down. Meanwhile, the Astros are looking to add a bat to their lineup. The division rival Mariners could be a logical trade partner here.

Seattle sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to Queens, bringing back Jay Bruce. They also sent Jean Segura to Philadelphia, taking on Carlos Santana‘s contract in return. Then they quickly flipped Santana to Cleveland for Edwin Encarnacion.

Now the rebuilding Mariners have two pricey veteran hitters in Bruce and Encarnacion, and it’s no secret they’d be happy to trade them. Both would help the Astros as experienced hitters who could provide a punch in the middle of the lineup.

A look at Bruce

The lefty-swinging Bruce is coming off a rough season, hitting just nine homers and driving in 37 runs in 94 games. His .370 slugging percentage was the worst of his career. He’ll turn 32 shortly after Opening Day next year and is due $14 million in each of the next two seasons.

However, he’s just one year removed from a pair of strong campaigns. He totaled 69 homers and 200 RBIs between 2016 and 2017 and slugged over .500 in each. He’s also able to play defense both at first base and the corner outfield, so he would not strictly be a DH. Bruce is also a local guy, having grown up in Beaumont.

A look at Encarnacion

Encarnacion has been one of the more consistent sluggers in the game over the past seven seasons. In that span, he’s hit no fewer than 32 homers and driven in no fewer than 98 runs each year. He has only one more guaranteed season left on his contract, which is beneficial considering he will turn 36 next month. He’s also been an Astros target in the past.

He’s also due more than $21 million in 2019, plus a $5 million buyout or a $20 million club option for 2020. Defensively, he’s essentially limited to DH duties, though he can play first base if needed. His OPS has also declined in three straight seasons.

Which is the Better Fit?

It’s tough to say at this point. Encarnacion would probably bring the bigger impact at the plate, as he’s been more consistent with his production. He’s historically posted better strikeout and walk rates than Bruce, though that scenario was flipped in 2018. His contract only has one guaranteed year left, meaning the Astros won’t be saddled with his salary for 2020 if his performance craters.

Bruce is four years younger, however, and is better and more versatile from a defensive standpoint. He’s also not as expensive, leaving the team more payroll room for 2019. As a lefty, he would help balance out a righty-heavy lineup, though the right-handed Encarnacion would likely benefit from spending half his games swinging for the Crawford Boxes.

It may also come down to what the Mariners would want in return. Salary relief would be one thing, but they’d likely want a mid-level prospect as well. If one player could be had for a lesser prospect than the other, that could sway the Astros’ decision. And I doubt trading within the division would be a factor since neither player has actually played a game for Seattle.

Next: Astros: Jeff Luhnow departs Winter Meetings empty-handed

Either way, the Astros could find an addition to their lineup for a reasonable cost. Since Dipoto seems likely to move these guys at some point, Jeff Luhnow might be wise to give him a call.

***Statistics courtesy of MiLB.com***

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