Mariners acquire Wong from Brewers for Winker, Toro

Club fulfills need for second baseman, lefty batter in landing 'coveted' two-time Gold Glover

December 3rd, 2022

SEATTLE -- The Mariners have landed their much-coveted second baseman and filled a left-handed need in their lineup, acquiring from the Brewers on Friday in exchange for outfielder and infielder .

Mariners receive: 2B Kolten Wong
Brewers receive: LF/DH Jesse Winker, INF Abraham Toro

The Mariners are also receiving $1.75 million to help offset Wong’s $10 million salary for 2023, after which he will become a free agent. Winker is due $8.25 million in his final year before free agency, essentially making him a salary and player swap for Seattle, while Toro is entering his first year of arbitration as a Super Two player and won’t be a free agent until after 2026.

Wong has been a Mariners target since the club fell short to the Brewers in signing him as a free agent ahead of the 2021 season, when Seattle offered a two-year deal but Milwaukee offered a third-year club option, which at the time, according to sources, was the difference. The Mariners had also checked in on Wong’s availability at the Trade Deadline in each of the past two seasons, but the contending Brewers weren’t motivated to move him.

But with Milwaukee saddled with several arbitration-eligible players scheduled for pay increases this offseason, many in the industry speculated that the club would be inclined to trade some of its higher-cost players for salary relief, prospect capital and/or depth.

Toro, the switch-hitting infielder who’s shown flashes of plus play, represents longevity for the Brewers’ roster and Winker, coming off a massively disappointing year, returns to a division where he thrived with the Reds while facing the motivation of a contract year with Milwaukee.

“We have long coveted Kolten’s well-balanced, all-around game,” Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. “He also brings veteran leadership and a winning pedigree that will make a difference for us both on and off the field.”

The Brewers exercised Wong’s option last month instead of paying him a $2 million buyout, creating the opportunity to shop him, which led to interest from multiple clubs beyond Seattle, per reports. Mariners GM Justin Hollander said that Seattle had multiple permutations of offers for Wong -- some involving additional teams -- before talks culminated Friday. 

Wong, 32, is coming off perhaps his best year at the plate, having slashed .251/.339/.430 (.769 OPS) with a career-high 15 homers, 24 doubles, four triples, 47 RBIs and 116 wRC+ (league average is 100) while accumulating 2.5 wins above replacement, per FanGraphs.

Some of his offensive uptick correlated with a more intentional effort to lift the ball more. His line-drive and fly-ball rate the past two years were the highest of his career (49.3% combined), while his ground-ball rate dipped to his lowest (43.7% for ‘21-22). It’s perhaps no coincidence that his OPS+ in each of the past two years -- 110 in ‘21 and 118 in ‘22 -- was the highest of his career.

The Mariners also crave defense, and Wong is a two-time Gold Glove Award winner but is coming off a defensively down year, worth minus-9 outs above average (ranking in the third percentile, per Statcast) and minus-1 defensive runs saved.

Some of that may be attributed to lower body injuries that he battled throughout the year, including a right calf strain from a hit-by-pitch in June that led to a stint on the injured list and lingered despite treatment and experimentation with footwear. A full offseason of rest and a Spring Training with infield coaching guru Perry Hill -- who Wong has already been in contact with -- should help.

“He owned it at the end of the season,” Hollander said. “He didn't have the kind of year, particularly with his hands, that his own expectations are for himself. He brought it up to me on the phone that he's prepared to be much better defensively next year.”

With two lefty-hitting middle infielders, the Mariners are now positioned to utilize more regularly in the infield, a by-design plan at the offseason’s outset.

“The way our team is constructed right now, the great likelihood is [Moore] spends more days than he did last year at second and at short,” Hollander said. “Spelling players, giving them days off and making sure that we get the best version of everybody because of Dylan's great strengths and versatility and versus left-handed pitching.”

What the deal means

Acquiring Wong ahead of next week's Winter Meetings crosses off another big box on the Mariners’ checklist after they acquired slugging outfielder from the Blue Jays last month in exchange for reliever Erik Swanson and lefty pitching prospect Adam Macko.

Moreover, the Wong trade did not cost Seattle any of its prized prospects and instead cleared up some roster logjam. Winker would’ve been vying for outfield time against , and . Trading Winker also frees up more DH opportunities for the rest of the Mariners' roster, which they intend to use as a rotation.

“We'll continue to look for ways in which we can lengthen our lineup, deepen our offense and provide the best position players we can to [manager] Scott [Servais] and the staff,” Hollander said.

The guys they gave up

The transaction ends a disappointing one-year run for Winker in Seattle after he was acquired to be a middle-of-the-order run producer but never found his footing. After arriving in a Spring Training blockbuster deal with Cincinnati in March, paired with third baseman , Winker slashed .219/.344/.344 (.688 OPS), one year after he posted .305/.394/.556 (.950 OPS) worth of production with 24 homers as an All-Star with the Reds.

He also was worth minus-10 outs above average (ranking in the 3rd percentile) and minus-16 defensive runs saved, last among all MLB outfielders, and at times, his defensive deficiencies directly impacted games. A fresh start in a division and ballpark he knows could perhaps serve him well. Winker is a career .344/.440/.591 (1.031 OPS) hitter over 32 games at Miller Park.

Toro had some huge moments in Seattle after arriving in a trade that sent clubhouse favorite Kendall Graveman to division-rival Houston. The Mariners loved his bat-to-ball skills and switch-hit tool, but his offense took a big dip in 2022 for a .185/.239/.324 (.563 OPS) slash line, a 125-point drop in OPS.