Slugging Toro makes presence felt in loss

July 29th, 2021

SEATTLE -- navigated his way through the bowels of T-Mobile Park on Tuesday, bringing his belongings from the visiting to the home clubhouse, one with mostly new faces but a few familiar ones, a cast of teammates that he couldn’t have made a stronger first impression on.

Toro homered in his second straight game since joining the Mariners in a trade on Tuesday, crushing a low-and-in splitter from Jake Odorizzi in the sixth inning and sending it into the right-field bleachers, an area that is quickly looking like it might be a regular landing spot for the switch-hitter. The blast cut into the Astros' lead, but the Mariners fell, 11-4, in the series finale on Wednesday.

The 24-year-old infielder also homered in Monday’s series opener, but for the Astros. So, when he went yard on Tuesday against Houston, he made MLB history as the first player to homer for one team then homer against that team the following day.

“I think it's clear to see that he does a really good job of controlling the strike zone,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “He knows what pitches to swing at, and as long as you do that, you're going to have a chance to put up some pretty good numbers. So, I'm really excited about the start he's off to.”

Wednesday represented Toro’s first start with Seattle after joining the club in a trade along with reliever Joe Smith in exchange for relievers Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero.

Toro played second base, a spot he will see far more action with his new team after he was brought up in Houston at third. It’s almost certain that the Mariners will not flip him before Friday, otherwise they wouldn’t risk his health by playing him.

Seattle’s front office values positional versatility, club control and dominating the strike zone -- all of which it believes Toro possesses. And it could have a void at third this offseason if Kyle Seager’s $15 million club option isn’t picked up. Toro, who won’t become a free agent until 2026, was coveted by many clubs before landing in Seattle, many of which reached out to the Mariners seeking a flip immediately after Tuesday’s deal was struck, according to sources.

Just after the trade became official, Dipoto said that the front office remains “actively engaged in the market.” Seattle later acquired left-handed starter Tyler Anderson from Pittsburgh in exchange for catcher Carter Bins and 17-year-old right-hander Joaquin Tejada, both low-to-mid-level prospects. And the Mariners almost certainly aren’t done.

But unless they are completely blown away by a trade package for Toro, he will not be included in any deal between now and Friday’s 1 p.m. PT Trade Deadline, sources say.

“He’s hit everywhere he's ever been, and he hasn't just hit a little bit. He’s hit a lot,” Dipoto said. “A switch-hitter, he's got power. He's got patience. He's versatile enough to play defense at multiple positions. He runs the bases well. We think he's a really good fit for us moving forward.”

Toro’s big league production has been underwhelming -- a .196/.278/.364 (.642 OPS) slash line with 12 homers, 40 RBIs, 63 strikeouts and 21 walks in 309 plate appearances -- yet his sample size is just 94 games, even though it feels like he’s been around longer because he’s played in parts of three seasons. The Mariners are bullish on the power potential for the 6-foot, 206-pounder, who hit 15 homers in 2017, 16 in ’18 and 17 in ’19, most of which came in the Minors. Over five Minors seasons, the former fifth-round pick has hit .276/.370/.466 (.836 OPS) with 50 homers.

The Mariners had to make a move to address second base, a position in which they’ve received .188/.258/.349 worth of production and minus-0.4 WAR, the lowest in baseball.

It’s possible they still might add to the infield before the Deadline, but the thinking is that if they don’t strike big, Toro at least represents an improvement for the immediate and a role long term. They made an offer for MLB hits leader and All-Star Adam Frazier but came up short to the Padres. And while the Royals’ Whit Merrifield is said to be available, the asking price is believed to be incredibly high.

So, despite these uncertain final 48-plus hours before the Deadline, it’s a strong bet that Toro is here to stay.