Mariners get Toro, Smith in trade with Astros

Seattle deals Graveman, Montero to Houston in what could be start of busy week

July 28th, 2021

SEATTLE -- The Mariners made their first deal of the Trade Deadline season, and it was a big one in the context of the clubhouse nucleus.

Seattle sent closer Kendall Graveman to Houston, along with Rafael Montero (who was designated for assignment last Friday), in exchange for switch-hitting infielder Abraham Toro and reliever Joe Smith.

Mariners get: INF Abraham Toro, RHP Joe Smith
Astros get: RHP Kendall Graveman, RHP Rafael Montero

This transaction took place ahead of the second game in this three-game series between these two teams at T-Mobile Park -- and with both in the postseason hunt. According to the MLB research team, this is the latest in the season that two teams in the same division this high and close in the standings have executed a deal since July 29, 2019, when the Mets traded Jason Vargas to the Phillies for Austin Bossart. Those clubs were five games apart in the National League East.

Even Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto recognized that, on paper, the move looked perplexing. But he said that the transaction was only the first of multiple in what could shape up to be a busy week ahead of Friday’s 1 p.m. PT Deadline. It didn't take long for him to complete another deal, either, as Seattle acquired left-hander Tyler Anderson from Pittsburgh later Tuesday night.

“It probably doesn't [make sense] as a standalone, but it's part of a context that I believe is going to be an ongoing story over the next couple of days,” Dipoto said after the first trade. “So as we move toward the Trade Deadline, we have been pretty open in sharing the idea that we're trying to both address the present and future, and we've been actively engaged in the market and trying to address upgrades now that will give us a chance to be as competitive as we can over the next 60 games, and hopefully into the postseason.”

Graveman has been one of the most dominant closers in the American League and the linchpin in a Seattle bullpen that has been the club’s biggest catalyst in putting it in the postseason hunt this late in the season.

Toro, who fills an infield need, is a career .193/.276/.350 hitter across 93 games over three seasons and was in line to be optioned to the Minors once two-time All-Star Alex Bregman (left quad strain) returned to the Astros from a rehab assignment. Smith was a big part of Houston's bullpen during its AL pennant-winning season in 2019, but he’s struggled to a 7.48 ERA in 27 outings this season. He elected not to play in ’20 due to COVID-19 precaution.

“Adding a young Major Leaguer like Abraham, as well as the veteran presence and experience of Joe Smith, is a move we feel makes us a deeper team today, as well as moving forward,” Dipoto said.

Graveman, who was widely viewed as the top leader on Seattle’s pitching staff, teared up when discussing his now former Mariners teammates.

“I love those guys,” Graveman said. “So that's the message that I want to leave. Outside of baseball, I told a lot of them, I don't care how you perform on the field. I love you as a person. And for me -- sorry, I'm a little emotional -- but that goes further than anything that we can do on this baseball field.”

As the Mariners have soared up the AL standings to one game out of a postseason spot entering Tuesday, they’ve gone from perceived sellers to professed buyers. That’s what left many confused by this deal, especially given that AL West-rival Houston’s biggest need (relief help) was on its most prominent display yet after it blew a 7-0 lead that led to Seattle's 11-8 win on Monday, which pushed the Mariners to 55-46.

“I didn't see it coming, but there's always that percent. This game is a business,” Graveman said. “I'm speaking truth and honest, the way I felt is, nine games over .500 over on that side and playing some pretty good ball when I was there, so it kind of takes away from the last five days, honestly, but we’ll see if they bounce back.”

Graveman is currently on a one-year, $1.25 million deal that he signed to exclusively pitch in relief after transitioning to the bullpen last September due to a benign tumor near his neck that curbed his workload ability. There’s always the possibility that he could return to Seattle in free agency this winter.

“For me, I told the guys over there, I feel like I'm a builder at nature, whether or not even in the game of baseball, just anything,” Graveman said. “I like to build something from the ground up and see it flourish. And I think that I've invested a lot of time over the year-and-a-half to help Seattle get back to winning baseball and the atmosphere that was here the last five days.”

Toro and Smith were available for the Mariners in Tuesday's game against the Astros.

Toro hit a solo homer in the first inning on Monday, his sixth home run of the year. With Houston, he had 20 RBIs in 122 plate appearances and hit .211/.287/.385 with an 84 OPS+ (MLB average is 100). He’s mostly played third base, though he took infield drills at second on Tuesday.

Smith is in the final year of a two-year, $8 million deal and will become a free agent at season’s end. Dipoto previously signed him in November 2013, when he was GM of the Angels.

Montero began the season as Seattle’s closer, but he struggled in leverage moments and pitched to a 7.27 ERA in 40 appearances, which led to him being DFA’d.