SEATTLE -- Jerry Dipoto has vowed repeatedly that this will be a relatively quiet offseason for his club, but the Mariners' general manager did have one prime trade chip in Omar Narváez, and Seattle dealt its starting catcher to the Brewers for promising pitching prospect Adam Hill and a Competitive Balance Round pick in the 2020 Draft between Rounds 2 and 3 on Thursday.
Hill, 22, is the Brewers’ No. 24-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline. The 6-foot-6 right-hander was 7-9 with a 3.92 ERA in 26 games (23 starts) for Class A Wisconsin last season. He was a fourth-round Draft pick by the Mets in 2018 and was traded to the Brewers on Jan. 5 as part of a deal for Keon Broxton.
The precise Draft selection going to Seattle is subject to change based on trades and qualifying-offer free-agent signings. At the moment, that selection is No. 70 overall, which should help add more talent to a farm system that has been restocked over the past year while Dipoto has dealt numerous veterans.
Narváez was the Mariners’ primary starting catcher last year and posted a .278/.353/.460 line with 22 home runs, but he was one of the lowest-ranked defensive backstops in MLB with a minus-20 runs saved.
Catching became an area of depth for Seattle with the emergence of Tom Murphy, who split time with Narváez after being acquired early last season, as well as the versatile Austin Nola as a backup option. The Mariners are also extremely high on No. 7 prospect Cal Raleigh.
“We were fortunate in 2019 to develop really good depth at the catcher spot, with Omar, Tom Murphy and Austin Nola at the big league level, and Cal Raleigh rising quickly in our Minor League system,” Dipoto said. “That depth allowed us to make a move today that we think will pay long-term dividends to us, while not impacting us in the short term.”
Dipoto acquired Narváez for reliever Alex Colome in November 2018, and the backstop delivered a strong season at the plate, but Seattle is very high on Murphy, who posted a .273/.324/.535 line with 18 homers in just 75 games and graded out much better defensively.
Narváez has three years of control and is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to earn about $2.9 million this year in his first year of arbitration.
The Mariners also like Nola’s potential behind the plate, a factor that became much more in play when the team committed to promising prospect Evan White as its likely starter at first base by signing him to a six-year deal on Nov. 25 despite having never played above Double-A ball.
Nola split the starting duties at first base in the second half last year, but he had converted to catcher two years ago and now can focus again on that position going forward.
“We think he’s quite developed behind the plate,” Dipoto said in a pre-Winter Meetings conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “Austin is already fairly built out in [pitch] framing and turnaround time on throws. He has a natural knack for game calling. He’s a heady player. We’re very comfortable with him being a strong backup catcher.”
As part of Dipoto’s rebuilding efforts, the Mariners have worked hard to improve their young pitching prospects, and Hill joins a group that has gotten much stronger with first-round Draft picks Logan Gilbert and George Kirby in the past two years, along with 2019 trade acquisitions Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn.
Hill was a Midseason All-Star for Wisconsin this year in his first full season of pro ball, and his 3.92 ERA and 121 2/3 innings both ranked 10th in the Midwest League. He features a fastball that has reached 95 mph and a developing changeup and slider.
“Adam is a big, strong, right-handed starter,” Brewers GM David Stearns told reporters in Milwaukee. “For his one year in our organization, he handled himself very well.”
The Comp B Draft pick also will add value to the Mariners’ farm system. Dipoto made a similar acquisition last year when he sent Carlos Santana to the Indians in a three-way deal that included the Mariners receiving Edwin Encarnación and Cleveland’s Comp B pick (76th overall). Seattle used that selection on Arkansas right-hander Isaiah Campbell, who is the Mariners’ No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline.