Why the Rays keep trading with the Mariners

Denard Span #4 high fives Chris Prieto #13 of the Seattle Mariners after hitting a single in the second inning against the Texas Rangers during their game at Safeco Field on May 31, 2018 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Denard Span #4 high fives Chris Prieto #13 of the Seattle Mariners after hitting a single in the second inning against the Texas Rangers during their game at Safeco Field on May 31, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Published June 1 2018
Updated June 1 2018

SEATTLE — Seeing Alex Colome and Denard Span in Mariner home whites this weekend is the latest product of the relationship between the Rays and Mariners that seems to be one of the coziest in the game.

Besides the cracks about a baseball bromance between general managers Erik Neander and Jerry Dipoto — and there are plenty, such as Chris Archer's, "You know they're favorites in each other's phone'' — there are several commonalities that have led to nine trades, involving 28 players (including Anthony Misiewicz, twice) over the past 2½ years.

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The execs are similar enough in the way they evaluate and, more important, value players to find common ground. They're different enough in the stages of roster construction to recognize and address matchups. And they have enough trust to be able to have open, direct and skip-the-bull-and-cut-to-the-chase talks.

"They obviously have a good working relationship, front office to front office,'' said Rays infielder Brad Miller, part of the first deal after Dipoto took over the Mariners following the 2015 season.

"It's kind of unique. There's clearly something there. I don't think it's chance. They know how each other works. It's kind of mutually advantageous.''

The frat chat between Neander and Dipoto is what seals deals, but there is so much work involved before they say "I do,'' such as reports on the medicals, analytical projections, financial implications.

It all starts with the work of the scouts, the Rays' eclectic 15-man crew that is out in ballparks across the country and beyond almost every day, watching, identifying, evaluating and recommending players long before their names are ever on the table.

That includes — and proved critical in several of the deals with the Mariners — work at many of the lowest levels of the minors, as far as extended spring training and summer first-year leagues, which the Rays focus on more heavily than some other teams.

"I might be a little biased, but I think our group does a tremendous job from the major leagues all the way down to the Dominican Summer League of really covering all the levels so we don't have a blind spot when someone does have an idea,'' Rays pro scouting director Kevin Ibach said.

"So when Erik and Jerry might first discuss something and it filters down, I think we're in a really good position to honestly evaluate not only their system but to take a look from our side, too, and weigh in on whether the trade would be a net positive for us.''

The Rays encourage their scouts not only to be vigilant and observant, knowing even the smallest tidbit about a player on or off the field can be a big thing, but also open minded, creative and aggressive in making suggestions, pushing the paired themes that "no idea is a bad idea" and "no name is a bad name.''

The workload is shared, as the Rays are among the half or so teams that do their pro scouting geographically rather than by organization.

That means, for example, rather than having one scout be responsible for all of Seattle's minor-league teams, they use several scouts to cover the Mariners affiliates (as well as those of other teams) near where they live, creating what they consider a benefit of multiple opinions on some players.

Seattle-based Dave Myers —a former Mariners major- and minor-league coach and former Rays Triple-A coach — handles the big-league team, Triple-A Tacoma, rookie-level Everett (Wash.) and advanced Class A Modesto (Calif). J.D. Elliby has Double-A Arkansas, Jeff Stewart Class A Clinton (Iowa), Mike Langill extended spring and the complex-based Arizona league, and Jose Gomez the Dominican summer league teams. Cross-checker Jason Cole posts up at the Mariners/Padres shared spring camp. All have had a hand in the deals, and well beyond the obvious.

"You can't go out from our perspective and only scout the famous guys,'' Ibach said. "I always challenge our guys to find the 'off-the-radar types' that are down a little bit deeper in the system and maybe have that one pitch or the sum of the parts that add up to something that functions really well.''
That commitment to scout the low levels and scout hard has factored in to several of the deals with Seattle.

Neither pitchers Ryan Yarbrough nor Andrew Kittredge were considered prime prospects when acquired, but the Rays saw them as future major-leaguers in the skilled hands of their player development staff, and both made it. Shortstop Carlos Vargas was a 17-year-old who had played only one pro season in the Dominican League, but the Rays had good reports on him. Catcher Jesus Sucre proved more than capable of being a big-league backup after three years bouncing to Triple A.

Sometimes the diligence, preparation and complex scheduling (such as trying to scout a team for six straight games to see all the pitchers) pays off.

And sometimes so does a little luck, too. Twice this season Ibach went to see the other team when Tommy Romero pitched, and impressively, for Seattle's Class A Clinton team. So when they were looking to complete the Span/Colome deal last week, Ibach's data, plus reports from the amateur scouting staff, including at last year's predraft workout at the Trop, led to Romero being included.

"Just given the history,'' Ibach said, "our antennas are up any time we're in the ballpark scouting a Mariners affiliate.''

Probably a good idea.

Marc Topkin can be reached at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

A whole lot of dealing going on

Since Jerry Dipoto took over as the Mariners' general manager in September 2015, the Rays have made nine deals with him of assorted consequence. This weekend the teams are meeting face to face (players currently with Rays in bold):

Nov. 5, 2015
Rays got: RHP Danny Farquhar, INF Brad Miller,
1B Logan Morrison
M's got: RHP Nate Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, OF Boog Powell

Nov. 18, 2016
Rays got: RHP Andrew Kittredge,
1B Dalton Kelly, RHP Dylan Thompson
M's got: INF/OF Taylor Motter, INF/OF Richie Shaffer

Jan. 11. 2017
Rays got: OF Mallex Smith, LHP Ryan Yarbrough, SS Carlos Vargas
M's got: LHP Drew Smyly

Feb. 8, 2017
Rays got: C Jesus Sucre
M's got: Cash

May 9, 2017
Rays got: International signing slot
M's got: RHP Bryan Bonnell

July 28, 2017
Rays got: RHP Steve Cishek
M's got: RHP Erasmo Ramirez

Aug. 6, 2017
Rays got: LHP Anthony Misiewicz, INF Luis Rengifo,
INF Osmy Gregorio
M's got: RHP Ryan Garton, C Mike Marjama

Dec. 13, 2017
Rays got: $1 million in international slot money
M's got: LHP Anthony Misiewicz

May 25, 2018
Rays got: RHP Andrew Moore, RHP Tommy Romero
M's got: RHP Alex Colome, OF Denard Span, $4.75M

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