As the trade deadline neared, Seattle Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto made one final move to bolster the team's near-top-of-the-league bullpen, trading for Rays reliever Diego Castillo.
The acquisition of the 27-year-old was Dipoto's 13th trade with Tampa Bay. He completed his deadline moves without losing any of Seattle's top-ten prospects. The Mariners sent reliever J.T. Chargois and minor league third baseman Austin Shenton to the Rays in the deal.
In the hours following the deal that sent dominant bullpen piece Kendall Graveman to the Astros, Dipoto told reporters that while the move may not have made much sense viewed in isolation, it was only the first in a succession throughout the week. Thursday's trade that brought Castillo to the Mariners brought such an explanation: The departed Graveman is headed to free agency after the season. but Castillo came with three additional years of club control. Dipoto added a high-leverage, productive reliever to the bullpen as the team enters its theoretical contention window.
In 167 career appearances with the Rays dating back to 2018, Castillo owns a 2.99 earned run average, striking out 218 in 183.1 career innings.
"I've said all along that we were focused on doing what we could to improve our team now, and continue to improve our team for 2022 and beyond, and we feel like we've accomplished that," Dipoto said after acquiring Castillo.
The announcement of the Graveman trade less than 24 hours after a miraculous comeback over Houston — one that featured a go-ahead grand slam by Dylan Moore — stunned the Seattle clubhouse. Dipoto himself admitted to the suboptimal timing, but explained that Rafael Montero — also part of the deal — would have hit waivers the following day, putting Seattle in a time crunch to make it happen.
"It felt wonky," Dipoto said of the timing of the Graveman trade. "I felt bad for that, but it had to be done that day if we were going to do it. And (the Castillo trade) was the next part of that."
Dipoto had already begun talks with Tampa Bay about acquiring Castillo before shipping Graveman to Houston. One of Tampa Bay's go-to relievers, Castillo said he was "very surprised" to hear of the trade news, considering the Rays' division lead in the East. He flew to Texas to make his Mariners debut against the Rangers, but arrived before his equipment, and used teammate Casey Sadler's glove instead during his 1-2-3 ninth inning in Friday's win over the Rangers.
"He strikes 'em out. He throws strikes. He is surprisingly athletic for a big guy," Dipoto said of Castillo.
The reliever told reporters Friday that he feels like he's surrounded by good teammates, and likes the young talent on a team showing effort to clinch a postseason appearance.
The expectation is for Castillo to ease into a closer's role, though it's not set in stone that he'll only appear for the final three outs. If high-leverage moments materialize, they'll hand Castillo the ball — as they once did for Graveman.
What differentiates Castillo from Graveman is an additional three years of club control, and his previous track record for the Rays; he's been a consistent go-to for the Rays over the last four years, and pitched high-leverage innings for Tampa Bay during their World Series-appearance run last season.
And although Dipoto said "you have to give to get," Seattle didn't give so much away, sending Shenton, as well as Chargois, the latter signing only a minor-league deal with Seattle last offseason. Similar to last season's last-minute trade that sent Austin Nola to the Padres — and a return that featured Ty France and Luis Torrens — the Mariners once again flipped once-minor league signings for major league talent that bolsters the team now and later.
There's a process for finding so-called diamonds in the rough, with too many names in the organization to credit, Dipoto said. Seattle's analytic group target specific players based on pitch traits and styles, and hand off their findings to pitching strategists and the front office. Based on the number of calls Dipoto received before the deadline, it became clear that teams were "very fond" of their top prospects, and showed considerable interest.
Dipoto did not bite.
"We're a young team," Dipoto said. "We're growing. We would very much like to be in the hunt for a postseason berth this year, but we feel like 2022 and beyond are real opportunities for us."
Looking forward, Seattle adds relievers Ken Giles and Andres Munoz to their bullpen in 2022, though Dipoto doesn't expect either to appear for the Mariners this season. Munoz (elbow) has begun throwing off a mound, and Giles (elbow) still remains in the long-toss portion of his rehabilitation.
In 31 appearances for the Mariners this season, Chargois owned an earned run average of 3.00, walking six and striking out 29 in 30 innings. Shenton, a 23-year-old Bellingham native, sports a .298/.411/.559 slash line in 69 minor league games this season.
First-round catcher Harry Ford officially inks professional deal
The first thing Harry Ford caught in Seattle was a salmon.
At Pike Place Market downtown, the future career of Seattle's first-round catcher seemed to flash through his eyes.
"Coming to Seattle as a catcher, and I can't catch a fish? That's going to be pretty bad for me," Ford said with a laugh. "It was so much fun. I did it twice, and it was a great thing to be a part of."
Spoiler alert: he was successful on both attempts. A day later, the 18-year-old from Georgia's North Cobb High School signed his $4.366 million deal with the Mariners, agreeing on his exact draft slot value.
Before Tuesday's game at T-Mobile Park, Ford stood on the field with his parents and brother, the three people he says he wouldn't go anywhere without. He was some 2,600 miles from his high school, admittedly one of the farthest places from home he could have ended up.
Ford hadn't heard much of Seattle before the draft because of it. He knew of a young team on the rise and a top-two farm system with a wealth of prospects, but the city was every bit of what he thought it would be.
He's already acclimating himself into the Mariner system; after Seattle took Ford with the 12th overall pick, Kyle Lewis texted the catcher to congratulate him. Ford and Lewis' mothers communicate, too. Ford says "they're pretty good friends."
It was moments before Lewis' congratulatory text that Director of Amateur Scouting Scott Hunter gave Ford the phone call of his life. The newly-acquired catcher felt what he said was "a total blunder of emotions." Everything came out at once.
"It was amazing, sad, I was happy, excited ... Knowing that I get to come out and play for Seattle one day, it made me so happy," Ford said. "I just can't wait."
Ranked as the second-best player in the draft from the state of Georgia — and the No. 1 catcher — Ford says he plays with energy and passion. He tries to play every game like it's his last.
"It's everything to me, being out here, and I try to show that as much as I can," Ford said.
So much so that Ford had the urge to join the big leaguers for batting practice before Tuesday's game in Seattle, though COVID-19 restrictions prohibited that.
Having been off the field for two or three months, Ford heads to Arizona to "get back into the swing of things" with fellow draftees. He's never been to the Grand Canyon State, but can't wait to get to work.
"This is a once in a lifetime thing," Ford said. "I don't even feel like I'm here. I feel like I'm back home in Georgia, going out to play high school baseball, but I'm getting paid to play now. It's just a crazy feeling."
Mariners announce Catie Griggs as new President of Business Operations
Catie Griggs grew up with a batting cage in her backyard, and played little league baseball. She spent plenty of nights at the old Durham Athletic Park, watching Bulls games with her father. Her five-year-old son loves the game, too.
Now, she's the newest President of Business Operations for the Seattle Mariners.
Named on July 27 and introduced by Mariners CEO John Stanton July 28 at a press conference at T-Mobile Park, Griggs enters Seattle's front office as the head of sales and marketing, human resources, information technology, finance, and ballpark operations. Members of the hiring committee called her "laser-focused on fan experience, a proven leader, the real deal, an important driver on our path to winning championships."
Griggs fills a position left vacant after the resignation of Kevin Mather, who made disparaging, far-reaching comments about the organization to a Bellevue rotary club Feb. 5. Over a video call, he mocked some player's ability to speak English, complained about paying an interpreter, and dubbed third baseman Kyle Seager "overpaid."
Seattle's newest president aims to turn the page. There's no reason, she says, that Seattle can't be the most progressive team in baseball, both in equity and inclusion, as well as technology improvement for fan engagement.
"I am here to listen, and I am here to learn," Griggs said during her opening press conference. "I want to know what you like. I want to know what you don't like."
Griggs helped build Major League Soccer's Atlanta United FC from the ground up; she had served as their Chief Business Officer since 2017, and turned Atlanta into a soccer city. United FC hosted an All-Star Game and won the MLS Cup in 2018, and brought Atlanta their first professional sports title since 1995.
"Catie brings a passionate desire to serve our fans, and serve our community, and contribute to our goal of winning championships," Stanton said.
Griggs is the first female president in Mariners history, and the only current female executive in Major League Baseball. Stanton said she wowed the front office with her ability to work with others. Everyone in the group that met Catie felt that "she was talking especially to them."
"This is a team on the rise," Griggs said. "Seattle is an incredible city full of amazing sports fans. But more than that, it really was the commitment and the passion to the mission of this team that closed the deal."