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Mariners designate struggling reliever Rafael Montero for assignment

MLB Trade Rumors
MLB Trade Rumors
Rafael Montero's ERA has ballooned to 7.27 Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Mariners announced Friday that they’ve designated right-hander Rafael Montero for assignment. His spot on the active and 40-man rosters will go to righty Casey Sadler, who has been reinstated from the 60-day injured list.

Acquired from the Rangers in an offseason trade that sent a pair of 18-year-old prospects — righty Jose Corniell and infielder Andres Mesa — to the Rangers, Montero began the season as the closer in Seattle. He struggled early in the year and eventually relinquished that ninth-inning job to breakout righty Kendall Graveman.

Montero never found much consistency, even in a setup capacity, but his results dating back to the end of June have just become too much for the club to overlook. Montero has not only been scored upon in seven of his past eight appearances — he’s given up multiple runs in each of those seven outings. Since June 25, he’s pitched to a whopping 13.09 ERA in 11 innings — surrendering 16 runs on 25 hits and four walks with 11 punchouts in that time. That brutal stretch has ballooned his season ERA all the way to 7.27.

As rough as the 2021 season has been for Montero, the former Mets farmhand was quite good in his two seasons with Texas. He signed with the Rangers while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and eventually made his debut partway through the 2019 season, slowly earning the team’s trust in higher-leverage spots. By the 2020 season, he was the primary closer in Arlington, leading the club with eight saves. Montero’s two years in Texas produced a 3.09 ERA with a strong 28.6 percent strikeout rate against just a 5.9 percent walk rate.

Things clearly didn’t work out in Seattle, and the Mariners will now have a week to trade Montero, place him on outright waivers or simply release him. He’s on a $2.25M salary, making it highly unlikely that a team would either trade for him or claim him on waivers if placed there. And, even if Montero goes unclaimed, he reached five years of major league service time in 2021, giving him the right to reject the outright assignment in favor of free agency — without forfeiting the remaining guarantee on his deal.

As such, it seems quite likely that this move will spell the end of Montero’s time with the organization. If he does either receive his release or reject an outright assignment, he’ll hit the open market in search of a change of scenery and fresh opportunity. Given how well Montero pitched in 2019-20, other clubs would surely have interest on what would essentially be a free look.

As for the 31-year-old Sadler, he’ll return to the Mariners and look to build on what was a strong start to his time with the club. Seattle plucked him off waivers out of the Cubs organization in 2020, and he’s proceeded to give the team 21 innings of 3.00 ERA relief work dating back to the time of that claim. Sadler has fanned exactly a quarter of the 88 batters he’s faced as a Mariner and kept the ball on the ground at a roughly 44 percent clip as well.

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