For the last decade, the Seattle Mariners have been a hotbed for Canadian baseball talent. But with the trade of James Paxton (Ladner, BC) to the New York Yankees, the Canadian Era in Seattle appears to be over.
The Mariners look ready to start the 2019 campaign without a Canadian for the first time since 2007.
Mariners recent Canadian history
Erik Bedard: 2008-2011
In February 2008 Seattle acquired lefty Erik Bedard from the Baltimore Orioles, in one of the most lop-sided trades in recent MLB history. The Mariners sent prospects Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, George Sherrill, Tony Butler, and Kam Mickolio to Baltimore in exchange for Bedard, who was coming off a career year.
Bedard finished fifth in the 2007 AL Cy Young voting, after going 13-5, with a 3.16 ERA, and 221 strikeouts. The Ottawa native never returned to his ’07 glory, as he struggled with shoulder injury during his three and a half seasons in Seattle. But he was a sturdy starter when healthy, going 15-14, with a 3.31 ERA, and 249 strikeouts in 255.1 innings as a Mariner.
Bedard brought a Canadian flavor to the M’s big league team, but there was already a couple promising Canucks in Seattle’s prospect pool. The Mariners top-10 prospect list in 2008 featured Canadians Phillipe Aumont (#2) and Michael Saunders (#5).
Aumont would eventually be a key piece of the trade that brought Cliff Lee to Seattle but never lived up to his top-prospect status. But Saunders emerged as a reliable hitter during the early years of the Canadian Era in Seattle.
Michael Saunders: 2009-2014
Much like Bedard, Saunders’ Mariners career was hampered by injuries. The Victoria native made his Seattle debut in 2009, becoming the first of many Canadian from southern British Columbia. Saunders remained one of Seattle’s top prospects until he emerged as a starter in 2012.
In 2012 Saunders had a breakout season in which he hit .247, with a .306 OBP, 21 home runs, and 19 stolen bases. After Bedard left in 2011, Saunders became the Canadian face of the franchise.
The Mariners traded Saunders to the Blue Jays after the 2014 season, for lefty JA Happ.
Jason Bay: 2013
One of the greatest Canadian hitters of all time, Jason Bay was a three-time all-star and had 222 home runs in an 11-year MLB career. The Trail, BC-native played his final season with the Mariners and along with Saunders and Paxton made a very Canadian ball club.
Bay’s 2013 campaign was far from spectacular as he hit only .204, with a .298 OBP, and 11 home runs in 68 games.
Tyler O’Neill never played a game for the Mariners but he was in the Club’s top-ten prospect list in 2016 and 2017 (ranked 2nd before 2017).
The Maple Ridge, BC native was shipped off to St. Louis part way through 2017 in exchange for Cardinals prospect Marco Gonzales. O’Neill made his MLB debut with the Cardinals in 2018, hitting .254, with a .303 OBP and 9 home runs in 61 games.
James Paxton: 2013-2018
After Bay retired and Saunders was traded to Toronto, former first-round pick Paxton took over the title as the Canadian face of the franchise. Like Bedard, Saunders, and Bay, Paxton has dealt with his fair share of injuries but when healthy he was the Mariners best pitcher over the last couple seasons.
In 2018, he set career highs in games played (26), complete games (2), shutouts (1), innings pitched (160.1), and strikeouts (208). He became only the seventh Canadian in MLB history to record over 200 strikeouts in a season and pitched a no-hitter against Toronto in May.
Paxton was ranked in Seattle’s top-10 prospect list from 2012-2014 and was ranked as high as third before his rookie season in 2014.
Paxton and his Canadian-ness was embraced by Mariners fans. The big lefty became known as ‘Big Maple’ by the Seattle faithful and every time he struck someone out fans would mark up an ‘eh’ instead of a ‘K.’
But just this past month Paxton was shipped off to the Yankees in return for prospects Justus Sheffield, Dom Thompson-Williams, and Erik Swanson. By trading a dominant lefty, coming off of a career year for a slew of prospects, Seattle may be trying to do what the Orioles did to them with Bedard over a decade ago.
Current crop of Canadians
There are currently no Canadians on Seattle’s 40 man roster or on their top-30 prospect list. In 2018, there were three Canucks that played in the Mariners system:
The Toronto native was once considered one of Canada’s bright young talents. After being drafted in 2014, the 18-year old Morgan received a $2 million signing bonus from the Mariners, which was the third highest amount ever given to a Canadian (at the time).
But he has failed to live up to the hype and has yet to advance past Single-A. It may seem premature to write off Morgan at just 22, but after hitting for a combined .201, with a .278 OBP in five seasons in the minors, a big league future seems unlikely.
2018: .157/.246/.382, 19 HR, 41 RBI
Drafted at 23, Boyd is also a long shot to make the majors. The Mariners selected the University of Arizona product in the 24th round (723rd overall) of the 2017 draft.
Boyd was teammates with Morgan this season with the Modesto Nuts of the California League.
2018: .207/.285/.248, 2 HR, 18 RBI
The 22-year old Winnipegger was drafted a year after Boyd, was picked six spots ahead (718th overall) of Boyd, and received the exact same $5,000 bonus that Boyd did.
Onyshko excelled in his first professional season, and although it was an extremely small sample size (24.0 IP), he seems to be the one to watch from the Mariners current crop.
2018: 24 IP, 1-0, 2.63 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 29 K
At present, none of these Canadians appear ready to reach the MLB in the near future. Seattle could still add a Canuck to the roster before Opening Day, via trade or the upcoming Rule-5 Draft. So the Canadian Era in Seattle is not ‘officially over.”
Why have Mariners become Canada’s second team?
Since 1991 the Mariners have spent $5,557,000 on signing bonuses for Canadians (second most in MLB) according to the Canadian Baseball Network. The Seattle-Canadian connection is not just based on the geographic convenience of being two hours south of British Columbia.
One of the main reason for the Mariners strong Canadian presence was long-time scout Wayne Norton, who passed away in January 2018. Norton spent the last 17 years scouting for Seattle, spending much of his time in his native land of Canada.
Norton was responsible for Mariners signings such as Morgan, Saunders, Aumont, O’Neill, Paxton, and Tyson Gillies. Whether this intense focus on Canadian prospects will continue after Norton is yet to be seen. But it does appear that Seattle will be without a Canuck for the first time in over a decade.
(Top Photo: OTTO GREULE JR/GETTY IMAGES)