The Seattle Mariners have been mentioned in connection with plenty of high-profile names this offseason, and they landed the biggest free agent fish in Robinson Cano. Right now, they look like major players in the Masahiro Tanaka sweepstakes, and could be involved with either of Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, or Ervin Santana. While at least one other major acquisition is probably necessary in order to make a playoff push, the team lacks depth at important positions such as catcher, the starting rotation, and the bullpen. Here are some low-cost moves that could help improve the M’s in those areas.
Right now, the Mariners are thin behind Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma. Top prospects Taijuan Walker and James Paxton could start the year with the big league club, but it’s unlikely they will be in the rotation the whole year. The Steamer depth chart has Erasmo Ramirez listed as the No. 3. Even if they do acquire a big name, they’ll need another arm unless they want to rely on the likes of Brandon Maurer, Blake Beavan, or Hector Noesi.
Chris Capuano. The 35 year-old lefty reportedly wants a two-year deal. Still, even with his age and spotty injury history, Capuano would be a bargain for something in the neighborhood of $12 million. Over the past three seasons, he has a K/BB ratio and a swinging strike rate on par with Garza. His ERA isn’t great, but his 98 xFIP- is promising. He threw more sinkers than ever in 2013, and that resulted in a career high groundball rate.
Joe Saunders or Paul Maholm. The Mariners already declined Saunders’ option after he pitched to a 5.26 ERA in 32 starts in 2013. Maholm pitched poorly down the stretch after a solid first half, and was left off the Atlanta Braves postseason roster. Neither pitcher is an exciting option. However, both have been able to make at least 26 starts in each of the last six seasons, and their career ERA- is right around the league average.
With Fernando Rodney and Grant Balfour still available, the Mariners might be in search of a late-inning arm to take over the closer role. Currently, Danny Farquhar looks like the Opening Day closer, and Tom Wilhelmsen, who faded after a strong start to the season, might be dealt before then. The Steamer Depth chart projects the M’s pen for just 1.9 fWAR, suggesting they are in need of reinforcements.
Oliver Perez struggled in the second half, allowing 15 earned runs in 17 innings. Still, the strikeout stuff was there, as he fanned 28.6 percent of hitters. Overall, he posted a 32.3 percent strikeout rate and a manageable 11.4 percent walk rate. Despite the funky delivery, the lefty has been almost equally effective against righties the past two seasons. He’s too unreliable to be a closer, but retaining him gives the Mariners a big-time swing and miss guy for high-leverage situations.
Chad Gaudin spent time in the bullpen and the starting rotation for the San Francisco Giants. He threw a total of 97 innings, with 3.06 ERA and 3.34 FIP. The 30 year-old had a 21.7 percent strikeout rate and righties hit just .190/.249/.312 against him thanks to a slider that had a 17.5 percent swinging strike rate. Luis Ayala has been strong against righties the past three seasons and he owns a 2.58 ERA in that time span. His peripherals don’t quite line up, but he had a 58.9 percent groundball rate in 2013.
Lottery-ticket style options include Andrew Bailey, who has been beset with injury troubles, but has swing and miss stuff when he’s on the mound. He had a 33.6 percent strikeout rate in 30 games with the Boston Red Sox in 2013. Carlos Marmol is notorious for his poor control, but his fastball velocity hasn’t dropped off, and he still strikes out hitters at a very high rate. Joel Hanrahan is making a return from Tommy John surgery. He’s worth a flier if he can still pump upper 90’s heat.
The Mariners plan on making Mike Zunino the starting catcher. Still, that leaves at least 35 games for a backup to fill in. Humberto Quintero, who was recently signed to a minor league deal, is a last-resort. At this point, the free agent market is all but dried up, unless you consider Miguel Olivo a viable option. Jose Lobaton is probably the best player available via trade, with the Rays having already signed Jose Molina and dealt for Ryan Hanigan. However, he’ll cost more to acquire, and doesn’t fit in a backup role as nicely as these options.
The New York Yankees will likely shop Austin Romine with the addition of Brian McCann and with Francisco Cervelli likely to hold down the backup role. Romine had a poor year at the plate, with a .207/.255/.296 line in 148 plate appearances. His second half was much better, as he produced a 106 wRC+ with a 10.3 percent walk rate. Small sample size caveats aside, Romine is a solid defender with a nice minor league track record. StatCorner grades him as one of the better pitch-framers in the game.
Chris Iannetta might be available if the Los Angeles Angels want to give Hank Conger more playing time. Unlike Romine, Iannetta has a solid bat. For his career, he has a 103 wRC+. He counteracts a 22.6 percent strikeout rate with a 14.2 percent walk rate and above-average power for a catcher. His defensive skills, especially pitch-framing, are suspect, and he’s more expensive than other options, with a contract that calls for him to make $10 million over the next two seasons.
Erik Kratz has already been moved once this offseason, as the Philadelphia Phillies sent him and Rob Rasmussen to the Toronto Blue Jays for Brad Lincoln. The 33 year-old received his most significant playing time in 2013, as he started 68 games. A big man, Kratz has some pop in his bat, and Steamer and Oliver both project a 90 wRC+. In addition, he has a solid arm, and StatCorner grades him as an excellent pitch-framer.
These moves aren’t flashy, and they won’t energize the fan base like a Tanaka signing would. Still, the Mariners badly need depth at these positions, and adding Capuano along with a relief pitcher or two and a backup catcher could go a long way towards remedying this problem.