Among the concerns left with the Seattle Mariners once they’d pack up and left Nashville in their rearview mirror was the bullpen. General manager Jerry Dipoto hinted, darned near telling the media, actually, that a deal for a reliever was likely to get done sooner than later, bolstering the relief corps. Early Saturday, ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reports that right-hander Steve Cishek has agreed to a two-year deal with the Mariners, guaranteeing him $10 million.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports tweets that Cishek can earn up to $17 million in total if he earns incentives that likely are based in games finished, strongly suggesting he will begin the season as the club’s closer.
This moves veteran Joaquin Benoit into a setup role where he and a healthy Charlie Furbush handle the seventh and eighth innings. While the names in the projected Seattle bullpen aren’t going to cause confusion with the Royals or Red Sox group, the addition of Cishek does lengthen it considerably, at least as long as the 29-year-old returns to form.
Cishek was very good in 2013 and 2014, missing bats like crazy and pounding the zone. In 2015, he lost some zip on his fastball and his sinker left him leading to a few more extra-base hits, fewer strikeouts and his spotty command led to more walks and thus runs allowed.
The Mariners are counting on him to get back to where he was the previous seasons, when his sidearm delivery deceived batters from both sides of the plate, leading to K/9 rates of 9.05, 9.61, 9.56 and 11.57 until it dipped to 7.81. Left-handers lit him up in ’15 but over the course of his career, Cishek has handled them well enough — .296 wOBA, .234 BAA, .350 SLG.
Cishek’s arm slot helps him create good sink and movement on all of his pitches, starting with the sinker that sits 91-92 mph, touching 93-94 when he’s fresh. He gets swings and misses with a 79-82 mph slider and only shows the changeup on rare occasions.
He’s been a ground ball pitcher in the past, tallying rates up to 57 percent before the strikeouts became a bigger part of his game, then the fly balls started to dominate a little more. His home ballpark in Miami isn’t much different from Safeco Field, although the ball travels a little better in Florida than in Seattle and on the West Coast in general.
The Mariners shouldn’t be done adding pieces to all parts of their roster, but this deal, with Cishek making $4 million guaranteed in 2016, puts the club near the $125 million mark in payroll at $123.357 using all data available to Prospect Insider. While there’s no set limit, common sense suggests there could be as much as $10-12 million left, but not likely for the sake of adding lesser bit parts for millions each.
The free agent and trade markets are risky and expensive for starting pitching and relievers right now, but perhaps any payroll space left will be used over the summer, and/or/if those markets change between now and the start of the season.
There’s virtually zero chance Dipoto is done with the roster two weeks before Christmas, but the club may have to wait on another significant piece as other clubs and free agents figure out their next moves and set off a domino effect.
Cishek improves the club’s bullpen and if he reverts back to two or three years ago the Mariners have a reliable arm to go to to close out games. Ideally, for a title-contending team, Cishek is a setup man, so depending on how the season goes, the bullpen, like every other unit on the roster, isn’t set in stone by any stretch. Come July, if the M’s somehow find themselves in the race, Dipoto will add to the back-end of the bullpen, perhaps adding yet another upgrade — if one hasn’t fallen into their lap before then.