Arkins: M’s Improve Staff, Was It Enough?

While not the splashy move some fans were hoping for, the Seattle Mariners improved their pitching staff today by reacquiring versatile pitcher Erasmo Ramirez from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for veteran reliever Steve Cishek.

In recent days, several national baseball reporters have intimated Seattle as a potential player in a bidding war among contenders attempting to acquire Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray. Instead, the club added a familiar face from years past.

Prior to the 2015 season, the Mariners traded Ramirez to Tampa Bay for pitcher Mike Montgomery. At the time, the native Nicaraguan wasn’t going to make the club out of Spring Training and had no minor league options remaining. This left then-general manager Jack Zduriencik with few choices.

For the Mariners to assign Ramirez to the minor leagues, he would’ve needed him to clear waivers first — an unlikely scenario. Hence the deal with the Rays.

Fast forward nearly three years and Zduriencik’s replacement — Jerry Dipoto — found himself needing to add another versatile element to his pitching staff. Just yesterday, the second-year GM alluded to the possibility of adding a pitcher of Ramirez’s ilk during an interview on the Danny, Dave, and Moore Show on 710 ESPN Seattle.

When referring to adding pieces to his roster, Dipoto noted he’d like to add “some type of starter valuable. We’d like to have that flexible option on the staff.” Ramirez fits that description. The 27-year-old has made 18 relief and eight starting appearances for Tampa Bay this season.

Still, the right-hander has been far better as a reliever this season. Here’s a breakdown of his stat line in both starting and relieving roles.

Role IP ERA G ERA FIP AVG OBP SLG WHIP BB% SO%
SP 38.2 6.05 8 6.05 4.70 .291 .337 .500 1.448 5.9% 18.9%
RP 30.2 3.23 18 3.23 3.51 .187 .232 .311 0.848 5.3% 20.3%

In hindsight, the departure of Cishek shouldn’t come as a surprise. The 31-year-old’s role became less defined with the Mariners after last week’s acquisition of fellow right-hander David Phelps from the Miami Marlins.

Along with Phelps, manager Scott Servais had other righty options with Nick Vincent and Tony Zych capable of holding down the late innings prior to handing the ball to closer Edwin Diaz.

Considering Phelps, Vincent, and Zych are under team control past this season, Cishek — a pending free agent — was the logical choice to deal. Essentially, the Mariners took advantage of a redundancy in one area of the bullpen to bolster another.

Financially, the trade is a wash for both parties. According to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, the Mariners are offsetting the difference between Cishek’s and Ramirez’s salaries.

Ramirez has two more years of arbitration eligibility remaining. Barring unforeseen circumstances or an extension deal, Seattle will offer the six-year veteran arbitration in the offseason.

The addition of Ramirez certainly helps the Mariners compensate for a lackluster rotation comprised of James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, and a group of inconsistent back-end starters.

Too often this season, Servais was forced to ride out bad starter performances and sacrifice wins rather than overtax his relievers and further expose his bullpen in subsequent games. That’s the second-order effect of having a volatile rotation. Now, the second-year manager can have a quicker hook with Ramirez and rookie Emilio Pagan capable of covering multiple innings.

Today’s trade is a prototypical Dipoto move — improve an area of weakness while adding a younger, controllable player in the process. Nevertheless, it doesn’t nudge the Mariners closer to serious postseason contention.

Yes, Seattle is a better team thanks to Ramirez’s presence. But, the club is still relying on inconsistent starters Ariel Miranda, Yovani Gallardo, Andrew Moore, and Sam Gaviglio at the back of the rotation. That’s not good enough.

Promoting recent acquisition Marco Gonzales from Class-AAA Tacoma might help. But, that’s not a season-altering move. At best, it’s an incremental improvement.

Perhaps, Dipoto finds more rotation help before Monday’s MLB non-waiver trade deadline. Doing so would energize his club’s chances of playing meaningful October baseball.

Otherwise, the Mariners risk finishing the season not quite good enough to end their dreaded 15-year postseason drought.

That’d be a disappointing conclusion to a season that looked so promising in March.

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