M’s Improve Bullpen Without Forsaking Future

With his club playing like postseason contenders since the all-star break, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto bolstered his heavily burdened bullpen by acquiring Miami Marlins reliever David Phelps for a package of prospects.

While not a high-profile difference maker, Phelps’ veteran presence immediately lengthens a Seattle bullpen exposed by an inconsistent rotation averaging just 5.5 innings/start.

Phelps is a converted starter with a knack for missing bats, although his 10.7-percent walk rate is ninth highest among major league relievers with 40-plus innings pitched.

Still, the Notre Dame University alum is a workhorse — his 47 innings pitched is fourteenth highest among big league relievers and more than any Seattle reliever has logged this year.

As for where Phelps stacks up against the Mariners’ current cadre of relief arms in other categories, look at the following table. I’d say he compares favorably to his new teammates.

Name Age ERA G SV IP FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 WAR
Edwin Diaz 23 3.10 40 18 40.2 4.24 1.156 6.4 1.8 4.0 12.8 0.5
Nick Vincent 30 2.04 42 0 39.2 2.33 1.084 8.2 0.2 1.6 7.5 1.5
James Pazos 26 3.44 37 0 36.2 3.71 1.255 7.6 1.0 3.7 10.8 0.2
Tony Zych 26 2.15 32 1 29.1 4.16 1.125 5.8 0.6 4.3 7.7 1.0
Marc Rzepczynski 31 3.06 34 0 17.2 4.21 1.415 6.6 0.5 6.1 7.6 0.2
Dan Altavilla (40-man) 24 5.46 29 0 29.2 5.73 1.483 9.1 2.4 4.2 10.9 -0.3
Steve Cishek 31 3.18 20 1 17.0 4.25 1.059 6.4 1.1 3.2 7.4 0.4
David Phelps 30 3.45 44 0 47.0 3.69 1.340 8.0 1.0 4.0 9.8 0.4

Phelps gives manager Scott Servais a complimentary piece to pair with his most consistent and called upon reliever — primary setup man Nick Vincent. Getting someone to help shoulder the late-inning load with Vincent is particularly crucial at this stage of the season.

By his own admission, Servais overworked Vincent last season, which eventually landed the right-hander on the disabled list. The risk of overusing the 31-year-old was building once again. Earlier this week, the six-year major leaguer appeared in a fourth consecutive game for the first time since 2014 and proved ineffective.

The second order effect of adding a late-inning power arm is reinforcing the bridge between the rotation and closer Edwin Diaz.

Now, Servais can now turn to short relievers Steve Cishek, Marc Rzepczynski, James Pazos, and Tony Zych earlier in games more often knowing he has Phelps, Vincent, and Diaz holding down the late innings.

Financially, Phelps has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining and is due approximately $1.8 million of the $4.6 million he’s earning this season. Assuming Cishek and his $6 million salary depart via free agency after the season, the Phelps acquisition won’t affect 2018 payroll flexibility.

The minor leaguers going to Miami are outfielder Brayan Hernandez and pitchers Brandon Miller, Pablo Lopez, and Lukas Schiraldi.

At mid-season, Prospect Insider ranked Hernandez the number-five prospect in the Mariners system. The 19-year-old has upside, but doesn’t project to be major league ready until at least 2020.

With outfield prospects Tyler O’Neill and Kyle Lewis expected to contribute in the majors sooner than Hernandez and several controllable outfielders on the big league roster, dealing the native Venezuelan to improve the bullpen is a reasonable move both now and the future.

Miller was starting games for Class-A Clinton and considered a back-of-the-rotation material by the Mariners. However, the right-hander may be destined for transition to a relief role.

Both Lopez and Schiraldi were playing with High-A Modesto and rated as fringe prospects in Seattle’s relatively thin farm system.

The 21-year-old Lopez was starting games while Schiraldi — the son of former major league pitcher Calvin Schiraldi — was working out of the bullpen.

Adding Phelps is a prototypical Dipoto move. By adding a reliever with club control and not surrendering highly ranked prospects in the deal, the 48-year old executive improved his current roster without forsaking his organization’s future.

Certainly, adding a player of Phelps’ ilk doesn’t make the Mariners instant favorites to reach the postseason. The club remains on the fringe of contention and needs rotation help; picking up another reliever would help too.

Having said that, Seattle’s bullpen is deeper than it’s been all season thanks to today’s deal. This is particularly key considering they begin a four-game series tonight against a formidable wild card competitor — the New York Yankees.

It’s highly unlikely acquiring David Phelps will go down in Mariners’ lore as the singular move that catapulted the club to a wild card berth.

On the other hand, there’s a much better chance the Phelps deal is remembered as the first of several brokered by Dipoto that helped return meaningful October baseball to the Emerald City in 2017.

Wouldn’t that be something?

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