The Seattle Mariners have continued their busy offseason by acquiring starting pitcher Chris Heston from the San Francisco Giants for a player to be named later. The right-hander’s arrival deepens a starting staff that already includes Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Nate Karns, Ariel Miranda, and rookie Rob Whalen as rotation candidates.
Starting pitching depth is crucial for any contender. Last season, the average major league club used 11 starters — the Mariners used 13. As fans painfully recall, Seattle’s rotation wasn’t deep enough to deal with injuries and ineffectiveness in June when the club scuffled to a 10-18 record and fell out of the division race.
That’s where having an arm like Heston could help. He logged 177.2 innings and a 3.95 earned run average (ERA) during 31 starts during his first full season with San Francisco in 2015.
The right-hander’s most noteworthy performance during his rookie year was a no-hitter against the New York Mets. He struck out 11 and walked none, but didn’t earn the distinction of a perfect game thanks to three hit batters.
Drilling opposing hitters was a problem for Heston in 2015. He tied with three other pitchers for the league lead (13), which underscored the 28-year-old’s control problems. His 3.24 walks-per-nine innings (BB/9) was thirteenth worst among major league starters qualified for the ERA title.
After beginning 2016 in the Giants’ bullpen, Heston was quickly optioned to Class-AAA Sacramento by the end of April. With the River Cats, he started 14 games with a 4.51 ERA and — once again — he had a high BB/9 (3.55). In late June, Heston suffered an oblique strain and only tossed 20.2 relatively ineffective innings for the remainder of the year.
By now, some Seattle fans may not agree with me that Heston could help the Mariners in 2017. They could be wondering why general manager Jerry Dipoto would bother adding an inconsistent starter with control issues. But, there’s a sound rationale to his approach.
Heston’s 2015 performance proves the potential to deliver innings, which is something the Mariners will need next season. Moreover, he’s under team control through the 2021 season and has an option remaining, which means he can be shuttled back and forth between the minors next season. That’s the kind of roster flexibility Dipoto craves.
Clearly, Seattle still needs a reliable mid-rotation veteran presence and Heston isn’t that player. Dipoto acknowledged as much today when talking to Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune.
#Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto confirms club is still seeking to acquire a veteran pitcher for their rotation.
— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) December 8, 2016
Not long ago, I suggested starting pitchers who could be fits for the Mariners as did Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill in early November. Perhaps, Dipoto will go after one of the players we’ve mentioned, although some of the names on our lists could potentially cost his organization notable prospects.
An alternative strategy Seattle could employ would be dealing for a relatively expensive pitcher with the Mariners paying the player’s complete salary. In other words, deal with a club trying to dump payroll. Taking such an approach would permit Dipoto to pick up a veteran without losing much in the way of prospects.
Churchill recently suggested Kansas City Royals Ian Kennedy as an example of a relatively expensive player who could help the Mariners. The 10-year veteran is under contract through 2020, owed $62.5 million, and can opt out of his deal and receive a $6 million buyout after next season.
While adding Kennedy would be a significant financial commitment, he’s averaged 188 innings pitched and a 3.84 ERA during the last three seasons. Those numbers are exactly what Dipoto has been looking for in a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
Perhaps, the Mariners won’t get their man before baseball’s Winter Meetings conclude tomorrow. If that’s the case, fans shouldn’t fret. The fact that Dipoto acknowledges he’s not done should be an encouraging sign.
More importantly, pitchers and catchers don’t report until Valentine’s Day, meaning there’s still plenty of hot stove season left for Seattle to bolster its rotation.