The Seattle Mariners, per GM Jerry Dipoto, will be in the market for a few arms this winter, and if his tone can be interpreted at all it seems to send the message that his ballclub is looking at a different kind of free agent than it was a year ago. That should make for a fun offseason.

Last winter, the Mariners signs right-handers CJ Edwards, Kendall Graveman, Taijuan Walker and Yoshihisa Hirano, most notably,  Now, don’t expect Seattle to throw out any mega deals, but this year’s list is very likely to be more interesting.

It sounds like — and can be backed up by common sense — Dipoto would like to add two or three proven veteran relievers, including one that projects as an option in the ninth inning, and a starter with some probability. What this means is the club isn’t just after projects with some upside, since they’re goal for 2021 is to snag one of 189 playoff spots in the American League.

Free agency isn’t the only way to add talent, of course, so included here are some buy-low trade candidates. Why ‘buy-low’? Because it’s not time for Dipoto to trade young talent for major leaguers, at least not in a significant manner.

I also believe the club should look to improve the bench with a multi-position player with some proven value at the plate. On the Baseball Things podcast recently, we discussed players like Josh Harrison and Brad Miller, both free agents this offseason. But there are a few buy-low trade candidates that may be sensible bench targets, too.

Here are some free agents I think Seattle should consider, at varying degrees.

Starting Pitchers

Anthony DeSclafani, RHP

DeSclafani entered 2020 with a career FIP around four, but scuffled in seven starts and was pushed to the bullpen before eventually being left off the Reds’ postseason roster.

He’s throwing as hard as ever (95.2 mph) and has a changeup, slider and curveball that have been average or better. The slider is consistently a plus pitch.

DeSclafani failed to miss bats (15.8%, down from 24% a year ago) and his walk rate was up 3% over 2019.

While not a frontline arm, the soon-to-be 31-year-old could be a value buy this winter. He’s had some injury issues in the past — he made just 41 starts between 2017 and 2018 — but also has two 31-start seasons and there were no signs of any significant injuries hampering his abilities this past season.

On a one-year deal, the right-hander could make a lot of sense for Seattle, and anything around league average over 25-plus starts would be a quality addition. Perhaps the Mariners six-man rotation can help him stay healthy and sharp.

Kevin Gausman, RHP

Gausman is comong off three average or better seasons, with the most recent being his best yet as a big leaguer. He made 10 starts and posted a 3.09 FIP and 32.2% K rate, showing occasional dominance and the same quality control that has made him interesting his entire career.

There’s No. 2 stuff here and the only question is whether or not Gausman can bring it for 25 starts or more. Seattle is a great fit for Gausman, but the Mariners will have competition for his services, and it ultimately may take a multi-year deal to acquire the former first-round pick.

He’s 30 in January but has a pretty clean health record and the miles on the arm are more than reasonable.

Michael Wacha, RHP

Wacha hasn’t been good at all since 2018, posting FIPs over five over his last 37 appearances, all but six in a starting role. But the arm is sound and the combination of command and stuff suggest mid-rotation ability.

Wacha’s fastball is firmly in the 93-95 mph range, but he hasn’t drawn much value from the fastball of late, which has him throwing his fringey cutter even more. His best pitch has typically been his changeup, but he didn’t have it in 2020.

Wacha was dinged as an amateur for not having a quality breaking ball, and that’s been the case the past two seasons with his cutter and curveball both being firmly below average, and he all but ditched the curveball in 2020.

He’s more of a project than Gausman, but there don’t see to be any health risks — beyond the inherent risk of throwing a baseball for a living. Like DeSclafani, a team with the chops Seattle has in terms of finding ways to improve pitch value should be all over Wacha this winter on a one-year deal.

Jake Odorizzi, RHP

Odorizzi has a finger injury in 2020, but made 28 starts or more from 2014-2019 with the Rays and Twins. The results were mixed, but he’s typically been a good No. 4 starter and was more than that in 2019 when his fastball dazzled thanks to quality command and three other average or better offerings, including a plus slider.

The right-hander sits 91-96 mph and carries a career strikeout rate of 25%, despite that dropping to 20% in four outings this past season.

He took a one-year qualifying offer for 2020 and after missing time and struggling in a small sample, he may be forced to take another short contract at a reduced price.

I’d feel comfortable with Seattle tabbing him their guy as long as the finger injury doesn’t project to bite him next year, too. Despite no guarantees, betting on a healthy Odorizzi being league average or better is a smart one.

Mike Minor, LHP

Minor has two 200-inning seasons under his belt — 2013 with the Braves and 2019 with the Rangers. He wasn’t as consistent this past season but was solid with the A’s in September and his postseason start was also adequate.

The positives of Minor’s 2020 include a 26% strikeout rate and an average exit velocity of 87.5 mph. But he also allowed too many hard-hit balls, which limits his potential value.

I’d bet on Minor as a league-average starter in 2020 if the risk was a one-year deal. He’s been as healthy as one can ask a pitcher to be, and if all else fails he has had great success as a 75-inning reliever.

I think Seattle is likely to add just one starter with significant guarantee money and I’d be shocked if they hand out a three-year contract or longer — and even mildly surprised if they go two years — but I could see them adding one of Minor, Odorizzi or Gausman, plus a Wacha, Walker or DeSclafani type if they feel like Justin Dunn will end up in the bullpen, anyway.

Relief Pitchers

Shane Greene, RHP

Greene covered 27.2 innings in a 60-game season in 2020 and had his ups and downs, but in a good bullpen is a solid middle reliever.

His strikeout rate was down this past season, but the velocity wasn’t and he’s a legitimate four-pitch arm — sinker, cutter, slider, changeup.

Greene isn’t going to get closer opportunities this winter, of course, but did save 55 games 2018-19 and could win such a role in Seattle, potentially making the Mariners intriguing for the 32-year-old.

Jeremy Jeffress, RHP

Jeffress, 33, was terrific in 2018 but has been somewhat ordinary since.  Still, it’s a middle-relief projection with some upside left if he can regain a little of the velocity he’s lost the past two seasons — he’s down two full ticks and averaged 93.8 mph in 2020.

He’s a sinker-splitter-curveball reliever and all three were average or better this past season. His control, however, was not as he posted a 13.6% walk rate.

A bounceback looks like a 7th or 8th inning arm, a role Seattle doesn’t have filled in the slightest at the moment, and Jeffress could get save chances from the outset.

Blake Treinen, RHP

Treinen is going to get looks from contenders who are willing to pay him, including the Dodgers, but in a good bullpen the 2020 version isn’t a closer and should be limited in high-leverage situations.

Treinen was elite in 2018, struggled in 2019, and while he rebounded in 27 appearances this past season, his strikeout rate was down to 20.6%. He’s using the sinker more and the four-seamer and cutter less, while his slider usage is up to 26%, which is neither good nor bad, but at his best all four were values and his fastball combo was devastating.

Treine is 32 and healthy, and a reasonable bet for better results in 2021 since the stuff — outside the fastball being hit harder, despite the same 97 mph heat — is similar.

Trevor Rosenthal, RHP

I think Rosenthal is a pipe dream for Seattle, since he’s now proven to some extent his bout with severe control problems are behind him. He posted a career-best 41.8% strikeout rate in 2020 and everything else is in line with his best years.

Some poor GM is probably going to give him a multi-year deal, but if that doesn’t happen and he wants to be assured the closer role to start the season, Seattle is one of a large handful of possibilities… as are the Angels, for the record.

Joakim Soria, RHP

Soria, 37 next May, had another strong year, the third in the last four he’s posted a FIP under three. But his xFIP this past season over five, his strikeout rate is down a touch and he had some control issues beyond a high-leverage arm.

He’s still very interesting for a club such as Seattle. He averaged 92.8 mph with the fastball in 2020 — 93.0, 92.9, 93.2 the last three years — and made 22 appearances, answering the bell every time upon which he was called.

If Soria is one of the arms the Mariners add this winter it’s a good move.

Justin Wilson, LHP

Wilson had a good 2020 and has always walked more batters than is ideal, but he misses bats — 26.7% this past season, 26.2 for his career — and dominates lefties, including a .115/.207/.231 slash with the Mets.

With his splits, Wilson can’t be any club’s relief ace, and the three batter minimum puts pressure on his ability versus RHBs, but if the Mariners can get more strikes out of him against righties he’ll be fine.

Greg Holland, RHP

Holland is more of an injury risk than most other free agent relievers, but he was very good in 2020, punching out nearly 28% of the batters he faced and posting a career-best 6.7% walk rate.

I wouldn’t bet on that kind of control over the course of a full 2021, but the stuff is the best its been since 2014. He’ll be 35 in November and the aforementioned risk is real and relatively high, but the price might be right all things considered.

Seattle could be attractive to Holland if the closer’s role is dangled.

Dipoto is very creative and for at least one of the relievers he acquires this winter he’s likely to surprise some onlookers. But that surprise may come by way of trade, rather than free agency.

A small-to-medium-sized trade that includes a proven, yet young-ish reliever would not shock me at all. Such deals have been Dipoto’s M.O. since he arrived in Seattle five years ago.

Buy-Low Trade Targets

Seattle’s needs are mostly on the mound, but Dipoto never stops looking ahead, either. Here are four buy-low trade candidates for Seattle to consider this winter.

Ryan McMahon, 2B/1B/3B

McMahon isn’t your traditional utility player since shortstop is out of the question and he’s merely adequate at second base, but he can help at three positions, including third base, and a lot of his peripherals suggest he’s a better hitter than he’s shown for most of his career.

He hits the ball hard — 90.1 mph average exit velocity and 40.3% hard-hit rate in 2020 — and draws enough walks to support his batting averages, but he’s struggled to make enough contact to make it all count.

He blasted 24 home runs in 2019, so Colorado is going to hang onto that if clubs approach them this winter, but they have so many needs up and down their organization and they’ve been waiting for McMahon to show consistency for three years.

He’s also arbitration eligible this offseason, suggesting a seven-figure salary, and GM Jeff Bridich, assuming he’s back for 2021, will have to make changes.

McMahon has a solid chance to upgrade Seattle’s bench in 2021, and despite the fact he can’t play the outfield, the fact Dylan Moore can, and fairly well, covers Seattle in case of mid-game emergency.

Adam Frazier, 2B/SS

Frazier batted .276, .277, .278 with .344, .342, .336 OBPs from 2017-2019, but in 58 games in 2020 it all fell apart to the tune of a .230/.297/.364 slash. He’s arbitration eligible for the second time and made a pro-rated $2.8 million this past season, suggesting the grossly-rebuilding Pirates could very well be open to a deal.

Frazier is a solid-average second baseman, capable at shortstop and has 99 starts in the outfield where he’s posted +8 DRS in four years.

Frazier has hitting chops and I’d bet pretty hard on him bouncing back. He’ll be 29 in December, bats left-handed — which adds some needed balance to a pretty right-handed lineup the Mariners will send out there in 2021 (J.P. Crawford and Kyle Seager are the lone lefties in the projected lineup).

While Frazier won’t be free, the Pirates aren’t likely to love the idea of paying him $3.5-4 mill, either, suggesting he can be had without costing anything more than expendable talent in return.

Maybe a multi-player deal including Bucs right-handed reliever Tyler Bashlor can be negotiated. Bashlor is out of options and has struggled throwing strikes, but that sounds an awful lot like Connor Sadzeck and Austin Adams.

Bashlor sits 94-97 mph with an average slider and useful changeup.

Jon Gray, RHP

You knew I was going to bring up Gray, right?

I’ve been talking about Gray for two years because he’s underperformed since 2017 and now is a year from free agency. The Rockies either need to fish or cut bait and they don’t know how to cast a line.

Gray’s shoulder injury that ended his season is an obstacle and could derail the idea altogether, but there’s no indication — yet — that the injury is long-term.

The former No. 3 overall pick has a big fastball at 93-97, though his average heater dropped from 96.1 to 94.1 in 2020. His slider is plus to plus-plus, but he didn’t have the best of it much this past season, and while his changeup hasn’t been useful since 2018, his curveball has been at least fringe-average, albeit more of an early-count option than an out pitch.

His strikeout rate sank to 12.6% this year, but his 23.5%-24.6% the past three years still doesn’t match the raw stuff. Gray needs someone to help him unlock his potential.

I’m not saying he’s Gerrit Cole — he doesn’t have that kind of upside… Cole always did (former No. 1 pick, always projected as a potential ace), Gray does have frontline stuff, and he’s always been able to throw strike, generally speaking — 7.6% walk rate over his career.

I’d sure like to see what the Mariners could do with a healthy Gray in 2021. Wouldn’t you? And we’re past the point where the cost is too prohibitive. He’s only controlled by Colorado for one more season and via arbitration could net between $6-7 million.

This suggests the Rockies could even non-tender the right-hander, and if I were Seattle I’d be at the front of the line looking for medicals and potentially handing Gray a guaranteed contract. Heck, I’d be willing to give him his projected arbitration salary.

Miguel Andujar, 3B/1B

The Yankees have Gio Urshela now entrenched at third base for the foreseeable future and Andujar struggled in his 65 PAs in 2020.  We saw some potential at the plate in 2018 when the now-25-year-old (26 in March) batted .297/.328/.527 with 27 homers, and his ability to make contact could be a valuable foundation for a fix to his recent struggles.

Andujar is not a good third baseman, and the Mariners have first base locked up for the time being, but there’s upside here and all it takes is one injury to Seager, Ty France, Dylan Moore, or Evan White to open up time for a player like Andujar.

The squeeze here is the fact the Yankees have an option left on Andujar and he’s not arbitration eligible until after next season (at the soonest), so the Bombers aren’t particularly motivated to move him, generally a tell on cost.

I just wonder if the Mariners don’t have an equally-valuable yet dispensable piece in their system the Yankees might believe is more likely to help them than Andujar.…

The Seattle Mariners threatened to make the postseason for a short time in 2020, but came up short and finished 27-33 in what was Year 2 of Jerry Dipoto’s rebuild.

During the year, a lot of players came and went.

As one way to get ready for the offseason, here’s a look at every player on the 40-man roster as of October 2 with their roster, contract status, and service time.

For pitchers, click here.

CATCHERS (4)

Joe Hudson

G:
AVG:
.176
OBP:
.263
SLG:
.176
HR:
0
wRC+:
33
xwOBA :
.183
DRS:
-2
fWAR:
-0.1
EV:
82.1

SERVICE TIME: 1.106

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at lest 2026. Arbitration eligible after 2023 at the soonest. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Hudson will again enter the offseason as potential depth likely set for Triple-A Tacoma to open the 2021 season.


Tom Murphy

(60-IL)

SERVICE TIME: 3.092

CONTRACT: ARB1. No options remaining.

ROSTER: Murphy is expected to be 100% when pitchers and catchers report to camp in February. He’ll be the No. 1 catcher when the regular season begins, though it’s more of a timeshare scenario than a starter-backup.


Joseph Odom

G: 18
AVG:
.128
OBP:
.209
SLG:
.128
HR:
0
wRC+:
2
xwOBA:
.170
DRS:
1
fWAR:
-0.4
EV:
84.4

SERVICE TIME: 0.92

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Arbitration eligible after the 2023 season at the soonest. Two options remaining.

ROSTER:


Luis Torrens

G: 25
AVG:
 .247
OBP:
.325
SLG:
.371
HR:
1
wRC+:
96
xwOBA:
.305
DRS:
-5
fWAR:
-0.1
EV:
93

SERVICE TIME: 1.126

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. May qualify for Super Two status after 2021. No options remaining.

ROSTER:


INFIELDERS (11)

Shed Long Jr.

G: 34
AVG:
.171
OBP:
.242
SLG:
.291
HR:
3
wRC+:
50
xwOBA:
.242
DRS:
0
fWAR:
0.0
EV:
87.1

SERVICE TIME: 1.057

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. Arbitration eligible after the 2022 season at the soonest. One option remaining.

ROSTER: Long needs to hit, but did prove he can handle second base. His defensive versatility will likely become more crucial next season, and his 40-man roster spot is safe for the time being, but his 26-man spot is a bit shaky entering the offseason.


Kyle Seager

G: 60
AVG:
.241
OBP:
.355
SLG:
.433
HR:
9
wRC+:
118
xwOBA:
.352
DRS:
-5
fWAR:
1.5
EV:
89.2

SERVICE TIME: 9.085

CONTRACT: Has one year and $18 million remaining, plus a a $15 million option with a buyout amount to be determined.

ROSTER: Seager’s 40-man and 26-man roster spots are safe.


Dee Strange-Gordon

G: 33
AVG:
.200
OBP:
.268
SLG:
.213
HR:
0
wRC+:
42
xwOBA:
.256
DRS:
-3
fWAR:
-0.3
EV:
79.2

SERVICE TIME: 8.154

CONTRACT: Club options for 2021 at $14 million or a $1 million buyout.

ROSTER: Strange-Gordon has struggled mightily the past two seasons as his speed is being neutralized by shifting, and the Mariners are certainly going to move on from the veteran after three years in Seattle.


Donovan Walton

G: 5
AVG:
.154
OBP:
.214
SLG:
.231
HR:
0
wRC+:
25
xwOBA:
.216
DRS:
0
fWAR:
-0.1
EV:
81.2

SERVICE TIME: 0.098

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026.  Arbitration eligible after the 2023 season at the soonest. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Walton may be expendable with Lopes, Long, Haggerty, and Moore on the roster, plus another wave of multi-position utility defender closing in on the upper minors. The 40-man roster squeeze is coming for the Mariners. Walton is likely in the fence.


Evan White

G: 54
AVG:
.176
OBP:
.252
SLG:
.346
HR:
8
wRC+:
66
xwOBA:
.279
DRS:
7
fWAR:
-0.2
EV:
92.2

SERVICE TIME: 1.000

CONTRACT: Five years and $22.7 million remaining, plus $21 million in options for 2026 and 2027 combined. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: White’s roster spot is safe thanks to his long-term contract, and his role as the club’s starting first baseman is secure for the foreseeable future.


Dylan Moore

G: 38
AVG:
.255
OBP:
.358
SLG:
.496
HR: 8
wRC+:
139
xwOBA:
.343
DRS:
5
fWAR:
1.4
EV:
90.4

SERVICE TIME: 2.000

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2024. Arbitration eligible after 2021. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Moore likely enters 2021 with a starting spot within his grasp, likely second base. If he continues to perform at the plate well into next season, don’t be surprised if there’s a multi-year extension in the offing.


J.P. Crawford

G: 53
AVG:
.255
OBP:
.336
SLG:
.338
HR:
2
wRC+:
94
xwOBA:
.306
DRS:
6
fWAR:
1.1
EV: 
85.9

SERVICE TIME: 2.163

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2024. Super Two arbitration eligible this offseason. One option remaining.

ROSTER: Crawford is going to get at least the 2021 season to show he can produce better at the plate, and is defense allows him quite a bit of leeway, but once Year 3 of arbitration hits prior to the 2023 season, the price may start to be a significant factor.


Tim Lopes

G: 46
AVG:
.238
OBP:
.278
SLG:
.364
HR:
2
wRC+:
78
xwOBA:
.266
DRS:
-1
fWAR:
-0.1
EV:
87.1

SERVICE TIME: 1.069

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. Arbitration eligible after the 2022 season Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Lopes’ 26-man spot may be challenged by an offseason acquisition, though his 40-man spots is likely safe for the time being.


Sam Haggerty

G: 13
AVG:
.260
OBP:
.315
SLG:
.400
HR:
1
wRC+:
100
xwOBA:
.299
DRS:
1
fWAR:
0.4
EV:
90.6

SERVICE TIME: 0.074

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Arbitration eligible after 2023 at the soonest. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Seattle may end up choosing between Lopes, Haggerty and a veteran this offseason, and at some point relatively soon the Lopes-Haggerty-Walton trio will need to be sorted as 40-man roster spots become more precious.


Ty France

G: 23
AVG:
.302
OBP:
.362
SLG:
.453
HR:
2
wRC+:
129
xwOBA:
.343
DRS:
0
fWAR:
0.6
EV: 
85.6

SERVICE TIME: 1.089

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2025. Arbitration eligible after 2022. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: France is a shallow core player on the current 40-man and 26-man rosters.


OUTFIELDERS (6)

Braden Bishop

G: 12
AVG:
.167
OBP:
.242
SLG:
.233
HR:
0
wRC+:
37
xwOBA:
.222
DRS:
2
fWAR:
0.0
EV:
89.5

SERVICE TIME: 1.014

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. Arbitration eligible after 2022 at the soonest. One option remaining.

ROSTER: With the additions of Phillip Ervin and Jose Marmolejos, the expanded defensive profiles of Lopes, Moore, and Haggerty, and the inevitable arrival of Jarred Kelenic, Bishop’s 26-man prospects don’t look good for 2021. Furthermore, Bishop and Jake Fraley become dispensable from a 40-man standpoint before their arbitration years, so the pair is running out of time.

I do wonder if Seattle gives him a real shot at the left field gig out of the blocks instead of entering spring training without an actual competition. Bishop is a more natural fit as a fourth outfielder once Kelenic hits the majors since he’s a plus-plus glove, a plus runner and bats right-handed.


Phillip Ervin

G: 16
AVG:
.205
OBP:
.340
SLG:
.282
HR:
0
wRC+:
87
xwOBA:
.246
DRS:
.1
fWAR:
0.0
EV:
.85.4

SERVICE TIME: 2.110

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2024. Arbitration eligible after the 2021 season at the soonest. No options remaining.

ROSTER: While things can change this winter, Ervin enters the offseason as the seat warmer for Kelenic for the first few weeks of 2021. Once Kelenic is up, Ervin turns into a reserve, but keep an eye on a competition in March where Bishop may be a factor.


Jake Fraley

G: 7
AVG:
.154
OBP:
.241
SLG:
.269
HR:
0
wRC+:
45
xwOBA:
DRS:
1
fWAR:
-0.1
EV:
82.6

SERVICE TIME: 0.094

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Arbitration eligible after 2023 at the soonest. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Fraley is running out of opportunities, despite the fact the opportunities he’s received to this point have been few and far between. He’s unlikely to have a shot at the 26-man to open next season, and 2021 may be his last shot to find a long-term home on the 40-man.


Mitch Haniger (60-IL)


SERVICE TIME: 4.048

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2022. Arbitration eligible for the second time this winter. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Haniger’s roster spots are safe, though at the first sign of significant trade value, the 29-year-old is trade chum.


Kyle Lewis

G: 58
AVG:
.262
OBP:
.364
SLG:
.437
HR:
11
wRC+:
126
xwOBA:
.333
DRS:
-1
fWAR:
1.7
EV: 
88.5

SERVICE TIME: 1.020

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. Arbitration eligible after the 2022 season at the soonest. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Lewis represents the closest thing to a true all-star the Mariners possess. He’ll enter 2021 as the starting centerfielder and ultimately be flanked by Haniger and Kelenic.


Jose Marmolejos, DH/OF

G: 35
AVG:
.206
OBP:
.261
SLG:
.411
HR:
6
wRC+:
84
xwOBA:
.301
DRS:
-1
fWAR:
-0.3
EV:
90.4

SERVICE TIME: 1.061

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. Arbitration eligible after the 2022 season at the soonest. One option remaining.

ROSTER: Marmolejos is a placeholder until the Kelenics and Trammels pop. The biggest threat to his 26-man roster spot to open 2021 is Fraley, but his 40-man spot will be threatened next summer.…

The Seattle Mariners gave the Houston Astros a bit of a scare for the No. 2 spot in the American League West, but came up short and finished 27-33 in what was Year 2 of a total rebuild of the franchise.

Again this season, we saw a lot of players arrive, a lot of players depart, and some came and went so fast we didn’t get much of a look.

As one way to get ready for the offseason, here’s a look at every player on the 40-man roster as of October 2 with their roster, contract status, and service time.

For hitters, click here.

Marco Gonzales, LHP

GS: 11
IP: 69.2
FIP: 3.32
xFIP: 4.13
K%: 23.1
BB%: 2.5%
BAA: .222
fWAR: 2.0
WPA: 1.39

SERVICE TIME: 3.102

CONTRACT: Owed $30 million over the next four seasons, including $5.25 million in 2021.

ROSTER: Gonzales is the easiest arm on the roster to project for 2021. He’s a proven, consistent performer with almost no risk of falling off a cliff anytime soon.

The trade front isn’t likely to sweep away the left-hander anytime soon, either, despite the chance the league starts valuing command-and-feel starter more.


Justus Sheffield, LHP

GS: 10
IP: 55.1
FIP: 3.17
xFIP: 4.27
K%: 20.7
BB%: 8.6
BAA: .249
fWAR: 1.6
WPA: 0.70

SERVICE TIME: 1.053

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2025. Scheduled to become arbitration eligible following the 2022 season. Not in line for Super 2 status after 2021. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Sheffield is a sure thing for the Opening Day roster next spring and has earned a spot in the rotation for the foreseeable future. Where he’s slotted depends on what the club does over the winter with regard to starting pitching.


Yusei Kikuchi, LHP

GS: 9
IP: 47.0
FIP: 3.30
xFIP: 3.78
K%: 24.2
BB%: 10.3
BAA: .236
fWAR: 1.1
WPA: -0.20

ROSTER: Kikuchi has improved his status as a starter for 2021 and likely to start 2022 as well, but if the rotation gets full in ’22 all bets are off.

SERVICE TIME: 2.000

CONTRACT: Owed $31 million over the next two seasons. Through third day after 2021 World Series, Seattle has the right to exercise four one-year options at $16.5 million per. If they decline, player has two days to exercise a $13 million option for 2022.

The club is not picking up those options unless Kikuchi dazzles in ’21, and while I like the left-hander, it’s tough to see that level of production from him after the 41 MLB starts we’ve seen.


Justin Dunn, RHP

GS: 10
IP: 45.2
FIP: 6.54
xFIP: 6.23
K%: 19.2
BB%: 15.7
BAA: 188
fWAR: -0.3
WPA: -3.49

SERVICE TIME: 1.020

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2025. Scheduled to become arbitration eligible following the 2022 season. Not in line for potential Super 2 status after 2021. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Dunn carries high probability to open the 2021 season in the club’s rotation but it’s not out of the question they deem time in Triple-A Tacoma necessary, whether it be at the outset of the season or after showing more signs of struggle.

Command needs to improve, but the changeup is also a key for Dunn if he wishes to remain a viable rotation candidate. I do wonder if he might get back some velocity in ’21; Last summer he was 92-93 and touched 94-95 most starts in Double-A Arkansas.


Nick Margevicius, LHP

G/GS: 9/6
IP: 35.1
FIP:  4.51
xFIP: 4.53
K%: 21.8
BB%: 7.5
BAA: .257
fWAR: 0.4
WPA: -0.18

SERVICE TIME: 1.100

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2025. Scheduled to become arbitration eligible following the 2022 season. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Margevicius’ 40-man roster spot is safe, but his 26-man spot depends on what GM Jerry Dipoto decides to do this offseason and how the club plans to move forward with their pitching staff.

The step forward taken by Margevicius in 2020 makes him more than interesting moving forward, however, especially since the fastball and slider both took large steps forward, and at 24 years of age and built like Cliff Lee, maybe there’s more in the thank than the back-end arm we’ve seen so far.


Ljay Newsome, RHP

G/GS: 5/4
IP: 15.2
FIP: 5.73
xFIP: 4.99
K%: 13.2%
BB%: 1.5%
BAA: ..303
fWAR: 0.0
WPA: -0.01

ROSTER: Much like Margevicius but with less of a big-league resume, Newsome will have to battle for a 26-man spot next spring, and even if he makes it out of Peoria the young guns will be coming after his job in no time.

The stuff is rather ordinary on the surface — 89-92 mph four-seam fastball, curveball, changeup — but he’s thrown a cutter in the past and some kind of cutter-slider could help him pitch inside to left-handed batters and even steal a strike versus righties.

SERVICE TIME: 0.106

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Earliest arbitration eligible: after the 2023 season. Three options remaining.


Anthony Misiewicz, LHP

G: 21
IP: 20.0
FIP: 3.04
xFIP: 3.67
K%: 30.1
BB%: 7.2
BAA: .263
fWAR: 0.5
WPA: -0.08

SERVICE TIME: 1.000

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2025. Scheduled to become arbitration eligible following the 2022 season.

ROSTER: Misiewicz was my Mariners Reliever of the Year for being the most reliable from start to finish. But he didn’t lack impact, posting a 1.84 +WPA and a 30% strikeout rate.

The southpaw held LHBs to a .216/.256/.243 triple-slash and just one extra-base hit, but righties lit him up to the tune of .308/.386/.590 and seven extra-base hits. Misiewicz, however, is still learning how to use his cutter in on RHBs.

He’ll enter spring training with a great shot to break camp with the big club after his 2020 performance, but I’d like to see him get more value out of his curveball, a potential plus pitch that could help him versus hitters from both sides of the plate.


Kendall Graveman, RHP

G/GS: 11/2
IP: 18.2
FIP: 4.26
xFIP: 4.83
K%: 19.5
BB%: 10.4
BAA: .217
fWAR: 0.3
WPA: 0.03

SERVICE TIME: 5.078

CONTRACT: Club has $3.5 million option for 2021 that comes with a $500,000 buyout. Also arbitration eligible for the third time. One option remaining.

There are a handful of scenarios here for Graveman, and a few of them involve the Mariners. Seattle could pick up the option and be OK paying a reliever $3.5 million. They could pick up the option and try Graveman again in the rotation — which is where I think he belongs., just not in Seattle next season. The club also could decline the option and work out something else with Graveman via the arbitration process, presumably for a salary that better fits a relief pitcher with injury concerns.

ROSTER: If Graveman returns as a starting pitcher, it likely means the club doesn’t go out and look for another buy-low arm similar to the signing of Taijuan Walker over this past winter. With Gonzales, Kikuchi, Margevicius, Dunn, Newsome and eventually Logan Gilbert to fill up the rotation, adding Graveman to that group creates a bit of a crowd, which likely lends us some insight into the chances Graveman returns as a candidate for the rotation.

In relief, Graveman is a middle-innings arm — he is not a bona fide closer by any stretch. He gets some fastball value at 94-99 thanks to arm side run and sink , and he has a four-seam version in his back pocket if he’s looking to miss bats with velocity at the top of the zone.

The changeup is useful, though it may be too firm to be anything more than that. His cutter-slider is fringe-average as is his 79-82 mph curveball. It’s a lot of fringey stuff, despite the velocity, and the command is below average.

While 99 mph looks good out of the pen, there’s no swing-and-miss pitch to put away hitters, and the combo of stuff and command don’t bode well for consistency, suggesting a lot of ups and downs where he looks great one outing and not-so-great the next. The stuff is just too hittable, especially considering he’s using the sinker 72% of the time in relief outings.

As a starter he’s more inclined to use a mix, his ground ball tendencies are a lot more valuable, and having a short run where he gets hit hard is forgivable for a No. 4 starter looking to go five or six frames.


Yohan Ramirez, RHP

G: 16
IP: 20.2
FIP: 6.05
xFIP: 
K%: 27.7
BB%: 21.3
BAA: .129
fWAR: -0.2
WPA: 0.52

SERVICE TIME: 1.000

CONTRACT: Club controlled through 2025. Schedule to hit arbitration after the 2022 season. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Ramirez pitched well enough to be among those with a legitimate chance to again break camp with the big club next spring.

The stuff is undeniable — 94-97 mph with late life and a 60-grade slider. He also has a 60-grade curveball at 75-78 mph if he ever wants to give hitters a bigger velocity differential.

Batters have a tough time squaring him up consistently, but he hasn’t thrown strikes to a level ever acceptable in the majors, and he’s yet to learn how to pitch to left-handed batters, which was his biggest problem all year.

He’ll be in the mix come spring training, but he has all three options left and the Mariners’ brass are likely to want to see him earn his spot now that the Rule 5 status has been lifted.

Perfect World, Ramirez turns into world beater Edwin Diaz 2.0. Most likely outcome? He’s a middle-relief arm that sometimes looks like that world beater, but just as often shows up doing a great rendition of the bad Fernando Rodney.


Brandon Brennan, RHP

G: 5
IP: 7.1
FIP: 6.87
xFIP: 5.96
K%: 21.2
BB%: 15.2
BAA: .250
fWAR: -0.1
WPA: -0.18

SERVICE TIME: 2.000

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2024. Schedule for arbitration eligibility following the 2021 season. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Brennan is an “in the mix” reliever with no guarantees..

The raw stuff is solid, including a sinker at 93-96 mph and a plus changeup, but his control has been poor and he’s had two extended stints on the IL — one each in 2019 and 2020. He also has a slider he rarely uses but began to bring out a bit more in five appearances this season.

While Seattle is still in “find answers to questions” mode, there are a lot of arms that need time and at some point — perhaps in 2021 — the experiments will begin to narrow down a bit as the Mariners path to winning nears and becomes clearer. When that happens, arms like Brennan will be out of chances.


Joey Gerber, RHP

G: 17
IP: 15.2
FIP: 4.40
xFIP: 5.67
K%: 9.7
BB%: 8.1
BAA: .232
fWAR: 0.1
WPA: -0.37

SERVICE TIME: 0.154

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until after the 2023 season, at the soonest.

ROSTER: Gerber is in the same boat as the rest of the relievers this season, but he has an advantage over Brennan and Ramirez, among others; he throws strikes.

His track record of pounding the zone dates back to college when he closed at Illinois, and he’s been up to 97 mph with deception.

Gerber’s slider hasn’t been very good this year, flattening out a lot and he seems to have lost some feel, but hitters aren’t lifting the ball much against him and there’s more velocity  in the fastball than what we’ve seen so far (93 mph).

Gerber has a leg up on the other relievers who remain unproven in the show, with more room to grow and control and command that already plays. But he’s going to have to miss more bats and the slider is likely key to that lock.


Yoshihisa Hirano, RHP

G: 13
IP: 12.1
FIP: 5.70
xFIP: 5.63
K%: 17.5
BB%: 12.5
BAA: .333
fWAR: -0.2
WPA: -0.14

SERVICE TIME: 3.000

CONTRACT: Free agent

ROSTER: Hirano signed a one-year deal with Seattle and missed half of the 60-game schedule. But he was more than serviceable, picking up two saves and getting through a scoreless outing in 7 of 9 appearances.

He doesn’t throw hard, but he finds the plate and the splitter is above average.

There’s a chance Hirano interests Seattle enough on another one-year deal, but likely only s a last resort.


Brady Lail, RHP

G: 7
IP: 15.0
FIP: 7.86
xFIP: 6.61
K%: 17.5
BB%: 12.7
BAA: .333
fWAR: -0.3
WPA: -0.58

SERVICE TIME: 0.116

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until after 2023 at the soonest. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Lail, 27, is among several middle relief options Seattle will have next spring. Typically, he pounds the zone with below-average velocity but some arm side movement and a plus curveball.

Lail’s issues with the long ball need to be addressed if he’s to break camp with a 26-man roster spot, and like so many others will have to throw more strikes.


Walker Lockett, RHP

G: 5
IP: 8.1
FIP: 4.39
xFIP: 5.15
K%: 8.3
BB%: 2.8
BAA: .343
fWAR: 0.0
WPA: -0.07

SERVICE TIME: 0.134

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Arbitration eligible after 2023 at the soonest. Out of options.

ROSTER: Lockett throws strikes but has rather ordinary stuff and if he makes it through the winter on the 40-man will have an uphill climb to make the club next spring.


Erik Swanson, RHP

G: 9
IP: 7.2
FIP: 7.50
xFIP: 4.92
K%: 24.3
BB%: 5.4
BAA: .333
fWAR: -0.3
WPA: -0.75

SERVICE TIME: 1.098

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2024. Arbitration eligible as early as 2023. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Swanson’s increased velocity help his case in 2021 — he went from 92-93 mph to averaging 95.6 and touching 99. He throws his changeup less in a relief role and his slider must improve if he’s to be more than up-and-down fodder.

He’ll likely enter camp with a real shot at a spot in the bullpen.


Casey Sadler, RHP

G: 7
IP: 9.2
FIP: 3.29
xFIP: 4.11
K%: 26.9
BB%: 11.5
BAA: .217
fWAR: 0.2
WPA: -0.33

SERVICE TIME: 2.000

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2024. Needs one more years of service to become arbitration eligible. Out of options.

ROSTER: Sadler, 30, has solid stuff, sitting 94-96 with the fastball and complementing with a cutter and curveball to give him three big-league pitches. He has a decent track record of throwing strikes, but struggled with control in New York and wasn’t a lot better with the Mariners.

If he remains on the 40-man he’ll get some looks in Peoria, but the club is going to add some proven veteran talent which may limit the open spots.


Matt Magill, RHP (60-IL)

G: 11
IP: 10.1
FIP: 6.56
xFIP: 5.02
K%: 24.4
BB%: 13.3
BAA: .231
fWAR: -0.2
WPA: -0.62

SERVICE TIME: 3.031

CONTRACT: ARB1, out of options

ROSTER: Magill started the season strong and served as the most reliable arm in the club’s bullpen, despite some bouts with control problems. It all caught up with him in the form of too many walks and too many long balls, but the makings of a legitimate middle reliever are there.

But he’s first-year arbitration eligible, which generally requires a raise into the seven-figure range. He ended the season on the IL with a shoulder problem, and then had surgery September 16, clouding the club’s decision to tender, despite the expectation he’ll be ready for spring training. At this point, I’d put it at 50-50, largely dependent on updated medicals, but a roster crunch could come into play as well.


Art Warren, RHP

SERVICE TIME: 0.020

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until at least 2023. Has two options remaining.

ROSTER: Warren didn’t pitch in the majors in 2020 after making his debut last summer, throwing six games and posting a 2.46 FIP over 5.1 innings.

The 27-year-old has a plus fastball up to 97 mph, a slider and power curveball, but none of the pitches stand out and he has yet to show he can command them well enough to suggest he might be a consistent go-to anytime soon.

As a result, Warren’s 40-man spot is not secure, especially considering the slew of arms pushing toward the majors, including Sam Delaplane, Wyatt Mills, Ian McKInney, Penn Murfee, Logan Gilbert, and others.


Taylor Guilbeau, LHP (60-IL)

G: 8
IP: 7.2
FIP: 4.76
xFIP: 6.77
K%: 8.3
BB%: 16.7
BAA: .267
fWAR: 0.0
WPA: 0.04

SERVICE TIME: 1.028

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. Arbitration eligible as early as 2022. He has two options remaining.

ROSTER: Guilbeau looked like an entirely different pitcher this season versus last. After the trade last summer, Guilbeau sat 93-97 mph with a plus changeup. He struggled to touch 91 this season and the changeup, and a slider he used more in 2020 than last season, were fringy at best.

When he’s right, the lefty is a legit option in the bullpen for 2021. We’ll see which version shows up in February, but he ended the season on the 60-day IL.


CJ Edwards, RHP (60-IL)

G: 5
IP: 4.2
FIP: 1.26
xFIP: 2.92
K%: 35.3
BB%: 5.9
BAA: .125
fWAR: 0.2
WPA: 0.35

SERVICE TIME: 4.098

CONTRACT: ARB2

ROSTER: Edwards ended the 2020 season on the IL with a forearm issue, but if the prognosis remains promising, tendering the right-hander isn’t out of the question. After making a pro-rated $950,000 this past season, Edwards could earn seven figures next season, which will be a factor in the club’s decision.


Seth Frankoff, RHP

G: 2
IP: 2.2
FIP: 5.44
xFIP: 11.23
K%: 0.0
BB%: 12.5%
BAA: .429
fWAR: 0.0
WPA: -0.20

SERVICE TIME: 0.058

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Earliest arbitration eligibility is 2023. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Frankoff isn’t likely to last the winter on the 40-man roster, but may earn an NRI next spring.


Aaron Fletcher, LHP

G: 6
IP: 4.1
FIP: 9.19
xFIP: 7.97
K%: 24.1
BB%: 24.1
BAA: .350
fWAR: -0.1
WPA: -0.19

SERVICE TIME: 0.050

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until at least 2023. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Fletcher’s 40-man spot is probably fairly safe, being a 24-year-old with two options left.


Nestor Cortes Jr., LHP (60-IL)

G/GS: 5/1
IP: 7.2
FIP: 14.41
xFIP: 7.25
K%: 18.2
BB%: 13.6
BAA: .333
fWAR: -0.6
WPA: -0.71

SERVICE TIME: 1.139

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2025. May be Super two eligible after 2021. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Cortes struggled in his few appearances in 2020 but may have value as a long reliever and swing starter if healthy. He spent the final month of the season on the IL with an elbow issue, however, suggesting his roster status is anything but safe.


Gerson Bautista, RHP (60-IL)

SERVICE TIME: 0.120

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until after the 2023 season at the soonest. Two options remaining.

ROSTER: Bautista, now 25, struggled in 2019 — both at Triple-A Tacoma and in eight appearances in the majors — and spent 2020 on the IL with an elbow issue.

Bautista could very well be among those exposed to waivers as the club adds players to the organization over the next six months, and as early as November.


Andres Munoz, RHP (60-IL)

SERVICE TIME: 0.080

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until after the 2023 season as the soonest. Three options remaining.

ROSTER: Munoz, who came over in the August 31 trade with the San Diego Padres in exchange for Austin Nola, is rehabbing from March Tommy John surgery, which may mean he’s unable to pitch until as late as June, 2021.

But his roster spot is safe, thanks to relatively high upside as a high-leverage reliever. When healthy, the 21-year-old lives 98-101 mph and has touched as high as 104 mph. He also has a slider and has been known to alter grips on the heater to generate horizontal run to both sides of the plate.


Ian Hamilton, RHP

SERVICE TIME: 0.089

CONTRACT: Club controlled through at least 2026. Not arbitration eligible until after the 2023 season at the soonest. Two option remaining.

ROSTER: Skyview High School’s Hamilton, 25, made his MLB debut in 2018 and has 14 games — 12 innings — of big-league experience. His entire pro career has come in a relief role after he made 15 starts for Washington State in 2016.

He’s a fastball (93-96 mph), slider, changeup right-hander and the slider is his best offering. In his limited time in the majors he’s had problems with the base on balls and his minor league record is spotty. But he’s athletic and the live arm give him a shot.…

The 2020 Major League Baseball season didn’t go as any club planned, but from the perspective of the Seattle Mariners, all things considered, it went quite well.

Young players received valuable time and showed why they were worthy of it, the club continued to its collections of young, controllable talent, and the Mariners even won more games, 27, than just about anyone thought was a good bet when the season started in July.

With every season, long or short, comes superlatives. Here the best season-long performances in a handful of categories, courtesy Luke Arkins and Jason A. Churchill.

MVP

Churchill: Marco Gonzales, LHP
Gonzales wasn’t just a steady performer, he was consistently good in 2020 and raised the bar for the young arms pitching behind him in the rotation.

Gonzales went at least five innings in all but one start — the first one in which he went 4.1 at Houston — and pitched into the seventh six times in 11 starts.

Furthermore, Gonzales led baseball with a 2.5% walk rate and finished in the top 20 in BAA (.222) and FIP (3.32), and No. 26 in xFIP (4.13).

Arkins: Marco Gonzales, LHP

It’d be tough to say anyone else on the Mariners was more valuable than Gonzales was this season. A fun fact about Marco’s extremely low walk rate. It was the seventh lowest BB-rate recorded by a pitcher qualified for the ERA title since baseball integrated in 1947.


Rookie of the Year

Churchill: Kyle Lewis, CF
The easiest choice, since Lewis now is the favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award in the American League.

But Lewis put together a very strong 60-game run, including average defense in center.

At the plate, his ability to use the whole field helped him maximize batted ball success and hide some of his zone deficiencies (top of the zone), but there’s a ton on which to build for 2021.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of Lewis’ season is the K-BB rate evening out by the 25-year-old cutting the whiffs some and increasing his bases on balls.

Very early in 2021 we’re likely to see an outfield alignment of Lewis in center, Jarred Kelenic in left and Mitch Haniger in right, with a Phillip Ervin-Jose Marmolejos timeshare filling the gap until Kelenic arrives.

Arkins: It’ll be a massive upset if Lewis isn’t AL Rookie of the Year. For this reason, he’s the obvious choice for this category. The logical alternative would be Justus Sheffield, who probably nets a few votes in ROY balloting.

Although Lewis didn’t project as the regular center fielder in March, he was the team’s starter and rated as an average-to-plus defender. Impressive considering the Mercer alum’s 56 starts in center field this year were a career-high as a professional. Barring unforeseen circumstances, K-Lew continues patrolling center field for the Mariners in 2021.


Reliever of the Year

Churchill: Anthony Misiewicz, LHR
Misiewicz led the team in appearances (21) and was second in relief innings (20.0). He was consistent all year, posting a 3.04 FIP, and 3.67 xFIP.

Opponents hit just .100 against his fastball (1-for-10), but his cutter and curveball underperformed considering the advanced data on both pitches.

The data, including high spin rates, suggest there’s more to come for Misiewicz in a continued middle-relief role in 2021.

Arkins: Casey Sadler, RHP

My first choice would’ve been Misiewicz, but I don’t want to parrot Jason in every category. Sadler performed well after the Mariners claimed him off waivers in early September. During the last month of the season, the 30-year-old tossed 10 innings leading Seattle relievers with 12 strikeouts and a .247 xwOBA.

Yes, Sadler’s month in Seattle was a micro-sample. But he’s a five-year veteran coming off a good 2019 campaign with the Rays and Dodgers. Perhaps the Oklahoman can help stabilize a 2021 bullpen likely to be chock full of young relievers – like Misiewicz.


Defensive Player of the Year

Churchill: J.P. Crawford, SS

I imagine many would vote quite a bit for Lewis and Evan White, but shortstop is a critical position defensively and Crawford is among the tops in the game.

He posted +6 DRS, No. 4 among MLB shortstops and No. 2 in the American League. He also ranked No. 9 in Outs Above Average and led all MLB shortstops in Out of Zone plays made (62, tied with Javier Baez). In fact, no player at any position made more Out of Zone plays than Crawford.

Arkins: Evan White, 1B

Crawford was superb at a position rife with elite-level gloves and is deserving of recognition for his defensive prowess. Nevertheless, I’m going with White, who’s one of the best first baseman I’ve ever seen.

Whether White wins the Gold Glove as a rookie is unclear, but he was the top defensive first baseman based on Defensive Runs Saved. Only last year’s AL Gold Glover at first base, Matt Olson, leads the former Kentucky Wildcat when we review Statcast’s Outs Above Average.


Best Newcomer

Churchill: Nick Margevicius, LHP

Margevicius made 10 appearances, seven starts, and was more than serviceable, posting a league average FIP and xFIP.

The southpaw went at least five innings in five starts, went six in three of them and showed a better fastball — 89-91 mph — than in years past when he sat 86-88.

He’ll need to avoid the barrel a bit better to take another step or two in 2021, but using his slider more might help (.174 BAA, no XBH), and he’s just 24 years old with some physical projection left.

Arkins: Ty France, INF

Where France plays in the field moving forward isn’t clear, but his bat will ensure he gets regular playing opportunities. During combined time with the Padres and Seattle this year, the right-handed hitter slashed .305/.368/.468 with a 133 OPS+ in 43 games.

Evaluators often compare France to another multi-position player named Ty from San Diego – Ty Wigginton. Sounds good considering Wigginton played 12 big-league seasons, could hit, and shared a similar position profile to France’s.

Perhaps France is a bench player or morphs into a regular in the infield or as a designated hitter. Either way, having a player with the former San Diego State Aztec’s positional versatility and hitting ability will benefit a championship-caliber roster.


Breakthrough Player of the Year (non-Rookie)

Churchill: Dylan Moore, UT

Moore went from worst player on the roster to one of the best in a year and his future with the club may include ‘Opening Day 2B’ next spring.

Moore’s line drive rate jumped 9% and he got to his pull side better without selling out to the extreme. He cut his strikeouts from 33% to 27% and maintained a solid walk rate at 8.8%.

But the two things that make Moore so interesting include how hard he hits the ball consistently (77th percentile exit velocity, 89th percentile barrel rate) and his defensive versatility. He’s not a long-term option at shortstop, but he can handle it, and he projects as average or better at second base, third base and now right field, too. It’s the closest thing to Ben Zobrist the Mariners have had since Mark McLemore in 2001, and this version has power.

Arkins: Yusei Kikuchi, LHP

Yes, Kikuchi was inconsistent this year. But the southpaw made big strides over his 2019 rookie campaign.

Kikuchi’s .279 xwOBA led the Mariners rotation and was top-30 among MLB starters. Since xwOBA reflects quality and quantity of contact, it’s clear the Japanese import has the talent to be a valuable contributor to Seattle’s starting staff.

Still, Kikuchi does have work to do. The 29-year-old seemed like a different pitcher with runners on base and the stats back that up. When bases were empty, opponents had a .251 wOBA against him – twelfth best among MLB starters. Conversely, his wOBA with men on base was .355, which ranked in the bottom 20-percent.


Prospect Development of the Year

Churchill: Justus Sheffield, LHP

Lewis is a legitimate choice here, as is Austin Nola, but because Sheffield’s developments in 2020 bring a higher floor and less risk for the future –and he’s still with the club — I’m going with the left-hander.

Sheffield made 10 starts, led all MLB rookie pitchers in fWAR (1.5) and went six or more innings in six outings — including seven innings twice.

The lefty reduced his barrel rate to 3.7% (91st percentile) — the switch from a four-seamer to a two-seam sinker did exactly what the club had hoped, limiting the damage on hard-hit balls.

In addition, Sheffield’s command took a large step forward, and his general ability to throw strikes improved, too, as he went from 10.7% walks to 8.6%.

The command improvement allowed Sheffield to go to his slider more in favorable counts, and the results are remarkable. In 2019, opponents hit .302 with a .491 slugging percentage off his slider. In 2020, Sheffield flipped the script, holding opposing batters to a .192 average and .219 slugging with the slide piece.

The same can be said about his changeup to a large degree.

Sheffield lacks the big ceiling, but has reduced the risk in his performance, suggesting he’s destined for a mid-rotation role for the foreseeable future.

Arkins: Ljay Newsome, RHP

Mariners “Gas Camp” helped Newsome increase his four-seam fastball velocity to a 91.4-MPH average. But bringing the heat isn’t Newsome’s specialty — avoiding free passes is. We already noted Gonzales had a historically good walk rate; Newsome’s was better (1.5%) albeit over a span of just 15.1 innings.

So what does Newsome become? Perhaps he’ll be a back-end starter. Then again, the Mariners’ 2015 twenty-sixth round pick could morph into a long reliever/swingman. Either role potentially makes him a valued contributor on a team that believes it could contend in the AL West next year.


Flash Player of the Year

Churchill: Yohan Ramirez, RHR

I thought about Luis Torrens here, but the sample was too small.

Ramirez has terrific raw stuff, including a fastball up to 98 mph and a plus slider. He’s shown a plus curveball in the past and the makings of a changeup, but in a relief role stuck with a two-pitch attack.

He was dominant at times, but he walked 21.3% of the batters he faced, pitching himself into trouble at a high rate. But after allowing three earned runs August 7 versus Colorado, Ramirez allowed two earned runs on four hits over his final 11 appearances.

As a Rule 5 pick he had to remain on the active roster (or IL) for the entire 2020 season, but the club is now free to option the right-hander as they see fit.

At his best, Ramirez sits 94-98 mph and pitches effectively in high-leverage situations, but there will have to be mechanical fixes if he wants to avoid the minors to start next season.

Arkins: Luis Torrens, C

Evaluators generally believe Torrens’ is a glove-first backstop with a bat good enough to keep him in the majors. Ironically, he proved better with his bat and struggled defensively with Seattle. To be fair, the 24-year-old only joined the team on August 31 and had to learn a new pitching staff on the fly.

For now, Torrens projects as a backup. Then again, something similar was said about two other Mariners backstops — Tom Murphy and Nola. Heading into next year, it’ll be fun seeing where the Venezuelan’s talent takes him and how the team integrates him into the catching mix with Murphy and top prospect Cal Raleigh.…

So, the 2020 MLB season has come to an end. The expanded playoffs are about to start. In a month we’ll learn the results of the official voting, but let’s talk about MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year.

But first, a couple of notes about the way I look these awards.

The MVP, for me, is the best player in the league that year. If, after studying the players’ performances, it’s really close between two or more, his place and value to his team’s winning, or lack thereof, can be a deciding factor, but isn’t part of it until and unless.

Not unlike MVP, the Cy Young is more of a Pitcher of the Year for me, and has nothing to do with value to a winning team unless the race is so close I can use that as a tiebreaker.

It’s not that when these players perform and how much it means in general aren’t part of my process, but looking at team win-loss to quantify it is shallow and close to meaningless.

Rookie of the Year is no different than MVP or Cy Young, but I tend to add a little extra credit if the player is especially young and inexperienced. That, however, isn’t the case in 2020 in either league.

And for the record, I don’t do Manager of the Year. It’s a ridiculous award that shouldn’t be voted on by media. How can a reporter possibly have enough info to vote on such an award? Too many of the things one would need to know are intentionally kept secret, and even if one had all the info it would be impossible to quantify it in comparison to the rest of the league’s skippers and their own secret info.

Anyway, here are my picks for both leagues.

National League MVP: Freddie Freeman, 1B — Atlanta Braves

Freeman is a solid defensive first baseman, but a first baseman nonetheless, meaning to be the MVP he’d have to produce special offensive numbers.

He did just that in 2020.

Freeman finished No. 2 in all of baseball in on-base percentage (.465), slugging percentage (.648), and wRC+ (190), finishing behind Juan Soto in all three categories.

Freeman batted .343, No. 3 in MLB and No. 2 in the NL, again behind Soto, and finished No. 1 in runs scored and No. 3 in RBI — No. 2 in the NL behind teammate Marcell Ozuna.

Freeman, who posted a 225 wRC+ in high-leverage situations, played all 60 games and led all of baseball with a 3.4 fWAR.

So why not Soto?

The phenom played in 13 fewer games, which is 21.6% of the season — than did Freeman and wasn’t as valuable with the glove. Had he played a full slate, Soto might very well be the pick here, despite the Washington Nationals sleeping until noon this season.

2. Fernando Tatis Jr., SS — San Diego
3. Mookie Betts, RF — Los Angeles
4. Manny Machado, 3B — San Diego
5. Yu Darvish, RHP — Chicago Cubs


American League MVP: Jose Ramirez, 3B — Cleveland Indians

Ramirez won this award in September by batting .354/.440/.823 with 10 home runs and a 229 wRC+. He was helped by the struggles of others, but his underrated all-around game and red-hot final month was overwhelming in the end.

Ramirez batted .287/.380/.597 for the season, posting 10 stolen bases and another great year on the bases, not to mention the above-average defense at third base.

Ramirez’s 158 wRC+ was No. 5 in the AL and he led the circuit with 3.2 fWAR.

2. Shane Bieber, RHP — Cleveland Indians
3. Jose Abreu, 1B — Chicago White Sox
4. Mike Trout, CF — Los Angeles Angels
5. DJ Lemahieu, 2B — New York Yankees


National League Cy Young:  Jacob deGrom, RHP — New York Mets

Darvish got the nod as the top pitcher in my MVP rankings but deGrom edges the Cubs’ ace and Reds right-hander Trevor Bauer because, well, he had a better year.

The Mets star led the NL in xFIP (2.46) and K/9 (13.76), and was second in FIP (2.26 to Darvish’s 2.23). DeGrom struck out 10 or more in five of 12 starts, and beat Atlanta twice, the Rays once, and Philadelphia twice. All three opponents ranked in the Top 10 in wRC+.

Darvish faced just one of the Top 15 offenses in baseball (White Sox twice). Bauer, who  won the Nl ERA title, finished No. 5 in both FIP (2.88) and xFIP (3.26), and while he’d use the total number of playoff teams he faced to boost his candidacy, let’s top off the argument against Bauer with a closer look at how he put up the great numbers.

Bauer faced Detroit twice — No. 24 offense in MLB — Pittsburgh twice (No. 29), Milwaukee (No. 25) three times, and both Kansas City (No. 20)  and Chicago-NL (No. 21) once.  Bauer faced one team with a top-19 lineup, the 6th-ranked White Sox.

2. Yu Darvish, RHP — Chicago Cubs
3. Trevor Bauer, RHP – Cincinnati Reds
4. Corbin Burnes, RHP — Milwaukee Brewers
5. Dinelson Lamet, RHP — San Diego Padres


American League Cy Young: Shane Bieber, RHP — Cleveland Indians

Bieber had this wrapped up before September. The ace led all starting pitchers in K/9 (14.2), fWAR (3.2), ERA (1.63), FIP (2.07), xFIP (2.07), K% (41.1), SIERA (2.52), and he did it against the White Sox (No. 6) twice,  and the No. 16 Minnesota Twins three times.

He fanned 10 or more eight times in 12 starts and allowed more than two runs in a game just three times.

2. Kenta Maeda, RHP — Minnesota Twins
3. Lucas Giolito, RHP — Chicago White Sox
4. Zack Greinke, RHP — Houston Astros
5. Framber Valdez, LHP — Houston Astros


National League Rookie of the Year: Jake Cronenworth, 2B — San Diego Padres

There’s a lot of beat-reporter chatter about Brewers reliever Devin Williams, but Cronenworth was the best NL rookie in 2020, despite a late fade at the plate.

His .285/.354/.477 triple-slash says a lot, but he was also versatile defensively, playing 47 adequate innings at shortstop as well as 78 very good innings at first base and the bulk of his time as an above-average second base glove.

He hit just four home runs, but tripled three times and logged 15 doubles in 54 games.

2. Tony Gonsolin, RHP — Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Devin Williams, RHP — Milwaukee Brewers
4. Ian Anderson, RHP — Atlanta Braves
5. Sixto Sanchez, RHP — Miami Marlins


American League Rookie of the Year: Kyle Lewis, CF — Seattle Mariners

Lewis struggled in September, but finished the year a .262/.364/.437 with 11 home runs and a rookie-best 1.7 fWAR. He played a more-than-adequate center field and is an above-average baserunner.

Furthermore, Lewis served as an anchor in the Mariners lineup with as little ‘protection’ as any ROY contender in either league.

2. Luis Robert, CF — Chicago White Sox
3. Willi Castro, SS — Detroit Tigers
4. Sean Murphy, C — Oakland Athletics
5. Justus Sheffield, LHP — Seattle Mariners


2020 All-MLB Team

 

POSITION PLAYER TEAM STATS
1B Freddie Freeman Atlanta Braves 187 wRC+, 3.3 fWAR
2B DJ LeMahieu New York Yankees 177 wRC+, 2.7 fWAR
3B Jose Ramirez Cleveland Indians 163 wRC+, 3.4 fWAR
SS Fernando Tatis Jr. San Diego Padres 149 wRC+, 3.0 fWAR
 C J.T. Realmuto Philadelphia Phillies 125 WRC+, 1.5 fWAR
OF Mookie Betts Los Angeles Dodgers 149 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR
OF Mike Trout Los Angeles Angels 164 wRC+, 2.6 fWAR
OF Juan Soto Washington Nationals 200 wRC+, 2.4 fWAR
DH Marcell Ozuna Atlanta Braves 179 wRC+, 2.5 fWAR
SP Shane Bieber Cleveland Indians 2.04 xFIP, 3.2 fWAR
SP Jacob deGrom New York Mets 2.46 xFIP, 2.6 fWAR
SP Yu Darvish Chicago Cubs 2.82 xFIP, 3.0 fWAR
SP Trevor Bauer Cincinnati Reds 3.26 xFIP, 2.5 fWAR
SP Dinelson Lamet San Diego Padres 3.30 xFIP, 2.4 fWAR
RP Devin Williams Milwaukee Brewers 1.09 xFIP, 1.4 fWAR
RP Liam Hendriks Oakland Athletics 207 xFIP, 1.4 fWAR

In the clip above, Jason A. Churchill opines on whether or not there should be legit concern about Kyle Lewis‘ lack of extra-base hits in 2020.

In the full episode subscribers can find here, Jarred Kelenic, Dylan Moore, Marco Gonzales, Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Logan Gilbert, Nick Margevicius, J.P. Crawford, Kendal Graveman, Matt Magill, Yoshihisa Hirano, CJ Edwards, and Mitch Haniger are all discussed.

Subscribe for les than $.50 per episode right here.

Yeah, so, the Seattle Mariners are in contention in the American League by way of finishing No. 2 in the West. Entering play Monday, the Houston Astros held a 1.5 games lead on Seattle, which essentially extends to 2.5 games because the defending division champs already have clinched the tiebreaker: head-to-head.

But the burning questions, plural, surrounds top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert.

1) Should the Mariners call up one or both to enhance their chances to catch Houston?

2) If they do, what are the service time ramifications?

3) Should those ramifications even matter?

Should Seattle Summon Kelenic, Gilbert?

This is a question only the Mariners can answer. Why? Because they are the only ones to have laid eyes on these players all year with any regularity.

One can easily take a leap on Gilbert being more likely to help than one or more of the current arms residing in the big-league bullpen. He was close enough when 2019 concluded and the club admitted their original plan for the right-hander this season included a summer call-up.

But we don’t know a thing about how things have gone at the Alternate Training Site in Tacoma. At least not the kind of stuff we’d need to even begin to make an assessment on how ready he might be to help a club in some role.

Again, though, it’s reasonable to believe in Gilbert more than, say, Seth Frankoff or Aaron Fletcher. If only it was as simple as believing based on others being bad and how things were trending a year ago, the last time Gilbert pitched in a game.

With Kelenic, it’s more difficult to reasonably suggest he’s ready beyond guessing, which is what some have done the past few weeks. Unfortunately, “well, he was in Double-A last year and has hit like 5 or 6 homers in Tacoma this summer” doesn’t qualify as practical evidence.

My argument for calling up both players centers on how easy it would be to protect them from some kind of developmental disaster.

Gilbert doesn’t have to be asked to go five or six innings. Use him out of the bullpen a few times.

Kelenic doesn’t need to be asked to hit in the top 6 in the lineup and play center field daily. Use him in favorable matchups (versus right-handed pitchers), bat him seventh or lower and if the test looks rough early, curb his usage even further.

The range of potential results for both players in the majors extends from one end to the other. Both could struggle mightily in the short stint, or they could both be very good, or somewhere in between.

If handled properly, I don’t feel there’s a lot of developmental risk if the task proves to be a bit much for them right now.

The Mariners are asking the same thing from inferior talents, and have all year, and it hasn’t worked. The minuscule downside doesn’t scare me at all.

What are the Service Time Ramifications?

There seems to be some confusion on how service time works, so let me start with some basics.

First, players require 172 days to earn one year of service. Those 172 days can come all in one season or over parts of multiple seasons.

Second, most MLB seasons are 184-187 days long, but players are maxed at 172 days. If a players earns service time for the entire season, they receive 172 days, not the pure number of days in the season. Yes, it’s dumb.

For 2020, players are receiving prorated service time. For every day they spend on the 2020 roster, it means 2.8 days of credited service. This means if Kelenic or Gilbert were called up and spent 10 days with the big club it would count as 28 days of service.

The impact of those 28 days, just for example, are as follows:

  • Both would start 2021 needing just 144 days to earn a full year of service.
  • The potential for eventual Super 2 arbitration status must be considered. Super 2 status is a when a player ranks in the top 22 percent (in service time) of all players with less than three but more than two years of service. These players get a fourth year of arbitration starting a year sooner.

If both Kelenic and Gilbert earned 28 days of service in 2020, in order to hold them off from ending 2021 with a full year to their ledger — which means they get to arbitration and free agency sooner — Seattle would have to hold both players out for 45 days or more next season, suggesting a mid-to-late May call-up.

If neither player gets a day in 2020, the club can wait as few as 14 days (depending on the exact length of the 2021 season).

For the record, the Super 2 number is usually around two years and 120-135 days, though last season it was just 2.115.

It would relatively easy to manipulate both arbitration and free-agent service time concerns for both Kelenic and Gilbert if they received 25-30 days of service for 2020. It may, however, disrupt the club’s roster plans if that is the case, and if GM Jerry Dipoto and staff decide not to make the move, that may be a significant factor.

Should Service Time Even be a Consideration Right Now?

Yes.

If a big part of the club’s long-term plan includes starting fresh in 2021 with the players in question, it does matter, because not being able to do so right smack in the middle of a rebuild and right in the middle of offseason planning (yes, right now is the middle) is a pretty major issue.

While the counterargument of “yes, but you have a chance to get to the postseason” carries a little bit of weight, let’s hash that out for a second here.

It’s a small chance at the postseason regardless of who does or does not get called up this month. That matters. It’s also a very, very small sample for which these players would theoretically be upgrades. Entering Monday, Seattle has 16 games remaining.

For context, the best player on the planet has been worth 1.3 wins over replacement to lead all of baseball over the last 16 games. Even if we assume the players Kelenic and/or Gilbert replaced were worth, say, a quarter-win below replacement level for those 16 games, that still requires the call-up to be worth as much as a top-10 player to make a difference.

Of course WAR can’t account for the little things; a catch Kelenic makes that Phillip Ervin or Dylan Moore doesn’t. a batter Gilbert gets out that Fletcher or Frankoff may not. Those events, with specific context, are worth more than WAR accounts for in the grand scheme.

So, yes, service time should matter. But it shouldn’t be the deciding factor in anything. Almost ever. There rare occasions when waiting a day or two more may serve the club down the road.

As far as options go, there is an impact.

There’s a great chance Kelenic starts 2021 in Tacoma regardless of what happens the final few weeks this season, call-up or not, perform or not. There’s also a chance Gilbert does, too. Not as good a chance as Kelenic, perhaps, but it’s there. If the two are called up this month, it means being added to the 40-man roster, which in turn means if they are optioned to the minors next year, even just prior to the season opening, it burns an option.

It’s my opinion, however, options aren’t much of a concern in this situation. Players get three option years (or four in super-rare scenarios when a player has less than five season of pro experience — majors and minors — and hasn’t been on a pro roster for 90 days or more in any on season, and hasn’t posted a 60-30 active roster/IL split in any one season), so it’d be an upset if Kelenic or Gilbert ran into option issues down the road.

In the End

The Mariners are in no position to rush a prospect. There will be no need to start either player on the Opening Day Roster next spring, and it very well could benefit both from spending six or eight weeks in Triple-A.

But there’s no reason to hold off on 2020 because of 2021. So if the Mariners believe 30-40 PAs and some outfield time from Kelenic helps them compete better to finish things this season, he should be called up for 10-14 days.

If the club believes Gilbert has a better chance to get some outs than Frankoff, Fletcher or Brady Lail, he should be summoned, too.

It may not make a difference in their chase of the Astros. Both players could play well and Seattle still may come up short. Both players could struggle, too

But the same way the sample may not be long enough to make a meaningful difference on the club’s chances to make up 2.5 games, it’s also not enough to damage these players’ futures.

Kelenic is probably at a point now similar to where Evan White was to start 2020. He’s struggled, but the club keeps running him out there. Gilbert is probably close to where Justin Dunn was in March, and he, too, has shown he can handle it and keeps getting starts, despite struggles.

This is a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario for the Mariners, and it’s not wrong to hold the players back.

But not only does the upside outweigh the risk (development, service time, offseason & 2021 planning), I think the most likely outcome does, too.…

Previous Clips

Analysis of the Mariners Opening Day Roster

Re-Assessing Jerry Dipoto’s Rebuilding Performance

All Clips & Free Episodes

BaseballThingsPod.com

YouTube Channel

The 2021 MLB draft class, as a whole, may not be as deep as this past year’s group, but it may be better at the top with Vanderbilt right-handers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter.

Other top prospects include prep stars Brady House, Braylon Bishop, Christian Little, Tyree Reed, and Luke Leto, as well as Miami catcher Adrian Del Castillo, Florida outfielder Jud Fabian, Louisville third baseman Alex Binelas and UCLA shortstop Matt McLain.

After the trade deadline that saw Mike Clevinger, Austin Nola, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Jason Castro, Ross Stripling, Cal Quantrill, Mike Minor, David Phelps, Archie Bradley, Starling Marte and others traded for Ty France, Luis Torrens, Taylor Tammell and a slew of other prospects, the fortunes of former and acquiring clubs changed, and in some instances dramatically.

The ‘2019’ column represents a club’s win-loss record last season, which breaks ties. In the case of identical win-loss records (percentages), the club with the lowest win-loss percentage from the prior season gets the higher pick in the current draft order.

This will be updated about once a week through September 21, then once a day for the final week of the MLB regular season.

Note: Despite consideration of other means to determine the 2021 MLB Draft Order, it now appears the league is going to stick with reverse order of 2020 win percentage, though it’s not yet official, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

 …

The Seattle Mariners had two separate leads on Justin Verlander in Friday night’s opener; 1-0 and 2-1, and both came on the strength of the home run ball. Kyle Lewis hit a 1-0 fastball (95 mph) 438 feet from home plate to get things going in the second inning. Kyle Seager gave the Mariners the lead back in the fourth on a 2-0 fastball clocked at 94.4 mph.

Verlander never really was rattled, however, and the Houston Astros rallied to beat Seattle 8-2 to open the 2020 schedule.  

The world knows Verlander has nasty stuff. He’s up to 99 mph deep into games, features plus curveball, plus slider and an above-average changeup. Friday, his slider was mindbogglingly good. And when a pitcher like Verlander has a pitch like that going, sometimes the quality of the opponent matters very little. Sometimes the lineup has no other choice but to taste filth.

He threw 28 sliders (37%) on the night, 14 strikes and 14 balls. On the surface, that doesn’t sound so great, and if it were fastballs we were discussing, it would be awful. But sliders are chase pitches, often started to look like it will be in the zone and breaking sharply out of the zone to induce weak contact and swinging strikes.

Of Verlander’s 14 strikes with the slider Friday, eight were of the swinging variety, four were called and two were fouled off, all good by themselves without a lick of context.

Speaking of that context, however, here’s the zone plot for Verlander’s sliders from Fridays matchup:

This is for batters from both sides of the plate. Verlander pounded the down-and-in area versus lefties and down and away versus righties with that slider. Only two of the eight whiffs were on sliders that hit the strike zone and they barely scraped the zone, putting not even a quarter of the baseball into the lower-outside edges of the strike zone o right-handed batters.

As you can see, only one of the four called strikes was above the belt (it was a 1-0 pitch to Evan White), and of the six non-competitive results in terms of location, two induced slight check swings and one produced a whiff. Five of the six were thrown when Verlander was ahead in the count, three with two strikes.

Perhaps more impressive than the strikes are the eight competitive sliders that did not end up as strikes. One should have been a strike. About a quarter of the baseball scraped through the zone. The home plate umpire just didn’t see it that way. That was a 1-0 pitch to Jose Marmolejos. Yes, Verlander threw a rookie bench player a 1-0 slider in the fifth inning of a game he was losing 2-1.

One other was within an inch or two of the strike zone, one was the first pitch of the PA, one was on an 0-1 count after a called strike fastball, and three others were no more than three inches off the plate. Seven of these particular eight misses would unequivocally be called very good pitch locations.

Verlander’s slider averaged just under 87 mph, per Brooks Baseball, broke just under three inches vertically, not including gravity, and broke three inches horizontally, representing the sixth-most horizontal break Verlander got from the slider in a game since 2017. Of the five game his slider had more horizontal break, the vertical break was between 2.34 inches and 2.61 inches. Friday it was 2.9. 

It wasn’t one of Verlander’s better overall performances, as he struggled with fastball location a bit, didn’t use the changeup much, and threw just one or two curveballs, but the slider was about as good as ever for the 37-year-old defending Cy Young Award winner.

In other words, Verlander’s slider was filthilicious. Dirty. Disgusting.

And the Mariners tasted it.…

Austin Nola was a 5th-round pick in 2012 by the Miami Marlins out of LSU, six spots behind Chris Taylor (Seattle), two behind Mallex Smith (Pittsburgh). He spent six years in the Marlins organization before the Mariners signed him as a minor league free agent following the 2018 season.

He played shortstop in college and was solid-average in the SEC for some good LSU teams. He batted .299/.420/.434 as a senior.

Nola is the older brother of Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola.

Draft Year Tools Grades
Hit: 45  Pwr: 40+ Run: 50  Throw: 55  Glove: 45+

Early in his pro career Nola stayed at shortstop primarily. He began to play a bit at second base and third base in Double-A Jacksonville in 2014 and 2015, but remained primarily in his natural spot. In 2016 he played just 32 of 110 games at SS, and 56 at second.

Following the ’16 season, the Marlins transitioned him to catcher, where he caught 75 games between AA and AAA in 2017, then caught 68 games in AAA in 2018. He split time between catcher and 1B in Triple-A Tacoma.

Once the Mariners summoned him last summer, he spent just just 38 2/3 innings for at catcher, as Tom Murphy and Omar Narvaez covered the position. Nola played 59 games at first base, 15 at second, four at third, and two in the outfield.

He spend all of the 2020 season at age 30.

Intro

Nola’s minor league results at the plate were at best a mixed bag, often showing a playable hit tool when he was older than the median competition, but success was limited. His contact rates were passable, and he drew walks at least nine percent of the time in all but one season. But the swing limited his damage to 15 career minor league home runs in more than 2,800 plate appearances through 2018.

At Triple-A Tacoma in 2019, Nola, albeit as an older player, smacked seven home runs and 15 doubles in just 55 games, slugging a career-best .520 while batting .327 with a .415 OBP.

He then played in 79 games in the big leagues and hit .269/.342/.454 with 10 homers.

Some of the power can be attributed to Nola’s strength. Once he moved from shortstop to catcher, he added good weight to his lower half. But Nola also made some swing adjustments that paid off in the form of more leverage without sacrificing zone coverage.

Nola’s 2019 half-season with the Mariners is interesting to look at in graph and table form, so let’s do that, courtesy Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball.

The Numbers

wOBA is weighted On Base Average, similarly-valued to wRC+ except it doesn’t adjust for park effects. In the short sample that was Nola’s 2019 in Seattle, he posted a .337 wOBA. The league average for catchers was .303. The league average for all positions was .320.

For the record, Nola’s wRC+ landed at 114, or 14% above the league average for the year.

Obviously, if Nola repeats his 2019 offensive output and can handle the catching duties, he’s a good player and a solid value despite his advanced age for a player with limited experience.

Sidebar: One thing to keep in mind with Nola’s age is the fact so little of his time has been spent in the crouch, so he’s far from the typical 30-year-old backstop, and he began 2020 with less than a year of service.

Nola hit the ball solidly last summer (34.5% hard hit rate), despite lacking impressive exit velocity numbers (87.4). There was almost certainly a bit of randomness to his success, but hitters that use the field the way he did tend to find grass more often.


Nola’s batted ball profile from 2019 shows a 19.3% line drive rate, 39.8% ground balls, 40.9% fly balls. 13.9% IFFB, 13.9% HR/FB, and impressively just 21.5% of the balls he put in play were considered softly struck.

Nola was very consistent in making solid contact, even if he wasn’t murdering baseballs like a middle-of-the-order power bat might.

In 2020, Nola may need to make a little more contact — 23.6% strikeout rate — not that such a rate is inherently poor or that he swing through a lot of pitches. Nola posted a 7.9% swinging strike rate, chased just 21% of the time and made contact on pitches in the zone 78.5% of the time he offered, all average to well above-average marks.

So why did he strike out nearly 24% of the time?

He took some hittable pitches early in counts, gave away a few too many strikes, and fouled off 46% of the four-seam fastballs he swung at over a 399-pitch sample, which is about 4% higher than the league average.

The Scouting Report

The scouting report says Nola tends to struggle with plus velocity at times, likely due to average bat speed, but when he’s aggressive on them early in counts he’ll hit for average or better power. He sees the ball well, too, which bodes well for him against average fastballs, and Nola showed an ability to stay back on soft stuff and drive them from gap to gap.

He will use most of the field with doubles power, and does a good job covering the zone with the barrel and spraying balls from line to line. His home-run power in the majors was pretty severely to his pull side, but he does create lift to right-center and right field with some authority, suggesting perhaps there’s enough pop in that direction to expect to see a few more long balls to that side over the course of a larger sample.

For 2020

For Nola to have a shot at repeating last year’s output, or coming close to it, he’s likely going to need marginal improvements in contact rate and performance versus above-average fastball velocity — which is about day-to-day game plan more than anything physical or swing-related.

Doing so will help him avoid so many two-strike counts — 136 of his PAs last season ended with a two-strike count, 56 of those when behind, 37 more when the count was even at 2-2, suggesting he saw a ton of pitcher’s pitches.

Nola batted .524 with a 1.143 slugging percentage on 1-1 counts, .467 with a 1.067 slugging percentage on 2-1 counts and .750 with a 1.000 slugging percentage on 3-1 counts. He didn’t have a ton of luck on the first pitch of the PA (.241 AVG) but he slugged .414 despite a .214 BABIP, suggesting that will even out a little bit.

Like any batter, Nola just need to get a little bit better in 2020 at getting pitches to hit and executing before he gets to unfavorable counts. 

As we examine Nola’s defensive prowess behind the plate in 2020, his bat remains in question, too. But what we saw a year ago was promising, as is the recent trend, where he mashed in Triple-A, hit well with some pop in the majors, and now has a chance to adjust to the adjustments and prove he possesses staying power beyond the Mariners’ rebuilding seasons.

Nola’s ability to play first base, third base, a little left field and even second base in a pinch could make him an ideal third catcher with the new 26-man roster rule, if he’s not a viable No. 2, which certainly is in play.…

It’s here. Opening Day has arrived for the 2020 Seattle Mariners. Nearly four months after originally planned, but here we are. The 2020 Mariners are likely to be both the same as last season and a lot different simultaneously. Like their 2019 brethren, they’re unlikely to win a lot of games. Unlike last year’s club, the ’20 team begins the season with a number of young players on the roster. It’s almost like the club is starting the season in September call-up form. Almost.

Friday in Houston at 6:10 PM PT it’s Marco Gonzales vs. Justin Verlander. The defending American League Champions. Jose Altuve. George Springer. Alex Bregman. Carlos Correa. Dusty Baker is the skipper and the front office has been overhauled as a result of Cheatgate, but the talent remains for the Astros, who enter the season a pretty sure bet to make another postseason run. So, what should be expected of the Mariners tonight, in this series, and this season? Let’s chat.

Marco Gonzales

Gonzales is the defacto No. 1 starter for Seattle but don’t let that qualification nor his substandard fastball velocity fool you. Gonzales can pitch. But this isn’t a good matchup for anyone, especially an arm relying on weak contact and aggressive hitters; Houston will make Gonzales work. 

But one thing I we might see from Gonzales in 2020 is a return to his 2017 velocity, perhaps behind a bit more usage of his four-seam fastball, a pitch he all but abandoned in 2019.

The left-hander’s sinker averaged 89.2 mph a year ago, down from 90.7 in 2018. His four-seamer, back in 2017 when he threw it more, averaged 92 mph. Gonzales does a lot of things to manipulate his fastball and basically has three of them, including the cutter — more on that in a second.

But looking to get ahead with sinkers and changeups, then in two-strike counts take a shot above the hands for a few more swings and misses sounds an awful lot like what I wrote about Kendal Graveman right here.

Gonzales didn’t do much of that in 2019 and after posting swinging-strike rates of 9.1 and 9.3, watched that mark dip to 7.9% a year ago.

Despite the sinker-changeup combo, Gonzales has never been a true ground ball pitcher, living in the 44-45% range the past two seasons — which was not due to the use of a sinker, since he induced a better rate of ground balls from his changeup and curveball. He doesn’t throw downhill and the movement isn’t sharp and late, not to mention at 89 mph allows hitters to measure it better than, say, Zack Britton‘s 96 mph sinker that’s also coming downhill.

Because he doesn’t induce ‘a lot’ of ground balls, Gonzales is left with two ways to get enough outs to stave off big innings and pitch deep into games: Strikeouts and weak-contact fly balls/pop ups.

His stuff doesn’t suggest a lot of the former, and the latter is a very dangerous venture, as we’ve learned over the years in Major League Baseball: Fly balls represent the one result which the pitcher — and the defense — have the least control over the result.

Gonzales, however, has proven skilled at limiting hard contact and he does it with changing speeds and working the entire strike zone.


As a result of said skill,. Gonzales has limited home runs the past two years to 11.3% and 9.3% (lowest rate in baseball among qualified pitchers) of the fly balls he allows. How truly sustainable that is remains to be seen, and the baseball itself has a lot to do with the results.

Since 2015, only Gio Gonzalez, a relatively similar pitcher, has a better HR/FB rate than the Mariners’ ace at 10.3% to Gonzales’ 10.4. That’s over 700 innings of data. I’d say it’s simply something Gonzales is good at and he’s likely to sustain that. Mostly anyway, since small samples are always a problem, and that’s all the 2020 season is.

But Gonzales is creative and makes adjustments from inning to inning, start to start, and certainly year to year, including with how often he uses a certain pitch:

Every year of his career thus far he’s made some kind of significant change — which isn’t all that uncommon, but it’s generally reserved for pitchers that struggle or reinvent themselves later in their career or due to injury.

Gonzales has to get to his changeup to continue his two-year run of a 3-4 win pitcher, and if he’s to make any kind of jump he’ll need more fastball value. Throwing more four-seamers could be the answer to both.

Evan White

We’ve talked a lot about White the past several months since the club recognized him as their version of Anthony Rizzo (a steady, leadership-type player whose floor they’re willing to live with and ceiling they’re willing to bet on) and extended him for six years.

But White will make his big-league debut Friday night and that’s a lot of fun. But it’s not just any debut. The 24-year-old’s first career plate appearance will be versus reigning Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, who care not one bit about a rookie’s feelings and is rarely off his game. Talk about an early litmus test.

My expectations for White this year are very similar to my expectations for Shed Long. The floor is high enough to think he’ll battle his way to respectable numbers. But White’s progress in creating more backspin and identifying pitches to pull has been quite remarkable since the middle of last season.

He’s also shown maturity in terms of pitch selection, suggesting he could reach whatever his ceiling is rather quickly. While that upside isn’t coming in 2020, we’ll probably going to see flashes.

I don’t know if it’s reasonable to think White can compete for Rookie of the Year honors, but I’d take the over on 20 extra-base hits, and if you haven’t seen him play first base you’re going to say “John Olerud” aloud a lot this year watching White in the field.  He’s truly remarkable there, making non-routine plays look not only routine but ho-hum easy.

The Pitching

Last year, the Mariners’ relief corps compiled the least fWAR in the American League (0.4), and ranked No. 12 in FIP, No. 14 in WPA, No. 12 in strikeouts per nine and No. 13 in HR/9. 
There’s not much reason outside small sample to believe anything different will transpire in 2020.

One popular question surrounding the Mariners this offseason was why not add more veterans the club can flip in trades, and while they did that with CJ Edwards, the Mariners are looking to give innings to young arms, even in the bullpen.

In addition to the arms that are on the roster now — the youngest being Anthony Misiewicz, Nick Margevicius, Taylor Guilbeau and Rule 5 pick Yohan Ramirez — we’re likely to see Art Warren, Sam Delaplane, Aaron Fletcher and Joey Gerber at some point. Warren is already on the 40-man and each of those four are on the 60-man Training Roster.

The rotation, as noted by Luke Arkins on the latest episode of Baseball Things, is vastly different than the one the club tossed out there a year ago in that every arm after Gonzales can touch at least 95 mph and sits 90-94 or better.

      • Taijuan Walker will sit 91-94 to go with a curveball, cutter,  and splitter.
      • Graveman is 91-95 (up to 97 with the four-seamer, up to 95 with two-seamer), with a slider, changeup and curveball.
      • Yusei Kikuchi is up to 96 to go with a slider, changeup and curveball.
      • Justin Dunn sits 91-94 and is up to 96 to set up a slider and developing changeup.
      • Justus Sheffiled is 91-93 (up to 95) with a slider and changeup.

A year ago, Mariners starters averaged 90.5 mph on the fastball, and that includes openers and the short starts Dunn received last September. That mark was last in the American League by 1.3 mph, and No. 30 in the big leagues. The Cubs averaged 90.7. Every other club’s rotation averaged 91.7 mph or better. The Mets led the league at 94.9, followed by the Rays at 94.5, the Reds and Astros at 94 and the White Sox at 93.9. The Mariners should at least jump into the middle of the pack in 2020 where clubs averaged 92.5-93 mph.…

In this clip, Jason A. Churchill and Luke Arkins talk starting pitching.

Subscriber here to get the full episode.

Full Episode Showsheet

While the 2020 season for the Seattle Mariners is all about development, moving the club closer to contention and doing it without sacrificing recently-created roster and payroll flexibility, there are some veterans — non-rookies, non-prospects — that warrant watching for specific reasons.

Here are six I’ll be watching closely, and why.

Taijuan Walker, RHP

Walker wasn’t signed simply in hopes he’d blow up and Jerry Dipoto could trade him… but that was one of the factors. The other is the possibility he mans a rotation spot in the early years of the Mariners’ next competitive window so the club can take its time with young arms. For that to be a possibility, however, four things have to happen.

One, Walker has to be healthy, but the right-hander is slated to start in Anaheim, so all is good on that front… knock on wood. Two, he has to stay healthy throughout the 2020 season. But he also has to pitch well, and if he does, (4) the Mariners would need to engage on a contract extension.

The problem with that is the cloud left by the short season. Even if Walker pitches well for 8-10 starts, it’s a small sample and difficult to make future, full-season decision based on 50-60 innings of work. I could see Walker getting another one-year deal, perhaps with some options attached.

Walker is 27 now (28 in August), and hits 94 mph with easy arm action after Tommy John surgery kept him almost all of last season. He features a four-seam fastball (91-95), a traditional curveball (74-77), hard splitter (86-90) and a cutter-slider (86-90).

At his best, Walker spots the fastball and cutter in on left-handed batters, expands the zone with the splitter and curveball and increases the usage of the cutter-slider versus right-handed batters. 

If he can do that in 2020, the Mariners may very well be into the idea of being back Walker for another run in 2021.


Kendall Graveman, RHP

Graveman, like Walker, is most likely a placeholder of sorts that holds down the fort until enough of the kids are ready to stake their claim, or frontline acquisitions push the rotation out through the bottom.

But unlike Walker, Graveman’s deal with the club includes a club option for 2021.

The right-hander looked very good in four frames at T-Mobile Park this week, touching 97 mph with a fresh four-seam offering, showing good run on the sinking two-seamer and flashing the cutter, slurve and changeup.

He’s 29 years old and missed most of 2018 and all of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He’s an interesting upside play, but he also brings both reliability — if healthy, of course — and a wealth of experience most of the Mariners current pitchers don’t have.

Graveman spent four years with the Oakland Athletics after debuting with the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s spent a lot of time around the likes of Edwin Jackson, Sonny Gray, Rich Hill, Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, offering a wide variety of their own experiences.

But in 2019, while rehabbing, Graveman was with the Cubs where he had conversations with Mr. Old-School himself Kyle Hendricks, and was able to watch the likes of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish up close and on the daily.

Graveman has been a groundball guy in his career, entering 2020 with a career GB rate of nearly 52%, and posted a 55.2% mark in 2018.

The addition of a four-seamer to his repertoire may reduce the raw rates of ground balls he induces, but the trade-off may very well be more missed bats.

Graveman’s career strikeout rate is just 15%, or 5.77 per nine innings pitched and a career best of 7.1/9 two years ago. But 94-97 at the top of the zone in Major League Baseball these days is a swing-and-miss pitch when hitters are looking for the ball up.

And versus Graveman, that’s exactly what they’re doing because of the effectiveness of the sinker and changeup that work down in the zone.


Yusei Kikuchi, LHP

I’ve talked about Kikuchi a lot in the form of confidence, but I was hoping for the full season for him to work out any bumps in the road as he unveils a new delivery designed for more consistent release points and velocity.

Kikuchi, 29, sat 91-94 mph with his fastball last year, but has shown signs of a firmer version of the pitch, both in March and this month in Summer Camp. It’s not a high-spin pitch, so command and velocity matter more here.

His best swing-and-miss pitch is the slider (15.4% whiff), followed by the changeup (11.6% whiff) and when put in play, neither pitch is squared up with any regularity. But he had trouble getting to either pitch last season, often falling behind in counts and being forced to go to the fastball in the zone, a pitch that was pasted to the tune of a .623 slugging percentage. He also had to use the curveball too much, a pitch designed to steal strikes, rather than serve as a go-to.

Kikuchi proved durable last season, making every start and only being short-scripted once, despite making the transition to the MLB rotation schedule. He’s athletic and is very self-aware, a factor in development for pitchers of all ages in baseball these days.

We may not see a lot of it in 2020 because Kikuchi likely makes but 10 starts, but I expect fewer blow-ups and more signs he’s a legit mid-rotation starter.


J.P. Crawford, SS

While I’m not seeing significant changes to the swing I believe are absolutely necessary if Crawford is to hit for average with regularity, it’s clear the shortstop got a lot stronger over the winter, which may allow for his current swing to work a little better for him.

Crawford’s average exit velocity a year ago was 84.3 mph, a very pedestrian mark, but his launch angle wasn’t a suboptimal 11.2, even considering the fact he wasn’t consistently hitting the ball hard.

For comparison, Domingo Santana also posted a launch angle of 11.2 a year ago, but at an average of 89 mph off the bat. Somewhere around 103 mph is considered the mean value for home runs and around 90 mph for singles.

While it’s not exactly this simple, it remains pretty clear Crawford didn’t square it up enough in 2019 and strength can only go so far to remedy that.

Having said all that, the 25-year-old Crawford doesn’t swing and miss much (8.1%) and appears to be looking for fastball he can pull — judging by his spring and Summer Camp plate appearances — which could make a meaningful impact in his results.

The reason Crawford is so watch worthy in 2020 is he’s the only current option the club has at shortstop for the foreseeable future, including the first few years of the club’s competitive window. 

Noelvi Marte, the club’s top prospect at the position, is more likely to move to third base than stick at short, and is at least three years away, anyway.

But Crawford also brings relatively high floor for the position as a plus defender, and when his swing starts to create leverage there could be 12-16 homers available to him.


Kyle Seager, 3B

Seager’s next few years could go one of two ways

1. Play out his current contract as the starting 3B with the Mariners which runs through 2021 if he remains in Seattle.
2. Get traded to a club with a considerable amount of cash to help cover the majority of his $18 million 2021 salary and the $15 million option for 2022 that becomes the player’s choice if he’s dealt.

On the surface, one would think if Seager proves last July and August wasn’t a fluke just a result the club will see a little more of after he made swing adjustments that his chances to be trade skyrocket. And while that may be true — think of Seager, who will be 33 and 34, as a two-year, $20 million player, assuming Seattle includes about $13 million in cash.

If Seager shows he’s a 3-win player or better, that’s not only a tradeable commodity, it’s one with some sneaky value.

Again, he has to hit with consistency this summer for a trade to be possible.

But I’m buying the swing adjustments to the extent I think he gets back relatively close to where he was prior to his career year of 2016 when he batted .278/.359/.499 with 30 homers and 36 doubles. All those marks are career highs. Before that season, Seager was pushing through .250-.260 averages with OBPs in the .330s and slugging percentages in the .450s.

And he slugged .468 last season and posted a .321 OBP., so if all he does is repeat last summer’s triple-slash, it’s a viable regular — Seager posted 2.9 fWAR despite playing just 106 games.

But the trade part of Seager’s saga isn’t likely unless there’s consistency in 2020.


Tom Murphy, C

Murphy, who is starting the 2020 season on the IL with a fracture in his foot, is 29 and was very good last year in what some might call a BABIP year for the backstop.
He posted 3.2 fWAR and a 126 wRC+ on the strength of 18 homers and a .535 slugging percentage. 

He did bat .273 with a .324 on-base mark, both above league average and far exceeding the mean for catchers.

But it was a 76-game sample and Murphy’s batting average on balls in play was .340, which likely regresses some in 2020. But I’m not on the whole “he’s going to sink hard” wagon. Some hitters just produce more when they make contact than others. Good hitters have higher BABIPs. Domingo Santana, for example, boasts a .361 career BABIP in 1630 plate appearances. 

Murphy, like Santana, strikes out a lot, but when he puts the ball in play he hits it hard. Suggesting Murphy can hit .250 or better and continue to produce power is far from unreasonable. It’d be more surprising if he fell entirely off the planet this season.

The fact Murphy is 29 makes little different. He’ll be arbitration eligible for the first time after this season and a free agent after the 2023 season, which means he’s likely to be good enough and affordable for Seattle as they groom their next catcher, likely Cal Raleigh.

But he could also end up being solid trade bait, considering the dearth of catching in baseball.…