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.
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.
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.…