Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto doesn’t anticipate making headline-grabbing moves this offseason, as he did a year ago. Instead, Dipoto intends on clearing roster space for a wave of prospects approaching big-league readiness. Welcome to year-two of the Mariners “step back.”
To make way for the kids, regulars Dee Gordon, Domingo Santana, and Mallex Smith may be playing elsewhere next year. Arbitration-eligible Omar Narváez could be wearing a different uniform too. Dealing these players would certainly provide opportunities for prospects, but doing so would also create an absence of veteran insurance Dipoto would likely want to address before Opening Day.
Which free agents might the Mariners target to fill this void?
As much as some fans would prefer the team to do so, the Mariners won’t be courting Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg or other high-profile names this offseason. Instead, Dipoto likely pursues experienced players capable of providing depth and willing to be a reserve.
There is one caveat, though. I believe the Mariners would commit significant money and/or multiple years to a free agent capable of contributing in 2022 and beyond, assuming the contract fits into the organization’s budgetary framework. One such case occurred last season – Yusei Kikuchi.
Okay, let’s discuss potential free agents beginning with the Mariners’ most productive unit in 2019.
If Dipoto did move Narváez or fellow receiver Tom Murphy, the Mariners could use utility-man/backup catcher Austin Nola to fill the void. Otherwise, the team would have to look outside the organization for backstop assistance. Let’s consider several candidates.
For anyone wondering, fielding runs above average (FRAA) is a metric from Baseball Prospectus, which provides comprehensive measurement of catcher defense: framing, blocking, preventing stolen bases, throwing. Zero is average.
Alex Avila is a strong defender, especially as a framer. Moreover, the Alabama alum is a left-handed hitter with a 106 OPS+ vs. righties this year compared to 76 against southpaws (league-average is 100).
Assuming the Mariners deal Gordon, Shed Long is the heir apparent at second base.
Dipoto might consider adding a veteran to spot Crawford and/or Long. I suspect someone capable of handling shortstop would be the priority. Just for fun, I added several players better suited for the corners and second base than shortstop.
On the preceding and next table, I’ve replaced FRAA with defensive runs saved (DRS) to assist with gauging a player’s ability to play in the field – zero is average.
A reunion with former Mariner Brad Miller might be fun. Miller’s left-handed bat can be tough on right-handed pitching and he’s versatile in the field. The Clemson alum has at least 10 starts at both corner infield positions, second base, and left field since 2018.
Adeiny Hechavarría doesn’t possess the offensive pedigree of Miller, but he’s a better fit at shortstop. Hechavarría also has experience at second base and the hot corner in recent years.
Former Diamondback Wilmer Flores has 115-plus career starts at every infield position, although Arizona used him almost exclusively at second base in 2019.
Switch-hitter Neil Walker continued delivering at the plate playing both first and third base with the Marlins this year. The Yankees used Walker at those positions, plus second base and right field in 2018.
Hernán Pérez is primarily a middle-infielder, although he’s made starts at third base and every outfield position. Pérez would be a defensive replacement more than a bat off the bench.
Jedd Gyorko would be an interesting get for the Mariners.
Gyorko labored through an injury-plagued 2019. But the former West Virginia Mountaineer is just one year removed from a 2 WAR season and possesses extensive second and third base experience. He’s spent time at shortstop and first base too.
If Santana and Smith were out of the picture, the Mariners would be counting on a bounce back season by Mitch Haniger and the continued development of outfield prospects Jake Fraley, Braden Bishop, and perhaps Kyle Lewis. There’s significant uncertainty with this bunch.
Haniger missed four months due to a ruptured testicle and a subsequent back injury, which remains somewhat unknown in its severity. The remaining players are prospects – unknown unknowns.
Perhaps Dipoto adds veteran depth to depressurize the situation for his up-and-coming outfielders and insurance against a Haniger setback. Here are several to consider.
Kole Calhoun and Avisaíl García probably don’t fit. Both are established veterans looking for a full-time gigs and multi-year deals. Still, either player could make sense for the Mariners, if the Haniger had a chronic health issue.
Calhoun has earned a reputation as a Mariners killer among fans and certain sports radio hosts. Wouldn’t it be nice if he wasn’t crushing Seattle pitching?
Fun facts: Dipoto was the Angels’ GM when Calhoun alum broke into the majors. Furthermore, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times quoted JeDi’s positive comparisons of Haniger to the ASU after acquiring Haniger.
If the Mariners invested in a free agent outfielder for more than one season, García would be a better choice than Calhoun. The Venezuelan would be in his early thirties when the club plans on being competitive.
During split assignments with Washington and the Giants this season, Gerardo Parra started at each outfield spot and 14 contests at first base.
Juan Lagares has a reputation of strong center field defense and doing well against lefty pitching. Still, the right-handed hitter’s defensive value slipped this year.
How fun would it be if Billy Hamilton were a Mariner?
Yes, the switch-hitting Hamilton has struggled to reach base throughout his career. However, he’s a premium defender with elite-level sprint speed. Imagine the Mississippi native creating havoc on the base paths with Seattle next season.
We recently detailed the uncertainty facing the rotation in 2020 and beyond, so it’s reasonable to believe the Mariners add starting pitching this offseason. Here are a few names to consider.
Martín Pérez had an excellent .304 xwOBA (.318 is league-average) with the Twins this year. Of concern though, his xwOBA is well below his career norm (.344) suggesting 2019 may be an outlier.
The stat line of Michael Pineda mirrors previous production, but the former Mariner is currently serving a PED suspension.
Homer Bailey had a career resurgence with the A’s last year, but his age and injury history may scare off some suitors.
Former Brave Julio Teheran has made 30-plus starts in seven consecutive seasons. However, his fastball velocity and walk-rate are trending in the wrong direction. Perhaps the heavy workload is taking its toll on the Colombian despite his relatively young age.
Kyle Gibson regressed after a breakout season with the Twins in 2018. Gibson was dealing with ulcerative colitis throughout this season spending 10 days on the IL in September. The right-hander would be a rebound candidate assuming he’s healthy.
Michael Wacha is a well-known name and may have more to offer considering his young age. On the other hand, Wacha has made 25+ starts just twice in seven big-league seasons averaging 23 since 2016.
Prior to this year, Gio González averaged 31 starts and 187 innings since 2010, but the southpaw missed six weeks due to a dead arm. After the All-Star break, González did deliver a respectable 3.67 ERA and .324 xwOBA.
I didn’t list Alex Wood because he missed most of last season with a back injury. Nevertheless, he’s relatively young and posted a 3.68 ERA and .293 xwOBA during 151.2 innings with the Dodgers in 2018.
Former major leaguer Josh Lindblom found success pitching in Korea during the last three years. Now, he’s looking to join an MLB club. The former Purdue Boilermaker may pique the interest of the Mariners and other teams looking for a bargain.
We shouldn’t overlook Tommy Milone. The left-hander will be 33 next season and didn’t have a great ERA (4.76). But he did have a league-average .319 xwOBA in 111.2 innings with Seattle this year. Moreover, Milone appeared comfortable starting or following an opener.
The Mariners have already added a reliever claiming Phillips Valdéz off waivers from the Rangers. There’s no guarantee Valdéz is with the team by Spring Training, but expect Dipoto to continue making similar additions via the waiver wire, trades, and the Rule 5 draft.
More than likely, the Mariners begin next year with the same group of young relievers the club had at the end of the 2019 campaign. But expect Dipoto to strike late in the offseason to acquire an experienced closer or pitchers with previous late-inning experience.
Adding a veteran reliever or two would stabilize the bullpen early in the season and potentially provide Dipoto with a few trade chips to flip next July, as he did with Hunter Strickland was this year.
Sure, Strickland barely pitched for Seattle due to injuries. But dealing the right-hander and Roenis Elías to the Nationals did net the Mariners minor leaguers – Elvis Alvarado, Aaron Fletcher and Taylor Guilbeau.
With this in mind, I’ve selected a few veteran arms for you to peruse.
Brandon Kintzler missed time with pectoral and oblique injuries, yet managed to appear in 62 games. Furthermore, the right-hander had 29 saves for the Twins and Washington as recently as 2017.
Yoshihisa Hirano saw his ERA jump in 2019, but his xwOBA was 15 points better than it was in 2018. The right-hander, who’ll be entering his third MLB season after 11 years pitching in Japan, could provide value as a setup man or middle-reliever.
Signing former Mariners closer Fernando Rodney probably doesn’t happen. Then again, a revival of the Fernando Rodney Experience in the Emerald City would add intrigue to every outing – probably more than any beat writer would prefer.
Based on Dipoto’s record as Mariners GM, he’s not going to make a big splash in free agency. Trades have been the 51-year-old executive’s preferred method to add new players, that trend likely doesn’t change this offseason. Furthermore, expect the team to look within for solutions before expending resources to add outside pieces.
The day may eventually come when the Mariners pursue marquee free agents, although that day won’t arrive this offseason. Understandably, this frustrates a fan base that hasn’t experienced playoff baseball in nearly two decades.
Still, this kind of organizational self-discipline better positions the Mariners to make impact moves when the club is truly ready to compete for a division title and more.
Doesn’t that make sense?
I does to me.
My Oh My…