Looking at the latest baseball odds reflects just two teams left in the dance. Atlanta and Houston have a lot in common. The most telling commonality is pitching. Depth, in particular.

Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins drew it up as well as anyone right here: the Mariners’ 2021 rotation wasn’t equipped to pitch the team to the postseason, let alone through it and to the World Series. This means the club has a lot of work to do.

The club received well below-average production from its starting rotation in 2021, and despite the season-long loss of James Paxton, Ljay Newsome, and Nick Margevicius, and the five weeks Marco Gonzales missed, the fact they weren’t the worst rotation in baseball by a wide margin was actually quite impressive.

Seattle ranked No. 19 in rotation ERA, No. 22 in FIP, No. 27 in xFIP, No. 23 in K%, No. 13 in BB% and No. 15 in total innings covered.

The club, mainly GM Jerry Dipoto, has spoken publicly about adding to the rotation. There seems to be a sentiment, from perhaps inside the organization as well as fans and media, the Mariners simply need one very good starter at the top of their rotation, and they’re set for 2022. It seems the prevailing reason for this sentiment is the presence of pitching prospects, namely George Kirby, Matt Brash, and Brandon Williamson.

I completely disagree the Mariners should be seeking one starting pitcher. Dipoto should be looking for two arms, even if neither are multi-year solutions. Why? Because banking on prospects is asking for trouble, and pitching depth is at the top of the list of common denominators among good teams, another topic Arkins covered. If Seattle wants to prove baseball is back, and they want to take a real step forward next season, the rotation must be addressed with aggression, and beyond one upgrade.

There are essentially two ways to do that from outside the organization: Free agents and trades.

Top FA SP

RankPlayerAge
1Max Scherzer, RHP37
2Robbie Ray, LHP30
3Kevin Gausman, RHP31
4Justin Verlander, RHP39
5Carlos Rodon, LHP29
6Eduardo Rodriguez, LHP29
7Marcus Stroman, RHP31
8Noah Syndergaard, RHP29
9Alex Wood, LHP31
10Anthony DeSclafani, RHP32

Entering the 2022 season with a rotation of Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen, Logan Gilbert, the one acquisition we’re assuming, and presumably, either an in-house option such as Yusei Kikuchi, Justin Dunn, or Justus Sheffield, or with a re-signing of Tyler Anderson, isn’t going to inspire confidence, nor is it good enough to compete with the better teams in the American League.

And the answer is no if you’re wondering if it’s OK to start the season with a rotation like that because Kirby, Williamson, or Brash may be up relatively early. Counting on consistent, big-league performance from any of the three is not a plan for success, it’s not a plan for winning. That’s a developmental plan. That’s a plan the club has executed three seasons in a row now. And while it went fine for Gilbert this past season, this is when we need to realize why the Mariners believe(d) in Gilbert as much as they did/do, and why that separates him from Kirby, Williamson, and Brash.

We can talk about stuff all day — all three of the prospects have enough of it to get outs in the majors. Kirby throws enough quality strikes, too. But none of the three have the combo of stuff, command, and preparedness Gilbert showed the Mariners before he was called up in May, and they aren’t going to gain that between now and next June. That makes those three a bigger performance risk entering 2022 than was Gilbert entering last season, despite my belief Kirby is a better overall prospect than Gilbert ever was. Gilbert was pretty good in 2021, but had his ups, downs and stretches of struggles, and his presence in the projected rotation for ’22 already represents above-standard levels of risk. Seattle has no business simply ‘buying time’ with fringe arms as they wait for the prospects to poke their heads through the minors. The club’s acquisitions this winter should reflect an overall approach to winning next season. No two-month stop-gaps, no ‘holding a spot for’ the prospects. When the kids are ready, they must represent an upgrade to an existing arm in the rotation, or be utilized in a different role.

It’s never a bad thing to have more starting pitchers than a club needs at a given time, but there’s no such thing as too much of it.

The Mariners should add two quality arms that compete consistently and have a chance to give 160-200 innings next season, even if one of them is simply an average performer  — 4.2-4.3 ERA/FIP/xFIP, i.e., Kyle Freeland, Merrill Kelly, Logan Gilbert, Michael Pineda. Freeland and Kelly should be topics of trade discussion if their clubs are willing, and Pineda should be on a long list of free agents in which the Mariners show interest, as should Jon Gray, Steven Matz, and the obvious top arms on the market.

Potential SP Trade Targets

PlayerAgeTeam
Sean Manaea, LHP30Oakland
Shane Bieber, RHP27Cleveland
Frankie Montas, RHP29Oakland
Tyler Mahle, RHP27Cincinnati
Sonny Gray, RHP32Cincinnati
Luis Castillo, RHP29Cincinnati
Chris Bassitt, RHP33Oakland
German Marquez, RHP27Colorado
Patrick Corbin, LHP32Washington

In July, the Miami Marlins engaged a bit in talks for starting pitching (Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara) but nothing materialized, and now with the injury to Sixto Sanchez, and the likely aggressions the Fish show this offseason to start winning, it’s unlikely that changes. For now.

Marquez’s presence on the list above is solely to acknowledge his existence. With the Rockies extending Antonio Senzatela, it appears Colorado will attempt to add to what they have, rather than trade off their best pieces and start again.

The A’s may very well have a fire sale, and while I don’t typically love the idea of paying the freight on walk-year players, Manaea can pitch. But their entire rotation may be shopped, so stay tuned.

Whether or not the Reds make any of their arms available remains to be seen, but I’m a Mahle and Castillo fan, and still see value in Gray and the very team-friendly two years left on his deal.

Bieber is an intriguing yet worrisome potential target thanks to a shoulder injury and some questions about whether or not the sticky stuff aided his abilities in the mound to a significant degree, but he’s worth watching this winter, too.

Corbin could be a buy-low option for a club that still sees No. 2/3 stuff, but he’s owed $82 million over the next three seasons, and I think the Nationals are more likely to try a retooling rather than cleaning house, anyway, but anything goes this winter.

While Seattle attempts to fix a bad offense, increasing the impact provided by their rotation to better match up with their league foes is a must. A must. It’s not going to come from within, it’s not going to happen by magic, and the other competitive clubs aren’t each taking numerous steps back.

Those clubs — Astros, White Sox, Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays — all are better set up in the rotation moving forward, and others, including the Angels and Tigers, are expected to pursue veteran arms, too.

While the market isn’t rich with options and trades for impact arms may be too rich for anyone, nothing at all should be off the table.

The how really isn’t all that important, however, and the names attached to the arms the club targets aren’t either. But the Mariners aren’t one additional starting pitcher away from properly preparing the roster to meet their 2022 goals. And for the first time in years, their goal of winning isn’t a pipe dreams lined with wafer-thin margins. It’s real, legitimate, and treating it as anything but would be a travesty.

Got a take on what you just read? Talk about it here!

Image courtesy of Rick Ulreich/Icon Sportswire
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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 and spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio. He now serves as the Executive Copy Editor at Data Skrive, a tech company that manipulates data to provide automated content to clients including the AP, BetMGM, USA Today, and ESPN. Find Jason's baseball podcast, Baseball Things, right here.

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