But the fact such a basic concept (adding more rotation help) would come out during the lockout after two absolutely dead weeks in Major League Baseball (thank you, owners, you’re all losers), is at least a bit peculiar, and I think begs the question of whether or not this means Seattle might be more aggressive with the rotation as a result of things on the offensive side getting a bit murky.
Well, if you ask me the answer is ‘no.’ Absolutely not. In fact, I think the opposite is more likely to be true.
I believe PoBOps– yes, I’m sticking with that sorta-acronym — Jerry Dipoto sees an opportunity, perhaps one they weren’t sure would be there when the offseason began. The opportunity to do all they want to do with the lineup, plus address the rotation more aggressively than expected.
Considering how assailing Seattle is willing to be with dollars, and how flexible they’re capable of being defensively, both on the infield and in the outfield in terms of who plays where and how often, there’s no reason to believe, somehow, some way, the lineup won’t be significantly better in 2022, even if they add exactly zero mashers.
For me, a masher is a legit, reliable, middle-of-the-order bat that generally ranks among the top 20 or so in baseball year-in, year-out. They’d bat 2-3-4 in EVERY lineup in baseball. Juan Soto is a masher. Bryce Harper is a masher. Some are just good hitters, like Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and Manny Machado. They all fit somewhere, but they don’t always measure up well to the best in the game. — Churchill
Whether it’s easy to see on paper because of names such as Trevor Story Kris Bryant, Michael Conforto, et al, or it takes a bit more squinting, the Mariners are fixing the offense. Side note: There is a way the Mariners offense is average or better without adding Bryant, Story, or Conforto, using a bit more of a quantity-over-quality approach, not that Dipoto and the Mariners prefer that.
Point is, betting against the club accomplishing their goals with the offense and adding multiple pieces to the lineup that raise the floor and the ceiling of their run-scoring abilities is superbly unwise. But the key to the entire offseason may end up being the Robbie Ray signing.
Adding Ray to the top of the rotation, then hammering away and piecing together at least an average offense with upside, opens the door for a game-changing move: Adding another frontline starting pitcher and scaring the diapers off the Houston Astros, who have set a goal to win the American League West for the fifth time in six years.
To demonstrate this, I’ll put names to the equation. Let’s assume the below transactions all get done — I used these because they are relatable, sensible, and realistic:
- Sign OF Michael Conforto to 1-year deal
- Trade for OF Raimel Tapia
- Sign IF Trevor Story to 5-year deal
- Sign RHP Chad Kuhl to a 1-year deal
- Sign LHP Martín Pérez to 1-year deal
You’d have a projected lineup as follows (I’ll use my personal preferred order here, not what I think Seattle would actually do) — 2022 Steamer wRC+ in parenthesis.
- Adam Frazier, 3B (100)
- Ty France, 1B (122)
- Trevor Story, 2B (107)
- Mitch Haniger, OF/DH (115)
- Michael Conforto, OF/DH (121)
- Kyle Lewis OF/DH (103)
- J.P. Crawford, SS (103)
- Tom Murphy/Cal Raleigh, C (combined 91)
- Jarred Kelenic, OF (103)
At least on paper, this is a solid lineup (not a below-average bat in the lineup per Steamer projections), and doesn’t include an infusion of Luis Torrens versus left-hand pitching, Abraham Toro spelling Frazier (mainly versus LHP), and Tapia taking over defensively in center and shifting Lewis to a corner late in games. And it doesn’t include Julio Rodriguez, whom I do not believe has a great chance to make the Opening Day roster but will see the majors for a good chunk of 2022, and he comes with a higher floor at the plate than did Kelenic last season.
There’s a lot to like with that lineup. Sure, we could replace Story and Conforto with Bryant and Kepler, or go even further down the quantity theory I noted above, but you get the point. Seattle has a great chance to put up some crooked numbers more regularly in 2022 and beyond.
Let’s say that lineup is about average. Could be better, but the catchers and Kelenic are far from surefire solid contributors. They have questions to answer.
We know bullpens are volatile, but Seattle expects to be at least OK there to start the year with Ken Giles joining Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, Casey Sadler, Diego Castillo, Andrés Muñoz, Erik Swanson, and Anthony Misiewicz, among others.
The rotation, as it stands, is Ray, Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen and Logan Gilbert. While Matt Brash, George Kirby, and Brandon Williamson, in some order, could each contribute in 2022, the No. 5 starter in this case would be either Kuhl or Pérez, whom I’ve signed to big-league, incentive-laden deals, followed by Nick Margevicius, Justin Dunn, and Justus Sheffield.
What would be?
Making the move.
We know Dipoto does not feel moving top prospects is necessary to check off all the boxes for his club this winter, and that he’s not going to do it unless he feels the deal is a no-brainer. And he’s right. It’s not necessary. It’s not necessary to move any significant young talent this winter … unless a 95-win 2022 season is right there for the taking. And it very well could be, because the club acted early and landed one of the better rotation pieces on the market.
There’s been a lot of buzz about Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds this offseason, but in the scenario we’ve drawn up here, the move is adding another frontline starting pitcher. It’s making Gonzales the No. 3, Flexen the No. 4, and Gilbert the No. 5 with a silver bullet.
It’s handing Scott Servais and Pete Woodworth a chance to match up well with every team, every game, no matter who is on the hill. It’s eliminating the games the club opens with a significant disadvantage on the mound, something we’ve seen all too often the last two decades in Seattle.
Maybe they feel good about Carlos Rodon‘s arm and he’s the answer. Otherwise, the trade route is how Dipoto adds another frontline starter.
We’ve discussed a lot the ideas of Oakland Athletics right-handers Chris Bassitt, and Frankie Montas, and lefty Sean Manaea, as well as the three righties in Cincinnati, Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Tyler Mahle.
But there’s also a pair of former Mariners farmhands to consider in Miami right-hander Pablo Lopez, and Brewers righty Fredy Peralta. Both the Marlins and Brewers want to contend in 2022, and are taking steps to doing so, but there are a lot of easy-to-see reasons why each club would entertain moving the arms.
The key for Seattle is trade cost.
Julio Rodriguez is not getting traded. Jarred Kelenic is not getting traded. George Kirby is not getting traded. I also don’t believe Noelvi Marte is getting traded, either, because while I think it’s worth moving him for four years of Bryan Reynolds, I don’t see how moving Marte and his ceiling for two years of a No. 2 or 3 starting pitcher is sensible. It’s simply not good value. Emerson Hancock‘s value is crimped in a lack of pro development and the fact he was shut down with a shoulder, um, thing we’ll call it for now, to end this past season, so he’s not going anywhere, either.
The Mariners have several prospect I have ranked outside the Top 5 that would be inside the Top 5 of probably half the league or more. Stoudt is an underrated trade piece, despite being 24 already and having a short pro resume, because he tops out in the upper 90s and has a changeup that projects to 65-70 grades. I’m not saying Stoudt can headline a deal for Montas or Castillo or Lopez or Peralta, but he could be a pretty nice second piece.
There’s no reason two years of Castillo, Montas, Mahle, or Gray should cost Rodriguez, Kirby, Kelenic, or Marte. If another club wants to include a top 40 talent to headline such a trade, good luck, Mets.
And, obviously, Manaea and Bassitt are in their walk years, making each a bit less expensive to acquire than the other group, though clubs do tend to overvalue such players because of the idea players perform better heading toward free agency (Story would like a word), and the perceived value of draft-pick compensation, but neither are warranting top-5 talent from a top farm system.
Lopez and Peralta are different stories. They’re also less likely to be seriously discussed by their respective teams, and they’d likely be more expensive since they’re each under club control for three more seasons. Each comes with more risk than the aforementioned group, though Mahle has a lot in common with Peralta — short track record of success in the majors as a starting pitcher.
When all is said and done this offseason, the question may be whether or not what clubs such as Seattle might be willing to offer in young talent is enough to convince the Reds to deal Castillo. I think Gray is getting traded, however, so for the sake of this exercise once again, let’s add this transaction to the board:
- Mariners acquire RHP Sonny Gray from Cincinnati for LHP Brandon Williamson (No. 7), OF Zach DeLoach (10), RHP Luis Curvelo (29). This is just a best guess at this point. The trade market for such starters has yet to be set. If anything, the price will be higher. But it’s also not the point here, so let’s not fuss over semantics
Now, in addition to the promising lineup and bullpen we’ve discussed already, the rotation looks pretty darned good:
- Robbie Ray, L
- Sonny Gray, R
- Marco Gonzales, L
- Chris Flexen, R
- Logan Gilbert, R
It also may give the Mariners a surplus of starting pitching if and when the likes of Brash and Kirby force their way into the mix, but that is a legitimate contending five-man rotation. The No. 6-12 starters are Brash, Kuhl, Perez, Margevicius, Dunn, Kirby, Sheffield, in some order. For reference, the average playoff team uses 11-12 starters a year, and at least nine made five or more starts for all but four playoff teams over the past four seasons.
Gray isn’t a prototypical No. 2, he’d ideally be a No. 3 in the same way Ray is probably more of a No. 2 (unless he takes his game up yet another notch, a topic for the next Baseball Things episode)
Yep, get greedy. That’s what the Mariners should do with the rotation this winter, despite the fact they have promising arms on the way. Ray’s signing to a five-year deal, and having Gonzales under contract through 2025, allow the club to move one of their pitching prospects, or even two theoretically, without tossing out an alarming measure of quality depth.
Brock’s report shouldn’t surprise anyone. Seattle needs another starter, plus some depth additions on small MLB deals or NRI-style acquisitions for spring. But they might be in a prime position to do it all his winter, and honestly, I didn’t see that coming.
There’s a load of work to be done before any of the above lines up, but I’d bet the house the lineup is handled and Dipoto and company get the chance to start 2022 with the best team the franchise has fielded in 20 seasons. And if they get that chance I find it difficult to believe they won’t jump.
Jason A. Churchill
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