Falling short in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes certainly dealt a blow to the Seattle Mariners’ offseason plans and their fans’ psyche. Still, the club has an opportunity to help its outlook when the Winter Meetings begin tomorrow.
It’s not as if Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto has been sitting around idly waiting for the Ohtani courtship to play out. Since July, the third-year GM has added 15 players from outside the organization to his 40-man roster.
Among Dipoto’s newest additions: second baseman Dee Gordon, pitchers Mike Leake, David Phelps, Marco Gonzales, Erasmo Ramirez, Andrew Albers, Nick Rumbelow, Sam Moll, Mike Morin, and Seth Frankoff, first baseman Ryon Healy, catchers Mike Marjama and David Freitas, and utility player Andrew Romine.
An impressive turnover of personnel, but the Mariners need more.
Paxton was dynamic last season, but the 29-year-old landed on the DL twice. The issue going forward is whether the southpaw, who’s never started 25 games, can be a reliable difference-maker.
Similarly, Hernandez has fallen victim to injuries three times during the last two seasons. More unsettling; Felix’s steady decline since 2015. Will the King bounce back or continue to struggle with health challenges and ineffectiveness?
The back of Leake’s baseball card suggests he’s league-average; not the top-10 pitcher he was during his September debut with the Mariners. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The 30-year-old has remained relatively healthy, effective, and capable of pitching deep into games throughout his career.
Behind these three veterans, a bevy of arms with dubious upside: Gonzales, Moll, Albers, Erasmo Ramirez, Ariel Miranda, Andrew Moore, Max Povse, and Rob Whalen. There’s considerable depth there, but most of these pitchers were with Seattle by season’s end and delivered mixed results.
If Seattle turns to free agency, the high-end names on the market are Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. Both are over 30 and likely seeking long-term deals. That said; committing a significant amount of money to an older player for multiple years doesn’t feel Dipoto-like.
There are other familiar names on the market who’ll cost less in terms of dollars and years. None are game-changers, some could help a club. Most notably; Alex Cobb, C.C. Sabathia, Andrew Cashner, Jaime Garcia, Lance Lynn, Yovani Gallardo, Chris Tillman, Jason Vargas, Jhoulys Chacin, Wade Miley, and Jeremy Hellickson.
Among these candidates, Cashner and Garcia are most intriguing to me. I would’ve included Tyler Chatwood, but he signed a three-year deal with the Chicago Cubs this week.
Neither Cashner nor Garcia can headline a rotation and each comes with blemishes. But, they could provide the Mariners with a veteran arm capable of delivering quality innings.
Cashner won’t miss bats (4.6 K/9) and he can struggle with his control — eighth highest BB/9 in MLB. Yet, the right-hander has averaged 150-plus innings over the last three seasons.
It’s worth noting, Cashner surrendered the second fewest home runs (15) of any pitcher with 160-plus innings. Impressive considering the 31-year-old’s home games were at hitter-friendly Globe Life Park last season.
Also age-31, the oft-injured Garcia has avoided the DL during the last two seasons, while averaging 28 starts and 164 innings. Before 2016, the nine-year veteran hadn’t started more than 20 games since 2011.
While Garcia’s 9.5 percent walk rate was eleventh highest in the league, he’s proven adept at avoiding fly balls. The lefty’s ground ball rate (54.8-percent) was seventh best among starters with 120-innings pitched.
Honestly though, Cashner and Garcia are nice supplementary pieces, but the Mariners need more to contend next year. If the club is unwilling or unable to sign Darvish or Arrieta, the trade market is a better option than sifting through the free agent discount rack.
In the past, I’ve mentioned Jeff Samardzija, Patrick Corbin, Jason Hammel, Jake Odorizzi, Gio Gonzalez, and Josh Tomlin as potential trade targets. Certainly, there are many other names Dipoto could target. Two years ago, he acquired Miley in a deal. Last offseason, Drew Smyly and Gallardo.
Obviously, finding trade partners willing to deal starters is problematic and the cost is steep. Regardless, the club’s current strategy of acquiring multiple fringy arms won’t solve the Mariners’ problems at the top of their rotation
The Mariners had talented relievers last season, but consistency was a trait in short supply. For that reason, adding veterans with a record of reliability is paramount.
Addison Reed doesn’t give up free passes often (1.5 BB/9), plus he has closer and setup experience. The 28-year-old could serve as a contingency if closer Edwin Diaz falters or simply reinforce the back-end of the bullpen.
Side-arming Pat Neshek surrendered just three home runs in 62 innings last season. Remarkable considering his home games were at hitter-friendly Coors Field and Citizens Bank Ball Park. The 37-year-old setup man would lengthen any bullpen.
Versatile righty Anthony Swarzak misses bats (10.7 K/9) and could serve in middle relief or setup roles. Last season, the 32-year-old made 24 multiple-inning appearances. Ten times, he went two-plus frames.
Bryan Shaw is capable of getting more than three outs when needed. He also appeared in a league-leading 79 games last season.
Having one or more of these pitchers wouldn’t necessarily have saved the Mariners last season. But, their reliability and versatility would’ve buoyed the rotation during its lowest points. The same could apply in 2018, depending on the starters the club acquires.
The departure of free agent Carlos Ruiz leaves an opening behind starter Mike Zunino. The club could seek out a veteran to backup the 26-year-old or decide to rely on the inexperienced Marjama or Freitas.
Having said that, adding a proven backup for baseball’s demanding position would be prudent.
The addition of Romine may not bode well for Taylor Motter, who served as the Mariners’ Swiss Army knife last season. On the other hand, the last spot on the roster is a tenuous position for any player.
The amount of depth and versatility added at other positions will inevitably play into who gets to be Seattle’s twenty-fifth man next year.
For instance, Gordon has been a second baseman and shortstop throughout his career. However, the Mariners intend to convert the 29-year-old into a center fielder.
If Gordon’s transition goes well, the club will have an outfielder capable of playing the middle infield in a pinch. The presence of players like Gordon and outfielder Ben Gamel, who is learning first base, will ultimately determine the skill set of the utility man the club settles on.
Acquiring Ohtani would’ve gone a long way towards solving the Mariners’ pitching woes, but they didn’t get their man. As a result, Dipoto will pivot to more costly solutions.
That’s assuming the organization is truly serious about contending in 2018.
Without adding a headliner to the rotation and at least one impact arm to back of the bullpen, the Mariners risk suffering a fate similar to last season’s. Hover on the fringe of contention before becoming irrelevant by September.
That would be worse than a 23-year-old Japanese phenom signing with a division rival.
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