If the season ended today, the Seattle Mariners would be playing the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game. But we’re only at the All-Star break and the club hasn’t looked good lately.
The Mariners stumbled at the end of the first half going 3-7 with the surging Athletics hot on their heels. For that reason, there’s a sense of urgency among Seattle fans. They want action from the front office before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Last week, we discussed potential trade targets for the rotation. Now, let’s focus on the bullpen — a group that would benefit from an infusion of talent.
Before digging into trade ideas, let’s consider Seattle’s current bullpen. Doing so should help us visualize the club’s needs and determine whether any of the candidates I’ll be suggesting work from a financial and performance standpoint.
Currently, the Mariners have just one dynamic reliever who is also consistent — Edwin Díaz. The right-hander is arguably one of the top closers in MLB.
Setup man Juan Nicasio has an ongoing knee issue that’s recently affected his consistency and availability.
When on, Nicasio reliably holds leads and serves as insurance policy when Díaz isn’t available to close games. Getting him back on track is vital to the Mariners’ second-half success.
To date, Alex Colomé hasn’t lived up to expectations. The six-year veteran was closing games for the Rays before Seattle acquired him just before Memorial Day.
As a Mariner, Colomé is surrendering more homers and striking out fewer hitters. Moreover, his hard-contact rate has jumped from 24.2% to 35.3 % since switching teams.
James Pazos is having the best season of his young career. The left-hander is allowing far fewer home runs and walks. However, Pazos’ strikeout rate and fastball velocity have dropped as the season has progressed.
Earlier this year, Pazos’ four-seam fastball was averaging approximately 96-MPH. Recently, he’s been closer to 92-MPH. Perhaps the decreased velocity is by design or due to physical issues. Regardless of the cause, it’s something worth watching over the next two months.
Since Nick Vincent returned in June from a groin injury, the team has used the veteran sparingly with sub-optimal results. In 5.1 innings since June 22, Vincent has allowed four runs and six hits, including two homers.
It’s possible the Mariners are simply easing Vincent back into the fray after his injury and he’ll be good to go in the second half. Hopefully, that’s the case because he’s been a workhorse for manager Scott Servais since 2016.
The remaining relievers have delivered varying levels of value. But they’re the most likely roster casualties, assuming additions were made to the bullpen.
Now that we’ve covered the current bullpen, let’s turn our attention to pitchers who might help the Mariners. Our list includes pending free agents (rentals) and players under team control past 2018.
Please note I’ve excluded rookies and pitchers currently on the DL. With the exception of our first candidate, everyone’s xwOBA is below the .319 league-average mark.
Remember, we’re looking for pitchers can help the Mariners during a stretch run — not science projects.
Zach Britton – Orioles
Just two seasons ago, Britton finished fourth in AL Cy Young voting and was arguably the best closer in baseball. A lot has changed for the southpaw and the Orioles since.
Last year, Britton missed two months due to a left forearm strain. After returning from the DL, he didn’t demonstrate the same level of excellence as the year prior. But the two-time All-Star did manage to deliver a superb .279 xwOBA.
Unfortunately, things got worse for Britton in the offseason. He suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon and remained on the sidelines until mid-June.
Due to his stature and the fact that he’s just rounding back into form, I included Britton despite his high xwOBA. It’s also worth mentioning Britton’s average slider velocity is down from 97.4-MPH three seasons ago to 94.7 this year.
Bottom line: Clubs interested in Britton assume the risk he’ll continue improving and won’t suffer any health-related setbacks. Moreover, buyers will have to part with minor league talent and absorb the eight-year veteran’s large salary.
Jeurys Familia – Mets
With Britton still shaking off the rust, Familia is the more reliable option. The Mets’ closer has a high strikeout rate (9.8 SO/9) while surrendering just one home run in 40.2 innings this year.
That said; Familia has experienced health issues too. In 2017, he missed considerable time due to an arterial clot in his right shoulder. The former All-Star experienced soreness in the same shoulder earlier this season, but has performed well since returning to action in mid-June.
Bottom line: As with Britton, the price will be steep for buyers interested in Familia.
Zach Duke – Twins
In previous seasons, Duke was effective against batters from either side of the plate. Not so much this year.
Duke has held left-handed hitters to a .276 OBP, much better than against right-handed bats (.411). On the other hand, the 14-year veteran hasn’t surrendered a home run during 34.2 innings this season.
Bottom line: Duke could help a club looking for a left-handed specialist. Whether the Mariners are interested may depend on their view of current lefty relievers Pazos and Roenis Elias.
Joakim Soria – White Sox
Soria is Chicago’s closer, but has served as an eighth inning setup man as recently as last year with the Royals.
In 36 innings, Soria has allowed just two homers with an impressive 11.3 SO/9 rate. Last season, the two-time All-Star coughed up just two dingers in 56 innings.
A club acquiring Soria will have the opportunity to either exercise a $10 million option for 2019 or pay the 11-year veteran a $1 million buyout.
Bottom line: Soria is having his best season since 2014 and would be a great pickup for any contender looking for late-inning help.
Brad Brach – Orioles
Brach was Baltimore’s closer prior to Britton’s return, although opportunities to earn saves with the 28-win Orioles are infrequent. Now, the Monmouth University product is primarily holding down the eighth inning.
Since his All-Star season in 2016, Brach has been averaging one fewer strikeout/nine innings, while his walk rate has incrementally climbed during the same period.
Bottom line: Brach’s declining numbers suggest he isn’t the ideal choice for a late-inning role with a contender. Especially at his pay level.
Tyler Clippard – Blue Jays
The 12-year major leaguer is used to in-season address changes. He’s been traded during the last three summers. More than likely, Clippard will be packing again.
Clippard currently leads the majors in appearances (48) with most of his game action coming between innings 7-9. The right-hander has served as the Blue Jays’ closer at times, although he’s delivered mixed results in that role.
Overall, Clippard has held opposing hitters to a .204 batting average with 10.4 SO/9. However, he’s been susceptible to the long ball this year with a 1.4 HR/9 rate.
Bottom line: Clippard is a proven performer, who’s flexible enough to pitch anywhere in a game. Every contending bullpen can use a pitcher like him.
Sergio Romo – Rays
The right-hander is one of several Tampa Bay relievers to serve as an “opener” in lieu of traditional starters this season. Lately though, Romo has been the Rays’ closer.
Romo has a history of durability and this year is no different. Since debuting in 2006, the native Californian has averaged 57 appearances annually. At the All-Star break, he’s sitting at 46 games.
By surrendering just 10 extra base hits in 42.1 innings, Romo has held opponents to a meager .367 slugging percentage. He’s also averaging 9.8 SO/9.
Bottom line: Romo’s can definitely help a team making a postseason run. Not only that, he has a championship pedigree after winning three World Series rings with the Giants.
Jake Diekman – Rangers
As with Duke, the Rangers’ southpaw isn’t as effective against both lefty and righty bats as in the past. Surprisingly, Diekman’s struggles come against left-handed hitters (.851 OPS) rather than right-handed opponents (.549).
An indicator of Diekman’s unusual negative platoon split is his walk rate. The Nebraska native has walked 21.6% of left-handed bats compared to just 8.4% of righties.
Bottom line: Despite his recent issues, clubs looking for a late-inning power arm will likely check in on Diekman. Besides, a person capable of returning to the majors after having their colon removed in the same year should never be underestimated.
John Axford – Blue Jays
A closer earlier in his career, Axford is most often deployed as a middle reliever these days. Nevertheless, the Canadian can still deliver positive results.
Although primarily a one-inning arm, Axford has logged two-plus frames on six occasions this season. The Notre Dame product can still bring the heat too; his four-seam fastball is averaging 96.5-MPH.
Bottom line: Axford is a relatively inexpensive veteran capable of providing an additional layer of depth.
Aaron Loup – Blue Jays
Throughout his seven-year career, Loup has held opposing lefty bats to a .230 batting average, although he hasn’t been as successful this season (.266).
Loup is having trouble against opposite-handed hitters this season. Right-handers are slashing .333/.395/.561 against the Tulane University alum.
Bottom line: Loup has some value as a LOOGY, but his issues with righty hitters may limit his value.
For this section, I’m focusing on relievers under team control for no more than two seasons. There are many young, dynamic pitchers with more years of club control out there. However, those players would likely be out of the Mariners’ reach.
Shane Greene – Tigers
Detroit’s closer went on the DL on July 2 with a right shoulder strain, but he returned to action on July 13. Assuming good health, it would make sense for the Tigers to move Greene. Especially with All-Star Joe Jiménez ready to take over the closer gig.
Greene’s power arm is averaging 96.4-MPH on his fastball. Moreover, he’s missing bats (9.7 SO/9) and thrifty with free passes (2.5 BB/9).
Bottom line: Greene would be a useful pickup, but clubs could be leery of his recent injury.
Kirby Yates – Padres
Former teammate Brad Hand was the Padres’ most sought after reliever before the club dealt him to Cleveland yesterday. Yates would be a tremendous pick up too. The right-hander has served as San Diego’s eighth inning setup man and has delivered tremendous results.
Yates’s ground ball rate has jumped from 28.9 % last season to 50% in 2018. Consequently, the Hawaiian has held opposing hitters to a .164 average and permitted just one home run in 37.2 innings this year.
Bottom line: Any contender can use a late-inning reliever capable of missing bats (11.5 SO/9) and keeping the ball on the ground. The challenge will be making a offer that entices the Friars to part with Yates.
Luis Avilán – White Sox
Avilán has been particularly effective against left-handed hitters this season — .260 xwOBA in contrast to .331 against right-handers. Overall, the southpaw has good strikeout (9.9 SO/9) and acceptable walk (3.3 BB/9) rates.
Bottom line: Avilán is another lefty option for clubs seeking someone younger than Loup and with more club control than Duke or Diekman.
Seung Hwan Oh – Blue Jays
The South Korean is quietly having a great season north of the border. Oh’s 10.7 SO/9 and 2.0 BB/9 rates are among the 20 best for relievers with 40-plus innings. His xwOBA is also top-20.
Oh has primarily pitched in the seventh inning and later. He’s also logged multi-innings five times this year. It’s worth noting the third-year major leaguer served as the Cardinals’ closer for part of last season, although he did encounter occasional bouts of inconsistency.
The Blue Jays hold a $2.5 million club option for 2019 with a $250 thousand buyout that vests, if Oh reaches 70 innings — he currently sits at 44.2 frames.
Bottom line: If a contender acquires Oh, there’s a decent chance his 2019 option vests. Considering his relatively cheap price tag and versatility, he’d be great addition for this year and next.
Ryan Pressly – Twins
The former Rule 5 draft pick currently holds the MLB lead along with Clippard, Diaz, and José Álvarez of the Angels for most appearances this season. Pressly has been used everywhere, although he’s appeared in the seventh inning in nearly half of his 48 outings.
Pressly’s four-seam fastball clocks in at 96.5-MPH, which helps explain a 13.5 SO/9 rate that’s sixth best in the majors and just a few spots behind Diaz (14.8).
The Twins could opt to retain Pressly or maximize his trade value by moving him with one year of club control remaining.
Bottom line: A power arm like Pressly’s could help shorten the game and preserve leads for the closer.
Jared Hughes – Reds
Hughes is a versatile weapon, who’s registered more than three outs in 12 of his 43 appearances. On seven occasions, he’s gone at least two innings.
The right-hander isn’t a swing-and-miss type, but possesses good control (2.5 BB/9) and has surrendered up just two homers. Impressive for a pitcher playing home games in the bandbox known as Great American Ball Park.
Bottom line: Hughes is a solid veteran contributor for the Reds capable of providing the same value to a team vying for the postseason.
Craig Stammen – Padres
The Ohio native is another controllable and effective Padre reliever likely to be in high demand. Stammen’s most appealing traits are his pinpoint control and his ability to go multiple frames. He’s gone two innings seven times this year and has the fifth best BB/9 among MLB among relievers.
Bottom line: As with the other San Diego relievers mentioned, the club doesn’t have to trade Stammen unless wowed by the offers they’re receiving.
Most of the relievers I’ve mentioned would serve as upgrades to the Mariners’ bullpen. My top choices are Oh, Pressly, Hughes, and one rental — Clippard.
I like Yates and Stammen too, but suspect they’ll be out of Seattle’s reach. The same applies to Britton and Familia.
Perhaps Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto surprises me and acquires one of the high-profile relievers.
On the other hand, JeDi could simply do what he usually does. Pull off an innovative deal no one saw coming, as he did when he acquired Colome and Denard Span in late-May.
The next 11 days are going to be a fun ride.