The Seattle Mariners have plenty of “depth” but Wade Miley has been a shell of himself and Felix Hernandez‘s step backward and recent disabled list stint have put more pressure on the rest of the rotation to perform. Another No. 3 or better starter changes the dynamic of the Mariners chances the final 2-3 months, and a reliable No. 4 might be of great use, too, since Nate Karns now has a new role in the bullpen and question are abound surrounding the unit as a whole.
There’s more than one way for the club to get better before the August 1 trade deadline, but pitching in some improved form appears to be the obvious direction for GM Jerry Dipoto and staff.
Let’s talk about some names, then. But first, a note: Players on teams right in the thick of even the Wild Card race will not be considered. Things can change in a matter of days and weeks, so we’ll check back on or around July 25 for new additions, but there’s no point in adding predictions of several club’s win-loss records over the next three weeks to this exercise.
Here’s a snapshot view of the starting pitching market, with a special focus on what’s logical and realistic for the Mariners in 2016, while covering the bigger names and why or why not they may be a fit:
Matt Moore, LHP — Tampa Bay Rays
Drew Smyly, LHP — Tampa Bay Rays
Jake Odorizzi, RHP — Tampa Bay Rays
Reports surfaced this week all but confirming the Tampa Bay Rays’ plans to at least shop some of their better arms, particularly from their starting rotation. Chris Archer‘s value is down from a year ago and he remains cheap and under club control, so Moore, Smyly and Odorizzi seems to the more likely trade targets.
Moore is under contract for three years after this:
2017: $7m club option
2018: $9m club option
2019: $10m club option
The left-hander has been serviceable this season but not quite the dominant starte he flashed prior to surgery that ate almost all of 2014 and some of last season. The good news is, Moore is throwing harder than he has since he averaged over 94 mph on his fastball in 2012. There’s upside left here and if the 27-year-old even scratches it, even the options year are probably worth it and then some.
Smyly will be arbitration eligible for the second time after 2016, meaning he won’t hit free agency until after the 2018 season. He’s earning $3.75 million this season and figures to get a raise into the $6-8 million range for next season.
Smyly seems to remain grossly underrated, probably because he missed all but 12 starts a year ago and has posted an ERA of 5.33 through 16 starts in 2016. But he’s rolling a league average FIP and his strikeout (10.09/9) and walk rates (2.24) are well above average and all signs point to Smyly being fully healthy.
Both Moore and Smyly would represent upgrades to what the Mariners have been getting from the likes of Wade Miley thus far, but each would come with some risk — both health wise and performance wise, as neither has been producing frontline quality innings regularly — and each will be quite costly, thanks to their favorable control years and salaries.
Odorizzi is the best pitcher of the three in terms of raw stuff and at 26 with just 2.5 years of service under his belt. He sits 90-93 mph with three other offerings and has struggled with the home run ball this season, which has kicked his FIP down to league-average levels. He’s also struggled to get to and through the sixth inning consistently, just like Moore and Smyly.
Because he’s the cheapest and comes with the most club control, I’d imagine Odorizzi will be the most expensive to acquire. Smyly is probably the best bet to perform while Moore may be the cheapest to acquire. Moore also seems to be better bet to be moves over the offseason so clubs can see him start another 12-14 times before believing he’ll be worth the option years.
Andrew Cashner, RHP — San Diego Padres
Tyson Ross, RHP — San Diego Padres
Drew Pomeranz, LHP — San Diego Padres
Cashner will be a free agent at season’s end and is earning $7.15 million this season. He’s made just 11 starts in 2016, but started Sunday in New York. Despite throwing hard — he’s averaging nearly 94 mph on his fastball — Cashner is not missing bats (6.74 K/9) and is walking batters at nearly four per nine innings, or 9.3 percent.
The former TCU closer appears to be more of a No. 5 starter in the American League, or perhaps a relief option. He’s also a high risk for injury, having made 30 or more starts just once in his career (2015) and never having amassed as many as 190 innings.
Ross has been on the disabled list most of the season, and while he’s throwing now and could be back in July, it’s not likely to be until the end of the month, strongly suggesting he will not be on the market this summer. He has one more crack at arbitration over the winter.
Pomeranz has been San Diego’s best starting pitcher this season, making 16 starts and covering 95 innings. He’s missing bats — 10.33 per nine — and while he issues 3.69 walks per nine, he’s avoided the home run ball well and is adept at getting the ground ball outs in tough situations.
The lefty, now 27, is making just $1.35 million via his first year of arbitration and will not be free-agent eligible until after the 2018 campaign. It’s worth noting Pomeranz struggled as a starter with the Athletics, which some may suggest a league problem — facing better hitters 1-9 can expose some starting pitchers — but Pomeranz simply has been better than ever in the rotation this season, both in terms of consistent, quality stuff, and pitch sequencing, which can be attributed to better game plans and better coaching.
With Cashner such a high risk and limited reward and Ross’ health pushing his trek out of San Diego to the winter or next summer, Pomeranz may be the only option of intrigue from the Padres rotation.
In the end, I’m not a big fan and I’d rather bet on Karns figuring things out over giving up talent to try Pomeranz on for size.
Matt Shoemaker, RHP — Los Angeles Angels
Hector Santiago, LHP — Los Angeles Angels
Some may not realize how good Shoemaker has been this season and Santiago is a versatile left-hander with added velocity this season. Shoemaker boasts a 19.6 percent strikeout-to-walk rate and a 3.43 FIP in 15 starts. He’s been very good and reliable, despite the awful season his club is experiencing. Shoemaker likely hits arbitration via the Super Two qualifications this season and is paced to see free agency after 2019.
He’s 30 in September, however, and his track record suggests he, too, is similar to what the Mariners already possess, albeit more reliable. Shoemaker is averaging just over six innings per start and with a little more forgiving home ballpark could be a little better.
Santiago is earning $5 million this season and has one more go at arbitration before free agency. He may fit better in a relief role but he’s held down the fort well in the rotation this season, maintaining improved velocity on his sinker (91.8 mph vs. 90.2 a year ago). He’s another 5-plus inning starter, however, inducing concerns he’s not much of an upgrade.
There may be uncertainties as to whether the Mariners and Angels would make a deal this, considering GM Jerry Dipoto left his post as Angels GM a year ago after he, the skipper Mike Scioscia and owner Arte Moreno could not agree on how the team would be run. There is no beef, however, with Dipoto and new Angels head man Billy Eppler, so we’ll wait and see.
Julio Teheran, RHP — Atlanta Braves
Teheran is a mid-summer night’s pipe dream for Seattle. The right-hander may be the most attractive starting pitcher on the trade market this month, comes with upside left and is signed through 2019 at a total of $28.6 million, including 2016’s full salary. His contract also comes with a club option for 2020 at $12 million — a bargain for a pitcher that’s even a No. 3.
Jeremy Hellickson, RHP — Philadelphia Phillies
Hellickson has handled the National League East and Citizen’s Bank Ballpark pretty well in 17 starts, covering 99 2/3 innings and posting a league average FIP and above average K/9 (8.13) and walk rates (2.26). The home run has bitten him something fierce, but hasn’t put him on the canvas. A more forgiving home ballpark might be the recipe for another step forward toward ‘innings eater.’
The right-hander is earning $7 million this season and will be a free agent at season’s end, making him a true rental target. These tend to be cheaper, of course, so if the Mariners like the arm and his chances to succeed at Safeco in a playoff race, he might a nice No. 4 arm to help save the bullpen. He’s not, however, the kind of impact starting pitcher the club probably needs to turn their playoff drought into one of the past.
Ricky Nolasco, RHP — Minnesota Twins
Ervin Santana, RHP — Minnesota Twins
We can say the same about Nolasco and Santana and we can about Hellickson; good, solid innings arms that probably duplicate the production if Hisashi Iwakuma over his last nine outings — league average FIP, but 6-7 innings per start.
Nolasco’s contract is a hurdle, as he’s owed $12 million next season and another $6 million for the rest of 2016. His 2018 club option comes with a $1 million buyout, bringing his future dollar commitment to $19 million over a year and a half, or about 48 starts, assuming he doesn’t miss a single one. Of course Seattle has no business taking on all of that for a 33-year-old starting pitcher of league-average succes and value, but at a cheaper financial commitment and inexpensive trade cost, Nolasco could serve as a useful upgrade.
Santana’s contract is even steeper, guaranteeing hi, another $6.75 million this season and $13.5 million in each of the two ensuing seasons. His 2019 option at $14 million becomes guaranteed if he logs 400 total innings the previous two seasons combined and passes a physical at the end of 2018.
Without a rather ludicrous check coming from the Twins, Santana, also 33, is staying put and certainly doesn’t fit what the Mariners are trying to do with their roster and payroll. He’s been merely serviceable this season, anyway.
Sonny Gray, RHP — Oakland Athletics
Rich Hill, LHP — Oakland Athletics
This is where the Mariners’ answer might be, at least for 2016, and I’m not suggesting the Mariners gut their organization and snag Gray from their division rivals.
Gray will be arbitration eligible for the first time after this season and has pitched consistently at No. 2 starter level for entire seasons — 2014-15. He’s taken a nosedive this season in 15 starts and it appears it’s all about command and some randomness rather than something physical.
Gray could have been the biggest name on the pitching market had he performed like he did the last two years, but now the A’s might be better off keeping the right-hander until the winter, at least.
Hill, however, is a rental and is owed just $3 million the rest of the season. Yes, he’s 36 and a health risk — he’s had elbow and shoulder problems throughout his career, but he returned from the disabled list over the weekend and was again the terrific version he showed prior to his time away.
He’s missing bats and throwing as hard as he ever has at about 90-91 mph. His curveball is plus to plus-plus and he’s averaged around six innings per start so far.
While the risk isn’t anything to brush off, the cost might be, considering the upside. Two months of Hill is affordable for the Mariners — and many, many other clubs, too, despite obvious market buzz — and the Athletics aren’t afraid to the deal within the division.
I’d love to suggest the Diamondbacks might be open to discussing southpaw Patrick Corbin, but I wouldn’t call them out of the race in the National League and the front office and ownership have a lot committed toward the 2016 and 2017 seasons that such a move would have to come at a cost they couldn’t refuse, which means premium prices. Premium prices means no Mariners.
Pitching is always pricey at the trade deadline and the Mariners don’t have as much to trade from a young talent perspective as some of their Wild Card and American League West rivals, suggesting the need for creativity and perhaps a willingness to take on more salary than otherwise might be necessary. While that doesn’t mean a Santana or a Nolasco makes sense in a straight-up scenario with their respective contracts, it’s typical for the trade-off to be money-versus-talent or vice versa.
I have been told on more than one occasion this month the incoming ownership group wants to be aggressive with the current roster and are unfazed in their desires by the last month of sub par results. All of the above strongly suggests payroll room is certainly available if the right acquisition can be negotiated.
This includes likely trade cost, upside to Mariners roster with 2016 the focus but not the only consideration, probability of performance, cost in salary and risk of injury.
1. Rich Hill
2. Drew Smyly
3. Matt Shoemaker
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.