Even before the Seattle Mariners shipped Taijuan Walker to the Arizona Diamondbacks last week, their rotation was an area of concern. With the club intent on contending in 2017, general manager Jerry Dipoto wasted little time in rebuilding his starting staff’s depth.
Depending on his development, Povse may not debut with Seattle until 2018, while Whalen could compete for a rotation spot as early as Spring Training. Certainly, adding the young duo helps. But, more is needed and Dipoto knows it.
While appearing on the Brock and Salk Show on 710 ESPN Seattle Tuesday morning, Dipoto stated “I do believe we have created the depth that is required to get through a season.” He followed up by saying “now we have to figure out a way to improve the quality at the higher end.”
I interpret Dipoto’s comments to mean the Mariners would like to add a middle-of-the-rotation type, capable of eating innings and consistently delivering quality outings. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of potential rotation options as I did for their outfield and shortstop needs.
Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill previously identified a few starting pitching options in his potential targets piece, so I’ll avoid those names. What fun would it be for fans if I repeated his suggestions? After all, new speculation keeps the hot stove burning, right?
Joel Sherman of the New York Post suggests the Washington Nationals are aggressively shopping the 31-year-old, who’s been a durable performer starting started 27 or more games during the last seven seasons.
Although Gonzalez had a down year, there were signs he can still help a contender. The southpaw’s earned run average (ERA) ballooned to 4.57 last season, but his fielding independent pitching (FIP) was a respectable 3.76. Moreover, his 8.68 strikeouts-per-nine innings (SO/9) and 47.6-percent ground ball rate were both nineteenth best in the majors.
If the Mariners acquired the nine-year veteran, they could potentially have him for two seasons. Gonzalez is set to make $12 million next season with a vesting option for the same amount in 2018 — if reaches the 180-inning mark next year. He threw 177.1 innings last season.
Perhaps, the Nationals would consider moving Gonzalez if they’re confident in their current stable of starters, which includes National League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark, youngsters Reynaldo Lopez and Joe Ross, plus number-three overall prospect Lucas Giolito.
It’s worth noting the Nats have been linked to Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen in recent trade rumors. If speculation turns to reality, Washington would likely have to part with a starting pitcher. That would end any trade talk about Gonzalez, assuming he’s not the pitcher shipped to Pittsburgh.
Following the Walker trade, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted that Arizona is expecting to receive more calls about their young crop of starting pitchers.
Sources: #DBacks expect increased trade interest in younger SPs, with Walker joining Bradley, Corbin, Miller, Ray. All between 24 and 27.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 28, 2016
Considering that Rosenthal has also reported there’s “minimal” trade interest in ace Zack Greinke, moving one of their young guns may be more doable. Churchill previously mentioned Robbie Ray. as a possibility for the Mariners. Teammate Patrick Corbin is another option, although he’s coming off a tough campaign.
Corbin — who has two years of team control remaining — had a nice bounce back in 2015 after missing the previous year due to Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow. Unfortunately, the southpaw wasn’t able to build upon his success and lost his rotation spot by August.
It’s not hard to see how Corbin landed in the bullpen, Among pitchers with 150 or more innings pitched, he had the highest hard-contact rate (38.5-percent), the thirteenth worst home runs-per-nine innings (HR/9), and eighth highest walks-per-nine innings (BB/9).
|Patrick Corbin’s Tale of Two Seasons|
Just how disappointing was 2016 for Corbin?
He actually delivered a higher fWAR as a hitter (0.6) than as a pitcher (0.5), slashing an impressive .306/.320/.408 during 53 plate appearance. Before anybody gets excited about Corbin’s hitting, his career on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) is .442 in 198 plate appearances.
It’s worth noting the 27-year-old made a conscious decision to feature his change-up more prominently in 2016 and the results weren’t favorable. Opponents slugged .724 against the pitch, which he threw 10-percent of the time — about four-percent more often than in 2015.
Could improvements to his change-up or relying more on his other pitches help correct Corbin’s trajectory? Perhaps that and a change of scenery would help. Having said that, the issue facing the Diamondbacks and potential buyer is which Patrick Corbin will they get next year.
If you watched this year’s World Series, you’re already familiar with Tomlin’s father — Jerry — who’s been paralyzed from the chest down since August. In a moment that exemplified why baseball is so great, Jerry got to watch his son pitch Game 3 of the World Series at Wrigley Field. The younger Tomlin surrendered just two hits during 4.2 innings of scoreless ball as his Cleveland Indians beat the Chicago Cubs 1-0.
Tomlin’s season numbers would’ve been appreciably better if it weren’t for an atrocious August — the month his Dad fell ill. During six starts that month, he surrendered 34 earned runs. To put that into perspective, he gave up 33 earned runs during 14 starts between Opening Day and the end of June. Fortunately, he rebounded with an impressive 1.69 ERA in September and a strong postseason.
The veteran of seven seasons is an efficient pitch-to-contact type. While throwing 174 innings and averaging six innings-per-start, Tomlin posted the lowest BB/9 in the majors last season. Having said that, he did have the fifth lowest average fastball velocity (87.7-MPH) among starters and proved susceptible to the long ball — only James Shields had a higher (HR/9) than his 1.87 rate.
Tomlin is also is set to make $2.5 million next season with a $3 million team option for 2018. Both affordable and reliable, he’d fit nicely into the middle of a contender’s rotation. Obviously, the Tribe enters 2017 a contender and may not be interested in moving him.
Garcia’s ground ball rate (56.7-percent) was third best among major league starters last season, but his team’s defense at third base and shortstop ranked twenty-fifth or worst in the big leagues. Perhaps, playing with a better group of defenders behind him in a pitcher’s park — like Safeco Field — would help the left-hander’s numbers and the Mariners’ win-loss record. But, there are reasons for concern.
Although the 30-year-old pitched 171.2 innings last season, durability concerns have to linger. He’s had two Tommy John surgeries, plus he’s gone under the knife for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and rotator cuff issues. Garcia’s 30 starts in 2016 marked the first time he started more than 20 games since 2011. The combination of his injury history and his $12 million 2017 salary may deter teams from pulling the trigger on a deal.
Whether Garcia is on the market could come down to how Cardinals management views their rotation depth. Currently, their most prominent starters are Garcia, Adam Wainwright, Carlos Martinez, Mike Leake, Michael Wacha, Lance Lynn, who’s returning from Tommy John surgery, and youngster Alex Reyes.
If the Redbirds believe they can part ways with a starter, Garcia could make sense. He’s is a free agent after next season, just like Lynn. On the other hand, St. Louis could opt to pare long-term payroll by trading another starter — Leake.
Unlike Garcia and Lynn, Leake is under contract past next season. His contract extends through 2020 at a cost of $63 million remaining with a $5 million buyout for 2021. If St. Louis was looking to reallocate resources so they could fill more pressing needs, dealing the 29-year-old would help.
While adding Leake wouldn’t be a headline grabbing acquisition, he’d certainly help Seattle. Statistically, his performance has been similar to a current Mariner during the past three seasons — Hisashi Iwakuma.
|Kuma v Leake (2014-16)|
It’s fair to point out that Leake has spent his career in the National League, while Kuma is an American Leaguer. That’s why I included adjusted ERA (ERA+) in the preceding table. ERA+ takes a player’s ERA and accounts for ballparks and their league. All things considered, there’s not a dramatic difference between the two right-handers.
Am I suggesting that Leake is better than Iwakuma? No. But, he’s six-years younger and historically more durable than Kuma — he’s started 30 or more starts since 2010. He’s also an excellent defender. His 10 defensive runs saved (DRS) were tenth best among major league pitchers last season.
Considering the Redbirds’ defensive issues last season, would a ground ball pitcher like Leake benefit by playing for the Mariners after the defensive upgrades Dipoto made this offseason? Probably. The larger issues for Seattle are whether they have the resources to pique the Cardinals’ interest and/or their willingness to commit to at least $68 million to the right-hander.
Acquiring the 12-year veteran — who’ll be 35-years-old next month — would be costly. He has two years and $27 million remaining on his deal with a vesting option for the 2019 season. Still, teams will likely be interested in the righty.
Last season, Santana posted a superb 3.38 ERA with the Minnesota Twins and has always been an inning eater. Since 2010, he’s started 30 or more games in every season — except for 2015 when he served an 80-game suspension for performance enhancing drug use.
Considering Santana’s age and contract, the Twins would likely have to pay a portion of his salary — if they want to receive significant value in return. Otherwise, trading their ace would amount to a salary dump. Would Seattle be interested in an aging veteran — albeit a reliable and durable one?
The Cincinnati Reds starter is not a household name, but he’d be the cheapest to acquire via trade — assuming he’s available. Why? He hasn’t put together a significant stretch of quality performances.
During his first full season in the majors with the Oakland Athletics, Straily finished fourth in the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year award voting. Since then, his career has been a roller-coaster ride of inconsistency that’s seen him with five organizations in four years.
Still, Straily seemed to turn a corner in 2016 when he had a career year with career bests in ERA (3.76) and innings pitched (191.1). The righty credits his turnaround to the use of metrics and improved mechanics he learned from Seattle’s Driveline Baseball. Moreover, he was fifth best among starters at leaving runners on base (81.3-percent) and held opposing hitters to a .222 batting average — tied for eleventh with Julio Teheran and just two points behind the late Jose Fernandez.
By virtue of his limited service time, Straily is under team control through 2020. Assuming he’s actually transformed himself — big assumption — the 28-year-old would provide great value to the Mariners or any team. Having said that, the rebuilding Reds could simply opt to hold onto him to fill a rotation spot or wait until his trade worth escalates further.
I’m mentioning the former Mariner because Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports the Mariners could be interested in a reunion. Having said that, Fister — currently a free agent — doesn’t seem to fit the profile Dipoto suggested when talking to Brock and Salk.
To the chagrin of Mariners faithful, Fister was part of an ill-fated 2011 trade designed to help turn around the franchise. Unfortunately for the team and its long suffering fans, the deal didn’t work out. Fister went on to make eight postseason starts with the Detroit Tigers and Nationals, while the Mariners’ postseason drought now sits at 15 seasons.
Fister is no longer the same pitcher though. The 32-year-old played for the Houston Astros in 2016 and faded badly during the second-half.
|Fister’s Jekyll / Hyde 2016|
Dutton noted scouts have believe the tall right-hander wore down after being limited by injuries during his last two seasons. Perhaps, he’s ready for a bounce back season. But, it’s also feasible Fister is declining as he enters his age-33 season.
Never a hard thrower, Fister has seen his velocity decrease in recent years. In fact, only R.A. Dickey and Jered Weaver averaged slower fastballs than his 87-MPH in 2016. Furthermore, he produced the second fewest swinging strikes (5.9-percent) and hitters connected with more of his pitches in the zone (93.3-percent) than any other starter.
Certainly, Fister will find a job this offseason. But, I don’t see him fitting into the Mariners’ 2017 plans. They already have plenty of competitors for the number-five rotation spot. Dipoto is looking “to improve the quality at the higher end.” Doug Fister doesn’t fit into that category.
As I desperately attempt to finish this piece before Dipoto swings that deal to get his “higher end” starter that makes my effort irrelevant, it’s worth pointing out the players I’ve mentioned only represent the type of pitchers Dipoto may be considering. There are certainly other choices.
With that in mind, which of the names I’ve mentioned makes sense to you? Please vote in our poll to let us know. If you have someone else in mind, please write in your candidate.
Hot stove season is awesome, isn’t it?
In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team and is now a contributor at HERO Sports also. During baseball season, he can be often found observing the local team at Safeco Field.
You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins