“I do believe we have created the depth that is required to get through a season,” Dipoto commented. He went on to say, “now we have to figure out a way to improve the quality at the higher end.”
Ironically, the Mariners enter this offseason in a similar position.
Durability concerns have always swirled around Paxton, sometimes unfairly. This year though, a forearm strain and a subsequent pectoral strain intensified unease about his ability to make 25-plus starts; a feat he’s yet to accomplish.
Worse yet, King Felix is regressing quickly. Virtually every meaningful statistic has been plummeting since he finished second in 2014 AL Cy Young award voting.
|Felix Hernandez’s Diminishing Production
After Paxton, Hernandez, and Leake, there are many familiar names to fill the final two rotation spots. Most notably; Erasmo Ramirez, Ariel Miranda, Marco Gonzales, Andrew Moore, Andrew Albers, Max Povse, and Rob Whalen.
Perhaps, Drew Smyly fits into the team’s plans in some way. But, he’ll likely miss much of next season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Essentially, nothing has changed since Dipoto’s chat with Brock and Salk. Most of the starters listed above were with Seattle last season and collectively didn’t perform.
Despite my dour view, there’s no reason to fret over the Mariners’ 2018 rotation just yet. Thanksgiving Day is weeks away; the offseason is just getting started.
To help to fuel the hot stove, I’ve identified free agents and potential trade targets, who might help Seattle’s rotation.
MLB Free Agents
Free agency would be the “easiest” route for the Mariners to add starting pitching. All it’ll take is money, unless a player received a qualifying offer (QO) from their former club. This year’s QO is $17.4 million, which is the average of the 125 highest salaries.
Last December’s new collective bargaining agreement changed QO rules. Teams no longer lose their highest pick by signing a QO free agent. Additionally, the level of compensation varies from team-to-team.
In the case of the Mariners, they’d lose their third highest pick in next year’s draft.
Free agents with a “QO” next to their name were tagged by their former team.
The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2015 and didn’t return to big league action until 14 months later. Since then, his ERA and FIP have ticked up slightly, while his K/9 dropped. Whether that’s reason for concern will be up to potential buyers.
|2015||Did Not Play|
Certainly, the 31-year-old’s forgettable World Series will leave a lasting impression with some fans — especially in Los Angeles. Having said that, Darvish remains a good pitcher and the best free agent starter.
After struggling through two ineffective seasons, Cashner performed better with the Texas Rangers this year. However, his 4.61 FIP signals he wasn’t as effective as his ERA suggests.
Part of the native Texan’s problem resides with his low 4.6 K/9. The only qualified starter with a lower rate was Ty Blach of the San Francisco Giants. Having the league’s eighth highest BB/9 didn’t help either.
Still, Cashner has value. The former first round pick has averaged 150-plus innings over the last three seasons. Moreover, he managed to surrender the second fewest homers (15) of any pitcher with 160-plus innings despite playing in homer-friendly Globe Life Park.
Alex Cobb (QO)
Last season was the 30-year-old’s first full one after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May 2015. Since going under the knife, Cobb’s K/9 has decreased and his fastball velocity is approximately 2-3 MPH slower.
|2015||Did Not Play
That said; Cobb’s strikeout and walk rates and ERA improved as the season progressed. Perhaps, he’s now fully recovered and will be even stronger next year.
The right-hander is the darling of baseball bloggers everywhere. It’s easy to see why. He’s 27-years-old and a season removed from posting a 3.87 ERA, while calling hitter-friendly Coors Field home.
Further exciting the internet is Chatwood’s 57.2-percent ground ball rate last season; fifth best among in baseball. Moreover, hitters slashed just .200/.299/.396 on the road against the former second draft pick.
Still, Chatwood will need to reduce his walk rate (12.2-percent last year) to meet the lofty expectations of the blogosphere. Only Wade Miley (12.8-percent) was higher. For those wondering, location didn’t matter.
Yes, Chatwood performs better away from the mile high altitude of Denver. But, what pitcher doesn’t?
I’m not saying signing the native Californian is a bad idea. But, he’ll have to control the zone better to maximize productivity.
When it comes to experience with surgical procedures, the 31-years-old is a master. Garcia has underwent two Tommy John surgeries, plus he’s visited the OR for thoracic outlet syndrome and rotator cuff procedures.
Garcia has remained healthy during the last two seasons though, averaging 28 starts and 164 innings. Prior to 2016, he hadn’t started more than 20 games since 2011.
The southpaw’s specialty is avoiding fly balls. Last season, he had the seventh best ground ball rate (54.8-percent) among major league starters with 120-innings pitched. However, the nine-year veteran had the league’s eleventh highest walk rate (9.5-percent).
Despite Garcia’s recent good health, durability issues are consideration.
Lance Lynn (QO)
After missing the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery, the 30-year-old’s ERA was top-25. But, his FIP ranked number-85 of 104 pitchers with 120-plus innings pitched.
The primary reasons for the poor FIP? Lynn’s home run and strikeout rates ticked in the wrong direction, the seventh highest walk rate in the majors, and 10 hit batters.
|2016||Did Not Play
Lynn did hold opponents to a .223 batting average last season. However, that’s 20 points below his career mark. It’s possible this stat returns to the norm next year, especially if he moves to the AL.
Jake Arrieta (QO)
Much like King Felix, the 2015 NL Cy Young award winner’s stat line has trended in the wrong direction in recent years. Arrieta, who turns 32-years-old prior to Opening Day, is a client of Boras Corporation and certain to be seeking a long-term deal.
Considering his recent regression and advancing age, inking the right-hander to a 5-plus year deal is a high-risk move.
The fan-favorite underwent arthroscopic debridement surgery on his right shoulder in September after missing most of the season. For that reason, the Mariners declined his $10 million club option for 2018.
Iwakuma had a great six-year run in the Emerald City. In his first full season as a starter in 2011, Iwakuma finished third in AL Cy Young award voting. In August 2015, he threw a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles at Safeco Field.
Throughout his time with Seattle, Iwakuma was the number-two starter behind Hernandez. In 2016, he was the club’s most consistent and durable starter.
Despite daunting odds, Iwakuma tirelessly worked to rejoin the Mariners this year to help his team. Considering his commitment to the organization, it’d seem appropriate to offer the 36-year-old a minor league deal. The team took a similar approach with Franklin Gutierrez a few years ago and it paid dividends.
Let me say up front, Seattle will be hard pressed to acquire most of the pitchers I’m about to discuss. But, it’s hot stove time and talking trades is fun. Besides, underestimating Dipoto’s ability to make innovative deals would be foolhardy.
Jeff Samardzija — San Francisco Giants
Some fans may focus on the former Notre Dame wide receiver’s ERA and league-leading 15 losses last season. But, savvy baseball followers realize his FIP and 6.5 innings/start are better indicators of his value.
Samardzija is a durable performer. In the last five seasons, the 32-year-old averaged 202 innings annually. Only Max Scherzer is averaging more frames annually (218).
The right-hander has limited no-trade protection, which permits him to choose eight clubs to which he’d accept a deal. He’s also set to earn $19.8 million annually though the 2020 season.
Samardzija isn’t an ace, but he could significantly upgrade any rotation. The issue will be whether it’s worth it to satisfy the Giants’ potential asking price and pay his steep salary too.
Josh Tomlin — Cleveland Indians
Cleveland arguably had the deepest starting staff in baseball last season. Perhaps, the club would consider moving the 33-year-old, who is free agent eligible after next season. Having said that, he’s relatively cheap at $3 million next year.
Tomlin’s 2017 ERA may scare fans. However, a FIP fueled by a major league leading 2.4-percent walk rate looks more promising.
Obviously, the Tribe will be looking to redeem themselves after a disappointing end to 2017. For that reason, entertaining a Tomlin trade may be a no-go.
Gio Gonzalez — Washington Nationals
Gonzalez is adept at missing bats and inducing ground balls, but his walk rate ranked in the bottom 25-percent of the league. Still, he’s averaged 31 starts and 181 innings over the last eight seasons.
If the Indians don’t have the deepest rotation in baseball, the Nationals could stake a claim. Like Cleveland, the Nats are intent on erasing bad playoff memories in 2018. Therefore, moving Gonzalez may be out of the question.
On the other hand, the 32-year-old is owed $12 million and becomes a free agent after next season. Just one year ago, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported the Nationals were aggressively shopping him.
Perhaps, general manager Mike Rizzo would attempt to move Gonzalez to reallocate payroll and address other roster needs.
Patrick Corbin — Arizona Diamondbacks
The southpaw started a career-high 32 games last season and stands to earn $8.3 million in his last year of arbitration before free agency.
Arizona has 14 arbitration-eligible players, who project to make approximately $52 million. In addition, the club has $62 million allocated to guaranteed contracts for next year.
Considering the team rarely spends over $100 million on payroll, a purge of imminent free agents and/or expensive arbitration-eligible players could occur. Perhaps, Corbin will be available.
Still, the Diamondbacks reached the NL Division Series this year and may prefer to retain the 28-year-old to improve their 2018 postseason outlook.
Jason Hammel — Kansas City Royals
Since 2009, Hammel has averaged 28 starts and 164 innings pitched. This year, the right-hander’s ERA ballooned, but his FIP was similar to his career norm.
The 12-year veteran makes $9 million next season with the Royals holding a $12 million club option and $2 million buyout for the following year.
On the surface acquiring an innings eater like Hammel makes sense. Nevertheless, a league-average pitcher turning 35-years-old next season is a risk Dipoto probably wouldn’t accept.
Jake Odorizzi — Tampa Bay Rays
The 27-year-old surrendered more walks and homers and had a worse ERA than any point in his brief career. The Illinois native’s 5.1 innings/start was a new low too.
Still, Odorizzi had a combined 3.72 ERA and 3.71 FIP during the three previous seasons, averaging 175 innings. Assuming he bounces back to his pre-2017 form, the former first round pick would bolster the middle of most rotations.
Odorizzi is a free agent after the 2019 season and projects to earn $6.5 million in arbitration. Perhaps, the Rays will seek to move the right-hander in the same manner they moved Smyly last year.
Considering how that deal turned out, some Seattle fans may prefer to pass.
Japanese Free Agents
One player from Japan is getting all of the headlines, but there are two other interesting free agents worthy of mention too.
Much has been written about the 23-year-old. He’s an intriguing two-way player and the dream of every fan base in North America. I’m not going to dwell on Otani, especially since he’s not a free agent just yet.
Joel Sherman notes the Nippon Ham Fighters have posted Otani, but there’s one critical step remaining before he’s made available to MLB teams. Regardless, here are his stats for your review.
The right-hander would help any organization. But, he’d be a significant game changer for fringe contenders that appear reluctant to undergo a rebuild. Examples of such clubs; the Mariners, Orioles, Rangers, and Toronto Blue Jays.
The former seventh round pick of the San Diego Padres has spent the last three years pitching for the Yomiuri Giants of the Japanese Central League. In 62 starts with the Giants, the 29-year-old averaged 6.8 innings/start with a 2.18 ERA and 0.994 WHIP.
Whether Mikolas can duplicate his success in the majors is uncertain. He last pitched in North America in 2014 with Texas. Still, considering his age and pinpoint control, the right-hander presents a low-risk opportunity to better a pitching staff.
After 13 seasons of playing Nippon Professional Baseball, Wakui wishes to explore playing in North America.
The 31-year-old’s K/9 and BB/9 from last season may not be appealing to clubs. But, he’s a former winner of the Sawamura Award, which is the Japanese version of the Cy Young award.
If the right-hander doesn’t garner interest from MLB teams, he’ll stick with playing in Japan.
Whether it was injuries or ineffectiveness, the 2017 rotation just wasn’t good enough. Expecting significantly better results next year is a risky undertaking.
Based on Dipoto’s recent comments, he doesn’t necessarily agree with my assessment of his current stable of starters.
Last month, the third-year GM told Shannon Drayer of 710 ESPN, “We have depth; we have quality pitchers on this staff. We have a lot of quality; we just have to figure out how to put it all together in a different way.”
Perhaps, the Mariners will focus on building a more robust bullpen, as I suggested last month. Doing so would help take pressure off the rotation.
Later in his conversation with Drayer, the third-year GM seemed to say as much. “We are adjusting toward what the world looks like now for starting pitchers, which is a little more the 15-18 (batters per) starter than the complete game starter.”
Whatever the strategy, changes are needed for the Mariners to be serious contenders next year. Dipoto knows that and I suspect we’ll be hearing from him soon.
Hot stove season is going to be great.