The Seattle Mariners have a firm grip on the second Wild Card spot, but the club needs rotation help to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001. Whom will they target in trade talks?
It’s unlikely anyone — including me — accurately predicts what Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto does to improve his club.
Who ever heard of Marco Gonzales?
Still, it’s fun trying to get inside the mind of JeDi. At least it is for me.
That’s why I’ve compiled a list of trade candidates for Seattle. Even if I swing and miss on every player, you’ll have names to ponder between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Before discussing potential targets, let’s consider the five pitchers who’ve made all but four starts for the Mariners this season. That way, we’ll be able to better gauge whether any of my candidates could provide better value than the incumbents.
The following table lists each starter’s average innings pitcher/start (IP), xwOBA, fWAR, and projected WAR for the rest of the season according to the ZIPS system provided by Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs.
As you can see, the Mariners have one true star — James Paxton.
Fellow southpaw Gonzales is the next best arm on the staff. His .333 xwOBA is hovering near the league-average mark for starters (.334). The remaining starters are below average.
Gonzales is on pace to throw over 160 innings this year. The last time he had a similar workload was 2014. The former Gonzaga Bulldog logged a combined 162.2 frames between Class-AAA and MLB action with the Cardinals. That’s why the Mariners want to regulate his second-half usage so he’s available into October.
Veteran Mike Leake is a solid contributor, who’s gone at least six innings in 13 of his 19 starts. Still, Leake’s .384 xwOBA ranks 120th among 126 major league starters, who’ve faced at least 250 hitters this season.
Crafty lefty Wade LeBlanc has been a pleasant surprise for the Mariners. So much so, the team recently rewarded the 33-year-old with a contract extension.
Is it reasonable to expect a similar level of value from LeBlanc in the second half? Yes, his current xwOBA is similar to what he produced during each of the last two seasons.
Félix Hernández went to the DL yesterday with a back issue deemed as not serious. However, King Félix’s inconsistent performance this year and injury problems since 2016 reinforces doubt regarding his ability to make 30 starts.
Okay, let’s turn to our attention to potential targets for Seattle. Our roster includes pending free agents (rentals), players under team control past 2018, and several versatile pitchers with both starting and relief experience this season.
Included with each player snippet is a table listing their age, last season before free agency, innings pitched/start, ZIPS projection for the rest of the season, and xwOBA.
A few of the names you’ll see don’t necessarily fit with the Mariners. Nevertheless, I included them to help illustrate how the market is shaping up for potential buyers.
J.A. Happ — Blue Jays
The former Mariner has enjoyed great success since Seattle traded him to the Pirates during the 2015 campaign. This year, Happ’s .304 xwOBA ranks among the 30 best among MLB starters.
Happ has made 30-plus starts in three of the last four seasons. Last year was the exception when the southpaw experienced elbow soreness. However, he returned and made 22 starts without further incident.
Certainly, Happ will be in high demand by contenders with deeper minor league systems than the Marines. Specifically: the Yankees, Cubs, Brewers, Braves, and perhaps a dark horse — the Athletics.
Bottom line: Happ would definitely upgrade Seattle’s staff, although it’ll be tough for Dipoto to outbid the competition.
Tyson Ross — Padres
Ross was the Padres’ ace prior to undergoing thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in 2016. The University of California product signed with the Rangers last season, but struggled before his release in September.
This season, Ross is enjoying a strong comeback. Ironically, the former All-Star has been better away from pitcher-friendly Petco Park. His xwOBA on the road (.321) is better than in San Diego (.362).
Ross is likely facing an innings limit in the second half. He’s already logged 102 frames this season; his highest total since reaching 196 in 2015.
Bottom line: The Mariners don’t need another pitcher with workload restrictions.
Nathan Eovaldi — Rays
Eovaldi missed 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and made his Tampa Bay debut this May.
Assuming the Houston native continues performing so well, he’d make a great addition to the middle of any contender’s rotation with the exception of the Astros and Nationals, maybe.
The only potential concern regarding Eovaldi would be workload, which should be manageable. He’s tossed 48.1 innings this season between his MiLB and MLB outings.
The veteran of seven years tallied 124.2 prior to his injury in 2016 and 154.1 the year before.
Bottom line: As with Happ, Eovaldi would be a big boost for the Mariners and it’ll be challenging to outdo other buyers. Then again, Dipoto does have a knack for swinging deals with the Rays.
James Shields — White Sox
After several down years, “Big Game James” is having a decent season with rebuilding Chicago. Shields is no longer a marquee name, but he could deliver value and innings to some rotations.
Shields has been very durable throughout his 13-year career. Last year was the first time since his rookie campaign in 2006 he didn’t make at least 30 starts. The reason: a lat strain.
Regarding fiscal obligations, the Padres are picking up $11 million of Shield’s 2018 salary. Furthermore, there’s a $16 million club option/$2 million buyout for next season.
Bottom line: Shields could eat innings. However, his xwOBA and projected WAR suggest he wouldn’t represent an upgrade for the Mariners.
Matt Harvey — Reds
Since making the 2013 All-Star team, Harvey has undergone Tommy John and thoracic outlet syndrome surgeries. Moreover, he fell out of favor with Mets management, who traded him to Cincinnati in May.
Since changing locations, Harvey has been effective with the Reds, especially at home.
In the bandbox known as Great American Ball Park, the former North Carolina Tar Heel has held opponents to a .169 batting average.
As with other formerly injured starters, Harvey’s workload factors into his value to potential buyers. He’s at 86.1 innings and hasn’t exceeded 110 in a season since 2015 (189.1).
Bottom line: Pass.
Bartolo Colon — Rangers
Colon’s xwOBA isn’t great, but he’s another veteran capable of eating innings. That’s something the Mariners will need during the home stretch, particularly with the concerns surrounding Hernández and Gonzales.
Experience and flexibility are other attributes Colon possesses. The former Cy Young Award winner has pitched in the postseason as both a starter and reliever.
Bottom line: The numbers won’t blow you away. But, unlike Shields, “Bart” would be a relatively inexpensive, low-risk pick-up.
Certainly, pitchers of that ilk would greatly benefit the Mariners. But the club just doesn’t have the minor league resources to swing such a deal — at least I don’t believe they do.
With that in mind, I identified pitchers who might be available, depending on their club’s asking price and the Mariners willingness to push trade chips to the middle of the deal-making table.
Matthew Boyd — Tigers
The critical factors that will interest any suitor — including the Mariners — are years of club control and Boyd’s performance on the field. A club acquiring the Mercer Island, WA native will have him for over four seasons.
On the mound though, Boyd has delivered inconsistent results. His xwOBA is excellent and he’s completed at least six innings in 11 of 18 starts. Yet, the lefty hasn’t completed the fifth inning on five occasions.
Bottom line: Acquiring the local product would be a coup for Seattle. It’s unknown whether the Tigers would deal Boyd or if the Mariners would be willing to muster the necessary resources to acquire him.
Kyle Gibson — Twins
After enduring several down years, Gibson made tweaks to his repertoire after last year’s All-Star break. Since then, the former first round pick has been a valued performer in the Twins’ rotation.
Gibson does have a high walk rate (3.8 BB/9), but opponents are hitting just .226 against him and he’s stingy with the long ball — 1.0 HR/9.
Assuming the University of Missouri alum maintains his current IP/start pace, he’ll log over 180 innings this year. His career high is 194.2 frames in 2015.
Bottom line: Considering his relatively low cost and ability to go deep into games, Gibson would be an asset to the Mariners this year and next.
Cole Hamels — Rangers
Morosi recently pointed out Hamels, who has a partial no-trade clause, can’t block a trade to the Mariners.
My hunch is Seattle wouldn’t acquire the four-time All-Star unless they planned to exercise his $20 million option for 2019, instead of the $6 million buyout. Otherwise, adding the southpaw would an inefficient use of resources.
Hamels may be the Rangers’ ace, but his 2018 numbers aren’t ace-like. Perhaps the most telling metric may be his hard contact rate, which is trending in the wrong direction.
Bottom line: Hamels is a marquee name, but not worth the risk for Seattle. His xwOBA is the same as King Félix’s and he has a relatively similar career workload (2,465 IP) as Hernandez (2,607).
Steven Matz — Mets
When on his game, Matz is a tough adversary with postseason experience. The main concern with the Long Islander is his durability.
Selected out of high school by the Mets in the second round of the 2009 draft, Matz had Tommy John surgery in 2010 and didn’t make his professional debut until 2012. Last year, he went under the knife again for a nerve issue in the same elbow.
After a sluggish start this season, Matz has performed well since the beginning of June. He’s averaging 6.3 IP/S and has a 3.07 ERA and .290 xwOBA during his last seven outings.
It’s worth noting the southpaw has thrown 89.2 innings this season and has never exceeded 140 frames at any professional level.
Bottom line: There’s plenty of upside with Matz, but his injury history and doubts about his late-season availability make him a no-go for the Mariners.
Kevin Gausman — Orioles
During the previous two seasons, Gausman has averaged 32 starts and 183 innings pitched. For that reason, the Louisiana State University product is an appealing trade target for contenders looking to add length to their rotation.
Gausman’s xwOBA is very similar to LeBlanc’s. However, only two pitchers mentioned in this piece project a higher WAR than the Orioles’ right-hander in the second half — Paxton and Happ.
The Orioles are enigmatic when it comes to the pending trade deadline. While they’re one of the worst teams in baseball and should aggressively sell, the organization is reportedly dysfunctional and may have trouble pulling the trigger on deals.
Bottom line: Assuming Gausman was available, he’d fit nicely into the middle of most contender’s rotation — including Seattle’s.
Zack Wheeler — Mets
Wheeler isn’t a marquee name in the Big Apple like deGrom or Syndergaard, but he’s having his best season since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015. Moreover, the Georgia native has finished the sixth inning in 12 of his 17 starts this year.
Wheeler’s ability to remain in games may interest clubs trying to add length to their rotation. Even better, he’s inexpensive.
Still, Wheeler is sitting at 99.2 innings and hasn’t been over 100 since accumulating 185.1 in 2014.
Bottom line: Having Wheeler next year would be great for the Mariners, but they need someone who can help now and next season.
Iván Nova — Pittsburgh Pirates
The Dominican Republic native logged career highs for innings (187) and starts (31) last year and it appears he’ll come close to repeating those numbers this season. One area of concern though — inconsistency.
Nova had a good April and June, but he struggled in May and hasn’t gotten off to a good start in July. In his first two starts this month, he’s allowed 10 earned runs and 7 homers in 10.2 innings.
Despite the occasional hiccup, Nova will likely appeal to potential buyers trying to add quality and length to their rotation. Being under club control for one more season and at a relatively inexpensive rate doesn’t hurt either.
Bottom line: Pass. The Mariners need stability, not question marks. Furthermore, Nova’s xwOBA is the same as Félix’s.
Mike Fiers — Detroit Tigers
Fiers’ overall season numbers are respectable, although he’s been even better lately.
Since the beginning of June, the Florida native has a 2.66 ERA and opponents are hitting .216 against him.
Bottom line: Fiers could help a contender needing to add depth and length to their starting staff, including the Mariners.
If Dipoto finds the prices too steep at the starting pitcher store, he could pursue players capable of working out of the bullpen or starting games.
We previously noted Colon falls into the dual-threat category. Here are three other intriguing names to consider, including my personal favorite.
Sam Gaviglio — Blue Jays
It may surprise some fans to see Gaviglio on our list considering the Mariners waived him last year.
Gaviglio started the season with Class-AAA Buffalo before joining Toronto in mid-May. Initially used in the bullpen, he found his stride in the Blue Jays’ rotation with improved walk and strikeout rates and an excellent xwOBA.
Bottom line: Gaviglio is effective, under team control, versatile, inexpensive, and could definitely help the Mariners. Then again, Toronto could keep him for the same reasons.
Blaine Hardy — Tigers
Hardy has appeared in 15 games with eight starts. He’s been better as a reliever (.241 xwOBA) than a starter (.320), but has provided value to the Tigers in both roles.
Bottom line: At the right price, Hardy could serve as a crucial swing-man for the Mariners as they manage starting pitcher workload. In addition, he could augment the bullpen during the stretch drive.
Seth Lugo — New York Mets
Full disclosure; Lugo is my top choice to help the Mariners due to his ability to seamlessly bounce between the rotation and bullpen and a superb xwOBA.
The Mets are primarily using the Shreveport, LA native as a reliever, although he’s made five starts for the club this season. On 12 occasions, Lugo has thrown two-plus innings in relief.
Regarding his low IP/start this year, that’s a byproduct of building up arm strength while transitioning back to the rotation. Last year, Lugo averaged 5.5 IP/start.
Bottom line: Getting Lugo would cost the Mariners. But he’s a relatively young, controllable, cheap, multi-purpose pitcher who could be a long-term for the club.
As you can see, there are plenty of options potentially available to the Mariners and every other club trying to improve their rotation.
My top choices are Lugo, Gibson, Gausman, and Boyd in that order.
The projected WAR value of both Gibson and Gausman draws me to the veterans. They’re “plug and play” performers ready to immediately jump into the postseason fray.
With Lugo and Boyd, I see players who could help right now, but also provide value to the Mariners for at least four more seasons.
Having said all that, Dipoto and his staff are likely to identify far more innovative and smarter options than I did.
Who ever heard of Marco Gonzales?