We’re six weeks from the trade deadline and the Seattle Mariners need pitching. Not only do they need it, but they need it beyond the returning rotation trio of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Drew Smyly.
Another impact starting pitcher would be No. 1 on my list. By impact, I mean a proven arm capable of wearing the No. 3 tag, or at least a strong No. 4. There are going to be some of those available by July 31.
Jason Vargas, LHP — Kansas City Royals
There’s almost no chance Vargas, a free agent at season’s end — finishes 2017 with the Royals. They’re likely to sell and sell big, and that probably means just about everyone goes.
Ivan Nova, RHP — Pittsburgh Pirates
Nova is set to earn $17 million over the next two years, but might be worth it. He’s not missing bats this season but his ground ball rate is at 49 percent.
Marco Estrada, RHP — Toronto Blue Jays
As of right now, the Blue Jays are buyers if anything, so for Estrada to be a name that hits the market, Toronto is going to have to fall on their faces the next 3-6 weeks. They’re not much more likely to do so than Seattle, but if they do, Estrada is a rental that will draw interest.
Jaime Garcia, LHP — Atlanta Braves
Garcia, like Vargas, is unlikely to remain with his current club beyond July. He’s a free agent at the end of the year.
But the Mariners need bullpen help, too, and there’s a much better chance the relief corps gets addressed with significant reinforcements than the rotation, based on cost and availability.
What’s Wrong With the Bullpen?
The Seattle bullpen has as much raw pitching talent as almost any other in the big leagues. It’s unrefined, however, and the club has not received the consistency from the likes of Dan Altavilla (5.82 FIP, 21.9% HR/FB) and Tony Zych (4.59 FIP). James Pazos (2.80 FIP), Marc Rzepczynski (.118/.167/.176 vs LHBs), and Nick Vincent (2.57 FIP, 0.7 fWAR) have been average or better, and it appears Edwin Diaz is back on track.
The club also lacks a potential innings hog out of the bullpen, along with a high-leverage option or two. Let’s take a look at the option, starting with the obvious names:
Anthony Swarzak, RHP — Chicago White Sox
Joakim Soria, RHP — Kansas City Royals
Pat Neshek, RHP — Philadelphia Phillies
Ryan Madson, RHP — Oakland Athletics
Kelvin Herrera, RHP — Kansas City Royals
David Robertson, RHP — Chicago White Sox
Brad Hand, LHP — San Diego Padres
David Phelps, RHP — Miami Marlins
Drew Storen, RHP — Cincinnati Reds
Santiago Casilla, RHP — Oakland Athletics
John Axford, RHP — Oakland Athletics
Some of these names should interest the Mariners. They’ll also interest numerous other clubs. None carry prohibitive contracts, most are free agents after the season.
There will be numerous other names to add to this list as the season progresses.
All but Swarzak, Neshek and Phelps have either held the closer’s role for a significant period of time, they hold the role now or both.
Now for the not-so-obvious names Seattle should explore.
Jim Johnson, RHP — Atlanta Braves
Arodys Vizcaino, RHP — Atlanta Braves
Johnson is a journeymen that has found a groove in Atlanta, but is working on a one-year deal with a 91-94 mph fastball and above-average curveball.
Vizcaino is a fireballer, averaging nearly 98 mph with his four-seam fastball. He also throws a two seamer in the same range, setting up a plus slider. He’s under club control for two years after 2017, so he’s going to be more difficult to pry away.
Brandon Maurer, RHP — San Diego Padres
Maurer, like Vizcaino, is under club control beyond 2017, so he may not be as readily available as others. He’s been nails for the Padres this season, closing out 12 games.
Addison Reed, RHP — New York Mets
Reed’s availability won’t depend on whether or not the Mets are in the race, it will depend on whether or not their front office admits they’re not in it. Reed is among my top targets for Seattle. He’s a free agent after the season, is having a very good season and is throwing strikes.
Clayton Richard, LHP — San Diego Padres
Jhoulys Chacin, RHP — San Diego Padres
Yeah, both have been a starters all year for the Friars and each has been decent. Richard has posted a 3.86 FIP, 1.4 fWAR in 14 starts and Chacin has been league average across the board in 14 starts.
Both are prime candidates for a swing role, handling the spot start and covering multiple innings to manage a short outing from the starter.
On the surface it may appear Richard is the better of the two and has shown better command with his secondary stuff.
But Chacin has one of the better sliders in the game and in shorter stints the velocity may tick up a bit from 90-92 mph — it did a year ago, 1-2 mph, when he moved to the bullpen for a month.
Trevor Cahill, RHP — San Diego Padres
Yep, a lot of Padres, but they are one of just a handful of clubs that clearly will sell this summer.
Cahill spent last season as a reliever with the Cubs and was solid but inconsistent. He got off to a strong start in seven outings in the Padres rotation before hitting the DL with a shoulder issue.
Keep an eye on Cahill’s market. If he shows he’s healthy again a club may be willing to take a shot at him. He’s set to earn just $1.8 million guaranteed this season and in a super reliever role may be able to combine his desire to pitch more with good stuff that can get through the lineup 1.5 times. His plus curveball and average change could be a devastating combo if compacted into 2-4 innings per outing.
Any trade deadline that includes a super reliever option such as Chacin, Richard or Cahill, and a late-inning option such as Reed or Johnson is a solid deadline result for the Mariners.
Anything beyond that … I won’t call it gravy, but I will call it a coup for Dipoto and company.
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.
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