It was just a few weeks ago that the Seattle Mariners had Wade Miley penciled in as the club’s No. 2 starter, largely in rotation place given the uncertainty beyond Felix Hernandez. Fast-forward those few weeks and a Hisashi Iwakuma re-signing, and that situation isn’t all that different. The club still doesn’t have a true No. 2 starter, but that shouldn’t take away from the value that Miley does provide going forward. First, the order in which the rotation falls is largely irrelevant. Back in 2014, James Paxton was the club’s No. 2 starter. Teams order their rotation based on skill — you want your best starters to have the most opportunities — but handedness, match-ups, and other factors are taken into consideration. Miley and Iwakuma are the second and third starters on the depth chart right and depending Secondly, unless he replicates his 2012 season with Arizona, Miley isn’t going to fill the role of a No. 2 starter. With very good command of a balanced repertoire instead of an out-pitch or two, he better resembles a mid-rotation arm. In a deep rotation he profiles as a No. 4, but he could easily be a solid No. 3. I think that’s realistically what the club expects out of him; they aren’t going to ask him to be something he’s not. Still, Miley has several things working in his favor heading into 2016. The first one that gets brought up is his move to Safeco Field. Though the fences were moved in four years ago, according to ESPN’s park factors for 2015 Safeco was the fourth friendliest park for pitchers. Fenway Park on the other hand, was the fourth friendliest park for hitters. Determining the exact impact of how park factors affect pitchers is tough, but it’s safe to say that starting half his games at Safeco instead of Fenway will benefit Miley. Miley hasn’t really had a problem with surrendering home runs in his career — his control and ground ball tendencies help — so Safeco’s ability to suppress home runs may not be a considerable benefit. The second point relates to Miley having a stronger defence behind him in 2016 compared to 2015. Although single-season defensive metrics aren’t the most reliable statistics, the Red Sox were actually an average team defensively last year according to DRS and UZR. The Mariners on the other hand, were the second-worst team in the majors based on DRS — only the Philadelphia Phillies were worse. However, that should be in the past as new general manager Jerry Dipoto has significantly revamped his club’s overall defence. Offseason acquisitions Nori Aoki, Leonys Martin, Chris Iannetta, and a full season of Ketel Marte all offer defensive upgrades, both small and large, over what we saw in the field last year. We also shouldn’t expect to see Nelson Cruz deployed in right field as frequently going forward which helps. Back to Miley. The left-hander hasn’t been much of a strikeout pitcher in his career averaging about seven per nine innings. At 29-years-old he’s unlikely to develop further velocity either. What allows Miley to excel is when he limits the free passes. In his career 2012 season, he posted a 1.71 walks per nine rate. He’s coming off a 2.97 mark in 2015 and a 3.35 mark in 2014. Getting that rate closer to 2.50 should yield some more positive results. Throughout his career, Miley has outperformed his earned run average. His career FIP of 3.80 is 15 points better than his career 3.95 ERA. This was especially apparent last season when he posted a 3.81 FIP compared to a 4.46 ERA. FIP tends to be a better predictive stat than ERA, which means we should expect Miley to perform closer to that 3.80 FIP mark going forward. As mentioned, pitching in a friendlier environment with an improved defence should improve both metrics. We have Miley, an average to above-average pitcher, with room to grow. There’s value there, but we need to talk about the other value he brought to Seattle: his contract. The following table shows the performance of other starting pitchers who changed addresses over the offseason. For example’s sake and the rotation conversation, I included Iwakuma in the table.  Comparable Starters’ Performance in fWAR Name 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 Average Wade Miley 2.6 1.5 1.8 4.1 -0.1 2.0 Ian Kennedy 0.8 3.5 0.6 2.5 4.8 2.4 Shelby Miller 3.4 0.5 2.4 0.5 MNR 1.7 Mike Leake 1.7 2.3 2.0 1.4 1.5 1.8 Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 3.0 3.8 0.7 JPL 2.3 Ian Kennedy holds the highest average fWAR of the group for the sample. At a closer glance, though, he’s been an up-and-down pitcher. Shelby Miller’s track record has some similarity, but with a different story and a higher ceiling — the 2012 sample included only a cup of big league coffee. Mike Leake is perhaps the best comparable for Miley given his consistency. When healthy, and he hasn’t been entirely the past two seasons, Iwakuma has been solidly above average during his short span in North America. Now let’s look at what the salary numbers will look like for these pitchers going forward.  Comparable Starters’ Salaries Name 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 Wade Miley $6.0M $8.8M $12.0M* FA FA Ian Kennedy $7.5M $13.5M $16.0M $16.5M $16.5M Shelby Miller $4.4M ARB ARB FA FA Mike Leake $12.0M $15.0M $17.0M $16.0M $15.0M Hisashi Iwakuma $10.0M $10.0M* $10.0M* FA FA *Denotes a team option. Miley stands to be the least expensive of the bunch with his salaries locked in through 2018 for a total of $26.8 million if his team option is exercised.. The hit-and-miss Kennedy signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Kansas City Royals and required a first-round pick. Miller will be cost-controlled through his arbitration years, but cost the Arizona Diamondbacks an unprecedented haul. Leake, a reasonable comparable to Miley, was signed to a five-year, $80 million contract by the St. Louis Cardinals. The Mariners had to give up a cost-controlled lefty in Roenis Elias who still has upside as a starter and a dynamic young reliever in Carson Smith and that needs to be considered in the cost. If we were to say that Miley and Leake are similar pitchers — young, low-strikeout, low-walk, innings eaters — we could say that the M’s elected to give up some talent instead of paying premium free agent prices. Also worth factoring in is that Leake or a comparable starter may not have wanted to sign in Seattle. In the case of Kennedy, for example, the club’s unprotected first-round pick would need to have been relinquished. Miley’s contract, though offering team control for three years opposed to five in the cases of Kennedy or Leake, doesn’t affect long or short-term payroll flexibility the way those deals would. Seattle paid a steep price to acquire Miley but it includes the potential upside and payroll flexibility that is offers value beyond what we know of the left-hander’s past performance. Durable mid-rotation arms aren’t cheap and while he’s no Mark Buehrle, Miley does have four straight years of 190-plus innings to his credit.Go!

The Super Bowl is over and there’s less than two weeks until pitchers and catchers from the Seattle Mariners report to Peoria Sports Complex in sunny and warm Arizona. Needless to say, I’m eagerly awaiting the upcoming baseball season. If you’re reading this post, you probably feel the same way. You may be anxious like me to get the season going, but you’re probably not as fixated about the idea of the Mariners using a six-man rotation in 2016. No, you haven’t missed any breaking news from one of the outstanding beat writers who cover this ball club on a year-round basis. To the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t even been a hint from team management that they’re entertaining the idea. Unfortunately, the concept of the Mariners employing a full-time sixth starter is embedded in my brain for some irrational reason. Hopefully, whatever is affecting me isn’t contagious. I first exhibited signs of this sixth-man fixation syndrome last July when the club’s season was unraveling and their young arms were on pace to run out of innings. At the time, I proposed numerous scenarios and strategies that would help the team navigate the remainder of the season. All of my hair-brained schemes included the use of a sixth starting pitcher. In retrospect, the idea didn’t make sense. Especially after the team traded J.A. Happ to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the non-waiver trading deadline and Paxton encountered a recurrence of issues with the index finger on his pitching hand. Despite the fact that I debunked my own proposal of using an added starter, I’m at it again. To be honest, I have a hard time envisioning a scenario that would require the Mariners using a full-time six-man rotation this season, but a lot’s changed with the organization since last season and I keep thinking about it. So, I’ve opted to re-explore the concept one more time to see if it makes sense in 2016 and, hopefully, end my fascination with this topic once and for all. Protecting our young Perhaps, the fact that the Mariners have so many inexperienced starters among rotation candidates is why I have sixth starter on the brain. After all, using an additional rotation piece  could help reduce the burden on a club’s younger arms. How much could you reduce the workload? It depends on the methodology. Assuming an extra starter was used on a full-time basis for the entire season, each pitcher’s workload would be decreased by approximately six starts and 30-40 innings. That could be appealing since Walker, Karns, Paxton, and Montgomery are still in the developmental stages of their respective careers. Maybe I’m not sick after all. Maybe I’m the only sane person on the internet. We’ll see. Let’s take a look at the 2015 production and the career-highs for the Mariners’ least experienced starters. Perhaps, that will help shed light on whether the club would benefit from an extra starter.    Seattle Mariners Young Guns Name 2015 MLB 2015 Minors/AFL 2015 Total Career High Career-high Year Taijuan Walker 169 0 169 169 2015 Nate Karns 147 0 147    157 * 2014 James Paxton 67 35 102    145 * 2013 Mike Montgomery 90 65 155 155 2015 * Majority of innings were in minors leagues At first blush, it does appear that the Mariners could benefit from having a supplemental starter. Walker, Montgomery, and Karns are coming off their first full season in the majors and each faced challenges last year. The club was forced to “shut down” both Walker and Montgomery before the season concluded when they reached a club-imposed innings limit. On the injury front, the Tampa Bay Rays ended Karns’ season in early September due to a forearm strain and repeated trips to the disabled list have undercut Paxton’s availability during the last two seasons. Managing the quartet’s workload going into 2016 will certainly be a priority for the Mariners going into 2016. But, does it require a six-man rotation? The answer to that question depends on each pitcher’s expected innings limit for the upcoming season. Projecting workload Last year, the old regime permitted Walker to go 49 additional innings past his 2014 tally. That translates to a 29-percent increase from one year to the next. Since there’s a new management team in place, we don’t know how the Mariners plan to regulate the utilization of their developing arms. If team leadership only knew how much sleep I’ve lost over this subject, they might share their plans with me. Since the Mariners aren’t likely to divulge their strategy with me during the current century, I’ve opted to use a projection system that rivals anything that might be found at FanGraphs – I added 30 innings to each starter’s 2016 totals, which equates to an increase between 18 and 29-percent for each hurler. Yes, I know. My “advanced” computations probably won’t lead to a Nobel Prize nomination for mathematics. But, I’m not trying to predict the future. I just want to get a ballpark figure on what to expect from these four young pitchers.    Potential Workload Name 2015 Total 30-innings 2016 Increase Taijuan Walker 169 199 18% Nate Karns 147 177 20% James Paxton 102 132 29% Mike Montgomery 155 185 19% Assuming that each pitcher averages at least six innings per-start, they’d reach the 180-inning mark after 30 starts. At that point, Karns and Montgomery would be in the neighborhood of their “Arkins limit.” Naming a hypothetical limit after myself is an obvious sign that I’m either close to going over the edge of sanity or I write about baseball for Sports Illustrated. Okay, back to my folly. Based on the limits I’ve “imposed,” Walker would still have tread remaining on his tires by the end of the season. That’s a good thing, especially if the 23-year-old ascends to the next level in 2016 and becomes a future ace. If the right-hander does elevate his performance, he’d likely be in the Felix/Iwakuma territory of averaging 6.5 innings per-start. That would put him in the neighborhood of the 199-inning limit listed above. The pitcher who may not be permitted to reach 180 innings would be Paxton, who’s suffered injuries during the last two years and has never pitched more than 145 innings in any season during his professional career. After looking at the data, I don’t see a compelling case to use a six-man rotation solely for the purpose of managing the workload of the younger starters. If the Mariners are able to get 30 starts from both Walker and a combination of the rest, the club is probably having a very good season. That’s assuming the Felix, Kuma, and Miley are healthy and performing as expected. Even if a six-man rotation was needed to preserve young arms, there’s a factor that would likely preempt using such a strategy – on-field value. An undeniable cost Using a full-time sixth starter would lead to Seattle getting approximately 26-27 starts from Hernandez, rather than his typical 31-34. Would be resting “King Felix” really be worth it? Even my clouded mind can come to the conclusion of “no.” A quick review of the following Steamer projections for the Mariners found at FanGraphs suddenly makes a full-time six-man rotation far less appealing.   FanGraphs Projections for Mariners Starters Name GS ERA FIP WAR Felix Hernandez 32 3.18 3.12 4.7 Hisashi Iwakuma 28 3.43 3.55 2.9 Wade Miley 29 3.99 4.04 1.9 Taijuan Walker 31 3.68 3.86 2.4 Nate Karns 23 4.06 4.15 1.3 James Paxton 13 4.11 4.09 0.8 Mike Montgomery 2 3.93 4.04 0.1 Vidal Nuno 2 3.39 3.72 0.3 Joe Wieland 2 3.80 3.99  0.1 By going to Felix, Kuma, Miley, and Walker less often, the Mariners would be counting on back-of-the-rotation types to deliver more value. I doubt that I could find anyone in the Pacific Northwest who believes that the club would better positioned to compete by having less of their top-four starters and more of Karns, Paxton, Montgomery, Vidal Nuno, and Joe Wieland. Preserve the King? I’ve often read and heard that Felix “wears down” at the end of seasons, although my eyeballs don’t see it the same way. If this perception was accurate, one could make a case that using a six-man rotation would have merit. At this point, this is my last best chance of proving to myself that I’m not needlessly fixating on this topic. When I look at Hernandez’s career monthly splits, it’s easy to understand how a casual onlooker could come to the conclusion that the 29-year-old loses steam at the end of the season. However, he hasn’t exactly “stunk up the joint” during September/October when his statistics are very similar to his career performance in each category.    Felix Hernandez’s Career Splits Month AVG OBP SLG ERA Mar/Apr .218 .279 .320 2.48 May .269 .328 .404 3.98 June .229 .281 .325 2.88 July .234 .288 .338 2.65 August .238 .293 .368 3.31 Sept/Oct .243 .302 .356 3.35 Career .239 .295 .353 3.11 Perhaps, the notion that Felix falls apart in September is fueled by several bad outings rather than the totality of his performances. With the exception of 2011 and 2012, he’s actually done quite well during the last month of each season since 2009. As you can see below, the right-hander experienced a “bounce back” during the past three Septembers.    Felix in September Year AVG OBP SLG ERA IP 2006 .263 .285 .441 4.45 191 2007 .258 .315 .348 3.35 190 2008 .305 .378 .435 4.41 200 2009 .193 .258 .257 1.52 238 2010 .154 .231 .238 1.64 249 2011 .330 .358 .476 5.18 233 2012 .346 .390 .471 6.62 232 2013 .200 .279 .283 3.78 204 2014 .185 .245 .281 1.66 236 2015 .210 .288 .403 2.86 201 I could see how some observers might associate Hernandez’s 2013 improvement with pitching his fewest innings since 2008. But, that logic doesn’t add up. If a lighter workload was the key for a better Felix, how can 2014 be explained when he pitched extremely well late in the season and finished a close second place in American Cy Young award voting? For anyone who believes that fewer regular starts for Felix would lead to a better rested ace for the postseason, I’d agree that he’d be more refreshed in October. But, there’s a better chance that he’ll be sitting his “fresh” body on the couch instead of standing on the mound at Safeco Field. Honestly, does anyone realistically expect this version of the Mariners reaching the playoffs without 30 or more starts from Felix? Finally Okay, I think I’m finally over my six-man rotation obsession. As they’re currently configured, the Mariners project to be on the fringe of contention in 2016 and may need to compete until the very last day of the season in order to make the postseason. With an outlook like that, the club will need more of Hernandez, Iwakuma, Miley, and Walker – not less. Still, Seattle will need to strike a balance to have success during the upcoming season. The team has only two proven workhorses on its roster – Hernandez and Miley. Plus, Iwakuma is entering his age-35 season and has only pitched more than 200 innings only three times during 15 professional seasons; once during his four years with the Mariners. After that, it’s Walker – who may be on the verge of taking the next step in his progression – and the rest of the gang. Strategically using a sixth starter during the course of the season may be the best approach for the Mariners. This methodology could include exploiting off-days and shuttling an extra starter between Tacoma and the big league club, when needed. Retaining a pitcher – like Montgomery or Nuno – who could be utilized out of the bullpen or as a spot starter would achieve the same goal. Using either the shuttle or reliever/starter approach would help the Mariners keep pitchers fresh while maximizing the value of the club’s best starters. These are far more realistic strategies than a full-time six-man rotation. Alright, I think that I’ve got this “six-man thing” out of my system for good. Now, I’m left with only one Mariners-related obsession – who’s going to be the Mariners’ right-handed back-up first baseman? I may be beyond help.Go!

Plenty has been made about the remake of the Seattle Mariners rotation heading into 2016 and rightfully so. The 2015 edition had considerable upside, but ultimately disappointed. Seattle only had two qualified starters in terms of innings pitched, Felix Hernandez and Taijuan Walker, as injuries limited Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton. By ERA the rotation ranked 17th in the entire league and by fWAR it ranked 19th. Those aren’t the type of numbers that will end what is now the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball. Unless it’s backed by a terrific offense and bullpen, but a fair share of ink has already been spilled on how those two areas hurt the 2015 Mariners. Needing some stability in the rotation, Wade Miley was acquired from the Boston Red Sox. Nate Karns was also acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays to bolster the back-end of the rotation. At the time of the Miley acquisition, it appeared that Seattle had finished tinkering with their rotation. General Manager Jerry Dipoto had even gone so far as to say he was “done” making significant additions. However, some skepticism over Iwakuma’s physical on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ behalf later, and the right-hander is back under contract for the 2016 season and under team control for the next three seasons. Currently, the Mariners 2016 rotation projects to include Felix, Iwakuma, Miley, Walker, and one of Paxton or Karns. As written by Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins, the Mariners undoubtedly will rely on arms beyond those that are in the Opening Day rotation to contribute to the starting staff. The following table shows pitchers that have made five or more starts for Seattle over the previous five seasons with my estimated projection for starters who will hold that distinction in 2016. Within the confines of this table we can get a glimpse of the natural evolution of the Mariners rotation. What’s interesting about a list like this is that we can begin to break down players by type. There’s the veteran, one-year contract guys: J.A. Happ, Chris Young, Joe Saunders, Jeremy Bonderman, and Kevin Millwood. There’s the prospects that didn’t cut it: Blake Beavan, Erasmo Ramirez, and Hector Noesi. There’s even the pitchers that were dealt for a bat: Jason Vargas, Michael Pineda, and Brandon Maurer. All told, I think the table of starters listed would resemble that of several teams. All teams have a collection of homegrown talent mixed with trade or free agent acquisitions and veteran filler of some kind. Beyond that though, we can see the evolution of a pitching rotation. King Felix is the established ace of the rotation and has remained a constant for Seattle beyond the group of five starters. We can also see that Iwakuma has become a mainstay in the rotation as well. This year though, Iwakuma takes the role as veteran on a one-year contract. Of course this case is much different than that of Happ or Young since Seattle is counting on the right-hander to be a No. 2 or 3 starter as opposed to back-end depth. There’s also the matter of Iwakuma having a pair of vesting and club options that could stretch the deal to three years. Most, if not all, of the great rotations have a pillar or two at the top that support the growth of the rotation among the inflow and outflow of pitchers. Perhaps more interesting than the year Millwood wore blue and teal — though his presence in the combined no-hitter is a great historical anecdote — before Safeco Joe took his place, is seeing the rise and fall of prospects through the years. Look at 2011 for example. That year Vasquez made seven starts but is still waiting for an opportunity to throw another major league pitch. Furbush, not a top-flite prospect either, hasn’t started a major league game since, though he has become a solid relief pitcher. Let’s throw another name into the mix: Erasmo Ramirez. Again, he wasn’t among the organization’s high-upside talent in recent years, but he was a prospect with some tools who toiled between the rotation, bullpen, and Triple-A for a few years before being dealt. Now in his place stands Montgomery who serves as some back-end depth for the moment. Should he fail to crack the Opening Day roster, and because he’s out of minor league options, he could find himself dealt for a similar starter who doesn’t fit his current club’s plans and has an existing option. Practically all organizations cycle through these kinds of starters hoping to find a diamond, or more often an above average season that they can cash in on the trade market or bide time with for a younger arm. After debuting in September 2013, Walker and Paxton were expected to become mainstays near the top of the rotation. That hasn’t exactly happened yet. Walker is coming off a solid season and appears primed for a potential breakout season. Paxton on the other hand, has struggled with health and finds himself competing for the fifth spot in the rotation instead of beginning the season in the No. 2 slot a la 2014. The examples of Walker and Paxton speak volumes to the evolution because the development of prospects make up such a big part of it. Teams devote significant resources into these players with the hope that they will headline their next championship team but can’t find a tangible reason for why that player is performing contrary to the skill set they possess. Walker and Paxton have the tools to be the No. 2 and No. 3 starters in a rotation, provided the Canadian lefty can develop a little more command. Do they get there at some point? Only time will tell. Ideally we see the next steps in both player’s evolution take place in 2016 as Walker continues to be a solid contributor and Paxton proves he can be one. One thing that we haven’t seen happen with the Mariners’ rotation over the past couple seasons is the development and influx of young talent. Don’t get me wrong, the discussion allotted to Walker and Paxton are warranted, but those two are about it. Roenis Elias was dealt as part of the Miley trade and had some upside. Michael Pineda was also a fine pitcher and Edwin Diaz could turn into the next big thing. But there’s always been the feeling that the rotation was a Felix Hernandez injury — and last year a Hisashi Iwakuma injury, it seemed — from falling apart. Last season the St. Louis Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright for the bulk of the season. However, despite an ace on the disabled list, the club still managed to win the NL Central with the likes of Lance Lynn, Carlos Martinez, and Michael Wacha — all homegrown and developed talent — stepping up to fill the void. The deal for John Lackey during the previous season helped too. The Mariners rotation is better-prepared for injuries this year than they were last, but is there a candidate to step up and fill a potential void left by a key starter? Montgomery had moments last season, but couldn’t sustain anything. Is Vidal Nuno the guy who takes a big step this year? Or maybe Karns? It’s unfair to expect the results of the new regime bringing large changes to the player development side of the organization right away. We won’t realistically be able to see the difference until several years have gone by, but all signs point to the future looking significantly brighter than it did a year ago. The Mariners do have talent in the lower minors, like Diaz, but they are still several years away from contributing to the big league roster. That will change as other players come in and some take steps forward, but it’s no secret that replenishing the minor league system, particularly at the upper levels, is a priority for Dipoto. This season will offer us a look at what the rotation stands to be in 2017 and 2018 as well. How do Miley and Karns fit? Where do Walker and Paxton go from here? Can Iwakuma stay healthy and pitch effectively? Is Felix able to continue being Felix. We’ll see. It’s important to remember that there is no formula to putting together a major league rotation. Even the World Series champion Kansas City Royals offered a rotation that included that same Chris Young alongside growing star Yordano Ventura, offseason signee Edinson Volquez, and trade deadline acquisition Johnny Cueto. Seattle has the ace and some interesting wild cards to see play out as the rotation begins another series in the evolutionary process.Go!

After suffering through another losing season and extending their playoff drought to 14 year, Seattle Mariners management decided to hire Jerry Dipoto to be their general manager. Since taking over in late September, the 47-year-old has significantly altered the club’s approach towards scouting, player development, and coaching. While Dipoto’s initial actions are encouraging, the root cause to the Mariners’ underwhelming record is the fact that they didn’t have enough good players to compete last season. That’s the main reason behind Dipoto’s hiring and why he was the major’s most active general manager during his first five months on the job. With Spring Training just around the corner, now’s a good time to recap the Mariners’ hot stove progress to date. For the purposes of my review, I’ve decided to the examine the weaknesses identified by Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill in October. The areas mentioned by Jason are closely aligned to Dipoto’s public comments about the team’s shortcomings and the moves that he’s made. If you missed Jason’s piece, you can read it here. Starting Pitching The off-season started with a projected 2016 rotation of staff ace Felix Hernandez and a lot of uncertainty. That’s why Jason identified adding a number-two starter as a priority for the club. There were plenty of candidates behind King Felix – Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery. Yet, none were viewed as locks to make the rotation – or even be reliable. It didn’t take long for the club to start dealing. Dipoto’s first major trade shipped Logan Morrison, Brad Miller, and Danny Farquhar to the Tampa Bay Rays for the hard-throwing Nate Karns, lefty reliever C.J. Riefenhauser – since traded to Baltimore – and outfield prospect Boog Powell. Karns’ first full season in the big leagues came last year at the advanced age of 28. Despite the late arrival, he’s the kind of “swing and miss” pitcher that Dipoto wanted. One area of concern could be durability. As Jason noted in his analysis of the deal, it remains to be seen if Karns can handle a 190-200 inning workload. The next big change was the acquisition of southpaw Wade Miley, along with reliever Jonathan Aro, from the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Elias and dynamic reliever Carson Smith. At the time of the deal, I assessed it as a step backwards. Basically, the trade weakened the already bad bullpen and didn’t add the number-two starter that Jason had identified as a need. That doesn’t mean that the trade is a bust. Prospect Insider’s analysis pointed out that several “high-ranking scouts that like Miley more than his numbers.” This deal works best for Seattle if the 29-year-old is a legitimate number-three from the onset of the season. It’s important to note that our analysis assumed Miley was the replacement for free agent Hisashi Iwakuma, who had agreed to contract terms with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Little did we know that “Kuma” would actually return to the Emerald City. When reports surfaced saying that Iwakuma failed his Los Angeles physical, Dipoto pounced on the opportunity to retain the fan favorite. The club Mariners signed Kuma to a three-year deal – with vesting options – which protects the team in the event that he breaks down from a physical standpoint. Here’s a potential Opening Day rotation compared to the 2015 version. I’ve included the 2015 fWAR for both groups of players and the 2016 Steamer fWAR projection for current Mariners.    Potential Rotation 2015 Rotation Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR SP Felix Hernandez  2.8  4.7 Felix Hernandez  2.8 SP Wade Miley  2.6  2.1 Hisashi Iwakuma  1.8 SP Hisashi Iwakuma   1.8  2.9 James Paxton   0.5 SP Nate Karns  1.5  1.0 J.A. Happ  1.2 SP Taijuan Walker  1.9  2.4 Taijuan Walker  1.9 Totals  10.6 13.1 8.2 Mission accomplished? No. Going into Spring Training, the rotation looks to be Felix, Miley, Kuma, and Walker with Karns, Paxton, and Montgomery battling for the last rotation spot. The losers will likely go to Class-AAA Tacoma or be traded. That’s a good start, but there’s no clear number-two caliber pitcher behind King Felix. Bringing back Iwakuma excites fans and it’s true that he can be a number-two – when healthy. But, he’s coming off two consecutive injury-shortened seasons, has only started 30 or more games once in four years with Seattle, and is entering his age-35 season. Perhaps, Walker will rise to that position. But, he’ll need to be more consistent in 2016 to take the next step in his career become a future ace. Yes, the rotation is better with Karns, Miley, and the returning Iwakuma in the mix. But, it’s debatable whether it’s good enough to contend. Outfield Defense The Mariners’ outfield registered -45 defensive runs saved (DRS) – easily the worst in the majors last season. So, Dipoto aggressively made moves to upgrade the team’s outfield defense. To fix center field, the Mariners dealt popular reliever Tom Wilhelmsen, outfielder James Jones, and prospect Patrick Kivlehan to the Texas Rangers for Leonys Martin and reliever Anthony Bass – who subsequently signed to play next season in Japan. From Seattle’s perspective, Martin was the cornerstone of the deal. Despite having nearly half the playing time of his contemporaries, the 27-year-old was one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. His 15 DRS ranked third behind Gold Glove winner Kevin Kiermaier (42) and Lorenzo Cain (18) during last season. The signing of Nori Aoki to play a corner outfield spot also improved the defense. Aoki is a solid defender, although he’s known for taking poor routes on balls from time-to-time. Despite his occasional follies in the field, he’s a significantly better defender than any regular corner outfielder that Seattle has used in recent years. The retention of Franklin Gutierrez to platoon with fellow holdover Seth Smith solidifies left field. Health may have robbed “Guti” of his ability to be a dynamic center fielder, but he’s still good in a corner spot. Smith is the weakest defender of the outfield crew, although he’s not bad. He’s average or slightly below-average. Although Karns will reach Seattle first and Powell likely starts the season in Tacoma, the 23-year-old outfielder could have a bigger long-term impact. Powell brings a blend of speed, athleticism, defense and contact-style offense that Dipoto craves and he can play all three outfield positions. He’ll likely see action in Seattle during 2016. Mission accomplished? Yes. Last season, Smith was considered one of Seattle’s better outfielders. Now, he’s ranks last among teammates not named Nelson Cruz. That’s how much Dipoto has improved outfield since taking over – last year’s best is this year’s ‘worst.” There’s a residual benefit to adding so many defensively sound outfielders, who also can reach base consistently. Management won’t feel compelled to play Cruz in the field as often. Although many fans support his defensive abilities and believe he’s a better hitter when playing right field, the Mariners are better with Cruz as their designated hitter. Keeping “Boomstick” off the field and healthy will help preserve their star hitter. Bullpen This unit went from being superb in 2014 to being a complete disappointment last season. After dealing his club’s two best relievers, there wasn’t much left on Dipoto’s roster. So, he’s been in overdrive to find new relievers ever since. The most notable addition is Steve Cishek, who was signed to be the closer. Cishek was exceptional during 2013 and 2014, but regressed last year. The 29-year-old showed signs of improvement during the second half when he held hitters to a .206/.313/.299 slash. Despite the improved numbers, the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t value him enough to include him on their postseason roster last October. Prospect Insider assesses the side-arming righty as being better suited to be a set-up man than a closer for a contender. Another veteran newcomer is Joaquin Benoit, who’ll pitch the eighth inning. Benoit has been a durable setup man after missing the 2009 season with rotator cuff surgery. Since then, he’s logged over 60 innings in five of six years, including 67 last season. Jason explained why he liked the Benoit deal for the Mariners here. Not every face in the relief corps is new. Charlie Furbush returns after suffering a slight rotator cuff tear last season, plus Tony Zych and Vidal Nuno are holdovers who figure to play prominent roles during 2016. Mission accomplished? No. Losing Smith and Wilhelmsen put a decimated bullpen in a bigger hole and helped spark fan hostility and media skepticism. Steamer projections won’t inspire fans to a leap of faith either – last season’s original relievers provided approximately the same value that’s projected for the new guys assembled by Dipoto.   Potential Bullpen 2015 Bullpen Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR CL Steve Cishek   0.0  0.0 Fernando Rodney -0.8 SU Joaquin Benoit   0.4  0.3 Carson Smith  2.1 RP Charlie Furbush   0.1  0.4 Charlie Furbush  0.1 RP Tony Zych   0.6  0.3 Tom Wilhelmsen  0.8 RP Evan Scribner  -0.1  0.5 Yoervis Medina -0.1 RP Vidal Nuno   0.3  0.3 Danny Farquhar -0.2 RP Justin De Fratus  -0.1 -0.1  Tyler Olson -0.4 Totals    1.2  1.7                                              1.5 With so many “unknown unknowns” in the bullpen, it’s tough to be optimistic in late January. Clearly, the club is banking on Furbush bouncing back and the Benoit and Cishek combo being able to anchor the back of the pen. But, it’s going to take on-field success to win over fans and skeptics alike. There is a silver lining though. If the club is in position to contend in July, Dipoto has demonstrated the propensity to fix a bullpen during a season, as he did with the 98-win Los Angeles Angels in 2014. During that season, he acquired star closer Huston Street, plus setup men Fernando Salas and Jason Grilli. Catcher At age 24, Mike Zunino is too young to be deemed a bust. Dipoto has repeatedly praised the catcher’s potential, which leaves the impression that he views the former number-three draft pick as a part of the team’s future. Defensively, he’s outstanding. However, his offense took a horrible turn last season when he posted a .174/.230/.300 slash during 386 plate appearances in 2015. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Zunino is likely to spend the entire 2016 season at Class-AAA Tacoma. As a result of Zunino’s struggles and the weak bat of Jesus Sucre, the Mariners added former Los Angeles Angel Chris Iannetta – who endured his own offensive struggles last season – and former Baltimore Oriole Steve Clevenger to form a new catching tandem for 2016. Mission accomplished? Yes. Iannetta, who will do the majority of the catching, is a good pitch-framer with proven on-base ability with the exception of last season. Clevenger is a capable backup and can also play first base in a pinch. Since Iannetta is only 32-years-old, it’s reasonable to expect that he can return to pre-2015 form. Regardless, the Iannetta/Clevenger duo is far superior to last season’s catching crew. Adding two new catchers affords Seattle the opportunity to place both Zunino and Sucre in Tacoma, if they chose to do so. This substantially improves the club’s organizational depth. Plus, it gives Zunino the opportunity to fix his swing and prove whether Dipoto is correct in believing that he’s part of the team’s future. Fringe Depth Dipoto has spoken often of adding layers of depth throughout the organization, like he did with the catcher position. Although fringe depth is easily overlooked by both fans and talking heads, it’s imperative to have both major and minor league reserves in order to contend. To get in front of the issue, Dipoto added 17 new players to 40-man roster with only four – Adam Lind, Aoki, Martin, Iannetta – slated as starting position players. The rest will provide rotation, bullpen, or bench depth for the either Seattle or Tacoma. Last season, the club didn’t have clear-cut options in the event of injury or lackluster performance, which led to an 86-loss season. Here’s what a notional Opening Day bench could look like and how it compares to last year’s reserves.    Potential Bench 2015 Bench Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR C Steve Clevenger   0.0  0.4 Jesus Sucre  -0.3 INF Chris Taylor  -0.4  0.3 Willie Bloomquist  -0.6 OF Franklin Gutierrez   2.3  0.6 Justin Ruggiano  -0.1 OF Shawn O’Malley   0.1  0.0 Rickie Weeks -0.7 Totals   2.0  1.3                                             -1.7 Mission accomplished? Mostly. Building organizational depth is never ending process, but it’s clear that this year’s bench will be significantly better than the 2015 version. For example, Ketel Marte is seemingly destined to be the starting shortstop. Consequently, holdover Chris Taylor and import Luis Sardinas will vie for the reserve infielder spot with the loser likely to start the season with Tacoma. Also, Powell presents the Mariners with their best rookie outfield call-up option in years. These kind of options didn’t exist on Seattle’s roster a year ago. In addition to “splashy” moves, the Mariners have quietly added several non-roster invites who could potentially add to their depth. To date, those players include pitchers Casey Coleman, Brad Mills, Blake Parker, infielder Ed Lucas and outfielder Mike Baxter. Also, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN reports that first baseman Gaby Sanchez has agreed with the Mariners on a minor league deal. Expect more names to be added during the next month. Final thoughts Having Cruz, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, and Felix to build around makes it easier for the Mariners to compete in 2016 without jeopardizing its future success or payroll flexibility. The “riskiest” contracts signed this winter are Cishek’s two-year deal and Iwakuma’s incentive-based contract. Neither will cripple the team’s future plans. While this bodes well for the team in the long-term, it’s hard to really know how well the Mariners will perform in 2016. Take a look at the projected Opening Day starters compared to last year’s group and you’ll see that this year’s lineup should perform better than 2015 version. But, is it good enough?    Projected Starters 2015 Starters Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR 1B Adam Lind  2.2  1.5 Logan Morrison -0.2 2B Robinson Cano  2.1  3.5 Robinson Cano  2.1 SS Ketel Marte  1.7  1.8 Brad Miller  0.9 3B Kyle Seager  3.9  3.7 Kyle Seager  3.9 LF Nori Aoki  1.5  0.9 Dustin Ackley -0.6 CF Leonys Martin  0.5  1.2 Austin Jackson  2.3 RF Seth Smith  2.2  1.2 Seth Smith  2.2 DH Nelson Cruz  4.8  1.6 Nelson Cruz  4.8 C Chris Iannetta  0.5  1.7 Mike Zunino -0.5 Totals 19.4 17.1                                        14.9 Dipoto’s approach of building around core stars, while simultaneously giving the organization a major facelift makes sense. Whether that strategy leads to a winning campaign in 2016 remains to be seen. If the season started today, the Mariners are far better than the 76-win disappointment of 2015. But, their current rotation and bullpen can’t be considered ready to propel the club into contention. Right now, the Mariners are a “fringe contender” at best. The club is banking on players like Cano, Iwakuma, Paxton, Martin, Aoki, Iannetta, Cishek, Furbush and most of their relievers to rebound after a down season. If the majority of these ball players bounce back, the Mariners will be the sweethearts of baseball’s talking heads – much like the 2015 Houston Astros. If things don’t go as well as planned, they’ll be fighting to stay above the .500 mark. That assessment shouldn’t dishearten or irritate fans. After all, Opening Day isn’t until April and a lot can change between now and then. As I pointed out a few months ago, every 2015 playoff team wasn’t ready by Opening Day. Fans can also find comfort in knowing that their team’s general manager isn’t afraid to pivot from mistakes or address under-performance. If the Mariners are in contention by June or July, Dipoto has the wherewithal to add pieces – he’s done it before. If the club is out of the hunt, he can use next off-season to continue reshaping the organization and building the contender that Mariner fans so desperately crave.  Go!

Last night, Seattle Mariners fans received an unexpected and welcome surprise when general manager Jerry Dipoto announced that starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma would be returning to the team for the 2016 season. Yesterday was a tumultuous day for the 34-year-old starter and his fans. Earlier in the day, rumors were circulating that the Los Angels Dodgers were backing away from a three-year/$45 million deal with the right-handed free agent due to concerns with the results of his physical exam. By the end of the day, “Kuma” was back with the only major league team he’s known. The financial terms of the deal are unknown, but the team has announced that he’s under contract for next season with vesting options for the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that Iwakuma can earn near to $45 million, if both seasons vest. He reportedly received a full no-trade clause too. While I’ve been lukewarm to the notion of bringing Iwakuma back to Seattle, the circumstances surrounding the veteran hurler’s return to the Emerald City have immediately improved the Mariners’ 2016 outlook in several ways. His presence instantly improves the rotation’s strength and depth, plus it helps deepen the bullpen – which is the club’s weakest link. Rotation strength Having a pitcher of Iwakuma’s caliber is always a good thing – as long it’s at the right price and risk is mitigated. His return has more impact now than it would’ve a month ago because Seattle added Wade Miley when it appeared that Iwakuma was signing with the Dodgers. Miley’s inclusion in the middle of the rotation helps alleviate Iwakuma durability concerns and pushes everyone down a notch on the depth chart. On the following table, I’ve listed the Mariners’ most prominent rotation candidates, as today. That’s important to note, because the roster is definitely a living, breathing document under Dipoto. Included are the FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR) and the Steamer fWAR projections for the candidates, plus the fWAR for the key starting pitchers from last season.    Rotation Candidates Key 2015 Starters Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR Felix Hernandez 2.8 4.7 Felix Hernandez 2.8 Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 2.9 Hisashi Iwakuma 1.8 Taijuan Walker 1.9 2.4 James Paxton 0.5 Wade Miley 2.6 1.9 J.A. Happ 1.2 Nate Karns 1.5 1.3 Taijuan Walker 1.9 James Paxton 0.5 0.8 Roenis Elias 0.6 Mike Montgomery 0.3 0.1 Mike Montgomery 0.3 Totals 11.4 14.1                                           9.1 As you can see, there are seven names in the mix and they project to add more five wins than last season’s top-seven starters. Based on the above projections, the rotation should be Felix Hernandez, Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, Miley, and Nate Karns. If it were only that easy. The truth is the Mariners – and every team – will need more than five starters next season. Starting pitching depth A month ago, I pointed out that major league teams have averaged 10 starting pitchers-per-season since 2000, which is why pitching depth is a Mariners need. Even the best teams will need way more than five starters to survive the rigors of a 162-game season and a possible postseason run. Here’s a look at the number of starters used by each 2015 postseason team. # SPs  Team(s) 16    Los Angeles Dodgers 13    Houston Astros 12    Texas Rangers     /   Toronto Blue Jays 10    Chicago Cubs      /    Kansas City Royals      /   New York Mets      /   New York Yankees    9    St. Louis Cardinals 8    Pittsburgh Pirates The Dodgers – who had two of the top-three Cy Young award vote-getters – used 16 starting pitchers on their way to winning the National League West division. The team that eventually beat them in the playoffs – the National League champion New York Mets – needed 10 starters, as did the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals. Guess who else used 10 starters last season? The Seattle Mariners. Seeing these numbers should help stymie the trade James Paxton and/or Mike Montgomery for the time being. It’s possible that Dipoto will move someone, but what’s the hurry? Trading Paxton now would be selling-low. Based on three months of observations, dealing from a position of weakness doesn’t seem to be a “Dipoto thing.” As far as Montgomery goes, a roster decision is pending on the southpaw. As I mentioned two days ago, he’s one of six Mariners out of options. The 26-year-old has to make the big league roster out of Spring Training or he has to pass through waivers before reassignment to Class-AAA Tacoma. There’s no doubt that Montgomery wouldn’t get through waivers. Barring injury, he’ll either be traded or make the roster as either a starter or reliever. No one can guarantee that Montgomery would be a fit in Seattle’s bullpen. He’s been primarily a starter throughout his professional career. But, but adding another lefty reliever into the bullpen discussion certainly can’t hurt. Plus, his trade value will increase when some team inevitably loses a starter to injury during Spring Training. Who knows, that team could be the Seattle Mariners. Having Montgomery – and whoever else loses out in the rotation battle – available to spot start would be beneficial. Remember how the Mariners needed last year’s rotation battle runner-up – Roenis Elias – and Montgomery when Paxton and Iwakuma went down? Back-of-the-rotation options matter for an organization that expects to make the postseason in 2016. For a recent example of starters helping the bullpen of contenders, look no further than the 2015 World Series. Three starting pitchers had a huge impact on the outcome of games – former Mariner Chris Young, Bartolo Colon, and Jonathon Niese. You can never have enough starting pitching. It’s reasonable to expect that two starting pitchers will miss time in 2016. I bet Dipoto is banking on it. Bullpen depth As Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish and Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill pointed out here Iwakuma’s presence improves the Mariners’ bullpen flexibility since Vidal Nuno has held left-handed batters to a .200/.268/.315 slash during his three-year career as a starter and reliever. Those numbers are very similar to projected set-up man Charlie Furbush, who has a career .203/.269/.269 against lefties. Nuno’s success against left-handed hitters could prove to be vital, especially if Furbush hasn’t fully recovered from the partial rotator cuff tear he suffered last season. It’s important to note that the southpaw is reported to be progressing well, but hasn’t started throwing yet. Conclusion The Mariners are better because Hisashi Iwakuma is back on their roster. I still have reservations about the back-end of the bullpen and its overall quality. However, I feel more comfortable calling the team a “fringe contender” now than I did yesterday. Being fringy isn’t exactly something to celebrate – but it’s only December and it’s better than what the Mariners were 24 hours ago.      Go!

Since becoming the general manager of the Seattle Mariners, Jerry Dipoto has aggressively worked to transform the club’s roster. In just under three months, he’s added 16 players to the club’s 40-man roster. The 47-year-old’s moves have been greeted with a mixture of optimism, scorn, and indifference depending on the names of the players involved and fan’s perceived value of the individuals traded away and received. For example, dispatching Carson Smith and Roenis Elias to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro and the signing of free agent catcher Chris Iannetta didn’t sit well with the Seattle faithful. Conversely, the addition of Nori Aoki via free agency was much better received. Despite the mixed reviews on Dipoto’s numerous transactions, the Mariners appear to be on track to be better next season. It’s impossible to know with certainty how much value that Seattle’s new players –  or their holdovers – will provide in 2016. None of us can predict the future, although it can be fun trying to prognosticate. The next best thing to being a seer is using sabermetric projections, which can at least provide some insight into a team’s and player’s future performance. With that in mind, I decided to compare Seattle’s potential Opening Day 25-man roster to the squad that started last season against the Los Angeles Angels on April 6 at Safeco Field. To help with the comparison, I opted to use Steamer wins above replacements (WAR) projections found here at FanGraphs. Since I’m using the the FanGraphs version of WAR, I’ll be referring to it as “fWAR” from this point going forward. I understand that fWAR isn’t universally accepted as a reliable measure of a player’s performance by all fans and some in the media, but fWAR helps encapsulate a player’s total value into one statistic that includes base running, defense, and hitting. fWAR isn’t a concrete measure like batting average or home runs. Rather, it’s an estimation of value that happens to be relatively accurate. Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Paul Goldschmidt, and Joey Votto were the top five position players in 2015 – based on fWAR.  All of these players were in the top three of their respective league’s Most Valuable Player voting. That’s not a coincidence. First, let’s look at the starting position players from Opening Day 2015 and the likely starting position players for next season. You’ll see that I’ve included the 2015 fWAR for both groups of players and the 2016 Steamer fWAR projection for the current Mariners. At the bottom of each column, I included totals.    Projected Starters 2015 Starters Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR 1B Adam Lind  2.2  1.5 Logan Morrison -0.2 2B Robinson Cano  2.1  3.5 Robinson Cano  2.1 SS Ketel Marte  1.7  1.8 Brad Miller  0.9 3B Kyle Seager  3.9  3.7 Kyle Seager  3.9 LF Nori Aoki  1.5  0.9 Dustin Ackley -0.6 CF Leonys Martin  0.5  1.2 Austin Jackson  2.3 RF Seth Smith  2.2  1.2 Seth Smith  2.2 DH Nelson Cruz  4.8  1.6 Nelson Cruz  4.8 C Chris Iannetta  0.5  1.7 Mike Zunino -0.5 Totals 19.4 17.1                                    14.9 A few words of caution before going any further. The projections listed above are nothing more than estimates based on factors such as each player’s playing history and age. Moreover, they can’t predict injuries – like Robinson Cano’s abdominal issues or James Paxton’s finger tendon injury. Thereby, projections are imperfect by nature, especially for young players with a small sample size of appearances in the big leagues. But, it’s still fun to use them during the Hot Stove season. Even though Steamer projections have Nelson Cruz tailing off considerably in 2016, the starting crew that Dipoto has assembled projects to outperform the 2015 squad. First base, left field, and catcher are clear upgrades – based on last season’s fWAR value. Plus, Cano is expected to continue his second-half turnaround from last season into next year. The projected Opening Day bench also looks to provide more value in 2016, although that’s not a very high bar to get over. The 2015 bench was an absolute disappointment.    Projected Bench 2015 Bench Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR C Steve Clevenger   0.0  0.4 Jesus Sucre  -0.3 INF Chris Taylor  -0.4  0.3 Willie Bloomquist  -0.6 OF Franklin Gutierrez   2.3   0.6 Justin Ruggiano  -0.1 OF Shawn O’Malley   0.1  0.0 Rickie Weeks -0.7 Totals   2.0  1.3                                        -1.7 Since these are just projections, it’s possible that some of the names I’ve used won’t be with the club when it breaks camp next year. Barring injury, Franklin Gutierrez is the most certain to make the squad followed by Steve Clevenger. Regardless of who earns spots on the club’s bench, there’s a good chance that they’ll surpass the low value of last season’s Opening Day reserves. There’s no where to go, but up. As with bench players, manager Scott Servais will have more options than the ones I’ve listed in the below starting rotation projection. For example, Mike Montgomery will be in the mix and it’s certainly not outside the realm of possibilities that Dipoto will acquire more arms to either compete in Peoria or provide depth after the season begins. Dipoto might even trade one of the players I’ve projected to make the rotation. Heck, he might make a move before the end of the evening. But, as of December 13, these five players appear to be the best options for Seattle.    Projected Rotation 2015 Rotation Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR SP Felix Hernandez  2.8  4.7 Felix Hernandez  2.8 SP Wade Miley  2.6  2.1 Hisashi Iwakuma  1.8 SP James Paxton  1.5 1.3 James Paxton  0.5 SP Nate Karns  1.5  1.0 J.A. Happ  1.2 SP Taijuan Walker  1.9  2.4 Taijuan Walker  1.9 Totals  9.3 11.5                                       8.2 Of all of the deals made by the Mariners new GM, the Miley deal has been met with the most fan anger. That probably has more to do with departure of Carson Smith in the trade and the fact that Miley was chosen to replace fan-favorite Hisashi Iwakuma, who joined the Los Angeles Dodgers via free agency. If Miley had been a free agent acquisition by the Mariners, the resistance may have been more muted. Fan sorrow aside, Miley provided provide more value to Boston than Iwakuma did to Seattle in 2015. Plus, Miley’s 2016 projected fWAR surpasses Iwakuma’s 2015 value. The combination of newcomers Miley and Nate Karns and the projected performance improvements of holdovers Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton are expected to help boost the club’s rotation value by over three wins next season. After being a strength for the Mariners in 2014, the bullpen went through a season-long tailspin in 2015. Appearances by closer Fernando Rodney were so erratic that they were commonly referred to as the “Fernando Rodney Experience” on social media. The combination of Rodney’s inconsistency, the regression of Yoervis Medina and Danny Farquhar, and a season-ending injury to Charlie Furbish turned the bullpen into the club’s Achilles’ heel.   Projected Bullpen 2015 Bullpen Pos Name 2015 fWAR 2016 Steamer fWAR Name 2015 fWAR CL Steve Cishek   0.0  0.0 Fernando Rodney -0.8 SU Joaquin Benoit   0.4  0.3 Carson Smith  2.1 RP Charlie Furbush   0.1  0.4 Charlie Furbush  0.1 RP Anthony Bass   0.1  0.3 Tom Wilhelmsen  0.8 RP Evan Scribner  -0.1  0.5 Yoervis Medina -0.1 RP Vidal Nuno   0.3 0.3 Danny Farquhar -0.2 RP Justin De Fratus  -0.1 -0.1  Tyler Olson -0.4 Totals    0.7  1.7                                         1.5 The trades of the team’s two best relievers – Tom Wilhelmsen and Smith – has led to a great deal of hostility from fans and skepticism from the media. Steamer projections won’t help inspire fans to a leap of faith either – last season’s original relief corps provided approximately the same value that’s predicted for new one assembled by Dipoto. It’s important to note that Smith provided the majority of that value though. Clearly, Dipoto is expecting Furbush to bounce back from injury and that new acquisitions Joaquin Benoit and Steve Cishek will be able to anchor the back of the bullpen. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill assesses the side-arming Chisek as being better suited to be a set-up man rather than a closer for a contender. Jason goes on to point out that if the Mariners find themselves in position to contend in July, they could deal for a better option if neither Benoit nor Chisek demonstrate the ability to maintain their grip on the closer spot. Fortunately for the team and its fans, it’s only mid-December and there’s still plenty of time for more pieces to be added to the rotation, bullpen, and even the bench. Jason identified several players here who could potentially help contribute to what the Dipoto attempting to accomplish during his roster reboot. If the season started today, I’d project this team to be better than the 76-win unit that finished a distant fourth place last season. However, neither the Mariners’ rotation nor their bullpen is ready to propel the club into contention. They wouldn’t even qualify as a “fringe contender” at the moment.  Go!

A right-hander that helped lead the Kansas City Royals to the World Series was notched firmly below Max Scherzer and Jon Lester among starting pitchers when discussing the 2014-2015 free agent class. James Shields ended up joining the San Diego Padres on a four-year, $75 million deal last winter, a winter in which the Padres were heralded as the winners of the offseason. Unfortunately things didn’t go as planned and with a few key pieces already departed, the Friars are reportedly looking to deal their ace. Shields, who’ll turn 34 a few days before Christmas, had a down year in 2015 by his standards despite clearing the 200-inning plateau for the ninth consecutive season. He did post a career-best strikeout rate, but also a career-worst walk rate. Perhaps one of the main reasons for Shields’ down year, and this is strange having pitched half his innings at Petco Park, was difficulty with the long ball. His 17.6 percent home run per fly ball rate was nearly double the rates he had posted in the previous two seasons. The right-hander’s spike in home runs could be worrisome, but it appears that it could simply be an outlier as his BABIP and contact rates were in line with his career averages. Shields has lost a tick on his fastball over the past couple years, but he has never been a guy who has relied on velocity so that shouldn’t be concerning It’s conceivable that Shields could regain his form as a three-to-four WAR pitcher next season, but I would bet on the lower end of that spectrum given his age and the miles on his arm. Still a valuable asset, though. ESPN’s Buster Olney reports via Twitter that there is significant interest in the Padres’ ace. Olney also points out that Shields passed through revocable waivers last August. There was speculation that San Diego wanted to rid themselves of the contract at that time and are looking to do so again. So we have a quality arm who’s proven to be good for 200 productive innings annually. First question, why are the Padres trying to move him? Second, why hasn’t anyone taken him yet? Answer: the contract. Of the $75 million guaranteed to the right-hander, only $10 million of it was paid in 2015. Part of how the Padres were able to sign Shields, amidst their other big money transactions, was to front-load the deal. For each of the next three seasons, Shields is due $21 million. He will also be owed a $2 million buyout for a $16 million team option for the 2019 season. Also to be aware of: Shields can opt-out of his contract after 2016. This means he could be a one-year rental to an acquiring club. If he has a rebound season it’s not inconceivable to see him get a new three-year deal with an average annual value north of $20 million. But it could be tough to get a fourth-year guaranteed so there are pros and cons on Shields’ side for opting out. Let’s assume he doesn’t opt out, and we can say Shields is owed $65 million for the next three years. That’s $20 million more than now former Mariner, Hisashi Iwakuma, received in his three-year free agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It doesn’t sound as if the total sum of money was the issue for Seattle not re-signing their No. 2 starter. GM Jerry Dipoto said yesterday that the club wasn’t comfortable with paying Iwakuma for his age 35, 36, and 37 seasons while mentioning sustainability. Some reports had the Mariners offering two years and $25 million. For the next three years Shields will pitch in his age 34, 35, and 36 seasons — just one year younger than Iwakuma. However, if sustainability is the desired target, that’s where Shields differentiates himself from Iwakuma. In the past three seasons, Iwakuma has one campaign of 200-plus innings to Shields’ three. As seen in yesterday’s trade with the Boston Red Sox, the Mariners gave up Carson Smith and Roenis Elias for a similar sustainability. Wade Miley has four straight years of throwing 190-plus innings, but is only 29-years-old and his total cost for the next three years would be slightly less than $27 million if his 2019 option is exercised. There’s value in cost certainty and the potential for slightly more upside with a pitcher yet to hit 30. The Padres are reportedly willing to eat salary to move Shield’s contract. This morning they dealt $7.5 million and Jedd Gyorko to the St. Louis Cardinals for Jon Jay and his $6.225 million salary. Obviously this was a different scenario, but between the cash sent and money owed to Jay, the Padres were willing to eat almost $14 million of the $33 million guaranteed to Gyorko over the next four years. How much the Padres are willing to eat in order to move Shields will be less relevant than what Seattle would potentially be willing to take on. We haven’t talked about the potential fit, but that much should be self-explanatory. Miley sits No. 2 to Felix Hernandez on the depth chart, but better reflects the skill set of a No. 3 starter in a good rotation, and perhaps a No. 4 in a great rotation. Nothing against Miley, he just doesn’t quite fill the gap that a healthy Iwakuma leaves. Shields could still be a solid No. 2, and with an improved outfield defense behind him — a lack of Matt Kemp would help anybody — should be able to succeed in Seattle. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the Mariners value Shields between $15-to-$18 million annually. This would mean getting the Padres to eat $3-to-$6 million annually. Part of the value Miley brings, according to Dipoto, is that what he provides the kind of value that would cost between $12 and $18 million on the free agent market. Without having an inside look at the Padres’ financials, I’m going to suggest that an arrangement along those lines would be feasible. But, it would involve San Diego getting that much more in player value as the return. Seattle doesn’t have a Brad Miller available anymore to solve the Padres’ shortstop problems. After trading Elias it’s unlikely a James Paxton or Taijuan Walker would be on the move and there’s literally no more bullpen depth to deal from. Chris Taylor or Ketel Marte could probably be a conversation starter, but would the M’s need to add a D.J. Peterson to get the Padres’ attention? If San Diego is open to less-immediate major league help, maybe rising prospect Tyler Smith could be of interest. Top prospects Edwin Diaz and Alex Jackson are still a few years away from the majors and while I don’t love the term untouchable, they should only enter the conversation if Seattle is getting a top-flite young player with multiple years of control. Perhaps an ideal situation would be the Padres taking back old friend Seth Smith. With Justin Upton departing via free agency there is some need for additional outfield depth, and the money owed to Smith could balance out the finances some. A deal based on Smith and Taylor with a mid-level prospect going to San Diego could be a starting point, but I have a feeling another club will be able to offer more than Seattle can, either in player value or in portion of contract assumed. After dealing Carson Smith, Elias, Miller, and Patrick Kivlehan, the Mariners don’t really have the depth to make a significant deal without moving major league parts or young roster players. I don’t think that will or should stop Dipoto from trying to make a big splash, but it is a legitimate consideration. I think getting James Shields at three years and $45-to-50 million would be a solid buy based on what’s going on with free agency. Last winter Brandon McCarthy signed for four years and $48 million, and we already have J.A. Happ costing the Toronto Blue Jays $36 million over three years. There are other examples, but Shields at $15 million annually is a much better buy than either of those two starters at $12 million per. Given the demand for Shields, I don’t think the market will soften enough to the point where he fits what Dipoto wants to do. Until we hear a little more about what the potential ask might be, it’s tough to speculate on what the M’s would need to give up. If Shields does plan on opting out, which we won’t know for 11 months, it doesn’t make sense to pay a steep price for a rental. If the Padres were to deal him as a potential rental though, the asking price would likely reflect that. Maybe guaranteeing Shields’ 2019 option with an equal AAV to his other three years could convince him to drop the opt-out. That’s my own speculation though. Obviously every player makes sense at a certain price and Shields may not end up at a price that makes sense for Seattle. This may not be an idea worth pursuing, but it’s worth exploring in order to beef up the rotation for potentially the next couple seasons.Go!

It’s that time of year again. No, not that time where we are questioning why the grocery store has been playing Christmas music for four weeks despite the fact December only just begun. That time when baseball free agency reaches it’s peak: the annual Winter Meetings. This year thousands of executives will meet in Nashville, Tennessee for four days starting on Monday, and ending on Thursday with the Rule 5 Draft. We don’t know exactly what will happen over those four days, but we do know that David Price, Zack Greinke, Jeff Samardzija, and John Lackey won’t be part of numerous transactions that will take place. As Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins recently discussed, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto didn’t wait for the first week of December to begin shaping his roster. Already, seven players have been acquired via trade, seven via free agency, and three via waivers. Coming into the offseason, the outfield and pitching staff figured to be the primary issues needing to be resolved as well as the catching situation. Dipoto would be the first to tell you that the current iteration of the Mariners is far from ready for Opening Day, but let’s take a look at what has already been accomplished through the offseason’s first month and what still needs to be done. Rotation: Felix Hernandez, Taijuan Walker, Nate Karns, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, Mike Montgomery The only addition to the starting staff so far is Karns, who was the key piece coming back to Seattle in the multi-player deal that sent Brad Miller to the Tampa Bay Rays. Reportedly, the Mariners are ramping up their efforts to retain free agent Hisashi Iwakuma. Seattle is said to be the preference for the right-hander, but given the contracts given out free agents thus far, it’ll probably take a three-year guarantee and $45 million to get a deal done. I wouldn’t blame the Mariners for being uncomfortable with either of those numbers. However, after missing out on Greinke, I wouldn’t expect Iwakuma’s draft pick cost to be an issue for the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants. Regardless of Iwakuma’s situation, the Mariners need a No. 2 starter. Ideally, they get a No. 2 and a No. 3, which would allow Walker to start the year in the No. 4 slot. I wouldn’t expect Iwakuma to sign this week, but given how hot his market has become, it’s certainly possible. With Montgomery out of options, a couple depth pieces should also look to be added. Bullpen: Joaquin Benoit, Carson Smith, Charlie Furbush, Tony Zych, Anthony Bass, Vidal Nuno, David Rollins, Justin De Fratus, Rob Rasmussen Dipoto has already secured the eighth and ninth innings with the addition of Benoit. It’s not yet determined whether he or Smith will close, but the prevailing wisdom is that the veteran will begin the year in that role. Bass and De Fratus should fill the role in the pen left by the departed Tom Wilhelmsen and solidify things from the right side. Some work will need to be done on the left side though as Furbush recovers from surgery and Nuno will likely be in the mix for a back-end rotation spot. Rasmussen and Rollins offer some depth, but the club is without a shutdown lefty that most elite bullpens offer. Infield: Chris Iannetta, Steve Clevenger, Mike Zunino, Jesus Montero, Andy Wilkins, Robinson Cano, Ketel Marte, Kyle Seager, Luis Sardinas, Chris Taylor, Shawn O’Malley The catcher’s position that shortened the M’s lineup to eight spots throughout 2015 has been adequately restored with the additions of Iannetta and Clevenger. The pair will allow Zunino to start the year at No. 3 on the depth chart and be able to work his way back to the majors; an ideal situation. Wilkins and Sardinas join Taylor as infield depth. A bounce-back season from Cano, who’s currently recovering from hernia surgery, would represent a major upgrade on it’s own. With Mark Trumbo and Logan Morrison dealt, the first base position currently rests in Montero’s lap. Dipoto has all but said the former top prospect won’t be the club’s Opening Day first baseman and is working to supplement the position via trade. If Trumbo hadn’t of been dealt, the infield would have presumably been set. With nothing having changed since then, that’s the only hole that needs to be filled within the base paths. Outfield: Seth Smith, Franklin Gutierrez, Leonys Martin, Nori Aoki, Boog Powell, Daniel Robertson In just a few weeks Seattle has a fresh outfield, with a couple familiar faces, that could run laps around the outfields constructed by the previous regime. Literally. Martin was a buy-low candidate after a rough season and will provide a huge boost in center field. Gutierrez was re-signed to platoon with the lone holdover, Smith, in one of the corners with the newly acquired Aoki in the other. Powell and Robertson provide depth that is stronger than what James Jones — who was non-tendered by the Texas Rangers — or Stefen Romero would offer. The constant in the Mariners outfield acquisitions: athleticism, defensive skills, and the ability to get on base. I would expect another outfielder to enter the picture as a depth piece, particularly if Seth Smith is dealt. Overall though, the outfield is positioned to be a plus for the Mariners in 2016. There wasn’t a Jason Heyward added, but it could easily be argued that all three spots have already been improved. Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz One of the biggest benefits of the outfield re-haul is that it leaves little room for Cruz to be anything but a DH. This is a win-win scenario. Now, I don’t think there’s any reason to restrict Cruz as a DH-only. I have no problem seeing him in the outfield once, maybe twice a week at most. As it stands Cruz is the fourth or fifth best option to play the field instead of the second or third as he was last year. And I’ll say it because it bears repeating: Cruz is not going to become a first basemen. He simply doesn’t possess the capabilities to do so regardless of any predispositions that playing first is a mindless task. Big picture, a lot of the heavy lifting is done. In speaking to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, Dipoto expects at least one more trade to take place with multiple conversations having taken place or are ongoing. This makes sense as Dipoto suggests the club won’t be signing any marquee free agents this winter. Read: Chris Davis, most likely. I see the same two major needs that everyone else does right now: a No. 2 starter and a first baseman. A stronger left-handed presence in the bullpen should also be targeted. The fact that the outfield picture is all but solved — perhaps the most daunting task the new GM faced — is a huge plus. It’s been noted that Dipoto has yet to make a ‘signature’ move that will truly make the 2016 Mariners his team. With the presence of Felix, Cano, Cruz, and Seager there isn’t the need for more star power specifically. The current payroll situation likely doesn’t allow for another $20 million allocation. If I were to guess on a potential big move that could take place, and this is pure speculation, it would involve a young controllable starter. Probably not a Jose Fernandez type since, Walker aside, the M’s don’t really have the kind of bullets required. Whatever happens, it’s going to be a very fun next few days.Go!

Since taking over the reins of the Seattle Mariners’ baseball operations, GM Jerry Dipoto has maintained a frenetic pace while he reshapes the team’s roster. To date, he’s added 17 new players and shipped one of them – reliever C.J. Riefenhauser – in the deal that sent slugger Mark Trumbo to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for catcher Steve Clevenger. Considering that major league baseball’s Winter Meetings kick-off next week, observers of the Mariners are curious to see if Dipoto will continue to aggressively add new assets to the major and minor league rosters while he’s in Nashville. A few good men So, how much has the Emerald City’s baseball team changed since the start of last season? Of the 25 players who were on the team’s 2015 Opening Day roster, only 12 remain on the their 40-man roster. That’s as of today, of course. Take a look to see who’s left. Starting pitchers – Felix Hernandez, James Paxton, Taijuan WalkerRelief pitchers – Charlie Furbush, Tyler Olson, Carson SmithCatchers – Mike Zunino, Jesus SucreInfielders – Robinson Cano, Kyle SeagerOutfielders – Nelson Cruz, Seth Smith Considering that Dipoto has acquired two catchers and prefers to have Zunino start the season at Class-AAA Tacoma, it’s unlikely that the former number-three overall draft pick and Sucre will break camp with the team next year. That would bring the count down to 10 survivors. Dipoto’s predecessor – Jack Zduriencik – certainly had a hand in adding new faces. But, the Mariners’ new GM is the architect of the team’s new identity, which will rely upon getting on base, defense, depth, and athleticism. Since the 47-year-old has a track record that includes building a winner with his former organization – the Los Angeles Angels – I decided to look at “the Dipoto files” to see if there are any parallels between his acquisition history with Los Angeles and Seattle. Let’s start with the Mariners. New kid in town Dipoto has yet to pull of a blockbuster trade or sign a major free agent, but he’s found ways to quickly improve his club’s major league roster, while also improving minor league depth. Here’ a breakdown of his transactions and the players that he’s added since taking over on September 29. Trade Long-term FA Short-term FA Minor League FA Waivers 7 0 4 3 3 Nathan Karns Franklin Gutierrez Feliberto Bonilla Cody Martin Boog Powell Chris Iannetta Edinson Trinidad Daniel Robertson Joaquin Benoit Justin De Fratus Kyle Schepel Andy Wilkins Leonys Martin Nori Aoki Anthony Bass Steve Clevenger C.J. Riefenhauser (traded) The Mariners GM has been impressive as he’s transformed Seattle’s roster in such a short period. It’s not just the number of players that he’s added, but also the type of players and the pace that he’s maintained. Whether his moves lead to success will be determined at a much later date. But, his tenacity is extraordinary. LA confidential Dipoto became the GM of the Angels in October 2011 and held that post until he abruptly resigned on July 1 of this year. That gave him four off-seasons to help shape the club’s roster. The following table is a breakdown of his moves during that span. For the purposes of this discussion, any signing of a free agent to a major league contract for three years or longer is considered “long-term” and anything less was a “minor” signing. Trade Long-term FA Short-term FA Minor League FA Waivers Total 22 3 8 103 9 145 As you can see, the majority of transactions were via the trade market and minor league free agency. It’s important to note that team owner Arte Moreno reportedly spearheaded two of the three long-term free agent signings – Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton. The third was southpaw C.J. Wilson, who is still with the Angels. The fact that Los Angeles only signed three big free agents in four off-seasons can be attributed to two things. First, Dipoto has repeatedly stated that he views free agent signings as “supplemental” in nature. He prefers a more balanced approach to roster building. The other factor is the fact that the Pujols and Hamilton contracts significantly reduced payroll flexibility, which made building a supporting cast more challenging for Dipoto. It’s no coincidence that increasing payroll flexibility has been a priority of his since arriving in Seattle. Let’s look at the Los Angeles 2015 Opening Day 25-man roster – including the four players who were on the disabled list at the time– to see how Dipoto built his last roster with the Angels. The players highlighted in yellow were acquired during his time in the City of Angels. Trade Homegrown Long-term FA Short-term FA Waivers 14 9 3 2 1 Matt Joyce Kole Calhoun Albert Pujols Joe Smith Taylor Featherston David Freese Mike Trout C.J. Wilson Drew Rucinski Chris Iannetta Erick Aybar Josh Hamilton Johnny Giavotella C.J. Cron Drew Butera Efren Navarro Collin Cowgill Jered Weaver Hector Santiago Matt Shoemaker Huston Street Mike Morin Fernando Salas Garrett Richards Vinnie Pestano Cesar Ramos Jose Alvarez Cory Rasmus Tyler Skaggs Inheriting Jered Weaver and having players like Mike Trout and Garrett Richards in the pipeline certainly helped Dipoto build his roster. But, the above table reinforces that he prefers to build rosters with homegrown players, trades, and tactical free agent signings – not high-profile free agents. Final thoughts I don’t share a brain with Dipoto like Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill does, but I expect that the GM will continue to rely upon the trade market to improve his major and minor rosters. Signing high-profile free agents probably won’t occur very often, if ever. When it comes to free agency, Dipoto’s track record with the Angels suggests that his most frequent targets will be role players for his bench and bullpen. Occasionally, he’ll add a primary position player like Chris Iannetta. But, that won’t be the norm. With that said, he may need to turn to free agency to add one or two starting pitchers, especially if Hisashi Iwakuma doesn’t re-sign with the team. Even if Seattle doesn’t get every piece they seek by Opening Day, I’d advise fans to be patient and refer back to the “Dipoto files.” The GM isn’t averse to moving past mistakes and making in-season improvements, when needed. While with the Angels, Dipoto retooled his bullpen in 2014, which included adding closer Huston Street. That team went on to win 96 games. Mariners fans aren’t used to having a GM with so much energy who is also completely focused on achieving his strategy. Then again, fans aren’t accustomed to seeing a consistent winner at Safeco Field. Perhaps, Dipoto’s vigor and approach will be the perfect blend that changes that paradigm for Mariners faithful.Go!

December 1, 2015 will be known less for the trade that sent Mark Trumbo to the Baltimore Orioles, and entirely for David Price agreeing to take his talents to Beantown. But, it does mark week five of new general manager Jerry Dipoto‘s reconstruction of the Seattle Mariners. In the deal, the Orioles receive a presumed replacement for free agent slugger Chris Davis and left-handed reliever C.J. Riefenhauser. The Mariners receive Steve Clevenger, a catcher most notably known for being the other player the Chicago Cubs sent to Baltimore in the Jake Arrieta trade two summers ago. In Clevenger, Seattle adds some much needed major league calibre catching depth. The 29-year-old owns a 64 wRC+ in 446 career plate appearances, which is more than triple Jesus Sucre‘s career mark. Clevenger has hit well at Triple-A and posted a very respectable .287/.314/.426 slash line in 105 plate appearances for the O’s this past season. Clevenger has posted solid walk and strikeout rates throughout his minor league career and has also spent time at first and third base. You may be tired of hiring it by now — or perhaps it’s a breath of fresh air after the carousel of all-hit sluggers — but this is exactly the type of player Dipoto has targeted. On paper the left-hander will sit No. 2 to recent acquisition Chris Iannetta, which should push Opening Day catcher Mike Zunino to Triple-A. With two capable catchers now on the roster, the Mariners can allow their former first-round pick to spend the entire 2016 season in the minors to work on his hitting if it’s necessary. Flexibility. In Trumbo Baltimore gains a career .300 OBP first baseman — don’t pretend he’s still an outfielder — with the capacity for 30 home runs. He only hit 13 in four months with the M’s, but the combined 96 home runs between 2011 and 2013 is still tantalizing. Riefenhauser was acquired as part of the deal that sent Brad Miller to the Tampa Bay Rays and figured to be part of the bullpen competition come spring. Overall the Mariners are dealing a player who resembled a middle of the order bat perhaps more in reputation than performance. I thought he would have made a solid No. 5 or 6 hitter behind the triumvirate of Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager. But the resurgence of Franklin Gutierrez‘ power likely made the decision to deal Trumbo easier, if only slightly. Most importantly, this trade gives the Mariners what Dipoto has sought: flexibility. In his final round of salary arbitration before reaching free agency, the 29-year-old Trumbo was due approximately $9 million. Reportedly the Orioles tried to get Seattle to cover some of his projected salary, but were unsuccessful. This could be where the addition of Riefenhauser was required. Clevenger will play for the league minimum in 2016 and given that the position was going to cost the Mariners at least that much anyway, one could argue that the club has the entirety of Trumbo’s projected salary cleared for spending elsewhere. Now’s as good a time as any to mention that there’s no evidence to suggest the Mariners needed to move Trumbo’s salary due to budgetary restrictions. So let’s just leave that topic be. One area that newly found money could be spent is on starting pitching. As evidenced in free agent contracts given out to Price and former Mariner J.A. Happ, there’s a lot of money to be had if you are a free agent starter. As it stands, the M’s are not reported to be close to locking up Hisashi Iwakuma for 2016 and beyond. There were some rumblings the team was willing to go two years and $20-24 million in a deal. As has been stated in this space previously, there’s reason for Iwakuma to ask for three years and get it. And if not three years, a yearly salary more closely resembling the $15.8 million qualifying offer he declined. It’s conceivable that a couple of the saved millions could be allotted to Iwakuma or an equivalent starter. While talks with the right-hander continue, the Mariners will need to turn some attention towards who will play first base. The answer to that question is unlikely to come from within the organization. While I’d love to see a team rewarded for giving Jesus Montero a legitimate chance at winning a starting job in Spring Training, I don’t see it happening here. If he’s still on the club come March, there’s no reason not to give him a shot at making the team, but there’s still much to be proved. D.J. Peterson is slated to begin 2016 at Triple-A and could earn a second-half call-up with a strong start to the season. Otherwise the pickings are slim. And no, Cano will not be the Mariners first baseman in 2016. But as Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins eloquently wrote, it’s a sensible possibility for the near future. I don’t believe Chris Davis is a realistic option for this club despite the potential fit. Three players on contracts paying north of $20 million each per year doesn’t work. Unless, payroll were to increase by a proportional amount, which is still unlikely. Mike Napoli is an interesting free agent fit. The recently-turned 34-year-old is coming off a down year and has some injury concerns, but his career 125 wRC+ would play. Otherwise the free agent market offers Justin Morneau and Steve Pearce, who aren’t regulars, and Ike Davis who was non-tendered by the Oakland Athletics today. Davis hasn’t lived up to the hype that surrounded him while coming up in the New York Mets organization, but hits right-handers well and could be paired with a lefty-masher. The Chicago White Sox would probably love to deal Adam LaRoche and the $13 million remaining on his deal, but the left-hander is coming off his worst year since an injury-shortened 2011. Adam Lind could be a more suitable option with one-year and $8 million owed to him for 2016. He posted a 116 wRC+ with Milwaukee in 2015 but has a massive career platoon split: 130 wRC+ against right-handers and 54 wRC+ against left-handers. Conceivably the Brewers would be after pitching, or anything that would help, but it may not be in Seattle’s best interest to give up a controllable starter for half of a first base platoon. I have previously plead my case for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Scott Van Slyke, and he could still be a fit now. The Dodgers are again likely to move an outfielder and Van Slyke is capable of handling all three outfield positions as well as first base. He has a career .337 OBP and 120 wRC+ but has yet to be a starter for a full season. Picking up a back-up catcher is nice, but essentially the Mariners gave up a fringy reliever to rid themselves of the money potentially owed to Trumbo. If you remove Trumbo from the mix, since he could have been non-tendered anyway, the deal is Riefenhauser for Clevenger or a swapping of spare parts that fit needs. My takeaway is that there was a very small market for Trumbo. There were reports that the Colorado Rockies were interested for a few moments — imagine that power in Coors field — but they were the only other team connected to the slugger. I don’t see how the Mariners are better today than they were yesterday, but we won’t be able to judge this deal fairly until the money saved is spent. What they are today is more flexible, which has been Dipoto’s mandate thus far.Go!

  When starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma declined the Seattle Mariners’ qualifying offer of one-year for $15.8 million, it became clear that the team would be forced to compete with other major league clubs to bring the starting pitcher back to Seattle. The fact that the right-hander declined the offer comes to no surprise to most. It’s been widely reported that Iwakuma is looking for a multi-year deal. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has made it clear that retaining Iwakuma is an offseason priority for his club and reportedly, the veteran hurler wants to stay in Seattle. Keeping “Kuma” in the Emerald City should be a lock, right? Maybe. Much to the chagrin of some fans, Dipoto may be reluctant to offer Iwakuma the three-year deal that he’s reportedly seeking. Evidently, Seattle has offered a two-year contract with a vesting option for a third season. Another hurdle in keeping Iwakuma is the fact that he may have several suitors other than the Mariners. Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press tweeted that the Detroit Tigers were interested in the 34-year-old. Some teams may view Kuma as a less expensive alternative to top-tier free agents like Zack Greinke, David Price, or Johnny Cueto. If a market builds for Iwakuma, the Mariners could refrain from overpaying or over-obligating for the all-star starter. The advantage that Seattle has on their side is the qualifying offer. If Iwakuma signs with another team, Seattle would receive a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds of the 2016 amateur draft. Any team that signs Iwakuma would have to their surrender first-round pick for the 2016 draft unless the team holds one of the first 10 picks. Those teams would lose their second-round pick instead. Unfortunately for the Mariners and their fans, the Tigers own the number-nine overall pick. So, they’re legitimate competition for Iwakuma. Here is the entire first round draft order, plus the compensatory picks for next year’s draft. Losing Iwakuma would be a blow to the Mariners offseason plans, but it’s important to keep his value in perspective. Let’s look at his major league numbers. Year Age Tm W L ERA G GS CG SHO IP FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 2012 31 SEA 9 5 3.16 30 16 0 0 125.1 4.35 1.277 8.4 1.2 3.1 7.3 2013 ★ 32 SEA 14 6 2.66 33 33 0 0 219.2 3.44 1.006 7.3 1.0 1.7 7.6 2014 33 SEA 15 9 3.52 28 28 0 0 179.0 3.25 1.050 8.4 1.0 1.1 7.7 2015 34 SEA 9 5 3.54 20 20 1 1 129.2 3.74 1.064 8.1 1.2 1.5 7.7 AL (4 yrs) 47 25 3.17 111 97 1 1 653.2 3.62 1.082 8.0 1.1 1.7 7.6 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 11/15/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The 2013 season was the veteran right-hander’s first season as a full-time starter and it was by far his best season with the Mariners. Iwakuma started in 33 games and pitched a career-high 219 innings on his way to finishing third in Cy Young award voting. Unfortunately, the 2014 season didn’t get off to a good start when he reported to Spring Training with a strained tendon in his right middle finger. After missing the first month of the season, he pitched like his 2013 self until September when he struggled during his last five starts when the team was trying to make the postseason. Perhaps, the lack of Cactus League prep affected Iwakuma during the home stretch of the season or perhaps the veteran merely had a “rough patch” as Prospect Insider’s Tyler Carmont described it at the time. This past season, Iwakuma started poorly with three sub-par starts before going on the disabled list with a right lat strain after his April 20 start. However, he bounced back nicely after returning in in July by pitching 100 innings during the second half of the season and throwing a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles on August 12. All-in-all, Iwakuma has been a valuable pitcher during his stay in Seattle and he’s demonstrated the ability to be a number-two starter. However, he’ll be 35-years-old next season and is coming off two injury-shortened seasons. A team that intends to contend can’t rely on him to be their number-two starter entering 2016. A more realistic projection for Iwakuma going forward would be as a number-four starter. Sure, it’s possible that Iwakuma will have a great season next year. But, is it reasonable for a team to commit three years to an aging pitcher who’s only pitched over 200 innings once during his major league career and only twice in 11 seasons in Japan? Naturally, fans would like to see one of their favorites to return, but that’s not how winners are built. If there were a younger player available to sign, shouldn’t the Mariners explore that option? If the team is going to be forced to obligate three years to a pitcher, wouldn’t it make sense to obligate those years and dollars to a free agent like Mike Leake rather than Iwakuma? Here are the 27-year-old’s numbers since Iwakuma arrived in Seattle in 2012. Year Age Tm W L W-L% ERA G GS CG SHO IP FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 2012 24 CIN 8 9 .471 4.58 30 30 2 0 179.0 4.42 1.352 10.1 1.3 2.1 5.8 2013 25 CIN 14 7 .667 3.37 31 31 0 0 192.1 4.04 1.253 9.0 1.0 2.2 5.7 2014 26 CIN 11 13 .458 3.70 33 33 0 0 214.1 3.88 1.246 9.1 1.0 2.1 6.9 2015 27 TOT 11 10 .524 3.70 30 30 2 1 192.0 4.20 1.161 8.2 1.0 2.3 5.6 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 11/15/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The right-hander isn’t in the class of elite pitchers like Price or Greinke, but he’d be a nice fit as a replacement for Iwakuma. It’s true that Leake’s numbers aren’t at the same level of Iwakuma’s. However, his stuff should play well at Safeco Field and – thanks to his age – there’s a better chance that he’d be worth his asking price than Iwakuma, even if that means a five-year commitment. Leake isn’t the only player who could help the Mariners fill out their rotation instead of committing three years to Iwakuma. Former Mariner Doug Fister – also a free agent – would also make more sense. Like Kuma, Fister has experienced availability issues in recent years and would likely cost a team less in dollars and years. Bear in mind that signing Iwakuma to a third year would mean that the Mariners would paying a 38-year-old starting pitcher $13-15 million in 2018 when Nelson Cruz will be approaching the same age and earning similar money, plus a 35-year-old Robinson Cano will be banking $24 million. Does paying approximately $52 million to three players – who are over the age of 35 – sound like a business model for sustainable success? Retaining Hisashi Iwakuma for two years is an acceptable risk. Otherwise, there are other options – via free agency and trade – who would be more cost efficient than Iwakuma and just as effective or even better in 2016 and beyond.  Go!

Just last week, Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill highlighted starting pitching and the bullpen as two deficiencies that the Mariners will need to address during the offseason. Jason opined that the team needed two pitchers to follow ace Felix Hernandez so that young arms Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Roenis Elias, and Mike Montgomery could compete for the final two spots in the rotation with the losers being used as trade bait or needed depth. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto and Jason may share a brain because Dipoto made his first major deal yesterday and it involved adding pitching depth. Seattle acquired right-handed starting pitcher Nate Karns and southpaw reliever C.J. Riefenhauser – along with well-regarded outfield prospect Boog Powell – from the Tampa Bay Rays for shortstop Brad Miller, first baseman Logan Morrison, and reliever Danny Farquhar. Karns doesn’t fit the bill as a one of the starters that Jason referred to in his piece, but the 27-year-old adds much needed depth and you can never have enough starting pitching. Look no further than the Mariners 2015 season as proof. As the season opened, it seemed like the Mariners had plenty of starting pitching. Walker had won the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation and Elias was dispatched to Class-AAA Tacoma to serve as a back-up plan. Plus, the team had flipped Erasmo Ramirez for Montgomery adding more minor league depth. Then, the season began. Injuries to Hisashi Iwakuma and Paxton limited them to 20 and 13 starts respectively. Plus, there were inning limits placed on Walker and Montgomery. On top of that, Walker, Elias, and J.A. Happ struggled with consistency and Happ was dealt at the trading deadline. All in all, the Mariners used 10 starters last season. 2015 Seattle Mariners Starting Pitchers Felix Hernandez Taijuan Walker Hisashi Iwakuma J.A. Happ James Paxton Roenis Elias Mike Montgomery Vidal Nuno Edgar Olmos Tony Zych All of this upheaval certainly made the stomachs of fans churn as the 2015 season unraveled. But, needing so many starting pitchers shouldn’t be considered a “Mariners thing.” History shows us that every team needs many more arms than their projected starting five to survive a 162-game season. Since the 2000 season, major league teams have used an average of 10 starting pitchers during each season. The lone team to use only five starters since then were the 2003 Mariners. That staff was comprised of Ryan Franklin, Freddy Garcia, Gil Meche, Jamie Moyer, and Joel Pineiro. Conversely, the 2006 Kansas City Royals, 2004 Texas Rangers, and 2003 Cincinnati Reds are tied for using the most starters in one season at 17. You may be thinking that those three teams couldn’t have been very good. That was my first thought. But, that’s not completely accurate. Yes, the Royals and Reds had losing records with the Kansas City losing 100 games. But, the 2003 Rangers won 89 games under manager Buck Showalter and only finished three games out of first place. So, what about this year? Let’s take a look at the ten postseason entrants to see how many starters they needed. # SPs  Team(s) 16    Los Angeles Dodgers 13    Houston Astros 12    Texas Rangers     /   Toronto Blue Jays 10    Chicago Cubs      /    Kansas City Royals      /   New York Mets      /   New York Yankees    9    St. Louis Cardinals 8    Pittsburgh Pirates It may be a surprise to some of you that most of this year’s playoff teams were in double-digits with starting pitchers. Despite all of the fanfare that the New York Mets’ staff received during the postseason, they needed 10 starters to get through the season – just like their World Series opponent and the Mariners. Okay, so it’s clear that the Mariners will need more than five or six starters to make it through a six-month season and a potential postseason run. But, that’s only part of the challenge that awaits Mariners management. Look at how many relief pitchers that each playoff team used this year. Bear in mind that I’m only counting pitchers who pitched 100-percent of their innings as a reliever – starters used out of the bullpen or a reliever used as a spot starter are not included below. # RPs  Team(s) 23    New York Yankees    19    Chicago Cubs        /   Texas Rangers   16    New York Mets    /   Toronto Blue Jays 15    Los Angeles Dodgers 14    St. Louis Cardinals   /   Kansas City Royals    13    Pittsburgh Pirates 11    Houston Astros Even the best teams needed lots of relief help to get through the season. That was the case in Seattle too. Mariners fans are well-versed on the club’s relief corps regression from 2014 excellence to 2015 unreliability. In total, the Mariners used 18 pitchers who appeared exclusively in the relief role. As with the starters, the need for bullpen depth can’t be overstated. Help can come from the trade market – like it did yesterday – or the waiver wire like right-hander Cody Martin who was picked from the Oakland Athletics last month. But, the competition is steep because every team is trying to augment their bullpen. There’s no guarantee that Martin will make the 25-man roster or even be with the Mariners organization when next season begins, but acquiring multiple arms – like Martin and Riefenhauser – increases the chances of building the major and minor league depth needed to compete well into the postseason. That’s why the minor leagues is the first place teams look for help. Unfortunately for the Mariners, that a bit’s of a challenge. Anyone familiar with the organization already knows that Seattle has lagged behind with player development in recent years. This has contributed to the club not having the necessary depth to properly react to injury or poor performance at the big league level. Both GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais have both touched on this during their introductory press conferences. A lack of minor league depth poses a challenge for any front office, especially a new one with many needs that go beyond pitching. Here’s a look at who’s available to the new regime on the Mariners 40-man roster. Free agents Iwakuma and Joe Beimel aren’t listed. Pitchers on Seattle Mariners 40-man Roster Felix Hernandez Carson Smith Mayckol Guaipe Jose Ramirez Taijuan Walker Vidal Nuno Charlie Furbush J.C. Ramirez Hisashi Iwakuma Edgar Olmos Nate Karns Cody Martin Roenis Elias James Paxton Edgar Olmos Danny Hultzen Mike Montgomery Tony Zych David Rollins  C.J. Riefenhauser Tom Wilhelmsen Tyler Olson Rob Rasmussen   When fans read that Seattle has added the likes of Martin, they should be encouraged that club is aggressively trying to add the depth needed to compete. Yes, it’s true that these minor moves aren’t sexy. But, they can be difference makers in a time of need. Most will not work out, but a few will. Last year, the Mariners added the likes of David Rollins, Beimel, Sam Gaviglio, Edgar Olmos, Joe Saunders during the offseason and then Vidal Nuno in the Mark Trumbo deal in early June and Rob Rasmussen, J.C Ramirez, and Jose Ramirez prior to the deadline. Some never pitched in the big leagues and others didn’t perform well with the Mariners. But, Beimel and Nuno made positive contributions in 2015. The challenge for the new Mariners front office will be balancing the need to add position player depth without compromising pitching depth. Assuming that the team Dipoto-Churchill mind-meld continues and Seattle adds two more starters to the rotation, the “excess” starters would be attractive commodities in the trade market and could help Dipoto fill-out needs at other positions. Whether the team opts to hold onto their depth or use it in the trade market will be one of the tougher choices facing Dipoto during his first year on the job. Holding on to Iwakuma would make it easier to dispatch a young arm in a deal. But, the return of “Kuma” isn’t certain. Regardless of what the Mariners GM decides, you can bank on the team needing much more pitching than the 12-13 hurlers who make the 2016 Opening Day 25-man roster. There’s no doubt that Dipoto is banking on it too.Go!

  The end of the World Series signals that the Hot Stove season is upon us. Free agency starts in a few days, the GM meetings follow next week, and the Winter Meetings are only a month away. The games may be over, but there’s no offseason for front offices –  including the Seattle Mariners. As the Mariners ramp up their efforts to get better, baseball blogs will also be bustling with activity. There will be both analysis on potential deals and passionate reader reaction. In that vein, Hot Stove speculation can be entertaining, frustrating, or enlightening – sometimes all three at once depending on the source and the method of delivery. This year will be no different. Fans can expect a long list of players associated with the Mariners in trade rumors. But, most of these players won’t be playing for Seattle next year. Who cares though? There’s six months without baseball. So, talking about baseball trades, free agency, and prospects is the next best available option for a die-hard fan. One stark reality to consider when engaging in Hot Stove speculation is that it’s hard to know whether a newly added big leaguer will actually pay off. Will they be worth it or will they be a bust? Every fan knows what I’m talking about. Mariners fans can look at two deals separated by five years, but worlds apart in recouped value. It’s fair to say that most Mariners fan are happy that the team signed slugger Nelson Cruz during last offseason, although that wasn’t the case at the time of the all-star’s signing. Even fans who were happy that Cruz came to Seattle probably didn’t envision that he’d hit 40-plus home runs while playing half of his games at Safeco. Conversely, plenty of fans embraced the signing of infielder Chone Figgins when he arrived in Seattle before the 2010 season. Given the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, no fan likes the Figgins deal now. Unfortunately, baseball executives don’t have the benefit of a crystal ball. Since none of us can predict the future, I thought it’d be fun to look back at the most frequently mentioned players in Mariners trade rumors and Prospect Insider discussions and see how they did with their new teams in 2015. Did the Mariners hit or miss on “the ones that got away?” The ground rules I’ve used to look back are relatively straightforward. With the exception of Justin Upton and Mark Trumbo, I only focused on position players who changed addresses during the offseason and were either mentioned in a Prospect Insider piece or suggested by our readers. My reasoning for not discussing pitchers is that Seattle was never a serious player for notable pitchers, especially after trading for J.A. Happ. To help compare the offensive production of players, I decided to use the “slash” statistics of batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging percentage. Any of these stats that were at-or-below league-average have been highlighted in yellow. League-averages for 2015 and every season can be found here at baseball-reference.com. First, let’s look at the most frequently mentioned Mariners trade targets from last offseason. The first two on the below table – Justin Upton and Matt Kemp – ended up as teammates with the San Diego Padres, while Yoenis Cespedes was traded twice since the completion of last season. First, he went to the Detroit Tigers who then sent him to the New York Mets at the July 31 trading deadline. Name PA Age Tm G H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Justin Upton 620 27 SDP 150 136 26 3 26 .251 .336 .454 .790 Matt Kemp 648 30 SDP 154 158 31 3 23 .265 .312 .443 .755 Jason Heyward 610 25 STL 154 160 33 4 13 .293 .359 .439 .797 Evan Gattis 604 28 HOU 153 139 20 11 27 .246 .285 .463 .748 Dexter Fowler 690 29 CHC 156 149 29 8 17 .250 .346 .411 .757 Yoenis Cespedes 676 29 TOT 159 184 42 6 35 .291 .328 .542 .870 Adam Lind 572 31 MIL 149 139 32 0 20 .277 .360 .460 .820 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 10/5/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Acquiring most of these players would have cost the Mariners a significant number of prospects. In Kemp’s case, Seattle would have needed to part with prospects – and maybe James Paxton or Taijuan Walker – plus assume his large salary that runs through 2019. Most of the remaining players – Upton, Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler, Adam Lind, and Cespedes – will be free agents in just a few days. The Houston Astros acquired Evan Gattis by trading three prospects who started the 2015 season ranked in the top-20 of the Atlanta Braves’ minor league system. Although getting Gattis wouldn’t have been as expensive as Kemp, adding a defensively limited power hitter with a career .296 on-base percentage would still have been costly for a Seattle organization that ended 2015 with very few top prospects above the Class-A level. Would it have made sense for the Mariners to part with important pieces like Paxton, Walker, or Hisashi Iwakuma or prospects like Ketel Marte, D.J. Peterson or Alex Jackson for one-year commitments from Upton, Heyward, Fowler, Lind, or Cespedes? Or players like Kemp and Gattis? Next up are free agents who changed teams, but didn’t sign with Seattle. Based on their 2015 records, I’d describe this group as “underwhelming” when compared to the trade targets. Most were at-or-below league-average in multiple offensive categories, although Nori Aoki had a positive offensive season and Russell Martin provided value at the plate and from behind it. Otherwise, this group was unimpressive in 2015. Name PA Age Tm G H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Alex Rios 411 34 KCR 105 98 22 2 4 .255 .287 .353 .640 Colby Rasmus 485 28 HOU 137 103 23 2 25 .238 .314 .475 .789 Hanley Ramirez 430 31 BOS 105 100 12 1 19 .249 .291 .426 .717 Russell Martin 507 32 TOR 129 106 23 2 23 .240 .329 .458 .787 Torii Hunter 567 39 MIN 139 125 22 0 22 .240 .293 .409 .702 Chase Headley 642 31 NYY 156 150 29 1 11 .259 .324 .369 .693 Jonny Gomes 262 34 TOT 95 48 9 0 7 .213 .313 .347 .660 Michael Cuddyer 408 36 NYM 117 98 18 1 10 .259 .309 .391 .699 Melky Cabrera 683 30 CHW 158 172 36 2 12 .273 .314 .394 .709 Billy Butler 601 29 OAK 151 135 28 1 15 .251 .323 .390 .713 Nori Aoki 392 33 SFG 93 102 12 3 5 .287 .353 .380 .733 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 10/5/2015. xxxxxxxxxxx Two international free agents received a great deal of attention at Prospect Insider. Cuban Yasmany Tomas and Jung Ho Kang from South Korea were widely sought after by many teams, although the Mariners weren’t mentioned as an interested party in national media reports. That didn’t stop discussions at PI though. Before his season-ending knee injury on September 17, Kang put up impressive numbers for the Pittsburgh Pirates while splitting his time between third base and shortstop. Although Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs is the front-runner for National League Rookie of the Year, the 28-year-old will certainly receive votes after a superb rookie campaign. Tomas, conversely, may have not lived up to the lofty expectations that comes with a six-year/$68.5 million dollar deal. But, his first season was hardly a bust and he’ll only be 25-years-old next season. Name PA Age Tm G H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Yasmany Tomas 426 24 ARI 118 111 19 3 9 .273 .305 .401 .707 Jung Ho Kang 467 28 PIT 126 121 24 2 15 .287 .355 .461 .816 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 10/5/2015. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Seattle actually acquired a few players mentioned in PI pieces or by readers. The most notable was Cruz. The question going forward will be whether the 35-year-old can sustain his success for the next three seasons, while earning $14.25 million annually. The other key player added prior to the season was Seth Smith. Some may criticize Smith’s overall numbers, but he did his job – hit right-handed pitching. He hit 11 of his 12 home runs against righties with a slash of .255/.343/.458. His numbers were solid and he reinforced his reputation as a professional major league hitter. Overall, the Mariners did well with the Cruz and Smith deals – both provided value and met or exceeded expectations. Many may point to Trumbo’s second-half slash of .284/.343/.472 as reason for optimism going into 2016, but his season totals aren’t significantly better than his career .250/.300/.458 slash. Plus, the 29-year-old has yet to establish himself at a defensive position and will likely command over $9 million at arbitration. His best chance to remain in Seattle will be at first base, although it’s important to note that GM Jerry Dipoto has traded the right-handed slugger once before when they were both with the Los Angels Angels. Name Age Tm G PA H 2B 3B HR BA OBP SLG OPS Mark Trumbo 29 TOT 142 545 133 23 3 22 .262 .310 .449 .759 Seth Smith 32 SEA 136 452 98 31 5 12 .248 .330 .443 .773 Kendrys Morales 32 KCR 158 639 165 41 2 22 .290 .362 .485 .847 Nelson Cruz 34 SEA 152 655 178 22 1 44 .302 .369 .566 .936 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 10/5/2015. xxxxxxxxxxx I included Kendrys Morales with the new Mariners since he was the only significant position player to leave Seattle in 2014. The switch-hitter had a great season with the World Series champion Kansas City Royals and proved to be worth the Royals’ two-year/$17 million dollar investment. For those who are inclined to bemoan the fact that the Mariners didn’t resign Morales, it’s important to note that he didn’t want to remain in Seattle and was never a realistic option for Seattle. My takeaway from this ride down memory lane is that high profile Hot Stove targets tend to look better on paper than they’ll actually perform on the field. I’m not saying that fans shouldn’t speculate and pine for big name players. Heck, it’s fun to talk about this stuff! Just bear in mind that most won’t play at the level of Nelson Cruz. Regardless of who you think that the Mariners should get this offseason, please visit Prospect Insider often to get our latest analysis on players and acquisitions – plus let us know what you think in the comments section. Finally, six months without baseball makes the winter a bit colder. So, have fun with the Hot Stove season as we await Opening Day!  Go!

It’s still September, so expecting a blockbuster trade or even a major decision right away is asking too much. We could hear about decisions on Lloyd McClendon and some other scouting and player development changes in the next few days to few weeks, but we’re probably a month or more away from any significant player decisions by new Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto. Some already are speculating a blockbuster deal involving Robinson Cano or Nelson Cruz to start off Dipoto’s tenure in Seattle. Don’t count on it. Not only are trades difficult to make, but president Kevin Mather stated all along that he doesn’t believe any kind of immediate tear down is necessary and it might be difficult for Dipoto to convince Mather and the ownership that trading Cruz or Cano isn’t just that — even though dealing one of them isn’t necessarily a sign of the club going all fire sale this offseason. I’d shop Cruz, too. I fully expect the first official player moves to be minor, but once November hits I think three moves are more likely than anything else: Hisashi Iwakuma This, clearly, will be mandated to some level by ownership, and it’s a deal everyone expects to get done rather easily. We’re probably talking about a two-year deal, or at least something short-term that is more than merely a one-year deal for the right-hander. Mark Trumbo, Seth Smith Trumbo has been solid since his first-month struggles after the Mariners acquired the slugger. He batted .134/.165/.183 in June but .318/.356/.447 in July, .263/.345/.566 in August and through Monday was batting .305/.360/.463 in September. Dipoto has traded Trumbo once already, but the reason it could happen again include Trumbo’s one-dimensional value, lack of fit for the ballpark and a projected arbitration-generated salary for 2016 that could land in the $8.5-9.5 million range. It’s a number the Mariners certainly can handle, but if Dipoto is looking to reallocate payroll to other areas, there’s an opportunity here. Smith, who has had a solid season, too, is in the same boat, though his contract is for $7.5 million guaranteed in 2016 with a 2017 option. Don’t be shocked if both are moved, especially if Dipoto sees Miller as an outfield option. Pitching If Dipoto has been watching — and we know he has been, the dude is a junkie — he’s seen a lot of legitimate offensive performances over the past three-plus months. Beyond Cruz, Cano, Trumbo and Kyle Seager, Ketel Marte and Brad Miller have been consistent contributors. and even Jesus Montero has flashed a bit. The offense, generally speaking, no longer survives as the club’s most glaring weakness. It’s the run prevention that hasn’t done its job, and that starts with the pitching staff. There will be trade candidates, free agents and reclamation projects available. Expect Dipoto to jump into this market early, well beyond re-signing Iwakuma. The bullpen needs to be rebuilt, the rotation needs at least one No. 3 starter and perhaps a veteran innings eater, too. The outfield defense will get better under Dipoto, and probably immediately, but loading up on arms is unquestionably going to be something the new regime attacks aggressively. Surprises? I’m not saying Cruz won’t be traded, but it’s very unlikely, at least early in the offseason. But I could see a few surprise moves taking place, perhaps even trading Miller and/or right-hander Taijuan Walker. Walker may never be more valuable with five years of service remaining and now a solid 29-start campaign (3.83 FIP) under his belt. I warn fans not be shocked, either, if the Mariners’ pursuit of starting pitching doesn’t reach the elite names including Johnny Cueto, David Price and Zack Greinke. I don’t expect the club to land any of them, necessarily, but I don’t believe the club is simply done with large contracts, either. I’ll discuss specific targets during the World Series.Go!

The Seattle Mariners did well to attain some value for assets on expiring contracts, as well as Dustin Ackley, prior to Friday’s trade deadline. Both Mark Lowe and J.A. Happ were set to hit free agency at season’s end. The list of pending free agents also includes Fernando Rodney and Austin Jackson, but with having a rather terrible season and the other not garnering much interest, hanging on to the pair is understandable. One more name is on that list, and curiously never seemed to be all that much available: Hisashi Iwakuma. On Sunday, we received some form of clarity as to why Kuma wasn’t moved or even made available, via Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe: “Teams came after Hisashi Iwakuma, but the Mariners wouldn’t deal him, figuring they can sign the free agent-to-be for another season or two.” Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill sums up the Iwakuma situation in his analysis of the Mariners trade deadline. The major takeaways: trading the starter now doesn’t mean he couldn’t be re-signed in the offseason, and re-sign or not, hanging on to him was a mistake. I have no qualms with bringing Iwakuma back in 2016 — it’s not like the Mariners don’t need the depth. My problem exists with whether or not the Seattle is willing to live in the reality of the situation. At season’s end Iwakuma will be a pitcher who’s entering his age-35 season with time spent on the disabled in consecutive years and a home run rate that’s doubled what it was previously. Iwakuma’s 3.37 xFIP on the year tells us that if his home run rate returned to normal, his numbers would be similar to what he’s done in his short major league career. There is reason for optimism here, and Saturday’s 8 and 2/3 near-shutout performance against the Minnesota Twins offers a sterling reminder of that. But the risk is evident and counting on the native of Japan to perform as a No. 2 starter next year is silly. With Major League Baseball flush with cash and teams willing to pay a premium for ‘what could be’, there isn’t much reason to suggest Iwakuma will sign cheap. Certainly there’s a good possibility that he takes something of a hometown discount. After all, Seattle has a noted history with Japanese players and offers strong organizational support as well as proximity to the home country. The 34-year-old earned $7 million for the 2015 season and despite a down season could still command. Here are a few examples from this past offseason as to what teams were willing to pay for similar starters. Brett Anderson — one year, $10 million plus incentives The left-hander is a prime example of a player with sufficient talent but an inability to stay on the field. In 2009 he had a very good season for the Oakland Athletics, but it’s the only year he’s managed to make 30 starts. Including this year, he’s thrown just over 600 innings in his seven-year career. Anderson’s impact when he is on the field is obvious: his eight starts last year produced an even 1.0 fWAR, even while pitching in Colorado. He’s been healthy in 2015 though, and owns a 3.29 ERA and 3.65 FIP in 117 and 2/3 innings of work. Edinson Volquez — two years, $20 million Acquired by the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Josh Hamilton, Volquez have a career year in 2008 before struggling with injuries from 2009 to 2011. Upon joining the San Diego Padres in 2012, the right-hander would start a string of three-plus healthy seasons. His career numbers, a 4.30 ERA, a 4.27 FIP, and a 4.37 BB/9 aren’t inspiring, but he’s become a solid back-end of the rotation starter. Volquez is in the midst of another good season with the Kansas City Royals, holding a 3.20 ERA and 3.84 FIP in 22 starts. Justin Masterson — one year, $9.5 million plus incentives The former second-round pick was consistently an above average starter between 2010 and 2013, including a 4.3 fWAR 2011 season. Things went off the rails in 2014 though, as Masterson battled health and mechanical issues. He was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals at the deadline that year but the move to the National League didn’t help as he ended up in the bullpen after just six starts. It’s been a difficult 2015 with command becoming an issue, too. Masteron posted a 6.14 ERA in nine starts before being moved to the bullpen after the All-Star break. All three pitchers signed at a younger age than Iwakuma will, with Volquez being the oldest of the bunch at 32. A.J. Burnett was able to secure a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates at age 38. But Burnett took a hometown discount coming off a down year — a 4.59 ERA and a 4.14 FIP in 213 and 1/3 innings pitched — that was preceded by a solid stretch including 7.3 fWAR between 2012 and 2013 with Pittsburgh. The starting pitching market for medium-level starters didn’t greatly exaggerate this past winter like we have seen it do. But teams don’t seem to have a problem gambling on a starter with question marks at a rate of one-year and $10 million or so. A great example is back in January 2010 when the Oakland Athletics gave Ben Sheets, who sat out the entire 2009 season recovering from elbow surgery, a $10 million guarantee for the upcoming season. Sheets would make 20 starts for the A’s posting a 4.53 ERA and a 4.71 FIP. With all that in mind, Iwakuma has a good shot at a one-year deal around $10 million, perhaps after reaching a few incentives. Barring some sort of late season renaissance that a team is willing to buy into, he will fall short of what is projected to be a $15-to-16 million qualifying offer. There just isn’t enough stock to pay Kuma $15 million right now. Although $15 million in free agent dollars doesn’t buy what it used to, the starter has been a replacement level player this season. The language in the right-hander’s contract may or may not protect him from receiving a QO — things are still unclear — but I’d be hedging my bets that he’d accept one. Younger players have had their own sorts of trouble finding a market after declining one. I’m not sure what a hometown discount looks like for Kuma. If he’s willing to sign a one-year deal with a base salary around $7 million there’s room for upside. An $11 million guarantee isn’t likely to be a worthwhile endeavour. Given the projected crop of free agent arms available this winter, it’s not like the Mariners won’t have other options for the rotation. Seattle probably won’t be in the market for the David Price‘s or Johnny Cueto‘s — or even the Jeff Samardzija‘s — of the market, but other names like Yovani Gallardo and Tim Lincecum could be targets. Is that money better spent on one of those arms instead? I’m not sure. But as a pitcher who has missed half a season and been inconsistent when healthy, the risk with Iwakuma may start to outweigh the reward. Though he flashes signs of it, it’s apparent that he’s no longer the pitcher he was in 2013. And if a team is willing to give Anderson or Masterson $10 million, another team probably does that for Iwakuma — and it shouldn’t be the Mariners.Go!

With the trade deadline only days away and the Seattle Mariners currently on the outside looking in, much space has been put towards dissecting what exactly the team should do this week. Should the M’s be sellers? Could they be buyers? Sitting 9.5 games back in the division and 6.5 games back of a wild card berth entering Tuesday’s games likely suggest the former more so than the latter. Whatever the case, getting a head start on filling holes for next season should be more important than attempting an incremental upgrade for the season’s final two months. There’s enough talent on the ball club that a hot stretch in August could put them back in the wild card race, but not enough performance to merit another acquisition to bolster the club in 2015 alone. The players most often discussed as being pieces to sell — Hisashi Iwakuma, J.A. Happ, Austin Jackson, Fernando Rodney, and Mark Lowe — are free agents. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill mentions Brad Miller and D.J. Peterson among other names that have been brought up in conversations. Starting with the rotation, the potential departures of Happ and Iwakuma open two spots. Despite his prolongued stint on the disabled list, Iwakuma has played the crucial role of No. 2 starter as recently as last year and has flashed glimpses of having his stuff back since returning. Happ has been excellent in the back-end of the rotation and owns a 3.77 FIP in 104 and 1/3 innings of work. Felix Hernandez isn’t going anywhere while Taijuan Walker should have one of next year’s rotation slots essentially locked up at this point. Both Mike Montgomery and Roenis Elias have had success in the big leagues this year and are solid options. James Paxton is still on the disabled list with an injured finger and a return doesn’t appear imminent. A rotation of Felix, Walker, Montgomery, Elias, and Paxton has plenty of upside, but none of the non-Felix pitchers really stand out. Walker could presumably take another step forward as a solid No. 3 starter but Elias and Montgomery project more as back-end guys. With the potential loss of Iwakuma, there will be a hole in the rotation, particularly in the No. 2 spot. A healthy and effective Paxton can fill that role, though he has thrown barely over 130 innings since Opening Day 2014 — the track record simply isn’t there. Seattle will need more out of what’s been a league average rotation this year and an additional veteran starter will be required as well as the usual depth. The bullpen has almost literally gone from first to worst. What was a strong point last year has been a weakness this year. Rodney has turned into a pumpkin — though he may have been tipping his pitches — while Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Farquhar have taken their turns heading up and down the I-5. The Bartender has been better of late, though, and his peripherals suggest he’s outperforming his earned run average. The good news is that Carson Smith has adapted nicely to his role as closer and has been excellent. Vidal Nuno and Charlie Furbush are doing well enough in their roles. Gone are Yoervis Medina and Dominic Leone, dealt for Welington Castillo and Mark Trumbo respectively. The dealings of relievers for bats, including Brandon Maurer in the winter, have eaten away at the depth that existed in 2014. If Lowe leaves as a free agent, the Mariners will need to find eighth inning help, which never seems to come cheap in free agency. The bullpen likely needs an additional major league arm or two as well. It’s possible Nuno competes for a rotation spot but has otherwise worked out well enough in the bullpen. The infield picture is a little more clear with Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager both locked into long-term extensions. Seager is in the midst of another excellent season while Cano is enjoying a red-hot July and finally showing signs of life after a terrible first half. Miller is also having a solid season and has a firm grasp on the starting shortstop job with Chris Taylor still waiting in the wings. As has been the problem for more than a few years now, first base needs an upgrade. After showing progress with the bat last year, Logan Morrison holds an 87 wRC+ and has been replacement level. Mark Trumbo has been better recently, but his season performance is still below league average. Both players are under team control through 2016 so it’s unlikely Seattle seeks a significant upgrade, though there’s an argument that it’s still needed. Behind the plate Mike Zunino has still played solid defence and picked things up with the bat this past week, but has struggled to hit his weight throughout the season. A trip to Triple-A has been suggested as a potential antidote the struggles at the plate. He’s still only 24 and could very well be the catcher of the future still, but the team needs a second catcher capable of playing three times per week — that’s the real issue. Doing without is only hurting Zunino in the short and long-term. The outfield picture will become even less clear with Jackson set to depart. Seth Smith is under contract for another year and is enjoying an excellent season as a platoon bat in the corners. Nelson Cruz has played right field more than anyone is comfortable with and that will probably continue next year. If manager Lloyd McLendon is smart it won’t, but it’ll likely depend in part on his other options. Rickie Weeks and Justin Ruggiano were brought onboard to solidify a pair of outfield platoons but are no longer on the big league team. There’s an increasing chance that Seattle will move on from Dustin Ackley before next spring. Franklin Gutierrez has had a nice return but is likely best-served as one-half of a platoon. He’s a free agent at the end of the year, but it’s not difficult to envision him being kept in the fold beyond. Assuming Smith, Cruz, and Trumbo are returning and the others not, Seattle will need an outfielder capable of playing center field and another corner bat. Smith and Cruz can probably handle right field duties and Trumbo isn’t really an outfielder. Talk of turning Miller into a super utility player a la Ben Zobrist has cooled but there is a real possibility shortstop prospect Katel Marte could eventually convert to an outfielder. Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins was on hand to see Marte’s outfield debut for the Tacoma Rainiers and opined that the youngster is going to need time to make the defensive adjustments. By many accounts his bat is big league ready, but we probably won’t know how viable of an option he is until Spring Training. By my count, when constructing the 2016 edition of the Seattle Mariners there is at least one need in the rotation, a couple holes to fill in the bullpen, perhaps help at first base and definitely behind the plate, and two-thirds of the outfield will need to be revamped. Seattle lacks the type of players that command high prospect prices at the trade deadline which makes them a less traditional seller. There’s no reason to think that Jackson and Iwakuma couldn’t net a couple decent prospects — probably nothing that helps the M’s immediately. If neither player is part of the future plans, there’s no reason to let them walk for nothing when they could be traded for something. Even Happ would be an upgrade for a club in need of some short-term pitching help and you can’t forget about Lowe as a potential trade piece — teams are always looking for bullpen help this time of the year. It won’t be easy for the Mariners to admit defeat on a season that was riddled with expectations, but it’s not as though the window for a playoff berth has closed. The core of the club is in place long-term. But as we can see, there are several holes that need to be filled — some remaining from this past offseason. If possible, the Mariners should be looking to get a head start on filling those holes. Now is as good a time as any and selling the pieces that are about to become free agents can help solve potential problems in 2016 and down the road.Go!