Nobody, perhaps not even the front office itself, knows exactly what comes next for the Seattle Mariners after GM Jerry Dipoto has turned over the roster in recent weeks. But despite GM speak that includes tones and words that discourage fans and lead them to believe the dealing is pretty much done, the Mariners have work to do if they wish to compete in the American League West in 2016.
No. 2 Starting Pitcher
It’s been discussed quite a bit on multiple platforms, but the Mariners’ current projected starting rotation is missing a piece. Acquiring Wade Miley was a fine addition, but another No. 2 or No. 3 starter type is necessary in my opinion, especially since almost no matter what happens with the bullpen between now and the start the of the season, the M’s won’t be able to Royal up, which is to make games five and six-inning affairs, curbing the necessity for five starters that can cover innings and do so effectively.
The markets strongly suggest Seattle will not dive into Scott Kazmir or Mike Leake anytime soon, and Johnny Cueto never made a lot of sense for the Mariners. The club doesn’t need any more No. 5 starters, so the Jeremy Guthrie types make no sense.
Depending on cost, however, there are some free agent names that could fit:
Henderson Alvarez, RHP
Was non-tendered by Miami after a tough season that included a shoulder injury. That injury is certainly the key to his status in 2016 and beyond. Before the shoulder problems that required arthroscopic surgery Alvarez was a nice mid-rotation arm that relied on weak contact, including a solid ground ball ability.
Doug Fister, RHP
Fister also has battled injuries, which is why he’s still dangling out on the market without a lot of bites. If he’s right, he’s a No. 3 starter that fits in a lot of rotations, as does Alvarez. Fister’s forearm acted up in 2015, which often leads to UCL surgery and a year off. The right-handed did finish strong pitching in relief for the Washington Nationals in September, but the stuff remains questionable in a starting role and he doesn’t project well in high-leverage relief stints.
Dipoto indicated the clubs likely will add one big-league reliever to the mix before all is said and done, but like the rotation status, that’s probably an arm short, even if you believe in giving Justin De Fratus and Tony Zych the benefit of the doubt that comes with inexperience.
Finding another Mark Lowe, however, isn’t out of the questions, so maybe we’re talking about adding a Lowe-esque arm plus a proven major-league reliever on a major-league contract.
Among the possibilities:
Al Alburquerque, RHP
He walks too many batters but he has the stuff of a setup man and can miss bats with a 93-95 mph fastball and power slider. He’s just 29 but that velocity range did take a slight dive by a half mile per hour in 2015, and is down more than a mile per hour since the end of 2013. Still a risk worth taking on a one-year plunge.
Tommy Hunter, RHP
Hunter, 29, is throwing harder than ever before (over 96 mph on average in 2015 with any variation of the fastball), yet still finds it somewhat difficult to miss bats — 7.01 per nine innings in 2015, an overall strikeout rate of 15.4 percent. To offer context, Tom Wilhelmsen fanned 22.4 percent of the batters he faced in 2015. Hunter, however, is worth a one-year deal at the going rate for seventh-inning arms, thanks to his plus control.
Casey Janssen, RHP
Janssen has closed, set up and everything else in the bullpen, which n theory makes him a value. His health, however, kills most of that. The velocity is three miles per hour down from 2013, his last display of dominance, and the numbers show it. He throws strikes, still, and if he can get right there’s at least a chance some of the power stuff returns.
Ryan Cook, RHP
Cook still throws hard but his production dipped in 2015. He was let go by Boston and claimed by the Chicago Cubs in November, but then was non-tendered and hit the open market. I threw the Cubs in there because everyone trusts what the Cubs do these days, right? Cook is another buy-low type reliever that could pay off down the road.
Antonio Bastardo, LHP and Franklin Morales, LHP
The M’s are set to have Charlie Furbush and Vidal Nuno as lefties in the bullpen, but signing a Morales or Bastardo would allow them to deal one of the other two in a trade for another need. Neither of the former are expensive, which makes them more valuable in trade. Furbush does have an injury concern as spring nears, but surgery was deemed unnecessary over the summer.
I don’t despise, at all, the projected Chris Iannetta–Steve Clevenger catcher tandem. It’s certain to be better than the club laid out in 2015, and there’s a chance Ianneta bounces back a bit and is a bargain at $4.25 million, plus incentives. There are some depth buys on the market still, however:
The opposite of McKenry, Sanchez is a solid defender but not much a bat.
Thoughts on First Base
Since the acquisition of Adam Lind, some are wondering about a platoon partner for the veteran, who struggles versus left-handed pitching — 54 wRC+, .257 wOBA in 2015. On the surface, the idea makes a ton of sense; sit Lind versus lefties, start someone else with a much better shot to club southpaws, win-win scenario.
It’s not that simple.
For one, the candidates to fill such a role other than the in-house and obvious Jesus Montero, aren’t free, and most will prefer to have more of a chance to play versus right-handed pitching. In this scenario in Seattle, Lind will start versus right-handed pitching. Mike Napoli, an example tossed out there by many, is incapable of playing another position, as is Montero — and no, neither can catch — so the club is carrying a player that does absolutely nothing but hit versus left-handed pitching.
Ideally, and this isn’t pie in the sky by any stretch of anyone’s realistic imagination, your first base platoon can play the outfield, too. Truly play it, not pretend and get away with it in short stints. Why? Because Napoli, or others like him, won’t be free. Montero may or may not perform in such a role. And there’s a good chance the club’s “utulity” player won’t have experience in the outfield.
And don’t suggest spending guaranteed money on a utility player simply to justify spending guaranteed money on a sub-200 plate appearance platoon first base.
The Mariners could end up with Shawn O’Malley as the utility player, and he’s good enough in the outfield (question is, can he play SS well enough? Hit enough? I’m highly skeptical of both). Luis Sardinas can play shortstop, but won’t be a contributor to the outfield mix in any manner, suggesting the conundrum noted above.
If you want a platoon partner for Lind, find one that can play the outfield, too, giving the club five outfielders and some roster flexibility. Napoli probably wants the shot to be more than a 200 PA player, and he’ll certainly want the money that reflects such. But his type doesn’t fit, anyway. The club is much better off finding that outfielder with some time in at first base. Steve Pearce might be a fit, theoretically. He’s fringy in the outfield, but playable beyond the “in an emergency” tab, and certainly can handle first base. He was bad all-around in ’15, but has a track record of producing versus left-handed pitching. He’s 32 and a better bet to be what the club needs in 2016 than Napoli, and even Montero.
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.