With Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings beginning today, Jerry Dipoto can look in the mirror, and say “Just a pitcher, just a pitcher. I just need a pitcher . . . or two, maybe.”
It’s almost certain the Mariners can see their offense and agree it’s better than the pretty good 2016 version. With the addition of Danny Valencia at a multitude of potential positions, and adding Jean Segura, while subtracting Ketel Marte, should make the M’s stronger throughout their lineup.
Yes, there are question marks in the outfield, as Ben Gamel, Guillermo Heredia, and Mitch Haniger vie for what amounts to a full time spot in left field, a platoon partner with Seth Smith, and a fourth outfield position. Some of those at-bats will also belong to Mr. Cruz and Mr. Valencia. While each of the newcomers bring a questionable, unproven bat to the table, all three should improve an outfield that was much older and less defensively capable in 2016.A better defensive outfield makes a pitching staff better, period, the end.
While I’m not enamored of Dan Vogelbach who, in my view, proved nothing in Tacoma or Seattle to earn the left-handed at bats at first base, at least Valencia, who hits right handed pitching too, is there to scoop up at-bats as needed. The addition of Carlos Ruiz to back up catcher Mike Zunino gives veteran depth and quality defense at that position.
On Saturday the announcement came the Mariners signed left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski, also known as Scrabble, because no self-respecting writer of any kind really wants to type out his last name. He joins Zac Curtis, acquired in the Tai Walker trade with Arizona as potential lefties for the staff. Rzepczynksi is very tough on left handed batters, but is not the power lefty Dipoto said he wanted, who could also work effectively against right-handed hitters. Curtis was not effective against left-handed hitting, allowing a .310/.459/.586 slash in an admittedly small sample size of 37 batters. Could Jerry search for another southpaw slinger for the bullpen? Maybe, but doubtful
No, it’s going to come down bolstering the starting rotation. The M’s have five starters in hand:
Felix Hernandez-IP 153.1; 11-8; ERA 3.82; FIP 4.63; WHIP 1.324; H9 8.1; HR9 1.1; BB9 3.8; SO/W 1.88. These are the worst numbers of the King’s career and cause for concern.
Hisashi Iwakuma-IP 199.0; 16-12; ERA 4.12; FIP 4.27; WHIP 1.327; H9 9.9; HR9 1.3; BB9 2.1; SO/W 3.20-Though Iwakuma had a healthy year, this was, like the King’s, Iwakuma’s statistically worst year.
James Paxton-IP 121.0; 6-7; ERA 3.79; FIP 2.80; WHIP 1.306; H9 10.0; HR9 0.7; BB9 1.8; SO/W 4.88-Paxton rebuilt his delivery and found extra speed, but had difficulty staying on the mound. Statistically, the best of all Mariners starters in 2016.
Nate Karns-IP 94.1; 6-2; ERA 5.15; FIP 4.05; WHIP 1.485; H9 1.0; HR9 1.1; BB9 4.3; SO/W 2.24. Though Karns showed effectiveness in April, his accumulation of a mountain of baserunners led to short outings and ultimately his undoing. A better Karns needs to emerge from his injury shortened 2016 to make this team.
Ariel Miranda-IP 56.0; 5-2; ERA 3.54; FIP 5.47; WHIP 1.089; H9 6.9; HR9 1.9; BB9 2.9; SO/W 2.22. Acquired for the self-demolishing Wade Miley in July, Miranda seemed to improve as the season wore on. Definitely homer prone, the M’s may lean toward a bullpen role for Miranda.
The starting rotation was the most disappointing piece of the 2016 season. From June to August, a litany of injuries, inconsistency and ineffective outing made it impossible for the Mariners to put together a consistent, ascending, positive season. Unfortunately, less Tai Walker, the Mariners are faced with running the same five guys out there they had last summer. That’s not to say a bounce-back season by Felix, a more consistent season from Iwakuma, or an injury-free campaign from Paxton wouldn’t do the trick, but that’s a lot of die rolls coming up 7’s.
The Mariners need another veteran pitcher, especially if they follow through on moving Miranda to the bullpen, where there is need for more left-handed help, after dealing Vidal Nuno. The arms available in free agency, thinner than any within recent memory, becomes less by the day as the Dodger signed 36-year old, injury prone Rich Hill to a 3-year deal worth $48 million. Others available out there include Jason Hammel, Ivan Nova, Doug Fister, and the dreary line of the injury-plagued, including Derek Holland, Nathan Eovaldi and C.J. Wilson.
But remember, Trader Jerry likes to deal more than he likes laying out cash. The opportunities are virtually limitless, except that Mr. Dipoto has little left to deal. That would take any number of interesting possibilities off the table such as Chris Sale, Chris Archer or Jake Odorizzi. That doesn’t mean Dipoto can’t work some magic, but likely it won’t be for top-drawer talent.
So it’s up to Jerry to work between that rock (little free agent talent available) and a hard place (little talent available to trade) in order to produce at least one veteran pitcher who can step into the middle of a pretty shaky rotation based on last year’s performance. But at least that seems to be all that’s left besides sweeping up any interesting leavings for depth.