- Recently acquired righty Ryan Weber was outrighted to Triple-A by the Mariners, per a club announcement. Added through a waiver claim from the Braves, the 26-year-old lost his 40-man spot when Seattle acquired two other former Atlanta hurlers. Weber’s quality upper-minors numbers have yet to translate to the majors, where he owns a 5.15 ERA over 64 2/3 innings over the past two seasons.
In addition to confirming the signing of left-hander Marc Rzepczynski, the Mariners have inked right-hander Casey Fien to a major league contract, per a team announcement. To make room for those bullpen additions, Seattle has designated southpaw Dean Kiekhefer and righty Zach Lee for assignment.
Fien became eligible for free agency shortly after the Dodgers outrighted him off their 40-man roster in mid-September. In a combined 39 1/3 innings with them and the Twins last season, Fien recorded a 5.49 ERA, 8.01 K/9, 2.29 BB/9 and 33.9 percent ground-ball rate. Fien was much more successful at preventing runs over the previous four years, as he logged a 3.54 ERA, 7.93 K/9, 1.57 BB/9 and 33.6 grounder rate in 223 2/3 frames with the Twins from 2012-15. Home runs weren’t a serious problem then for Fien, but the 33-year-old allowed 13 this past season en route to a bloated ERA.
Fien has a minor league option remaining, but if he earns a place on the Mariners’ roster, he’ll make $1.1MM, according to Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune (Twitter link). He’ll vie to join a relief group that, at least for now, also includes righty setup men in the injured Steve Cishek, Nick Vincent, Evan Scribner, Dan Altavilla and Arquimedes Caminero.
Kiekhefer originally joined the Mariners less than a month ago as a waiver claim from the Cardinals. A 38th-round pick in the 2010 draft, Kiekhefer cracked the major leagues for the first time in 2016 and registered a 5.32 ERA, 5.73 K/9, 2.86 BB/9 and 47.3 percent ground-ball mark in 22 innings with St. Louis.
Lee, a former high-end prospect with the Dodgers, became a Mariner when they acquired him for infielder Chris Taylor last June. The 25-year-old Lee, who went in the first round of the 2010 draft, debuted in the big leagues with 4 2/3 frames as a member of the Dodgers in 2015. He spent last season at the Triple-A level and combined for 148 innings – 74 1/3 of which came with the Mariners’ affiliate in Tacoma. Lee struggled to a 7.39 ERA with the Rainiers, though his strikeout and walk rates per nine (6.05 and 2.91) weren’t nearly as ugly.
SATURDAY: The deal is complete, Jon Heyman of FanRag sports tweets.
FRIDAY: Rzepczynski will receive a robust $11MM guarantee over two years when the deal is finalized, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com tweets.
THURSDAY: The Mariners are nearing a deal with free agent lefty Marc Rzepczynski, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). It’ll be a two-year contract, per Jon Morosi of MLB Network (Twitter link), assuming the final details are arranged and the physical doesn’t reveal any issues.
Rzepczynski, 31, has long been a popular LOOGY, though it’s perhaps a bit surprising that he was able to land a multi-year guarantee. The aptly nicknamed “Scrabble” has spent time in the majors with six organizations over the past eight seasons.
All told, he has held opposing lefties to a .222/.291/.298 batting line over his career, striking out 198 of the 738 hitters to step in on that side of the box. Right-handers, meanwhile, have had much greater success, posting a .277/.377/.431 slash against Rzepczynski. It is worth noting that he broke into the league as a starter, though, and he managed to hold down right-handed-hitters’ power numbers last year, though they did draw 23 walks against just 15 strikeouts in over 102 plate appearances against him.
As those figures would suggest, Rzepczynski handed out entirely too many free passes during his time with the A’s in 2016. But he righted the ship in his late-season run with the Nationals, allowing just two earned runs over 11 2/3 innings of work. Rzepczynski typically carries both double-digit swinging-strike rates and a hefty groundball rate (over 67% in each of the last two seasons).
As the Mariners look to bolster their rotation, free agent righty Doug Fister is a “name of interest” to the organization, according to Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune. Already a plausible pursuer of starting pitching, the M’s now appear clearly in need of another arm after dealing Taijuan Walker.
Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto has acknowledged that the club would look to add to the rotation, explaining that he’s hopeful of finding “major-league established starting pitching.” The team has a variety of depth pieces, and added a few more yesterday, but could certainly stand to add to the back of the rotation alongside options such as Ariel Miranda and Nate Karns. “The idea now is to plug in someone who gets a little closer to the middle of the rotation than the back,” said Dipoto.
Whether Fister would really meet that need is somewhat in question after his one-year stint with the Astros. He started well, but faltered over the second half and ended with a career-worst 4.64 ERA over 180 1/3 innings, with 5.7 K/9 and a personal-high 3.1 BB/9. Typically a strong groundball pitcher, Fister has also hovered in the 45% range in groundball induction over the past two years, which is right at league average.
Certainly, the Mariners do not appear to be locked in on Fister. Per the report, the club has its eye on other possibilities — including via trade — and may not see the veteran as their “top preference.” Dipoto has also made clear that he’s in no rush to fill the need, perhaps reflecting an interest in finding value rather than targeting a specific player.
Fister, now 32, began his career in Seattle. He was dealt to the Tigers in an ill-fated swap from the Mariners’ perspective, and was later shipped on to the Nationals. While he is now two years removed from his high-quality 2014 campaign in D.C., Fister was at least able to return to full health in 2016 after struggling with elbow issues in his final year with the Nats.
The Braves have struck a deal to acquire outfield prospect Alex Jackson from the Mariners, per club announcements. Righties Rob Whalen and Max Povse are headed to Seattle in the deal, in which Atlanta will also pick up a player to be named later. The Mariners designated righty Ryan Weber to create 40-man roster space.
Jackson, the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, is still just twenty years old and has only played two professional seasons. But GM Jerry Dipoto — who wasn’t at the helm in Seattle when Jackson was selected — evidently didn’t see enough evidence of his future potential.
Despite a tough 2015 debut year, Jackson received some top-100 leaguewide billing entering the 2016 campaign. He did show some improvement at the Class A level, but ended with a relatively meager .243/.332/.408 batting line and 11 home runs over 381 plate appearances. Jackson also went down on strikeouts 103 times while drawing 34 walks.
Whalen, 22, received his first five major league starts last year, allowing a 18 earned runs and a dozen walks but also limiting opposing batters to twenty base hits while compiling a healthy 25 strikeouts. He was much better in his first attempt at the upper minors, too. Across 120 total frames split between Double-A and Triple-A, Whalen compiled a 2.40 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. The righty originally came to Atlanta from the Mets along with John Gant in the 2015 deadline deal for Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe.
Though Whalen figures to play a role in Seattle’s pitching depth, Povse may be the real get here for the M’s. The 23-year-old is a consistent strike thrower despite his 6’8 frame. Working last year at the High-A and Double-A levels, he ran up 158 innings of 3.36 ERA pitching with 7.9 K/9 against 1.7 BB/9 — though his strikeout numbers drooped following his promotion.
In adding two players to their roster, the Mariners had to clear a spot. That will mean exposing the 26-year-old Weber to waivers. Actually, Weber landed in Seattle from Atlanta earlier this month through a waiver claim after providing 64 2/3 innings to the Braves over the last two seasons. Though he’s also a low-walk hurler, having averaged just 1.5 free passes per nine in the majors, he has managed only a 5.15 ERA in the bigs while logging 5.8 K/9. Weber has posted sub-3.00 earned run averages in the upper minors in each of the past two seasons, while working mostly in a relief capacity.
- Mike Napoli received some interest from the Mariners earlier this month, though one club official tells Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune that Napoli “doesn’t fit” into Seattle’s roster plans. The M’s intend to give Dan Vogelbach and Ben Gamel a clear shot at the regular first base and right field jobs, with Danny Valencia the top choice to spell both against left-handed pitching. Guillermo Heredia, Richie Shaffer and Taylor Motter are also in the mix as right-handed bats to platoon with Gamel or Seth Smith. (Dutton’s piece was written before the Mariners acquired yet another right-handed hitting outfielder in Mitch Haniger from the D’Backs.) With all of these platoon pieces on hand and Nelson Cruz getting the bulk of DH at-bats, there just isn’t room for Napoli. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said earlier today that he is happy with his club’s position players and will now turn his focus to adding starting pitching.
- Having acquired shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger from the Diamondbacks on Wednesday, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto is content with his team’s group of position players, he told MLB Network Radio on Sunday (Twitter links). Dipoto had to give up right-hander Taijuan Walker in the deal, though, so he’s now looking to pick up a replacement. “We would like to find one more starting pitcher,” said Dipoto. Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton are shoo-ins for jobs next year, meaning the addition of another starter could push Nate Karns or Ariel Miranda out of the rotation.
- Walker’s numbers over 134 1/3 innings in 2016 were respectable (4.22 ERA, 7.97 K/9 and 2.48 BB/9), but the highly talented 24-year-old hasn’t yet emerged as a top-of-the-rotation starter. Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. expects that to change. “There’s so much upside in this guy,” Stottlemyre told Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. “I know a lot of people have waited for him to kind of come around and put things together. I think he was starting to do that this last month.” After a disastrous Sept. 3 start in which he allowed five earned runs and recorded only two outs, Walker – with Stottlemyre’s help – made changes to his delivery. He then logged five more September starts and recorded a 2.93 ERA with 27 strikeouts against 13 walks in 30 2/3 innings. “When he can find himself, he’s got a chance to be a beast,” Stottlemyre said. “Until then, like all young players, he’s going to have some ups and downs. But I’m convinced he’s headed in the right direction and he can move forward now with his game plan and his approach.”
On Wednesday, the Diamondbacks and Mariners pulled off a big five-player deal involving shortstop Jean Segura and starting pitcher Taijuan Walker. We already reviewed the trade here and here, and collected a pair of reactions to the deal here. This time, though, we want to know what you think. Based on what we know right now, which team won the trade?
The case for the Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks received four years of control for Walker and five for Ketel Marte, a young shortstop who struggled last season but held his own in the big leagues in 2015 as a 21-year-old. Segura, in contrast, only has two years of control remaining (although the other two players they gave up, Mitch Haniger and Zac Curtis, both have six).
Segura batted .319/.368/.499 in a spectacular 2016 campaign, but struggled to stay above replacement level in either of the two previous seasons, and had a .353 batting average on balls in play in 2016 that was out of step with his career norms. At least so far, 2016 looks like Segura’s career year, and the Diamondbacks’ decision to deal him looks like selling high. The Diamondbacks didn’t look good enough to make the playoffs in 2017, so they did well to get younger and acquire more years of team control in exchange for a player who likely wouldn’t have been with them by 2019 anyway.
Walker once rated as one of baseball’s best prospects, and while he hasn’t lived up to that billing so far, he’s still just 24, and his 2016 numbers (4.22 ERA, 8.0 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and a 93.9-MPH average fastball velocity) suggest he still has upside, meaning the Diamondbacks might be buying low on a starter who might still have front-of-the-rotation potential. That sort of player is hard to find, and it’s even harder than usual this year given the weak free agent market for pitching. If Walker can improve, or if Marte can reemerge as a capable regular, the Diamondbacks will likely end up very happy with their end of the deal.
The case for the Mariners: If Segura can maintain anything resembling his 2016 level of production, he and Robinson Cano could give Seattle one of baseball’s most productive middle infields over the next two seasons. Segura’s 20 home runs, .319 average and 33 stolen bases last season were all outstanding, leading to an excellent 5.0 fWAR. Numbers like those would give the Mariners a big jump on the AL West in a season in which they hope to contend.
Also, the righty-hitting Haniger could help the Mariners’ outfield immediately — the 25-year-old struggled somewhat in 2016 in his first chance against big-league pitching, but he dominated Triple-A and next year could serve as an effective complement to lefties Seth Smith and Ben Gamel in the corners. And while third piece Curtis didn’t pitch well in the Majors in 2016 and doesn’t profile as a future closer, his strong performances in the minors suggest he could eventually become a good left-handed relief option.
The Mariners clearly gave up two interesting young players, but ESPN’s Keith Law (Insider only) argues that Walker’s delivery changes, his lesser command and the heavy reliance on his fastball make him a less inspiring talent than he was as a prospect. As for Marte, his future in the big leagues is far from assured after a season in which he played poor defense and struck out more than four times as much as he walked.
So what do you think? Who fared better in this deal, the Diamondbacks or the Mariners?
- The Mariners have signed catcher Steven Baron to a new minor league contract, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune reports. Baron, 25, is back in the fold after the M’s designated him for assignment and released him earlier this month. He played 67 of his 68 games in 2016 at Double-A Jackson. Baron has a .234/.291/.341 slash line over 2179 career minor league plate appearances since Seattle took him 33rd overall in the 2009 draft, and the catcher also played in four big league games in 2015.
Wednesday’s big five-player trade between the Diamondbacks and Mariners is still generating headlines in the desert. Here’s some further analysis of the deal, plus more from Arizona…
- While Jean Segura and Taijuan Walker are the trade’s headline players, Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron observes that outfielder Mitch Haniger’s development will be a key aspect of the deal for Seattle. Haniger could end up as “the real get in this deal for the Mariners” if his swing changes hold and he continues to flash an above-average outfield glove, particularly as a center fielder. Haniger’s right-handed bat already makes him a valuable platoon or bench piece on a Mariners roster that has three left-handed hitters (Seth Smith, Leonys Martin, Ben Gamel) slated for starting outfield roles. Overall, Cameron likes the deal for Arizona, as Haniger and prospect Zac Curtis were mostly expendable parts for the D’Backs and Walker has considerable breakout potential.
- “It’s a trade that could turn into a win-win for both organizations or it could easily blow up for either team,” ESPN’s David Schoenfield writes in his analysis of the five players in the deal, as “all five players are difficult to project moving forward.” Schoenfield expects the Mariners to trade for more pitching, which might require a large payroll increase from 2016, though Schoenfield figures Seattle is a clearly all-in on competing next season.
- Southpaw Robbie Ray posted a 4.90 ERA, 11.3 K/9 and 3.07 K/BB rate over 174 1/3 innings for the D’Backs last season, and as ESPN.com’s Sam Miller notes, Ray’s year also served as an interesting test case for the different ways player value is measured. Depending on who you ask, last season Ray was either barely above replacement level (0.7 bWAR from Baseball Reference), one of the game’s better starters (3.0 fWAR from Fangraphs) or a top-15 starter in the game (4.82 WARP from Baseball Prospectus).