We’re bringing back our “Three Needs” series, in which we take a look at the chief issues to be addressed for clubs that have fallen out of contention. We’ll start things up with the Mariners, who opened the season at a sprint before hitting the skids …
1. Invest In A Starter Or Two
Seattle’s re-set effort has brought the payroll back under control and added some interesting young talent to the MLB mix. It’d be hard to say this is a club on the cusp of a breakout, but it’s not hard to imagine a major improvement over the 2019 showing.
That said, the rotation is entirely underwhelming. Marco Gonzales has been good, but the club dealt away its only other starter with even one full win above replacement for the season. There’s good reason to give Yusei Kikuchi more time to adjust to the majors; perhaps the club can throw Justus Sheffield into the staff and hope for the best. But slotting in marginal veterans behind openers can only do so much for a team. There’s a dire need for higher-end starting pitching.
With Felix Hernandez hitting the open market, there’s only $75MM and change on the Mariners’ books, with no enormous arbitration salaries to account for. The club shouldn’t rush to spend, but there’s certainly some cash to work with here for an organization that has had season-ending payrolls of over $170MM in each of the past three seasons.
This is a good offseason for a team in this position. The Rangers have scored by giving somewhat aggressive, but ultimately fairly low-risk three-year deals to starters Mike Minor and Lance Lynn. The Twins once did the same with Phil Hughes. That’s a strategy to consider along with the traditional pillow contract. There are quite a few interesting but not reliably dominant starters floating around on the market this coming winter — ranging from Tanner Roark and Dallas Keuchel to Jake Odorizzi and Zack Wheeler. Old friend Wade Miley is out there, along with names like Kyle Gibson, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha, and Alex Wood.
2. Use Late-Inning Opportunities To Chase Bullpen Upside
The Mariners would like to rebound right back into competitiveness, so they’ll need to try to form an effective bullpen. At the same time, the aim is rather speculative at this point and the existing unit is all but devoid of established players in key late-inning roles, so it’d be foolhardy to spend wildly on veterans.
Therein lies the opportunity for Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto. With high-leverage spots entirely unclaimed, the M’s can dangle that opportunity — along with the prospect of pitching in one of the league’s stingier home parks — as a means of attracting high-upside bullpen talent. Dellin Betances and Arodys Vizcaino (actually a member of the M’s at the moment) are both intriguing possibilities, with a whole host of somewhat older veterans that could be targeted on the cheap.
3. Consider An Infield Upgrade
The M’s have interesting options in the outfield and behind the dish. They’ve also got quite a few possibilities in the 3-through-6 spots, but perhaps also some room to make an upgrade.
On the left side of the infield, Kyle Seager and J.P. Crawford ought to be in line for the bulk of the work. Dylan Moore probably showed enough promise to serve as the reserve there. He can also factor on the right side of the infield, but that’s where there seems to be greater opportunity.
Dan Vogelbach is a piece of the puzzle in the first base/DH mix, but the club clearly prefers to utilize him as a bat-only player and he fell off hard in the second half. It’s anyone’s guess how Ryon Healy will bounce back from his health woes, so he can’t be relied upon. Austin Nola has been a nice surprise, but it would be hard to assume that the career minor-leaguer will hit enough to warrant significant time at first base. Prospect Evan White is on the rise, adding a righty bat to the mix, but it remains to be seen when and how he’ll transition to the majors. And then there’s veteran second bagger Dee Gordon, who is still a useful player but doesn’t seem likely to return to league-average hitting and shouldn’t be trotted out as a regular.
There are two ways to view this assemblage: as a potentially intriguing array of quality parts that can be maximized by deft deployment, or as an underwhelming outfit of unspectacular talent. No doubt the answer lies somewhere in the middle; to some extent, the Mariners will want to find out by testing. But the trouble with mixing and matching is that you can only do so much of it before running into roster limitations.
Adding a true, everyday piece at first or second base — especially if the M’s aren’t totally sold on White’s ability to become such a player in the immediate future — would greatly improve the overall outlook of the Seattle position-player mix. Perhaps the club could pursue Didi Gregorius and move him or Crawford to second base. Maybe the still-youthful Jonathan Schoop is worth a decent investment. The trade market could well be fruitful.
It’s not entirely clear at this stage just how appealing the options will be. And the M’s have a case for holding pat on the whole in the position-player mix. But that’s a nice back-up plan to take into the offseason while pursuing a significant improvement.