- Injuries tore through the Mariners’ rotation last season, and their starting depth is already being put to the test early this year. Right-hander Erasmo Ramirez has been shut down for two weeks with a minor lat strain, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times was among those to report (Twitter links). It’s only a precautionary measure by the Mariners, according to Divish, though it obviously makes for a less-than-ideal start to the year for their staff. The Mariners haven’t done anything to upgrade their rotation since last season concluded, but GM Jerry Dipoto has insisted he’s content with the group. If healthy, Ramirez will slot in fourth in the quintet in front of either Marco Gonzales or Ariel Miranda and behind James Paxton, Felix Hernandez and Mike Leake. Ramirez made 19 starts with the Mariners and Rays last year and pitched to a 4.74 ERA/4.71 FIP across that 100 2/3-inning span.
Here are the latest minor moves from around the game:
- The Mets announced today that they have signed Matt den Dekker to a minor-league deal. He’ll be reunited with the organization that originally drafted him in the fifth round in 2010 and gave him his first MLB promotion in 2013. Though he has touched the majors in each of the past five seasons, opportunities have been fleeting for the 30-year-old. He spent most of 2017 at Triple-A with the Tigers and Marlins organizations, slashing a combined .250/.322/.441 in 288 plate appearances.
- Lefty Tyler Matzek has signed a minors deal with the Mariners, per an announcement from the California Winter League. It includes an invitation to MLB Spring Training. Once a top prospect, Matzek had been unable to overcome anxiety problems and a related collapse in his control. Though he worked to a 4.05 ERA in 117 2/3 MLB frames in 2014, Matzek issued more walks than strikeouts at all levels over the following two seasons. He was released by the White Sox after participating in camp with the organization last spring.
The Mariners announced today that first baseman Ryon Healy underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his right hand and will be sidelined for four to six weeks. Depending on which end of that timeline Healy’s recovery ultimately falls, the procedure could put his Opening Day status in jeopardy. Healy underwent the procedure yesterday and is beginning rehab immediately, per the announcement.
It’s a fairly short-term injury for the Mariners that isn’t likely to spur the team to make any kind of addition to its roster, as Dan Vogelbach and Rule 5 pick Mike Ford (selected out of the Yankees organization) remain on hand as first base options on the 40-man roster. Both hitters performed quite well in the upper minors least season and could reasonably be expected to bridge the gap at first base until Healy’s hand allows him to return to the lineup.
Seattle sent right-hander Emilio Pagan and minor league infielder Alexander Campos to the division-rival Athletics exactly three months ago in a trade to acquire Healy, who had been largely displaced by the booming emergence of Matt Olson and Matt Chapman, as well as Oakland’s desire to shift Khris Davis from left field to designated hitter.
Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said after the trade that the organization views Healy, who batted .282/.313/.475 with 38 homers through his first 888 MLB plate appearances with the A’s, as a potential long-term option at first base. He’s slated to serve as Seattle’s primary first baseman in 2018, and today’s announcement doesn’t figure to change that. In the short term, though, the injury to Healy could improve Ford’s chances of making the Major League roster.
- Newly-acquired Mariners first baseman Ryon Healy has been bothered by an offseason hand injury and received further tests today, manager Scott Servais told the Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish and other media. The seriousness of the injury isn’t yet known, though rather the problem’s rather uncertain nature is certainly a concern to an M’s team that was positioning Healy as its first baseman of the future. Dan Vogelbach and Mike Ford are internal options at the position, plus several free agent options are available if Healy was sidelined for a significant amount of time.
- The Mariners have agreed to sign outfielder Junior Lake to a minor league deal, the Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish reports. Manager Scott Servais said that Lake’s deal contains an invitation to their big league Spring Training camp, and the contract will be official once Lake passes a physical. Lake, who turns 28 next month, hit .235/.278/.376 over 703 plate appearances with the Cubs, Orioles, and Blue Jays from 2013-16, and he played for the Red Sox Triple-A affiliate and in the Mexican League last season.
Phelps was one of several MLB players that was left searching for a new agency after parting ways with Jason Wood and Career Sports Entertainment. Wood was fired by CSE and suspended by the MLBPA following allegations of misconduct against his own clients.
The 31-year-old Phelps has already avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $5.55MM deal with the M’s. But he’ll soon be in need of further negotiating assistance, as he’s slated to reach the open market at season’s end.
Phelps’s future earnings outlook is rather unclear at present. Notably, Phelps made only ten appearances in Seattle following a mid-season swap. His 2017 season ended with elbow surgery, perhaps removing any possibility that Phelps might return to the rotation, though the hope is that Phelps will be ready for a full 2018 campaign.
So long as Phelps can return to health, there’s good reason to think he’ll be one of the most sought-after set-up men on the market next winter. Since the start of the 2016 season, after all, he has thrown 142 1/3 innings of 2.72 ERA ball with 11.1 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Phelps has a background as a starter, making him a potential multi-inning weapon.
As always, you can keep tabs on the latest agency movement with MLBTR’s Agency Database.
- Looking to add a bit of versatility to his repertoire, Mariners designated hitter/outfielder Nelson Cruz revealed that he’s been working out at first base this offseason (Instagram link). Seattle already acquired Ryon Healy from the A’s in hopes that the young slugger can hold down their first base spot for years to come, but Cruz could conceivably see some time there when Healy needs a day off or in the event of an injury.
- Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times takes a lengthy, comprehensive look at the Mariners’ bottom-ranked farm system (by Baseball America and ESPN’s Keith Law). Divish’s column has extensive quotes from GM Jerry Dipoto, director of player development Andy McKay and a pair of scouts from other clubs, each weighing in on Seattle’s lack of depth. Dipoto, as he has in the past, indicates that his front office has elected to use the bulk of its prospect depth to acquire MLB assets such as Healy, Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel, Dee Gordon and Jean Segura. The rival scouts are critical of the system, with one calling it “barren.” However, they didn’t condemn the actions of the Dipoto-led front office as unwise. “It wasn’t a very good system when he got here so you use what you can to build for the big league and then down,” a scout from an AL club tells Divish. “I see their vision. They’ve traded a lot of midrange prospects, but you can’t replenish them as quickly as they’ve traded them off and that affects depth.”
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman feels great about the strength of his left wrist; strength he believes he lacked at the end of last season. Mark Bowman of MLB.com wrote a detailed article that includes plenty of confident words from Freeman, who told reporters he began hitting earlier than he usually does, and even took batting practice in 25-degree whether just to see if he experienced any pain. “I have had zero problems.” Freeman said. “Everything feels great and everything feels strong.” Though he doesn’t regret coming back early after being hit by a pitch in May, Freeman experienced some frustration when his wrist fatigued during August and September. Notably, the two-time All-Star also had Lasik surgery to help alleviate some eye irritation issues he experienced while wearing contact lenses. Freeman also expressed his excitement to see top prospect Ronald Acuna arrive at the MLB level.
Some other interesting items from around MLB as we near the end of January…
- Count Rick Porcello among those in the Red Sox organization who are excited about working with new pitching coach Dana LeVangie. A piece by Tim Britton of the Providence Journal gives some insight into a phone call between the two earlier in the offseason. “A couple of days after he got the pitching coach job, he called me and we talked for an hour on things he had mapped out for me coming into the season that I need to work on and get better with,” Porcello told reporters last week. Indeed, it seems as though relievers Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel have already had a great experience working with him during his time as the team’s bullpen coach. As for LeVangie, he says his time as the Red Sox’ bullpen catcher allowed him to get a feel for movement and spin rate of pitches, as well as identify specifics of a pitcher’s strengths and weaknesses.
- The pursuit of financial security causes a handful of players to give up MLB 40-man roster spots every year in order to pursue opportunities in the NPB and the KBO, writes Kyle Glaser of Baseball America. Glaser tells the short version of Seth Frankoff’s story, though he’s just one of more than 100 ex-major or minor leaguers who played in Asian baseball leagues in 2017. While minor-league players on a 40-man roster earn just over $40K per year, players can make nearly 20 times that amount playing overseas. Other benefits of playing in the NPB and KBO include luxury apartments for foreign players, exceedingly high energy levels from people in the crowd, and a potential path back to the majors if they can improve their skill sets.
- Zach Crizer of MLB.com lists right-handers Danny Salazar (Indians) and Jake Odorizzi (Rays), and left-hander Ariel Miranda (Mariners) as pitchers with the potential to reach “ace” status in 2018. Crizer uses some incredibly specific stats to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these three pitchers, showing a potential path to a breakout for each one. The piece includes videos and heat maps as well; it’s an intriguing read, particularly considering that Salazar and Odorizzi have been mentioned in trade rumors.
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto told Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times and other reporters this week that the club’s largely content with the work it has done this winter to improve its roster. While the Mariners haven’t addressed their rotation in any noteworthy way, Dipoto’s confident their starters are at least on par with most AL rotations, “with the exception of last year’s playoff teams — the Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros.” Whether Felix Hernandez will be able to amass 25-plus starts, as opposed to the 16 he made last year, will go a long way toward deciding how Seattle will fare in 2018, Dipoto believes.
With a couple months left until the start of the season, the Mariners could still complement Hernandez & Co. with more starting help – payroll’s “not an issue,” according to CEO John Stanton. However, if we’re to take Dipoto’s word, it doesn’t seem likely. “We are doing the best we can to develop our system, not to clog it,” Dipoto said. “Could we go out and sign a free agent that would be better than our current fifth starter? Absolutely. Would that be the best thing for the present of the Mariners? Maybe. Would it be the best thing through the wider lens for the present and future of the Mariners? Probably not. We’ll be able to address those needs as we go. Because the one thing we’ve not had to deal with here is a lack of resources.”
- Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma has been cleared to begin throwing as he rehabs from 2017 shoulder surgery, according to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times (all Twitter links). Divish was among the reporters on hand when Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto spoke to the media about a wide variety of topics, including health updates on a number of Mariners. In addition to Iwakuma setting out on a throwing program, righty David Phelps and outfielder Guillermo Heredia are expected to be at or very close to 100 percent when Spring Training opens. Dipoto also said that lefty Marco Gonzales, who is out of minor league options, “will be given every opportunity to make our club.” Dipoto has taken some heat from fans for trading prospect Tyler O’Neill to acquire Gonzales from the Cardinals, though O’Neill’s .254/.304/.548 slash and 27 percent strikeout rate in Triple-A following the trade raise questions of their own.