- The Mariners should act now to open their competitive window in 2021 by making a run at Gerrit Cole, per The Athletic’s Corey Brock. It makes sense on paper, as Cole makes any rotation look a whole heck of a lot better, though it’s certainly hard to imagine. If the Mariners really do want to contend with the Astros and A’s as early as 2021, a rotation led by Cole, Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi looks a lot better than a rotation fronted by Gonzalez and Kikuchi alone. The Mariners do have money to spend as well, with just $44MM on the books for 2021, and if Cole is the best free agent pitcher available over, say, the next three offseasons, then it would make sense to make a run at him now. That said, all signs point to a more modest approach from Seattle this winter.
The Mariners have unveiled their coaching staff for the 2020 season, with three new faces joining the crew. Pete Woodworth will replace Paul Davis as Seattle’s pitching coach, as Davis will take on a new position as the organization’s chief pitching strategist. Carson Vitale will be the team’s new Major League field coordinator, while Jarret DeHart will become the assistant hitting coach, working alongside second-year hitting coach Tim Laker.
All three are internal hires, coming up to the big league club after previously working in the Mariners’ farm system. Woodward has been moving up the affiliate ranks as a pitching coach for the last four seasons, most recently serving as the pitching coach for Double-A Arkansas. Vitale has been the Mariners’ minor league field coordinator for the last two seasons. DeHart has also been with the organization for the last two years, working as the hitting coach for the M’s Arizona League team in 2018 and spending last season as a roving minor league hitting strategist.
The coaching staff as a whole will have a different yet familiar look, as several incumbent coaches will be taking on new roles. Jared Sandberg, who was the previous Major League field coordinator, will now be Scott Servais’ bench coach. Manny Acta, who worked as bench coach for the last two seasons and as the third base coach in 2016-17, will be coaching at the hot corner once again, replacing the departing Chris Prieto.
Brian De Lunas is another coach resuming an old position, as he will step into the bullpen coach job that was held by Jim Brower in 2019. De Lunas was Seattle’s bullpen coach in 2018 before working as director of pitching development strategies in 2019.
Laker and first base/infield coach Perry Hill will both be back in their same coaching roles in 2020.
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The Seattle Mariners burst onto the scene in 2019, providing us with a valuable reminder about the importance of sample size as they jumped out to a 13-2 start. Those early wins would amount to nearly 20 percent of their total for the year. They went on to play just .374 baseball the rest of the way en route to a 68-94 last place finish, thereby extending their postseason drought streak to an 18th consecutive season (the longest active such streak in North American professional sports). Now that the Nationals won it all in October, the Mariners also hold the ignominious distinction of being the only team in the majors without a single World Series appearance.
- Kyle Seager, 3B: $38MM through 2021, $15MM club option in 2022 (becomes player option if Seager is traded)
- Yusei Kikuchi, SP: $32MM through 2021, if 4-year/$66MM club option for 2022 to 2025 is declined, it turns into a $13MM player option for 2022
- Dee Gordon, 2B: $13.8MM in 2020, $14MM vesting option in 2021
- Tim Beckham – $3.0MM
- Domingo Santana – $4.4MM
- Mallex Smith – $2.7MM
- Omar Narvaez – $2.9MM
- Sam Tuivailala – $900K
- Mitch Haniger – $3.0MM
- Non-tender candidates: Beckham
- Wade LeBlanc, SP: $5MM club option, declined for $450K buyout
- Felix Hernandez, Arodys Vizcaino, Kelby Tomlinson, Keon Broxton (outrighted, elected free agency), Ryon Healy (outrighted, elected free agency), LeBlanc, Mike Wright, Tommy Milone, Ryan Garton
To get a sense of the Mariners 2019 season, consider this: their leader in games played was a designated hitter with a .208 batting average. Or this: where baseball-reference lists their pitching staff, just four starting pitchers populate, one of whom spent the final two months on the Diamondbacks. Or try this: Edwin Encarnacion finished third on the team among position players in bWAR, and he played his last game as a Mariner on June 12. Put another way, the Mariners lost 94 games in 2019 as they entered year one of a self-described “reimagining.”
Executive VP and GM Jerry Dipoto has been hard at work outlining clear guidelines to prepare the Seattle fanbase for another development year in 2020. It’s a rebuild, no doubt, but Dipoto has done a nice job of claiming some high-ceiling youngsters to keep an entertaining product on the field. They’re not quite “reclamation projects” because these players have yet to establish themselves in the majors, but recent acquisitions like Shed Long, Justus Sheffield, Jake Fraley, and J.P. Crawford have been in the conversation as prospects for some time and are now getting a fresh look in Seattle. These “reclamation prospects,” let’s call them, give the fanbase something to root for even as the losses pile up. It would not be surprising in the least to see Trader Jerry target more of these types of projects for 2020.
In terms of their own prospects, the time to shine is nigh for the likes of Justin Dunn, Kyle Lewis, Braden Bishop, and Evan White. Lewis got the biggest head start in 2019 by muscling up for a .592 slugging percentage in 71 at-bats as a September call-up. White probably has the highest ceiling, though he’s furthest away and there should be no rush to start the service clock of their 23-year-old first baseman. If this crew with the others above are able to successfully establish a base of major league talent, the Mariners will be in a good place to augment as their best prospects (Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert) approach promotion in a year or two.
Whether that group has a high enough ceiling to challenge the juggernaut Astros and competitive A’s isn’t totally clear. Hence, the second year of this rebuild provides an important window for the Mariners to add more talent. They shipped out most of their marketable vets in last year’s purge, but a few pieces remain that could conceivably move for prospects. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times quotes Dipoto predicting a calmer trade season, but a tiger can’t change its stripes, and with 29 enabling GMs out there ready to deal, take Dipoto’s claim with a grain of salt for now. That said, the offense looks pretty close to set, with Kyle Seager, Crawford, Dee Gordon, and Austin Nola going around the horn and Domingo Santana, Mallex Smith, and Mitch Haniger penciled into the outfield. Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy make up the catching tandem, and probably the most secure unit on the roster. To Dipoto’s point, that lineup doesn’t boast a cavalcade of gems opposing GMs will trip over each other to come claim, but they do have a sort of logjam with Tim Beckham, Dylan Moore, Shed Long, Lewis, Fraley, and Bishop all ready for larger shares of playing time asap. Dipoto will listen to offers, no doubt, but it might take until mid-season to find takers for his remaining vets.
With a good first half, the Mariners will no doubt try to move Santana. He’ll make around $4.4MM in 2020 and will be arbitration eligible for the final time in 2021, so he’s controllable but affordable. A 2019 line of .253/.329/.441 is pretty close to what you might expect from Santana, but he strikes out too much and is borderline unplayable in the field, which will grossly mitigate any potential prospect return. Same for Daniel Vogelbach, who struggled in the second half to the point that the team plans to play him more or less exclusively at DH. Gordon has the name recognition to pop up in trade rumors but not the track record of recent productivity to make him appealing. Seager put together a bounceback campaign, hitting .239/.321/.468, but as the longest-tenured Mariner, he’s also a fine candidate to serve as a veteran bridge to the next competitive group. Besides, he’s still likely too expensive to move (especially since his 2022 option becomes guaranteed with a trade).
On the more plausible side, a healthy Mitch Haniger could fetch a decent return, as could any number of bullpen arms that develop over the first half of the season. Roenis Elias and Hunter Strickland helped replenish the pool in that way last trade deadline, and they should probably be open to moving anyone who steps up in the first half this year, including controllable assets like Taylor Guilbeau, whom they received from Washington in the Elias/Strickland deal. Austin Adams is another Washington castoff who could become a valuable trade chip once he is healthy, as might Sam Tuivailala, Matt Magill, or any number of slush pile free agents they add to the mix prior to Spring Training. Dipoto took full advantage of the bullpen carousel last season, and it’s a safe bet to expect him to do so again.
Keon Broxton was a mid-season slush-pile find from last season, but with no offense to speak of, the defensive standout was outrighted at the starting bell of the offseason. Like Broxton, Ryon Healy chose free agency after a disappointing two-year run in Seattle. Dipoto sent Emilio Pagan to Oakland to acquire Healy, a disappointing move in retrospect as the first baseman hit just .236/.280/.423 across 711 plate appearances in two seasons in Seattle.
Speaking of free agency, the Mariners do have some money to spend, and Dipoto will look to add flippable assets, probably in the form of starters on one-year deals. Tanner Roark, Alex Wood, Wade Miley, Drew Smyly, Martin Perez and Tyson Ross might be free agent targets. Depending on the shape of the market, Michael Wacha, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Lyles and Kendall Graveman could also be names worth exploring. Speculatively speaking, Julio Teheran, who had his option declined by the Braves, could be a name they monitor depending on the price point. There’s anywhere from one to three rotation spots up for grabs in Seattle, depending on how aggressive they want to be with getting Sheffield and Dunn time on the major league roster. In a perfect world, Kikuchi pitches better in his second season stateside while Sheffield and Dunn make themselves indispensable pieces of the 2021 rotation — but there’s probably at least one rotation spot available for a veteran looking to establish value.
Marco Gonzales is the big potential trade chip they have yet to cash in, but every indication points to him being a foundational piece over trade fodder. After pitching to a 3.99 ERA/3.83 FIP across 369 2/3 innings over the last two seasons, the soon-to-be 28-year-old enters 2020 as easily the most reliable member of the pitching staff. If indeed Dipoto hopes to re-enter the competitive fray in 2021, Gonzales provides more value pitching for the Mariners than as trade bait. And given that he is under team control for an additional three seasons after 2020, there’s no real urgency to move him. Especially not after the good faith two-year deal they gave Gonzales as a pre-arb player undoubtedly laid the groundwork for productive negotiations in the future.
Still, the Mariners have almost no money on the books following this season, and given Dipoto’s itchy trigger finger, there’s no ruling out acquiring a player with more than one season of team control. There’s no ruling out anything, really, when it comes to Dipoto. The Mariners are in a great place financially, and Lord knows Dipoto will eventually explore the trade market. For at least the next calendar year, the Mariners have only one priority: add talent to the organization by whatever means necessary so that come 2021, as promised, the framework for a contender is in place.
The Mariners announced today that they have claimed righty Phillips Valdez off waivers from the Rangers. He becomes the latest player to be pared from the Texas 40-man roster.
Valdez, who’ll soon turn 28, cracked the majors briefly last year for 16 innings of relief. His fastball-change combination wasn’t exceedingly effective in his first taste at the game’s highest level, as he generated only an 8.9% swinging-strike rate, but Valdez showed that he can induce grounders against the world’s best hitters (53.3%).
Though he debuted in a relief capacity, Valdez has spent much of his time in the upper minors as a starter. It remains to be seen how the M’s will use him — or even whether they’ll keep him on their 40-man roster all offseason long — but he will help pad the Seattle organization’s pitching depth.
The Mariners won’t be exercising their $5MM club option on left-hander Wade LeBlanc, the team announced. LeBlanc will instead receive a $450K buyout and become a free agent.
LeBlanc will hit the open market almost 16 months after signing something of an unusual extension with the Mariners that paid him $2.45MM in guaranteed money (his $2MM in 2019 salary and the buyout of his option) and contained three different $5MM club/vesting options for the 2020, 2021, and 2022 seasons. The 2020 option would have vested if LeBlanc had finished the year without an arm injury and at least 160 innings pitched in 2019, though he only managed 121 1/2 frames last season, due in large part to an oblique injury that sent him to the IL for a month.
LeBlanc, who turned 35 in August, posted a 5.71 ERA, 2.97 K/BB rate, and 6.8 K/9 for Seattle last season, a notable step back from the solid numbers in his first year in Seattle (that led to the extension). Home runs were a particular problem for LeBlanc, who had a 2.1 HR/9. Eight of LeBlanc’s 26 appearances in 2019 were starts, though he was often utilized as a “bulk pitcher” working after an opener.
- Daniel Vogelbach started 49 games at first base for the Mariners in 2019, but that’s not likely to happen again, reports Corey Brock of the Athletic. Never regarded as an especially strong defender, some in the Mariners’ organization believe Vogelbach’s offensive downturn in the season’s second half (71 wRC+, compared to a 136 wRC+ in the first half) was related to his playing the field more than was ideal. With Vogelbach looking like a pure DH, the Mariners could again turn first base over to Austin Nola, a 29 year-old rookie who slashed .269/.342/.454 in 267 plate appearances down the stretch. Nola’s capable of bouncing all around the diamond, including catching, and is probably best served as a multi-positional piece. Fortunately, top first base prospect Evan White is on the doorstep of the majors and has a chance to win the job early, perhaps even out of spring training, Brock adds.
Mariners corner infielder Ryon Healy and outfielder Keon Broxton both elected free agency rather than accept an outright assignment, the team announced. Both players went unclaimed on waivers and will be free to sign with any club this winter.
Healy, 28 in January, underwent August hip surgery that was expected to sideline him for four to six months. That makes the decision to outright him all the more understandable, though he’d have been at risk even if he were healthy. The OBP-challenged slugger spent two seasons in Seattle but managed just a .236/.280/.423 batting line with 31 home runs in 711 trips to the plate after being traded to the A’s in a now-regrettable deal for righty Emilio Pagan. (Oakland also cut bait on Pagan and traded him to Tampa Bay, where he blossomed into one of the league’s best relievers in 2019.)
A clear timetable on Healy’s return to baseball activities isn’t known, but he could draw interest from clubs looking for some right-handed pop this winter. Healy doesn’t walk often (just 4.7 percent of the time) but also doesn’t strikeout at an egregious rate (22.2 percent in his career). He has experience at both infield corners but is best-suited for first base/designated hitter work, making him a bit redundant for a Mariners team that has Daniel Vogelbach on the big league roster and first base prospect Evan White looming in the upper minors.
The 29-year-old Broxton, meanwhile, played on three different teams this season but couldn’t find success with the Mets, Orioles or Mariners. Broxton turned some heads with the Brewers back in 2016-17 when he showed an intriguing blend power, speed and center field defense while hitting .227/.318/.424 (including a 20-20 campaign in 2017). But strikeouts have been an enormous issue for Broxton, who punched out in an astonishing 45.6 percent of his 228 plate appearances this past season. Given that lack of contact, his ensuing .167/.242/.275 slash is hardly surprising.
Broxton has 17 Defensive Runs Saved, a 9.6 Ultimate Zone Rating and rates in at a whopping 34 Outs Above Average, per Statcast, over the past four MLB seasons. There’s little doubt that his glove is outstanding, but his 61.4 percent contact rate is the second-lowest among all MLB hitters in that same span.
The Twins have claimed right-hander Matt Wisler off waivers from the Mariners, per an announcement from the Seattle organization. Minnesota opened three roster spots yesterday when outrighting Ronald Torreyes, Ian Miller and Ryan LaMarre, so a corresponding move wasn’t necessary.
Wisler, 27, was once one of the game’s top pitching prospects and was even a key piece in the trade that sent Craig Kimbrel from Atlanta to San Diego. The 2011 seventh-rounder has never really found his footing in the big leagues, though, and was shifted from a starting role to a bullpen setting back in 2017. That change didn’t prove fruitful, however, and he’s since bounced from Atlanta, to Cincinnati, back to San Diego, to Seattle and now to Minneapolis.
This past season, Wisler totaled 51 1/3 innings between the Padres and Mariners but struggled to a 5.61 ERA in that time. Home runs were his primary undoing, as the former top prospect yielded an average of 1.75 long balls per nine innings pitched.
Be that as it may, however, Wisler nonetheless provided cause for optimism. He averaged a hefty 11.1 K/9 against 2.8 BB/9 while posting a gaudy 14.9 percent swinging-strike rate and 37.7 percent chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone. Wisler’s curveball ranked in the 72nd percentile among MLB pitchers in terms of spin rate, and while his 92.8 mph average fastball velocity isn’t exactly formidable in today’s game, it’s only slightly below the league average 93.1 mph.
If the Twins want to get a look at Wisler in Spring Training, though, likely need to be prepared to carry him on the 40-man roster all winter, as they can’t pass him through waivers themselves and be assured of keeping him. Even if he goes unclaimed on waivers a second time, he has the requisite service time to elect free agency. Wisler is also out of minor league options, so he’d need to break camp with the Twins or another club next year or else be designated for assignment.
The Blue Jays announced Tuesday that they’ve claimed right-hander Anthony Bass off waivers from the Mariners. In a corresponding roster move, Toronto designated fellow right-hander Ryan Dull for assignment.
Swapping out Dull for Bass on the 40-man roster is an upgrade for the Blue Jays, who pick up a 31-year-old veteran fresh off a 3.56 ERA through 48 innings of relief with this move. Bass has been inconsistent at the MLB level but has been sharp across the past two seasons with the Cubs and Mariners and is the owner of a career 4.38 ERA in 347 1/3 MLB innings. This past season marked his largest workload in the Majors since a 2015 run with Texas. In addition to his solid ERA, Bass averaged 8.1 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 0.94 HR/9 to go along with a quality 51.6 percent ground-ball rate. His 11.1 percent swinging-strike rate was the second-best of his career, and his 31.1 percent opponents’ chase rate on out-of-zone pitches was a career-high.
Dull, who turned 30 earlier this month, has bounced all over the league (and the continent, for that matter) since the beginning of August. He’d spent his entire eight-year career in the Athletics organization until being designated for assignment on Aug. 3. Since then, he’s bounced to the Giants, to the Yankees and to the Blue Jays via a series of waiver claims. Toronto actually passed him through waivers unclaimed in September but quickly selected his contract again when needing some ’pen depth late in September. Players who have more than three years of service or have been previously outrighted can elect free agency in lieu of accepting an outright assignment; Dull meets both criteria and will surely elect free agency if another club doesn’t claim him.
Dull was one of Oakland’s best relievers back in 2016 but has battled injuries over the ensuing three years and wasn’t particularly effective in 2019. He surrendered 18 runs in just 12 2/3 Major League innings this season and was also tagged for an ERA north of 5.00 in Triple-A. That said, he entered the 2019 campaign with a career 3.63 ERA and 155-to-44 K/BB ratio in 158 2/3 MLB innings and only just turned 30, so a return to form isn’t out of the question. He’ll just likely need to prove himself to a new club in the form of a minor league pact (again — if he clears waivers).
The Mariners outrighted three players today, per a club announcement. Corner infielder Ryon Healy is the most notable name departing the 40-man. He’s joined by righty relievers Chasen Bradford and Connor Sadzeck.
All three of these players finished their seasons on the 60-day injured list. They’d have required 40-man roster space all offseason had it not been for today’s decision.
Healy is dealing with quite significant health problems, including a diagnosis of spinal stenosis and ensuing hip surgery. It’s not clear at this point whether and when the 27-year-old will be able to resume his career. Healy projected to earn $2.5MM via arbitration, a hefty sum given the uncertainty. He’ll have the right to elect free agency by virtue of his MLB service time.
Bradford underwent Tommy John surgery two months ago, making it hard to imagine he’ll be much of a factor in 2020. The 30-year-old was a solid performer in his first two MLB campaigns but doesn’t carry the peripherals of a dominant relief pitcher.
There’s quite a bit more potential upside for Sadzeck, a live-armed 28-year-old who rewarded the M’s for taking a shot on him. He allowed just seven earned runs in 23 2/3 frames, racking up 27 strikeouts against 15 walks, before going down with flexor mass issues. He seemed like a potential find for the Seattle organization, but the club evidently decided that the arm issues and Sadzeck’s longstanding control problems were too great to tie up a roster spot on him all winter.