Seattle Mariners – MLB Trade Rumors 2018-10-14T21:41:16Z WordPress Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Players Electing Free Agency]]> 2018-10-09T00:20:27Z 2018-10-09T00:20:27Z Quite a few players will hit the open market this fall, and they’ll do so by way of varying mechanisms. The end of the regular season triggered a recent wave of free agents, consisting of a certain subset of players — namely, those who were outrighted from 40-man rosters during the season and accepted minor-league assignments at that time despite having the right to elect free agency. Players in that situation are entitled instead to hit the open market at season’s end, if they were not added back to the 40-man roster in the meantime.

As conveyed by Matt Eddy of Baseball America, who also covers quite a few other minor moves, these players have now elected free agency:

Athletics: RHP Raul Alcantara, LHP Danny Coulombe

Blue Jays: RHP Mike Hauschild, INF/OF Darnell Sweeney

Braves: LHP Rex Brothers, RHP Miguel Socolovich

Cardinals: LHP Tyler Lyons

Indians: RHP Evan Marshall, RHP Alexi Ogando

Mariners: RHP Christian Bergman, LHP Ross Detwiler, RHP Mike Morin, INF Zach Vincej

Marlins: OF JB Shuck

Mets: RHP Chris Beck, OF Bryce Brentz, RHP Scott Copeland, OF Matt den Dekker, INF Ty Kelly

Nationals: LHP Tommy Milone, OF Moises Sierra, RHP Carlos Torres

Orioles: RHP Jhan Marinez, INF Luis Sardinas

Padres: OF Matt Szczur

Phillies: INF Trevor Plouffe

Pirates: LHP Buddy Boshers, RHP Casey Sadler, RHP A.J. Schugel

Rangers: C Juan Centeno, LHP Anthony Gose, RHP Drew Hutchison, INF Tommy Joseph, RHP Chris Rowley

Rays: INF Brandon Snyder, RHP Ryan Weber

Reds: C Tim Federowicz, RHP Kevin Quackenbush

Tigers: INF Dixon Machado, RHP Jacob Turner

White Sox: RHP Tyler Danish

Mark Polishuk <![CDATA[Do The Mariners Need A Chemistry Change?]]> 2018-10-05T23:51:14Z 2018-10-05T23:50:33Z
  • A clubhouse skirmish reportedly involving Jean Segura and Dee Gordon was the most overt sign of how the Mariners’ chemistry seemed to falter alongside the team’s middling record down the stretch, as Seattle faded out of contention.  One of the team’s offseason priorities, TJ Cotterill of the Tacoma News Tribune writes, will be to address whether or not changes need to be made to improve the team’s internal focus and culture.  “I don’t know what comes first — the cart or the horse, winning and clubhouse chemistry, or losing and clubhouse strife,” GM Jerry Dipoto said, noting that some frustration and tension amongst teammates is natural when a team isn’t performing well.
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    TC Zencka <![CDATA[Denard Span Hires New Agent]]> 2018-10-05T18:39:05Z 2018-10-05T18:35:16Z Denard Span has switched agencies, reports Jerry Crasnick. The potential free agent outfielder is now represented by All Bases Covered Sports Management.

    After being shipped from San Francisco to Tampa Bay last offseason in the Evan Longoria deal, Span again found himself on the move early in 2018 when the Rays sent him and Alex Colome to the Mariners. Span was a solid contributor in Seattle, hitting .272/.329/.435 across 328 plate appearances, with rate metrics pegging him at 12% better than average for the year (112 wOPS+, 112 wRC+).

    Defensively, the former center fielder saw only one inning of action there after recording -27 DRS in 2018. Metrics like him more in left (-1 DRS), but his arm continues to be a liability and he lacks the offensive pop traditionally associated with the position. Still, the grizzled veteran ought to see an opportunity for playing time should he desire to play a 12th season.

    Span and Seattle share a $12MM mutual option for 2019 with a $4MM buyout. Span will likely accept, leaving the Mariners front office with an $8MM decision on the outfielder. He made $11MM in 2018 – $2MM of which was paid by the Giants. Span has played eleven seasons for the Twins, Nationals, Giants, Rays and Mariners.

    Span’s switch in representation has been reflected in the MLBTR Agency Database, which contains representation info on more than 2,500 Major League and minor league players. If you see a notable error or omission, please let us know:

    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Dipoto, Servais On Mariners’ Offseason]]> 2018-10-03T00:07:40Z 2018-10-03T00:07:40Z The Mariners were one of the most talked-about teams in the first half of the 2018 season and finished with an impressive 89 victories on the year, but that total left them an improbably significant nine games back from even obtaining a Wild Card berth in an extremely top-heavy American League. The organization is in somewhat of a tough spot, with an aging roster, a crowded payroll and a thin farm system, but GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais made clear at their end-of-year press conference that there are no plans to embark on any sort of significant rebuild (links via TJ Cotterill of the Tacoma News Tribune and Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times).

    “The likelihood of ever truly considering a tear-it-down model, it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Dipoto said. “…That doesn’t make sense because we have so many positive elements with where our teams is, guys like Mitch Haniger, Marco Gonzales and Edwin Diaz. There are the pieces you are trying to build around, not the pieces that you are trying to send away.”

    Seattle does have its share of aging veterans and the subsequent payroll issues that one would expect with those aging veterans. Felix Hernandez is owed $27MM this coming season but will be off the books following the 2019 campaign. Robinson Cano is still owed $24MM annually through 2023, however, and Kyle Seager (who took a step back at the plate in 2018) is owed nearly $20MM in each of the next three seasons. Those issues, paired with a thin farm, are certainly problematic, but the Mariners have plenty of silver linings to give them optimism as well.

    If there’s one veteran whose status is up in the air, it’s longtime designated hitter Nelson Cruz. The 38-year-old remained a prodigious slugger and a formidable threat in the heart of the Seattle lineup this season, hitting .256/.342/.509 with 37 home runs. But Cruz is a free agent and no longer capable of playing the outfield with any regularity, and the Mariners under Dipoto’s watch have tried to become more athletic and defensively versatile. Much has been made of a possible reunion, but Dipoto hinted that the team has not yet decided if it will have a dedicated designated hitter next season.

    While Dipoto said he “never viewed Nelson as holding us back” because of his inability to play defense and noted that “Nelson Cruz is a winning player,”  the executive still doesn’t seem sold on re-signing him. Dipoto added: “But clearly if we were committed to going back to the DH-only player, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. We would have taken care of it much earlier this year,” suggesting the Mariners would’ve re-signed Cruz during the season if they were fully committed to bringing him back.

    Even though he’s a one-dimensional player, Cruz was still part of the solution for the ’18 Mariners – as his 2.5 fWAR/2.9 rWAR indicates – and determining his future will be one of Dipoto’s key responsibilities during the offseason. Cruz is easily the most important pending free agent for a team which just extended its major league-high playoff drought to 17 years. Despite their ongoing struggles relative to the rest of the league, Dipoto seems encouraged by the overall performance of this year’s club. While Dipoto acknowledged that the Mariners “failed to reach the goal” of snapping their league-worst streak, he noted that on paper we should feel good about” an 89-win season.

    “To be honest, knowing that it would have required us to get to 98 wins to get to the playoffs probably helps you sleep a little bit better, because that’s not a particularly realistic goal,” continued Dipoto, referring to the 97-65 campaign the division-rival A’s posted en route the AL’s last playoff spot.

    Both the A’s and the AL West-winning Astros figure to once again serve as major roadblocks for the Mariners in 2019. As such, Dipoto & Co. will have their work cut out for them this winter as they attempt to build a team good enough to break Seattle’s postseason drought next year.

    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Silver Linings: American League West]]> 2018-10-02T18:10:02Z 2018-10-02T18:10:02Z In our Silver Linings series, we’re checking in on the most promising developments for non-contending teams during an otherwise disappointing 2018 season. We’ll finish it out with the American League West.

    [Previous “Silver Linings” Posts: AL CentralNL CentralNL EastAL East, NL West]

    With the Astros back on top on the American League West and the Athletics gearing up for a Wild Card date with the Yankees, that leaves three clubs nursing their wounds. Here are the silver linings from the division…

    Mariners – A promising core

    And no — not the core they once boasted, which featured an in-prime Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez and an aging-but-still-productive Nelson Cruz. This Mariners team won 89 games largely in spite of that group (Cruz being the exception), as Cano was suspended 80 games while Seager and Hernandez had the worst seasons of their still-excellent careers.

    Instead, it was Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton and Marco Gonzales who carried the Mariners for much of the season. At 30 years old next month, Paxton is by far the oldest of that bunch, meaning the Mariners should have a good chunk of each player’s prime left.

    Haniger and Segura turned in star-caliber performances on the season as a whole (even if each slumped late in the year). Both were deserving All-Stars. Diaz set a franchise record with 57 and posted a preposterous 15.2 K/9 mark with a 1.96 ERA that fielding-independent metrics actually felt was indicative of some poor luck (1.61 FIP, 1.78 xFIP, 1.49 SIERA). Paxton pitched a career-high 160 1/3 innings with career-best K/BB numbers. Gonzales’ 4.00 ERA doesn’t immediately stand out, but he showed excellent control and was credited with a more encouraging 3.43 FIP and 3.59 xFIP through 166 2/3 innings.

    General manager Jerry Dipoto has been widely panned for some of his trades — there’s no getting around the Chris Taylor/Zach Lee swap, for instance — but that’ll come with the territory for virtually any top-level executive (especially one who trades so prolifically). To this point, though, Dipoto & Co. deserve credit for the acquisitions of Haniger, Segura, Gonzales, James Pazos and even veteran Mike Leake (4.36 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 4.15 xFIP in 185 1/3 innings). Each has yielded positive results thus far. There are payroll problems and aging veterans that complicate things in Seattle, but the Mariners have a nice foundation in place — especially if either Seager or Hernandez can bounce back to some extent.

    Angels – Co-Stars

    Remember those quaint days this spring when many were wondering if Shohei Ohtani would deliver anything close to the hype — both on and, especially, off the mound? The 24-year-old has laid waste to the doubters of his offensive abilities, even as his season as a pitcher ended in disappointment and the Halos’ team effort crumbled.

    It’s hard to overemphasize just how impressive Ohtani has been. He hit .285/.361/.564 with 22 homers and 10 steals in just 367 plate appearances, which was 52 percent more productive than a league-average bat when adjusting for park and league (152 wRC+). Among players with 350 PAs, that wRC+ ranked Ohtani eighth in all of baseball. Still, he won’t be on the mound next year after undergoing Tommy John surgery this week, meaning he’ll be limited to providing impressive work from the plate. That leaves a direct conundrum — how to manage the situation with Albert Pujols — along with gaping hole at the top of the rotation.

    Fortunately, the Halos have stockpiled some other star performers to place around centerpiece Mike Trout like the side stones in a ring. Andrelton Simmons is now providing enough offense to rate not “just” as one of the league’s top defenders, but rather as one of the its best overall players. Justin Upton’s .257/.344/.463 slash rated more than 20 percent better than the league-average hitter by measure of stats like OPS+ (122) and wRC+ (124). And 24-year-old rookie David Fletcher held his own with the bat while providing terrific defense at both second base and third base.

    The rotation is mired with question marks, to be sure, but the makings of a solid relief corps are there with Blake Parker, Jose Alvarez, Cam Bedrosian and up-and-coming Ty Buttrey all giving reason for optimism.

    Rangers – Young players on the rise

    Frankly, it feels like Jurickson Profar should be older than 25 at this point. The switch-hitting infielder was the Baseball America’s No. 1 overall prospect way back in the 2012-13 offseason — and that was already his third consecutive season drawing Top 100 fanfare. After shoulder injuries wiped out two seasons for the Curacao native, he delivered a forgettable 2017 campaign that called his upside into question. Fast forward a year, and Profar hit .254/.335/.458 with a career-high 20 homers and 10 steals while appearing at five different positions.

    It’s not just Profar, either. Rougned Odor signed a $49.5MM extension prior to the 2017 campaign and promptly faceplanted with an abysmal .204/.252/.397 slash last season. This year, however, Odor rebounded to the tune of a .253/.326/.424 with 18 homers, a dozen steals and radically improved defensive numbers at second base — all while nearly doubling his previous career-high walk rate.

    Perhaps no Texas youngster shined brighter than emergent closer Jose Leclerc, though. The 24-year-old reined in last season’s ghastly 7.9 BB/9 mark and managed to up his strikeout rate in the process. Leclerc posted 57 2/3 innings of 1.56 ERA ball in 2018, averaging 13.3 K/9 and 3.9 BB/9 while allowing just one home run along the way. His 17.2 percent swinging-strike rate ties him with Craig Kimbrel for the fifth-best among qualified relievers, trailing only Josh Hader, Edwin Diaz, Blake Treinen and Ryan Pressly. Controlled through 2022, Leclerc could either be a long-term piece or, if he can sustain his success a bit longer, the the type of power arm for which opposing teams would surrender a king’s ransom on the trade market.

    Joey Gallo, meanwhile, clubbed 40 homers with his typical brand of absurd strikeout totals. Ronald Guzman swatted 16 home runs in an uneven debut season. Nomar Mazara had his best season to date, even if he’s yet to achieve the stardom many expected. The Rangers’ 2019 rotation looks like a disaster waiting to happen, but their bats — even veteran Shin-Soo Choo turned back the clock with an excellent 2018 — and their otherworldly young closer give fans something to look forward to next year.

    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Mariners Notes: Ichiro, Tuivailala]]> 2018-10-02T01:19:12Z 2018-10-02T01:19:12Z
  • Although Ichiro Suzuki moved from the Mariners’ outfield to a front office role in May, the future Hall of Famer’s agent, John Boggs, insisted at the time he wasn’t retiring. That hasn’t changed, as Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto said Monday (via Corey Brock of The Athletic) that the team will give Ichiro a chance to win a job on its 2019 Opening Day roster, if he’s healthy. Notably, the Mariners will begin their season in Ichiro’s homeland of Japan, where he thrived as a professional before immigrating to Seattle in 2001.
  • More on the Mariners, who “hope” reliever Sam Tuivailala will return by next June, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweets. The M’s acquired Tuivailaila from the Cardinals in late July, only to see his season end a couple weeks later on account of a right Achilles injury. The 25-year-old Tuivailala pitched to a 3.41 ERA with 7.3 K/9, 2.92 BB/9 and a 49.2 percent groundball rate before undergoing surgery in August.
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    Connor Byrne <![CDATA[Mariners, Mel Stottlemyre Jr. Part Ways]]> 2018-10-02T03:19:09Z 2018-10-01T23:02:01Z The Mariners won’t retain pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. for 2019, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times tweets. The rest of manager Scott Servais’ staff has been invited back for next season, Divish adds.

    To this point, the 54-year-old Stottlemyre has been Servais’ sole pitching coach since the latter took the reins as the Mariners’ skipper after the 2015 season. During its three years under Stottlemyre, Seattle’s pitching staff was a middle-of-the-pack group, ranking 14th in the majors in ERA (4.19) and 17th in fWAR (39.5).

    It’s difficult to quantify how much credit or blame to assign to Stottlemyre for the work he did, though it’s worth noting the Mariners have seen hurlers James Paxton, Edwin Diaz and Marco Gonzales emerge as strong pieces over the past couple years. Their presences will surely carry appeal as the team searches for Stottlemyre’s successor.

    Steve Adams <![CDATA[Paxton Aims For 200-Inning Season In 2019]]> 2018-09-28T19:45:33Z 2018-09-28T19:45:33Z Mariners lefty James Paxton is slated to make his final start of the season Saturday, and he’ll be on a pitch count of about 85, tweets Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. Paxton is aiming to top 160 innings in an effort to build up to the point where he’d be able to strive for a 200-inning season without any workload limitations. Paxton, 30 in November, has never approached that mark in any professional season, topping out at a combined 171 2/3 innings between Triple-A and the Majors in 2016. He’s battled everything from a lat strain, to a forearm strain, back inflammation and a severe tendon injury in his pitching hand over the course of an impressive but injury-laden career to date. Seattle has control of Paxton through the 2020 season and will certainly be hoping for a larger workload and better health next season, given the deterioration of previous ace Felix Hernandez. Thus far in 2018, Paxton has pitched a career-high 154 1/3 innings with a career-best 11.6 K/9 mark against just 2.5 BB/9. He’s been more homer-prone than in recent years (1.34 HR/9) but still owns a solid 3.85 ERA that is backed by career-best marks in fielding-independent marks like xFIP (3.08) and SIERA (3.01).

    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Mariners To Hire Angels' Thon]]> 2018-09-26T21:12:19Z 2018-09-26T19:14:25Z
  • In other international scouting news, Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs has tweeted a few recent moves. Frankie Thon has bounced from the Angels to the Mariners, taking over as international scouting director in Seattle. Likewise, the Mets will lose their international scouting director Chris Becerra, who is expected to take a job with the Red Sox.
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    Jason Martinez <![CDATA[Past, Present & Future: American League Closer Turnover]]> 2018-09-30T00:11:36Z 2018-09-25T17:01:58Z By the end of the 2017 season, the list of pitchers closing out games for their respective teams included Matt Belisle, Alex Claudio, Juan Minaya and Mike Minor. Three of them were without a career save coming into the season—Belisle had five in 13 MLB seasons—and none had been expected to fill a significant late-inning bullpen role. By way of injuries, trades or ineffectiveness from those ahead of them on the depth chart, they were given a chance to record the final out in a close win and proved themselves capable.

    Things haven’t changed much this year. Raise your hand if you thought Wily Peralta would have one save in 2018. He has 13! Of the 15 American League teams, only four currently have a closer situation that mirrors what they had on Opening Day. When it comes to closers, uncertainty is the only certainty. And that’s why Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman are Hall of Famers and the relief pitchers who will join them in Cooperstown in the future are few and far between.

    Here’s a look back at each American League team’s closer situation on Opening Day versus where they are now and where they will be as they head into the offseason. (Click HERE to view the National League.)

    [Related: MLB closer depth chart at Roster Resource]

    Baltimore Orioles Orioles Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Committee — Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens
    September 2018: Mychal Givens

    Future Outlook: Brach got the majority of the committee’s save chances prior to Zach Britton reclaiming the job shortly after returning from the disabled list in late June. Soon after, Givens was the last man standing following a series of July trades (Brach to the Braves; Britton to the Yankees). O’Day, meanwhile, suffered a season-ending hamstring surgery and was later traded to Atlanta in a separate deal.

    A valuable setup man for most of the past three seasons, Givens has done a fine job since taking over ninth-inning duties. In his last 19 appearances, he has a 2.18 ERA and eight saves in 10 chances. With so many holes to fill on the roster, upgrading at the closer position is probably low on the Orioles’ priority list. Givens, therefore, likely enters 2019 with the job — if he isn’t traded himself this offseason as the O’s continue their rebuilding efforts.

    Boston Red Sox Red Sox Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Craig Kimbrel
    September 2018: Craig Kimbrel

    Future Outlook: Kimbrel, who recently became the fourth pitcher in MLB history to record at least 40 saves in five different seasons, has been a huge part of Boston’s historic season. As a free agent following the 2018 campaign, the 30-year-old will command a contract that rivals the highest-paid relievers in the game. Can the Red Sox afford to let him walk? Just in case he does, they’ll have to plan accordingly.

    With Joe Kelly also set to become a free agent, Matt Barnes is the logical choice to inherit the closer’s gig. He’s earned the opportunity with a 3.28 ERA and 25 holds while serving as the primary setup man on the best team in baseball. The 28-year-old also has an impressive 13.9 K/9 in 60.1 innings of work, an increase from 10.7 K/9 in ’17 and 9.6 K/9 in ’16. The only question is whether a team capable of winning over 100 games will entrust the role to someone with two career saves. If Kimbrel signs elsewhere, it seems likely that the Sox would pursue alternatives in free agency and/or trades.

    Chicago White Sox White Sox Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Joakim Soria
    September 2018: Committee — Nate Jones, Jace Fry, Minaya, etc.

    Future Outlook: Soria was as good as he’d been in years, posting a 2.56 ERA with 16 saves and 11.4 K/9 in 40 appearances. The White Sox cashed in by sending him to the Brewers for two pitching prospects in late July. Since then, they’ve handed off the closer’s job to a committee that included just about any relief pitcher on their active roster—seven different pitchers have recorded saves since the Soria trade.

    The next step for the rebuilding White Sox is to put together a roster that can, at the very least, be a .500 team and potential playoff contender. Having a reliable closer would be an important part of that plan. Jones looks the part, but he’s missed most of the last two seasons recovering from elbow surgery and still might not be ready to take on the workload of a primary closer. A healthy Zack Burdi, the team’s first-round draft pick in 2016 and one time “closer of the future,” could also be in the mix at some point, though he spent 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery. They’ll likely play it safe, however, and add at least one veteran with closing experience this offseason.

    Cleveland Indians | Indians Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Cody Allen
    September 2018: Co-Closers – Allen and Brad Hand

    Future Outlook: Allen has a lot of mileage on his arm, averaging 71 relief appearances per season since 2013, and it’s showed at times during the current season. With Andrew Miller on the disabled list and Allen’s ERA creeping up near 5.00, the Indians’ acquisition of Brad Hand from the Padres on July 19th was a no-brainer.

    Not only has it helped them down the stretch—Hand has a 2.45 ERA and eight saves while Allen has 10 consecutive scoreless appearances—it also gives the Indians a very good closer option for 2019. Allen and Miller are both headed for free agency while the 28-year-old Hand is under contract through 2021. The job should be his moving forward.

    Detroit Tigers Tigers Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Shane Greene
    September 2018: Shane Greene

    Future Outlook: With a 5.20 ERA and six blown saves in 37 chances, Greene is probably lucky to have held on to the job for the entire season. But on a rebuilding Tigers team, who is going to close out games for them is the least of their worries. With that said, Greene probably fits best as a setup man. Even if they don’t upgrade this offseason, All-Star Joe Jimenez (11.2 K/9, 22 holds, 3 saves, 2.88 FIP) could supplant Greene in 2019.

    Houston Astros Astros Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Co-Closers – Chris Devenski and Ken Giles
    September 2018: Roberto Osuna

    Future Outlook: Despite a drop in strikeout rate—8.0 K/9 in ’18; 11.7 K/9 in ’17—Osuna has continued to perform at a high level amid abuse allegations that led to a 75-game suspension under MLB’s domestic abuse policy. The Astros still decided to acquire him in a trade with the Jays despite the ongoing investigation.

    Barring any struggles during the team’s playoff run — he’s postseason eligible in spite of that suspension — or any further off-the-field troubles, the 23-year-old Osuna seems likely to enter 2019 as the Astros’ closer. He’s under club control through the 2020 season.

    Kansas City Royals Royals Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Kelvin Herrera
    September 2018: Wily Peralta

    Future Outlook: Soon after Herrera was traded to Washington in mid-June, Peralta emerged from the closer committee to become one of the unlikeliest ninth-inning success stories of 2018. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the 29-year-old has 13 saves in 13 chances and a 9.5 K/9 rate.

    After getting booted from the Brewers’ rotation last May, he had a disastrous 11-appearance stint as a relief pitcher (17 1/3 innings, 23 ER, 28 H, 15 BB) before getting designated for assignment in late July. He signed a Major League deal with Kansas City this offseason, only to be designated for assignment again and outrighted to Triple-A. He returned to the Majors one day before the Herrera trade and picked up his first MLB save eight days later.

    Peralta has a $3MM club option in 2019, which could very well be exercised. Even if it’s not, he’s remain under team control for one more season via arbitration. While he’s been better than anyone could’ve anticipated in his current role, his 22 walks in 31 1/3 innings serve as a red flag that will likely keep the Royals from locking him into the job next season without some form of competition.

    Los Angeles Angels Angels Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Keynan Middleton
    September 2018: Ty Buttrey

    Future Outlook: Blake Parker, who finished 2017 as the closer, picked up the team’s first save of 2018 after finishing last season in the role. But it was Middleton who got the call for the next six save chances, all successful, making it clear that he was manager Mike Scioscia’s preferred choice in the ninth inning. A few weeks later, however, Middleton had undergone season-ending Tommy John surgery and it was back to the drawing board for the Angels.

    Parker got the majority of save chances with Middleton out. And as was the case in 2017, he got the job done with a 3.21 ERA and 13 saves in 16 chances from May 14th—the day after Middleton’s last game— through September 3rd. But Buttrey, acquired from the Red Sox in the July deal for Ian Kinsler, is getting a chance to show what he can do as of late. In six appearances from September 7th through September 18th, the 25-year-old tossed seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and four saves. He has failed to convert his last two save chances, though.

    Regardless, there probably wasn’t enough time for Buttrey to seal the job for 2019. He will be a candidate alongside Parker, though, unless the Angels acquire a closer this offseason.

    Minnesota Twins Twins Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Fernando Rodney
    September 2018: Trevor Hildenberger

    Future Outlook: After saving 25 games and solidifying the ninth inning for Minnesota over the first four months of the season, Rodney was traded to Oakland in AugustRyan Pressly, who would’ve been the logical choice to succeed him, was traded to Houston in late July. A closer committee appeared likely, but Hildenberger has been the go-to guy with seven saves in eight chances since Rodney’s departure. Taylor Rogers, while serving mostly in a setup role, has not allowed a run over his last 23 2/3 innings while logging two saves and 11 holds over that span.

    Between Hildenberger, Rogers, Addison Reed and Trevor May, who has five walks and 31 strikeouts in 23 innings in his first season since Tommy John surgery, the Twins have some decent late-inning options for 2019. It’s probably not enough to keep them away from the offseason closer’s market, though.

    New York Yankees Yankees Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Aroldis Chapman
    September 2018: Co-Closers – Zach Britton and Dellin Betances

    Future Outlook: Chapman might not have enough time to reclaim the closer’s job before the end of the regular season—he returned from the disabled list last Wednesday—or even the playoffs for that matter. But there’s no reason to think a change is on the horizon in 2019. The 30-year-old lefty, who is 31-for-33 in save opportunities and is striking out 16.1 batters per nine innings, will be entering year three of a five-year, $85MM contract.

    Oakland Athletics Athletics Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Blake Treinen
    September 2018: Blake Treinen

    Future Outlook: Treinen has been one of the breakout stars in 2018, saving 37 games while posting an 0.80 ERA and striking out 11.1 batters per nine innings for a playoff-bound A’s team. The 30-year-old is still under team control for two more seasons, although he’s in line for a significant raise from the $2.15MM he made in ’18. Barring injury, there’s no doubt that he’ll retain the job in 2019.

    Seattle Mariners Mariners Depth Chart 

    Opening Day 2018: Edwin Diaz 
    September 2018: Edwin Diaz

    Future Outlook: No other closer, arguably, has contributed more to his team’s success than the 24-year-old Diaz, who has 14 more saves (56) than any other pitcher in baseball and 13 more save chances (60). The Mariners play a lot of close ballgames—they are 36-21 in one-run games—and Diaz rarely gives his opponent a chance in the ninth inning. He has held his opponent scoreless in 59 of his 71 appearances and hitless in 44. He also has 41 multi-strikeout games.

    The 24-year-old is going to get paid once he reaches arbitration, although he could fall just short during the upcoming offseason. The Super Two cutoff has not fallen under 2.122 (two years, 122 days) since 2009. Diaz will be one day shy of that total.

    Tampa Bay Rays Rays Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Alex Colome
    September 2018: Co-Closers – Sergio Romo/Jose Alvarado

    Future Outlook: When Colome was traded to Seattle on May 25th, the Rays were two games under .500 and 10 games out in the division. It’s not clear whether they were throwing in the towel or whether they just had enough confidence in Romo, who had 84 career saves coming into the season, and the remaining group of young arms. In any case, it’s worked out just fine.

    Since the trade, the Rays are 64-44 with Romo as the primary closer (3.38 ERA, 23-for-28  in save chances) and Alvarado, a 23-year-old lefty, also playing an integral role (1.98 ERA, 7 saves). Not that you can count on the Rays to do anything conventional like name a closer prior to the season or at any point during the regular season, but Alvarez and the hard-throwing Diego Castillo would be the leading in-house candidates if they did. Tampa Bay could also look to bring Romo back into the fold.

    Texas Rangers Rangers Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Keone Kela
    September 2018: Jose Leclerc

    Future Outlook: No relief pitcher has boosted their value more in the second half of the season than Leclerc, who spent the first four months in a setup role. Once Kela was traded to the Pirates on July 31st, it was the 24-year-old Leclerc’s chance to shine. It’s hard to imagine a more convincing way to show that he wouldn’t be relinquishing the job anytime soon.

    Aside from converting each of his 11 save opportunities, Leclerc has allowed just two hits and six walks over 17 scoreless innings while striking out 28. The Rangers will look to bolster their bullpen this offseason, but finding a new closer isn’t likely to be on the agenda. Leclerc is controlled through 2022.

    Toronto Blue Jays Blue Jays Depth Chart

    Opening Day 2018: Roberto Osuna
    September 2018: Ken Giles

    Future Outlook: Despite being the primary closer on the World Champion Astros, it was clear  that Giles was not trusted with the game on the line. The trade to Toronto in late July gave the 28-year-old a chance to re-establish himself, out of the spotlight, as a reliable late-inning reliever. So far, so good.

    After a few shaky appearances to begin his Blue Jays tenure, Giles has settled into the closer’s role with 1.29 ERA over his past 15 appearances with 12 saves in 12 chances. It might not be enough to prevent the Jays from pursuing another option this winter, but Giles should at least be in the mix.

    Nate Jones (if $4.65MM club option is declined)
    Joe Kelly
    Craig Kimbrel
    Ryan Madson
    Andrew Miller
    Fernando Rodney (if $4.25MM club option is declined)
    Sergio Romo
    Joakim Soria (if $10MM mutual option is declined)
    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[AL West Notes: Rangers, Felix, Cruz]]> 2018-09-24T18:06:10Z 2018-09-24T18:06:10Z Let’s check in on the latest out of the American League West …

    • As the Rangers prepare to find a new manager, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News explores the case for simply keeping interim skipper Don Wakamatsu. It’ll obviously be hard for Wakamatsu to move the needle on the team’s bottom line over his brief tenure, but he is in some respects in the midst of a live audition for the job. As Grant notes, the former Mariners manager not only “has a long history with the Rangers and, in particular, [GM Jon] Daniels,” but also arguably offers the right blend of “continuity” and change. Wakamatsu certainly has a broad array of experiences in different dugouts, as is well documented in the piece.
    • Longtime Mariners ace Felix Hernandez is slated to return from a hamstring injury to make one last start in the 2018 season, as’s Greg Johns reports. The veteran hurler, who has fallen on hard times on the mound of late, says he “just want[s] to finish strong and show them I can still pitch.” From the club’s perspective, skipper Scott Servais says, they hope to send Hernandez “into the offseason with peace of mind” to he can know how best to “get ready for next year.” Of course, there’s also a line of thinking that both player and team could be best served by a clean break at the end of this season — as Bob Dutton recently discussed (but did not specifically advocate).
    • Meanwhile, Dutton tackles the case of veteran Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz in another post on the KLAY 1180 AM blog. Both sides are saying they are hopeful of a reunion, but they have yet to hold contract talks. It’s an interesting dynamic, as Dutton explains, because there’s an argument to be made that Seattle ought to utilize its resources in a different manner — particularly with Robinson Cano on hand as a potential part-time DH. Of course, as Dutton also rightly notes, there is still plenty of time left to chat before Cruz formally returns to the open market — and, of course, he could still return thereafter. It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out.
    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[AL West Notes: Manaea, Keuchel, Felix]]> 2018-09-20T19:32:28Z 2018-09-20T19:32:28Z There’s a bit of surprisingly good news for an Athletics team that has weathered a withering run of injuries to young pitchers. As’s Jane Lee was among those to report (Twitter links), the Oakland organization says it was actually rather encouraged by the outcome of Sean Manaea’s shoulder procedure yesterday. Though the team likely won’t be able to rely on him as a contributor in 2019, it seems there’s some hope that Manaea could be ready to return late in the season. And the long-term outlook is generally good, which is particularly promising for a hurler who is only just reaching arbitration eligibility.

    More from some other prominent AL West hurlers …

    • Astros southpaw Dallas Keuchel is headed for free agency in less than two months, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to think about it. As Mark Berman of FOX 26 was among those to convey (video link on Twitter), the lefty says he isn’t interested in pondering his future, preferring instead to “enjoy this team and this year.” That’s surely a sensible position to take for a variety of reasons. The 30-year-old and his teammates are, after all, trying to ramp up for a second consecutive World Series run. And he can best increase his market options and earning power by continuing to throw the ball well. Through 196 2/3 solid frames this year, Keuchel carries a 3.71 ERA with 6.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 along with a 53.3% groundball rate. That last figure, while still strong, is well under Keuchel’s established levels, though he is compensating in some regards by holding opposing hitters to less home runs (11.2% HR/FB, 0.78 HR/9) than he has typically.
    • The Mariners shouldn’t worry about the $27MM they owe Felix Hernandez in deciding his future with the club, veteran journalist Bob Dutton writes on the KLAY 1180 blog. Simply put, that’s a sunk cost. And Dutton says the M’s ought to ignore it — at least, perhaps, unless they are able to arrange some kind of trade scenario utilizing the contract. That’s not to say that the end ought to come before the start of the 2019 season, but Dutton argues it’s not a possibility the organization should shy from considering.
    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Jerry Dipoto On Mariners’ Struggles, Interest In Retaining Nelson Cruz]]> 2018-09-14T23:15:21Z 2018-09-14T23:15:21Z In his most recent appearance on 710 ESPN radio (audio link), Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto discussed his club’s disappointing fade in the postseason race. What had seemed an inevitable march to a Wild Card has turned into a lost cause as the division-rival A’s sprinted past.

    It long seemed that the M’s were outperforming their true talent level, but the collapse has still been surprising (albeit less so than the corresponding Oakland surge). Seattle is still 14 games over .500, but it sat over twenty games over for much of late June and July.

    Dipoto admitted that the club is at a “bit of a crossroads” at this point, having seen a hoped-for postseason return fall out of its grasp. “We should be embarrassed by it and I am,” says the veteran executive, who says it feels as if the club has “taken two steps forward and then three steps back” over the course of the season.

    It’s interesting to hear Dipoto describe things in that manner, as the organization seems largely to be set up to continue pressing forward after the present season. After all, its 2019 payroll already includes over $125MM in guaranteed money before accounting for arbitration salaries or outside acquisitions. Of course, Dipoto could perhaps be referring more to the team’s approaches to roster building and commitments to specific players than its determination to pursue near-term contention.

    Notably, that upcoming salary figure also doesn’t include a salary for veteran slugger Nelson Cruz, who is the team’s top pending free agent. Dipoto highlighted Cruz as one of the season’s highlights in the above-linked chat. And he has made clear in other recent comments that the Mariners have every intention of trying to keep him in the fold, as Corey Brock of The Athletic explores (subscription link).

    As Dipoto put it in an interview with Seattle’s KIRO-AM:

    “I don’t think you could increase the chances we’d want to, the chances we want to are already very high. Everybody wants Nelson here, there’s no question about that.”

    Just how contract talks will proceed isn’t clear, but they won’t be impacted by the qualifying offer process since Cruz isn’t eligible to receive one. The 38-year-old would otherwise seem a reasonable recipient despite his advanced age. After all, he has done nothing but mash since coming to Seattle. Through nearly 2,500 plate appearances over the past four seasons, he carries a ridiculous .286/.365/.553 slash with 162 home runs.

    Interestingly, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times noted back in June that the organization has already made a run at “a contract setup similar to David Ortiz’s final years in Boston” — i.e., a hefty single-year guarantee with a series of options, at least some of which had vesting elements. Evidently, that approach (or other details of the offer) didn’t strike Cruz’s fancy, at least not to the extent that he was willing to make a deal before the start of the season.

    Now that Cruz will have another productive year in the books, he can certainly seek a multi-year deal if he prefers. As Brock explains, some recent injuries are perhaps more a reflection of misfortune than deterioration, and Cruz is a noted workout fiend. Though he’ll be limited to American League teams, and will face a market that hasn’t favored defensively-limited sluggers, Cruz will surely be a popular target if he makes it to free agency.

    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[AL West Notes: Felix, Lowrie, Cahill, Skaggs, Calhoun, Listach]]> 2018-09-14T00:37:07Z 2018-09-14T00:25:24Z Mariners fans in particular will want to read up on the club’s faded ace, Felix Hernandez, in this piece from Scott Miller of Bleacher Report. The veteran hurler has taken his downfall hard, but he’s still working to rediscover the magic that once made him one of the game’s very best pitchers. Of course, his lost fastball velocity means the odds are long; it’s still in full retreat despite the fact that Hernandez says his “body feels good” after dealing with injuries over the past two seasons. It’s a well-conceived and well-paced story — at once deep and, refreshingly, not unnecessarily lengthy — with some notable observations from current and former M’s personnel and others close to Hernandez.

    More from the AL West:

    • Athletics second baseman Jed Lowrie acknowledged today in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (Twitter link) that he has had some contact with the club about staying on past the present season. The team’s interest in maintaining the relationship has been known for some time, but it’s interesting nevertheless to hear Lowrie address the matter. To this point, Lowrie says, talks haven’t moved past an initial expression of interest. But he says he likes it in Oakland and believes he fits the club well, so it certainly sounds as if the good vibes flow in both directions. No doubt that’s due in some part to the immense success both player and team have found this year. It’s a second-straight eyebrow-raising season at the plate for Lowrie, who owns a healthy .276/.360/.455 slash since the start of the 2017 campaign. He has set himself up for an interesting trip onto the open market — if nothing comes together first with the A’s.
    • In yet more unwelcome health news for the Athletics, righty Trevor Cahill has gone down with a rhomboid muscle strain, as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The upper-back ailment comes at an uncomfortable proximity to the postseason, though it seems as if the expectation is he won’t miss more than a single start. To be sure that things aren’t more serious, Cahill is headed in for an MRI.
    • Angels southpaw Tyler Skaggs was able to work up to a 48-pitch sim game today, skipper Mike Scioscia tells reporters including Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register (via Twitter). It’s still not clear whether he’ll return to the majors this year, though that figures to be a topic of discussion in the coming days. The 27-year-old, who is rehabbing from an adductor strain, is looking to extend his personal-best 116 2/3-inning, 3.78 ERA showing on the season. Whether or not he’s able to do so, Skaggs has impressed and now seems to be one of the club’s best bets to provide quality frames in 2019 — if he can stay healthy. Skaggs will likely command a nice raise in his second-to-last trip through the arbitration process after earning $1,875,000 this year.
    • It’s still not clear when Rangers prospect Willie Calhoun will get his first real crack at the big leagues. As T.R. Sullivan of writes, Calhoun had seemed likely to see much more action in the 2018 season. Instead, after a relatively tepid season at the plate at the Triple-A level, Calhoun is seeing scattered time late this season. It seems the organization still wants to see more from the key piece of last year’s Yu Darvish swap before clearing the way. Beyond his known deficiencies in the field and on the bases, manager Jeff Banister seemingly hinted that there are some strength and conditioning steps that the youngster could take to improve.
    • In other Mariners news, the club will part ways with Triple-A skipper and longtime big leaguer player Pat Listach, Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times recently tweeted. That’ll put an end to a four-year run at Tacoma for the former infielder, who has at times been mentioned as a future MLB managerial candidate.
    Jeff Todd <![CDATA[Hisashi Iwakuma To Return To Japan]]> 2018-09-12T14:44:26Z 2018-09-12T14:44:26Z Veteran right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma tells Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times that he will conclude his tenure with the Mariners and return to his native Japan. That does not mean, however, that he’s calling his playing career quits.

    Hisashi Iwakuma

    Iwakuma had been trying to return from shoulder surgery, but only made it to a pair of rehab appearances. While he was not able to get all the way back to the big league mound, the 37-year-old says he still hopes to pitch in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in the future.

    As Iwakuma put it: “Looking at the big picture, it’s been long process of rehab, and finally in this long tunnel, I’m starting to see light. … I wanted to explore how much more I could do back in Japan and see if there any teams are interested in me.”

    Though he did not come to the majors until his age-31 season, following a strong decade-long NPB run, Iwakuma certainly made his mark at the game’s highest level. He ended up throwing 883 2/3 innings of 3.42 ERA ball, all of them coming with the Seattle organization.

    It’s easy to forget just how effective ’Kuma was over the years. He never posted gaudy strikeout rates, but rarely gave up free passes and (in his first three seasons, at least) drew groundballs on about half the balls put in play against him.

    His best overall season, unquestionably, came in 2013. Iwakuma came up one out shy of accumulating 220 frames and ended the year with a 2.66 ERA and 7.6 K/9 against 1.7 BB/9. He earned his lone All-Star nod in the midst of that campaign, which ended with a third-place finish in the American League Cy Young voting.

    Of course, injuries limited Iwakuma more recently. Problems identified on his physical scuttled a three-year, $45MM contract with the Dodgers after the 2015 season. He ended up returning to the M’s on a deal that included a $12MM guarantee and rolling vesting/club options. While the first campaign under that agreement worked out well enough, as Iwakuma threw 199 innings with a 4.12 ERA, he only made six starts with the team in the 2017 season. After the option was declined, Iwakuma ended up returning on a minor-league deal — the same contract that is now coming to a conclusion.

    As he prepares to return to Japan, it’s interesting to look back on the circumstances surrounding his original decision to cross the Pacific. Iwakuma was actually posted in the fall of 2010, with the Athletics winning the bidding under the system in place at that time. When Oakland failed to work out a deal with Iwakuma, he pitched a final season in Japan before drawing interest again as a free agent.

    Unfortunately, though he was effective in that intervening campaign, Iwakuma also was limited that year by shoulder issues. He ended up signing an incentive-laden, one-year deal with the M’s for only a $1.5MM guarantee. The Seattle club wisely doubled down on that initial investment in the ensuing offseason with a two-year, $14MM extension that included a cheap, $7MM option for the 2015 season.

    Though he spent a relatively brief portion of his career in the majors, Iwakuma rates as one of the better Japanese starters ever to ply his trade at the game’s highest level. Where does he rate among them? That’s up for debate, certainly, but those interested in weighing the question can check out this list I compiled of ten prominent Japanese hurlers who’ve compile a notable number of MLB starts.

    Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.