The Mariners are poised for one of their most active offseasons in years, with their recent retooling effort having reached its conclusion. Before turning their attention to outside acquisitions, they’ll have to determine whether to retain a few of their own key players. This morning, MLBTR’s Steve Adams covered their looming decision regarding Kyle Seager, and Seattle will also have some notable calls to make on the pitching side.
Yusei Kikuchi, the team’s All-Star representative, could hit the open market. The team has to decide on a four-year, $66MM package deal of conjoined club options this winter. If the club declines to make that long-term commitment, Kikuchi will either exercise his own $13MM option to return in 2022 or choose to test free agency.
Entering the season, the team exercising the options looked like a long shot. Kikuchi then got off to the best start of his three-year MLB career, seemingly making that a tougher call for the front office, as Steve explored here in early July. Over the season’s first half, the 30-year-old worked to a 3.48 ERA across 98 1/3 innings, en route to the aforementioned All-Star selection. He’s struggled mightily over the past couple months, though, with just a 6.04 ERA in 47 2/3 frames. The southpaw’s strikeout rate has dipped a couple percentage points relative to the season’s first few months, while his walk rate has spiked. He’s also been tagged for eleven home runs in his last ten starts as his rate of hard contact allowed has ticked up.
Given those recent struggles, the odds the club picks up Kikuchi’s options look to be dwindling, writes Corey Brock of the Athletic. That’s not particularly surprising, as the southpaw now owns a 4.32 ERA with league average strikeout and walk rates (24.3% and 9.3%, respectively) over the course of the season. Paired with his subpar showings in 2019-20, making that level of long-term commitment to Kikuchi would seem quite risky, even for a club with ample payroll space.
Declining the options would give Kikuchi the chance to become the third Mariners’ starter to hit the open market, joining James Paxton and Tyler Anderson. Seattle could be motivated to bring Anderson back, as he’s fared well since being acquired from the Pirates in a midseason deal. Over eight starts, the southpaw has a 3.83 ERA, offsetting a below-average 18.1% strikeout percentage with a very low 3.7% walk rate. Anderson tells Brock he’d have interest in re-signing with Seattle, and M’s manager Scott Servais said he’s “very intrigued” about the possibility of a reunion, opining that Anderson “would be a good fit going forward.”
Anderson has posted back-to-back reliable seasons. Since the start of 2020, the 31-year-old has a 4.25 ERA in 207 2/3 innings. He hasn’t missed many bats, but he throws plenty of strikes and has done fairly well to avoid damaging contact. It’s possible he and his representatives look for a multi-year deal this offseason, but Anderson was limited to a one-year, $2.5MM guarantee last winter and has split this season between two clubs with pitcher-friendly home ballparks.
In addition to augmenting the group in free agency, the Mariners could look into a long-term deal with one of their pitchers already under team control. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reports that Seattle offered righty Logan Gilbert an extension last September, which the former first-round pick declined. Rosenthal doesn’t suggest there are any plans for a future offer in the near future, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the front office decides to make another effort at some point.
Gilbert had yet to make his big league debut at the time of the M’s offer, but he’s since made his first twenty starts. While the 24-year-old only has a 5.10 ERA, his peripherals have been far more encouraging. Gilbert’s 26% strikeout rate and 5.1% walk percentage are each a few points better than the league average, as is his 12.7% swinging strike rate. The front office is likely as bullish as ever on the young starter’s long-term outlook.
While Gilbert reached the majors this year, his mid-May promotion was late enough in the season that he won’t accrue a full year of service time. He won’t reach free agency until after the 2027 season, although his promotion should enable him to qualify for early arbitration as a Super Two player over the 2023-24 offseason (assuming the existing service time structure survives this winter’s collective bargaining negotiations). No starting pitcher in the 0-1 year service class has signed an extension since Chris Archer’s April 2014 deal with the Rays. With nothing of recent precedent, it could be difficult for the sides to line up on a mutually agreeable price point.