Mariners Still Have Work to Do This Winter
Heading into this offseason, the Mariners came off of a season where they performed above expectations, competed for an AL Wild Card spot until the very end, and had an offensive core that put up great numbers. While the team had tremendous success last season and has made some moves so far this winter, they still have some work to do especially when it comes to the starting rotation.
Earlier this winter, Seattle traded for Jean Segura of the Diamondbacks and shipped starting pitcher, Taijuan Walker, along with shortstop, Ketel Marte, to the desert. The trade helped to fill a void in one area of the roster, while taking away depth from another portion of the roster.
The trade itself raised a lot of questions among Mariners fans who simply couldn't understand why Seattle would give up on such a young pitcher who has several more seasons of team control. While you could discuss the trade and debate about how it took away depth from an area of need that was already there, is another topic. For now, let's focus on the need of starting pitching for the Mariners and what they need to do before Spring Training rolls around.
Last season, the Mariners rotation finished 9th overall in the league with a cumulative ERA of 4.25 in 934.2 IP. During that span, Seattle's rotation ranked 6th in the league for the most home runs given up with 142 and ranked 19th in the league with 768 strikeouts. The team's best starting pitcher last year was Hisashi Iwakuma who didn't even have a stellar ERA himself. Iwakuma finished the year with a 4.12 ERA in 199.0 IP, led the team with 16 wins, and recorded a team high 147 strikeouts in that span.
Considering Iwakuma's ERA and how less than impressive it was last season especially given the fact that he was viewed as the most durable pitcher behind Felix Hernandez (King Felix), Seattle must make a move or two before the offseason concludes to build a more formidable rotation.
As it stands right now, both King Felix and Iwakuma will occupy the first two spots in the rotation with James Paxton, Ariel Miranda, Nate Karns, Rob Whalen, and the recently acquired, Chris Heston, vying for the remaining three spots. That is certainly a rotation that could use more stability and veteran leadership since the team is in it to win right now and has a solid offensive core to play around heading into next season.
While, the Mariners could certainly target the trade market for a starting pitcher like Jake Odorizzi or Jose Quintana, the more likely route will be through the free agent market. Both Odorizzi and Quintana are viewed as highly valuable by the Rays and White Sox and would require quite a haul. Seattle would likely have to pull from it's already lackluster outfield depth, include two top-ten prospects, and probably another prospect or two in a deal of that caliber.
Therefore, the free agent market probably would make the Mariners much more comfortable and would better suit what they are trying to do since they want to hold onto their current assets and contend with the offensive core that they currently have. While the free agent starting pitcher market is lackluster this winter, there are a few options that could be viable.
The first is Jason Hamel who could slot in nicely with King Felix and Hisashi Iwakuma in the middle of the rotation. Another name that has been connected to Seattle is Doug Fister, who is used to pitching in the AL West as he was with the Astros last season, but did struggle posting a 4.64 ERA in 180.1 IP. Finally, another option for Seattle would be former Padres starter, Tyson Ross. Both Fister and Ross could provide some durability to the rotation and would likely sign a short-term deal over one or two years which would likely be the more preferred route for Seattle.
Although there's very few attractive starting pitchers, Seattle needs to figure out something to bolster it's starting rotation somehow before Spring Training rolls around and give the chance the best opportunity to win right now. If they don't, then they will watch their playoff hopes go down the drain, waste away the window they have right now with a great offensive core, and disappoint Mariners fans even more.