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Starting the Discussion: Mid-Tier Starting Pitching

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The Mariners need pitching depth and the free agent market is rife with mid-tier starting pitching options.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

With the offseason in full swing, the Mariners are completely focused on upgrading their offense. With good reason too -- the Mariners received a combined -1.1 WAR from their center fielders and a combined -2.1 WAR from their designated hitters in 2014. The biggest holes on the roster are on the offensive side of things. Still, we have no idea what the Mariners are going to do this offseason. That could lead to some creative solutions to upgrading our roster.

As you could have guessed from the article title, I'd like to examine an area where the market could be potentially undervaluing players. I'm talking about the mid-tier starting pitcher.

Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, and James Shields are going to get paid this offseason. They're the cream of the crop in this year's free agent class and with good reason. But there are some excellent pitchers to be found in the second- and third-tier as well. These pitchers won't be the headline-writing acquisitions someone like Lester might be but they provide a ton of value for a reasonable price. Dave Cameron recognized this trend in the market as well and I think the Mariners would do well to at least consider some of these options.

It might seem silly to suggest that the Mariners should target a pitcher when the offense is clearly a priority but the Mariners' starting rotation might not be so ironclad. I covered the Steamer projections for our starters in my review of the 40-man roster. Here are those projections again:

Pitchers

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

ERA

FIP

WAR

Felix Hernandez

192

9.29

2.00

0.63

.295

2.94

2.73

4.9

Hisashi Iwakuma

192

7.32

1.79

0.85

.293

3.51

3.40

3.2

James Paxton

173

7.55

3.82

0.73

.297

4.14

3.86

1.9

Taijuan Walker

163

7.89

3.75

0.93

.288

4.14

4.14

1.2

Roenis Elias

153

7.59

3.47

0.93

.288

4.05

4.09

1.2

Erasmo Ramirez

63

6.47

2.71

1.20

.287

4.40

4.46

-0.2

Danny Hultzen

38

8.65

3.87

0.95

.285

3.92

3.99

0.4

Anthony Fernandez

5.91

3.48

1.13

.328

4.70

4.72

It would seem like the five rotation spots are all accounted for but the depth behind those five is iffy at best. Erasmo Ramirez may not be on the team next year as he's out of minor league options and he hasn't been very impressive over the last two years. We can't count on anything from Danny Hultzen and Anthony Fernandez is likely a DFA candidate. None of our other minor league arms seems ready to step into a major league rotation if one of our five starters goes down with an injury. The Mariners need pitching depth and a free agent pitcher could be the best way to fill that need.

Today, I'm just going to give a brief overview of the market and, next week, I'll dive into specific targets.

Depending on how you want to divide it up, there are around six pitchers I would put into the second-tier of free agents. Here are their Steamer projections for next year:

Pitchers

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

ERA

FIP

WAR

Brandon McCarthy

153

7.03

1.73

0.84

.298

3.72

3.45

2.3

Francisco Liriano

153

9.37

3.91

0.71

.292

3.73

3.46

2.2

Ervin Santana

182

7.45

2.73

1.01

.292

4.12

3.94

1.7

Jason Hammel

153

7.61

2.57

1.05

.291

4.01

3.94

1.5

Justin Masterson

163

7.23

3.88

0.64

.300

4.11

3.95

1.5

Jake Peavy

163

7.21

2.54

1.27

.284

4.07

4.32

1

If the Mariners signed any of these guys, they would take the third slot in the Mariners' rotation pushing either Walker or Elias to the minors. There, they would serve as depth and would continue their development outside of the majors. Both Walker and Elias could benefit from some extra seasoning in the minors and they'll still be a phone call away if the Mariners need them. I also happen to think that Steamer is pretty bullish on both of their projections but that's beside the point.

These six free agents are all estimated to receive between $9 and $13 million next year (based on the FanGraphs crowdsourcing). Santana and Liriano have qualifying offers connected to them that will be a factor if the Mariners decide to pursue them. So, would a 1.5-1.0 WAR upgrade for around $11 million be worth it to the Mariners? On a simple $/WAR basis, probably not. But when you consider the state of the rotation and the flexibility a move like this provides the Mariners, it could start to make sense.

The third-tier of starting pitchers is much deeper but injury and age concerns abound. Here are ten cherry picked projections for next year:

Pitchers

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

ERA

FIP

WAR

Gavin Floyd

96

7.14

2.84

0.95

.291

4.06

4.01

0.9

Josh Johnson

77

7.57

2.85

0.93

.295

4.08

3.84

0.9

Edinson Volquez

173

6.97

3.66

0.96

.296

4.61

4.33

0.8

Brett Anderson

58

6.85

3.16

0.70

.301

4.02

3.75

0.6

Kyle Kendrick

163

5.26

2.54

1.17

.291

4.65

4.64

0.5

Ryan Vogelsong

144

6.86

2.94

1.20

.289

4.44

4.46

0.5

Colby Lewis

105

6.92

2.40

1.36

.286

4.29

4.49

0.5

Chad Billingsley

77

6.86

2.93

1.06

.292

4.32

4.23

0.5

Aaron Harang

163

6.47

3.17

1.30

.289

4.74

4.71

0.1

Chris Young

125

6.13

3.29

1.91

.275

5.21

5.71

-0.9

Signing one of these guys would fall into the Chris Young/Kevin Millwood category of high risk/medium reward. Because these pitchers are such high risk propositions, their cost will be much lower than the six guys above. It also means they could be available in January and February, giving the Mariners time to sort out the rest of their roster before committing to one of these guys. The same arguments for increasing depth and flexibility still apply with these pitchers.

With the free agent market flush with mid-tier starting pitchers, any one of the pitchers above could be undervalued by teams who are confronted with so many options to fill their rotations. Each of them has their own pros and cons and they wouldn't be mid-tier options if they didn't have some warts. Since the Mariners are so close to contention, every marginal win could tip the scale towards a postseason appearance. Why not pursue the marginal wins that are undervalued by the market?

What do you think? Should the Mariners be solely focused on offensive improvements or should they be more opened minded about the ways they can upgrade the roster? Which of these guys would you like to see a free agent profile for next week?