It is November 19, 2015 -- not yet Thanksgiving. The Josh Donaldson trade, the blockbuster of the offseason in 2014, didn't happen until the end of November. The next round of Winter meetings, where trade and acquisition foundations are oft made, do not occur until December 7th. The Mariners didn't trade for Seth Smith until December 30th last year.
Indeed, the offseason is pretty much in its infancy.
Maybe I'm simply geeked out by this handsome smiling DiPoto character who has pulled off numerous deals like he's careening down a clearance aisle at Target -- but I feel an urgency. And that urgency begins with a starting rotation which fails to whelm.
I'm fairly certain, almost entirely certain, the Mariners brass will bring in another starting pitcher. With any luck, maybe they'll bring in a couple. But right now, we have what we have and what we have feels like a three-cylinder Subaru Justy driven by a guy with a shiny crown. Here are your 2015 results for your top four current starting pitching options:
Doesn't get your heart racing, unless that's a heart attack you're having.
I like Walker of course, and I think he's an exciting collection of tattooed wonderfulness, but I'm not sure we want to enter the season with him as your #2 starter. I also like Karns a good deal, and of Walker and Karns there's some real potential. Paxton is a well documented enigma, and he's also been the subject of some trade speculation. Whether he can stay healthy and be a reliable contributor is unknown.
It's unclear who would round out this rotation, but candidates include:
All three guys showed flashes of goodness, even very goodness considering Montgomery threw back to back shutouts -- but these are the type of arms you stock your stable with in the event of some kind of injury or emergency need for a spot starter. They aren't the type of starting pitchers you really want to be battling each other for a regular turn through a major league rotation. Should someone emerge in AAA via a magical new gyroball or eephus, super -- but we ought not head into Spring thinking this is a playoff-caliber starting rotation.
Hisashi Iwakuma solves a lot of this, but it's not a slam dunk that he comes back, especially considering this nonsense talk of wanting four guaranteed years. That's not going to happen. But if we can get Kuma to return on a moderately club friendly two year deal with a third year option kind of thing, then we can allow Paxton, et. al. battle for the last spot in the rotation and pray for good health.
But say we want to get greedy. Say we don't manage to fill our outfield slot with a Jason Heyward as Skiba deftly laid out on Wednesday and rather we wind up with a Gerardo Parra or Steve Pearce or some other inexpensive platoony-type character. Why not kick the tires on the awesome-rotation-mobile and see about a free agent acquisition in the rotation?
Yes, David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto are out there, but I'll try to keep this a realistic discussion.
Bang for your buck, I think Wei-Yin Chen is a nice target. He's a 30-year old strike-throwing lefty who still manages a 19.5% strikeout rate and projects to be a 2.5-3.0 fWAR starting pitcher. He is essentially a younger, left handed version of Hisashi Iwakuma. World beater he is not, but by way of Steamer projections, his 2.6 WAR would make him the second best Mariner starter -- third best if we can beg Kuma to come home. Speculation puts his contract in the 4-year $52 million range, which might sound like a lot until you realize a guy like Jordan Zimmermann is projecting to get a 6 year, $120 million deal and Steamer projects him at 2.8 WAR. Yeeeah.
Chen did reject the Orioles qualifying offer, so we'd be losing a pick, however. If you'd rather keep that pick and you want a guy who is projected for the exact same 2.6 WAR who won't break the bank, you would just have to settle for an old guy who isn't known to be the first person you want to have a beer with after the game: John Lackey. Lackey profiles much the same as Chen with about a 20% strikeout rate, not many walks but a few more ground balls. Believe it or not, Lackey actually posted 3.6 WAR last season. He projects to get a 2 year, $30 million deal.
Lastly, there's Scott Kazmir whose September meltdown probably depresses his market.
He did reject his QO, so you lose a pick with him too (edit, whoops no QO yay) -- but his projected 3-year, $42 million contract fits most budgets. But there is that September to worry about. Kazmir, who had been cruising along posting generally spectacular numbers, threw up (literally?) a 6.52 ERA (7.03 FIP), allowing 41 hits in 29 innings including eight home runs, striking out just 18 batters while allowing opponents to hit .328/.400/.600. Oof. But on the season, he still had a 3.10 ERA (3.98 FIP) and projects for about 2.5 WAR in 2016, although he's probably harder to peg. He could be far better.
To recap: It's super early. DiPoto is certainly going to add more pieces. It's highly likely one of those pieces is a starting pitcher. But you don't have to squint much to believe one of those pieces has to be a starting pitcher.
It'll be exciting to watch how he pulls it off. And who.