Yesterday morning, Bob Dutton of the Tacoma News Tribune broke a story linking the Mariners to Doug Fister, free agent starting pitcher. The phrases “name of interest” and “veteran-type starting pitching” were used to hedge any immediate signing, but the point remains clear: the Mariners are looking for rotation help. This isn’t surprising in the wake of dealing Taijuan Walker. Currently Ariel Miranda and Nate Karns are penciled in at the back of the rotation, and while each has shown some promise, neither can be counted on for 180 innings in 2017.
In that article, Jerry Dipoto is quoted saying, “The goal is to walk into spring training at 10 or 11 deep. The idea now is to plug in someone who gets a little closer to the middle of the rotation than the back.” I count eight starting pitchers on the Mariners’ 40-man roster with a few more deep options in the high minors. Name dropping Doug Fister as a “name of interest” tells us a lot about who the Mariners might be targeting. It won’t be someone like Rich Hill since he’ll probably come with a hefty price tag. If Doug Fister is the template the Mariners are looking to add, what other options are out there on the market?
Veteran-type starting pitchers: Jason Hammel, Derek Holland, Doug Fister, Colby Lewis, et al.
All four of the names above are established major league pitchers who, if healthy, could provide around 180 innings of league average production. Any one of these pitchers could cost $8–$12 million in 2017 and wouldn’t require a lengthy contract either.
Hammel is probably the best of this bunch, and will probably be the most expensive. His strikeout rate was a bit depressed last year but you can probably count on a strikeout-to-walk ratio around 3.0 in 2017. With free agent pitching options dwindling, he’s also going to be coveted by a number of other teams as well. He does have a local connection—he was raised in Port Orchard, attended South Kitsap High School, and was once drafted (but unsigned) by the Mariners—but that probably won’t have much bearing on his professional future.
Between some nasty injuries, Derek Holland has shown spurts of promise during his career. Those injuries have sapped the effectiveness of his breaking balls leaving his ability to generate strikeouts in question. He’s a fly-balling lefty though so he could benefit from the friendly confines of Safeco Field if he were to sign with the Mariners. He’s also the youngest pitcher out of this bunch.
Somehow, Doug Fister pitched 180 innings last year for an Astros team that desperately needed starting pitching help. A huge spike in his walk rate over the last two years has led to a corresponding spike in runs allowed. Unless he’s able to find his command again, his repertoire of pitches just isn’t good enough to fool batters anymore. A reunion wouldn’t be the worst signing but there are better options out there.
In many ways, Colby Lewis is pretty similar to Doug Fister. Both rely on their command to limit baserunners and generate weak contact. That profile worked well for Lewis the last few years in Texas despite giving up a ton of home runs. He’s the oldest pitcher of this bunch which will also make him the cheapest option.
Other options: Jeff Locke, Jake Peavy, Jhoulys Chacin, Brett Anderson, et al.
Now we’re really scraping the bottom of the veteran barrel. There are a lot more question marks with these pitchers. Injuries, ineffectiveness, and/or age could sink any contributions they might make in 2017. And if they are able to scrape together 150–170 innings, they won’t be any better than what Karns or Miranda would provide instead. Signing one of these options would only create depth by pushing one of Karns or Miranda to the minors or the bullpen. That may have some value but signing a pitcher out of this bunch would be a cost savings move rather than an effort to actually move the needle forward.
Of course, signing a free agent pitcher isn’t the only option. Jerry Dipoto certainly isn’t afraid to trade his way into an upgrade, but at this point, there are few pieces in the organization left to deal if the Mariners’ are looking to get any real value in return. If I had to pick, I’d go with Hammel or Holland, though the Mariners would have to increase their payroll to add one of those options. In Dutton’s article, Dipoto said that they’re not going to rush to fill the rotation. It might be a while until the Mariners address this need, or knowing Dipoto, they could sign someone next week.