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Mariners, Tom Wilhelmsen decide to dance again

Or: The Manchurian Reliever

Jennifer Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I can recognize that a baseball season is many things to many different people. Long ago I abandoned the idea that anything I say here will somehow ring universal for people. So when I say that hearing the Mariners signed the reliever with the highest FIP in baseball to a one-year contract is the best news news I’ve heard all week, I don’t anticipate a throng of assent.

Tom Wilhelmsen’s 2016 has been bad. Like, 2016 June Seattle Mariners bad. So in that way maybe this is the perfect fit for him. Just look at his Fangraphs line from this year. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Roll around in the filth for a bit. Make sure you note the 4.64 K/9, 10.55 ERA, 7.90 FIP, and 24.1% HR/FB rate. Be agog at the ability to accrue -0.8 fWAR in 21.1 innings pitched. "But Nathan", you say, "His xFIP is 5.89, way below his ERA and FIP."

Yes, that is very true. 5.89 is still amazingly bad. His best stat, it is still atrocious.

So, there is that. After six seasons in Seattle that ranged from average to excellent, it’s possible that Tom has simply lost it, and at 32 his days as a major league pitcher are near an end. However, with a fastball averaging close to 95 MPH, and still with a big, sweeping curveball, there’s zero reason for the injury-decimated Mariners not to find out for certain.

Bob Dutton has all the details, and a really good breakdown, over at the News Tribune. You should read the whole thing, but the summation is that Wilhelmsen will be joining the team in Detroit, be put on something called "optional waivers" (If they are optional, why does the team have to use them? HUH!?), and then sent to Tacoma to see if they can apply him to a whet stone and made sharp enough for major league action.

He’ll join poor Jonathan Aro, who was optioned back to the Rainiers after last night’s game. The whole thing is a tightrope across the many byzantine roster rules in MLB, and the fact that the Mariners need fresh arms almost daily at this point. Bob also indicates that the team is expected to acquire another pitcher prior to Friday’s game, and that Taijuan Walker is not expected to go to the disabled list. So it turns out I may be WRONG AGAIN.

So, what do we have here? What is the upside? Well, if the Mariners can successfully debug him Wilhelmsen profiles as a high velocity, high strikeout, low control mid-innings reliever. He is potentially another useful arm for a bullpen who needs more of them, as Mariner starters going more than five innings these days is a coin flip proposition.

I have no idea what the source of Wilhelmsen's intense struggles in Texas were, but given that the Mariners were the only major league home he knew prior to being traded, and his speedy return to Seattle after leaving the Rangers, I'm willing to speculate comfort level may have been a factor, even if it was a small one. Tom Wilhelmsen is an interesting guy, with a different outlook and perspective than many professional baseball players. The Mariners doubtless don't bring him back without their current struggles, but it says something that it was indeed Seattle that Tom chose to sign with. I'm comfortable saying he likes it here, and wants to be here. Outside of kicking ass, it's hard to want much more from a player.

The month of June has been a brutal, taxing, exhausting month. While the team's record of 36-35 is absolutely one I could have seen them having before the season started, the path taken to get there; spending long stretches as one of the best, then worst, teams in baseball, has been an emotional and mental roller coaster. Through all the wins and losses, years of being a Mariners fan have taught me to focus on the people on the roster, and their individual stories. There are few players with more interesting stories than Wilhelmsen, and I'm thrilled to be able to root for him again, in any role he finds in the organization.

This news makes it official: two of the three players traded to Texas for Leonys Martin are now back in Seattle. Given that Ranger defeats only take place in the stories your crazy, vaguely-related-kind-of-a-nurse-wait-who-are-you-related-to-anyway-person told you when you were a kid, it's nice to have won that trade so definitively. Today is a good day.


UPDATE: AKA "News that broke right as I was finishing this post"

Wade LeBlanc is now a Seattle Mariner. He is a soft throwing, journeyman left-handed pitcher who lives off his location, and off speed stuff. He is 31 years old, which is actually a few years younger than Jamie Moyer was when the Mariners acquired him, so they have even more of his theoretical, once in a generation kind of late career rebirth and excellence to enjoy. Good trade, Jerry!