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Lookout Landing’s 2018 Mariners Off-Season Plan: The Conclusion

It’s like Candyland, if Candyland was made up of numbers and charts

Seattle Mariners v New York Yankees
Bring them back, Rey
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

[In case you’ve missed the rest so far, you can find Parts I (pitching), II (1B+OF), and III (the rest) of the offseason plan linked above. Thanks for your patience, here is our final offseason decree.]

We were so close, y’all. As we were tinkering with our tables and discussing our final preferences Wednesday afternoon, Jerry Dipoto made his first move, and rendered our Carlos Santana-centric plans moot. Following Dipoto for two years has trained us for surprising moves, however, and with Ryon Healy in the fold as the full-time 1B, being paid the league minimum, we’re pivoting to video a more aggressive plan to improve elsewhere. Namely, that means leaning into our Scenario A from the first leg of this plan, which involves reeling in Yu Darvish with that extra sweet, sweet cash. Farewell, Tyler Chatwood. We could have been beautiful together.

That team looks only a few players different than our original preferred team, but those players are noteworthy. With 1B and DH fully off the table, the plausible positions available to improve shrink to OF and P. For our money, we decided to take the payroll freed up by Healy’s acquisition and swing bigger. Yu Darvish remains a longshot for the Mariners, but electing to go cheap at 1B shifted a Darvish signing from a pipe dream to a… small fish tank dream? I’m not sure quite how that metaphor works, but Darvish is a much more attainable (and necessary) target now than he was a week ago. At the very least, he’s one we felt Seattle could wrangle within their budget, if they’re willing to make a commitment. Jerry Dipoto has yet to sign any free agents to deals longer than two years in Seattle, but negotiating a contract extension for Jean Segura showed a willingness to commit years and dollars to the right player. Yu Darvish (6/$144) might not be the perfect player, but along with returning veteran CF Jarrod Dyson (2/$16), established UTIL Eduardo Nuñez (2/$18) and versatile swingman RHP Yusmeiro Petit (2/$12), Seattle can put together a team with playoff capability, flexibility, and even a hint of depth.

Speaking of depth, without further ado, our Official 2018 Seattle Mariners Depth Chart:

Tee Miller
  • Originally, we planned on the Mariners pulling in a smaller fish like Tyler Chatwood or Jaime Garcia. As mentioned, however, with Healy in Santana’s place at 1B, it would have been difficult to justify another few small upgrades and be confident in the team’s initial position in the playoff hunt. Darvish is a big gamble, and extending him a six-year/$146 MM deal with an opt-out after 2019 that’s paid in increments of $18/23/25/26/27/27 could obviously burn the Mariners. Granting Darvish an opt-out, however, is unfortunately what may be the best way to set Seattle’s offers apart from the rest, particularly if they cannot outbid other teams with cash alone. Pursuing another path of smaller investments is more likely, but with uncertainty at 1B again, Seattle needs to pack a punch in its rotation. In a true ideal offseason, Shohei Ohtani is signed, in which case he’d slot in as Seattle’s No. 3 starter behind Paxton and Darvish. ZiPS projects Ohtani for 3.3 WAR as a pitcher (139.1 IP) and 1.4 WAR as a hitter/position player (300 PAs). As much as we’d love to slap those numbers onto our current totals, we figured it better to plan for reality as much as possible and let true uncertainties sort themselves out.
  • Please do come to Seattle though, Shohei. Please.
  • The rest of the lineup looks largely as expected, with Nuñez as the major addition. If you’re uncomfortable with the financials (which are discussed in greater depth below), trading Taylor Motter and Nick Vincent for Wilmer Difo and ~$500k in international bonus money fits the bill too. Difo has outperformed Motter and is younger, but is out of options, rendering him cheaper for the bullpen-starved Nats. Still, Nuñez has been one of the league’s premier utility players the last two years, and a team like Seattle that plans to be aggressive in resting its aging stars AND carry 13 pitchers needs consistent production from its utility position. We feel Nuñez, who Steamer projects for 1.7 fWAR next year, is worth the financial commitment to try to acquire the kind of super-utility player who has played a major role on each of the past four teams to make the World Series. It's also fun to note that Nuñez would join Segura as another Student of Canó; the two seemed to have an excellent rapport back in New York.
  • This plan involves trading Marc Rzepczynski to the Red Sox for a minor league pitcher without much upside, the purpose of which is mainly salary relief, so let’s just pick one at rand—oh just kidding we’ll take Dedgar Jimenez, a Rule-5 draft-eligible 21 year old LHP lacking strikeout stuff or much velocity who had eight rough starts in AA. It’s mainly for the name, but having more innings filled in the low and mid-minors is important. That leaves James Pazos the main lefty killer in the bullpen, but his ability to go full innings fits Seattle’s necessity in their bullpen. Yusmeiro Petit’s versatility gives Seattle three players with decent numbers as MLB starting pitchers in the past calendar year in their bullpen, alongside David Phelps and either Marco Gonzales or Erasmo Ramirez. Aggressively spreading innings out can lighten the burden on the entire rotation, which remains at-risk to injury.
  • Returning Dyson means leaning on Guillermo Heredia once again. Hopefully healthy from his shoulder surgery, Heredia makes an excellent platoon partner with both Dyson and Gamel, and Nuñez’s righty bat can take some pressure off as well.

Projected 2018 Mariners Salary Commitments

Position Player Projected 2018 Salary ($ Millions)
Position Player Projected 2018 Salary ($ Millions)
C Mike Zunino 3.2
C Mike Marjama 0.51
1B Ryon Healy 0.51
2B Robinson Cano 24
3B Kyle Seager 19
SS Jean Segura 9.5
DH Nelson Cruz 14.25
UTIL Eduardo Nunez 9
OF Mitch Haniger 0.51
OF Ben Gamel 0.51
OF Jarrod Dyson 8
OF Guillermo Heredia 0.51
SP Felix Hernandez 26.857
SP James Paxton 5.6
SP Mike Leake 11
SP Yu Darvish 18
SP Marco Gonzales 0.51
RP Edwin Diaz 0.51
RP Nick Vincent 2.7
RP David Phelps 5.8
RP James Pazos 0.51
RP Tony Zych 0.51
RP Shae Simmons 0.7
RP Yusmeiro Petit 6
RP Erasmo Ramirez 4.7
TOTAL 172.897
MLB Trade Rumors - Arbitration Estimates

The total final payroll sits at $172.89 million, a sizable boost from 2017’s Opening Day payroll of just over $154 million. It would only represent a one-to-two million dollar bump from last year’s payroll at season’s end, however. The projected payroll breaks down fairly evenly, with 48.2% of the budget allocated to pitchers and 51.8% going to position players.

$0.51 MM/0.3% of the budget goes to Ryon Healy, aka 1B, aka the little unmarked yellow sliver. Congrats Ryon.
Spotrac/Cot’s Contracts

We went into significant detail outlining the minor league signings we’d like to see already, and those would have negligible impacts on the payroll, so we’ll refrain from rehashing our amuse-bouche of fringe contributors. Non-tendering and extending Drew Smyly to a Nathan Eovaldi-esque one-year/$3 MM deal with a team option for $3 MM for 2019 would be preferable, but non-essential.

With the money sorted out, what exactly will Seattle be paying for? Below is a table of projected performance broken down by position.

2018 Projected Mariners by Position

Position 2017 fWAR 2018 projected WAR
Position 2017 fWAR 2018 projected WAR
C 3.7 2.9
1B -0.7 0.8
2B 2.9 3.4
3B 3.4 3.9
SS 2.2 2.2
OF 5.4 4.8
DH 3.7 2.8
SP 6.2 12.5
RP 3.6 3.3
TOTAL: 30.4 36.6
Projections are based on Steamer and Fangraphs. Playing time for new additions has been approximated by our staff using those numbers, including UTIL usage, but no core projections have been adjusted. Fangraphs/Steamer

Currently, with our improvements, we have the Mariners slated for just over six additional WAR from 2017. That’s good, but not quite enough to meet the 7-10 WAR goal we set for ourselves. Based on Steamer’s projections, that 36.6 fWAR would expect Seattle to be around an 84-78 true talent team. Coming out of the gate, that’s probably either the sixth or seventh-best team in the American League. While the top of the AL is clearly up for grabs among Houston, Cleveland, New York, and Boston, there are few teams in a position to challenge Seattle in the Wild Card race. The Angels, Twins, Rays, and Blue Jays are all projected for similar results, but Tampa has a mandate to cut payroll and the Blue Jays find themselves thin on several fronts without much room to improve. If the Mariners make this push, their main competition for a playoff spot may exclusively be the injury-prone Angels and the young and pitching-less Twins. The rest of the AL looks to either be intentionally tanking (Tigers, White Sox), unintentionally tanking (Royals, Orioles), or still stuck in transition (Rangers, A’s).

Projection systems are useful in giving us a rough outline of what to expect, but of course they can only do so much. In some cases, like Ariel Miranda being projected for 0.3 fWAR over 127.0 IP next year, most people would say Steamer has it right. For others, the lines are quite low—Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura are two good bets to best their projected marks of 1.7 and 2.0 respectively. Where else might the Mariners make up the rest of the gap between their 84-85 win projection and a more comfortable 87-89 win profile? It’ll mostly have to come from within.

Internal Efforts

It’s easy to say projections are undervaluing players you believe in, but in a few circumstances it seems fair to expect more. Segura has averaged just shy of eight WAR over the last two seasons since returning from the brink after personal tragedy and making several major mechanical adjustments. Haniger was on a 4-win pace as well last year when he wasn’t getting hit by several pitches in the hands and face, although if he replicates his 2017 totals over a full season it’d be tough to be disappointed. The rest of the offense seems appropriate, with advancing age making Canó and Cruz tough bets for over-achievement. The main source of volatility, however, once again projects to be the pitching staff.

A rotation with Darvish, Paxton, and Leake figures to be a significant step up from last year. Prior to Leake’s arrival, however, the rest of the Mariners starters not named Paxton combined for sub-replacement-level play, so there’ll be little confetti for that achievement. Supplementing an increasingly fragile Félix and whoever wins the 5th starter spot out of camp with a rotation of capable relievers that should consistently be ready in Tacoma will be crucial to keeping pitchers fresh and limiting the 3rd time through the order penalties that so many Mariners pitchers were susceptible to in 2017. Preparing Tacoma’s (and Arkansas’) players this winter for the unique challenge of consistently shuffling and supporting the MLB club in the pen will be crucial to maximizing the talent in Seattle’s high-floor, low-ceiling heavy depth. Jerry Dipoto has waxed about the confidence he has in his team’s bullpen depth, but has also gone out of his way to bolster it, even giving up some of his own draft picks, which he has been more reluctant to do until now. It’s tough to know if that will bear fruit, but it's difficult to imagine a more disappointing rotation than last season's.

Leaning into the wolfpack aspect will be one way Seattle can outdo its expectations, but another is simply making it out onto the field. When it came to the starting rotation it was hard to find a group more snake-bitten than the 2017 Seattle Mariners. They even gave the Mets a run for their money. The Mets. We’ve all heard the stats about the historic number of pitchers they cycled through this season, so it feels safe to say that * knocks on wood, throws salt over shoulder, hops in a circle backwards on one foot around the Dustin Ackley gnome bobblehead * the starters will be healthier next season. At the very least it’s certain that Yovani Gallardo will not be the only starter to avoid the DL (largely because he won’t be on this team but hey, still counts). Position players and relievers weren’t immune to this injury plague either, and there's reason to hope that 2018 will be better. Why? I don't know, but it just will be. It has to be.

Perhaps in response to this wave of injuries, perhaps because of their own desire to keep these pajama-panted men in working condition, the Mariners hired Dr. Lorena Martin to serve as the Director of High Performance. Dr. Martin could have a majorly positive influence on this team; Dr. Martin could have a negative influence on this team; Dr. Martin could have little to no influence on this team in either direction. And therein lies the biggest weakness of this entire Offseason Plan endeavor. It doesn’t matter how many hours we spend poring over Fangraphs or tracking trade rumors; until baseball is being played, we won’t know anything at all. Of course, in the meantime that’s the fun of this game; there’s truly something for everyone, even when there’s nothing.

When I (John) broached the subject of launching a full offseason plan this offseason, Kate was skeptical. I delight in hypotheticals, while she steadfastly prefers prioritizing the most likely scenarios and possibilities. Despite her reluctance to set something in stone that would be out of date in a couple months at most, we put this series of articles together over the last few weeks. The end result is imperfect, and was done no favors by Jerry Dipoto’s early winter transactions, but I’m overwhelmingly proud of what everyone on this staff came together to produce. The entire staff contributed in various ways and we’re all thankful to you for reading, responding, and challenging us and one another. Y’all make this fun and you make us better.

The plan we’ve laid out above and over the past week is not extreme, and I know that that’s a flaw to some folks. We understand that, and believe there is a worthy case to be made for burning it all down or holding John Stanton ransom and demanding a payroll increase to hopefully somehow ensure an end to the playoff drought. We don’t think a plan centered around a tear-down is wrong (although we can’t endorse the plan involving extortion), it’s just not what we think is best for this team right now. Instead, this plan makes Seattle competitive in 2018 without jettisoning any of their top prospects, few though they may be. This plan grants Seattle the flexibility to move several assets with value during the season should things break badly, allowing for a transition to a rebuild in the event of a collapse, and does not extend their commitments beyond Robinson Canó’s contract. This plan holds conservatively around Seattle’s expected payroll, but it gives the Mariners a path to success, with high-upside plays and improvements around the fringes where Seattle’s lack of depth exposed them as much as any decline from their stars.

We saw one side of 84-86 projected wins last year. That doesn’t mean this year will swing the opposite way, but only giving yourself an opportunity to make the playoffs increases your chances of making the playoffs. It’s ripe for the taking this year, gang.

Be flexibile. Be creative. Be different.

Included again for you poor mobile folks who don’t want to scroll back up again to remember if you’re mad or not.
Tee Miller

Go M’s.