Now that the Mariners have been dealt the blow of having Shohei Ohtani go to a division rival, they have to pivot quickly to salvage the rest of this off-season. Yesterday John took a broad view of what that may look like. It’s clear the Mariners have to add pitching help, and from Dipoto’s comments, it looks like that is what will happen. It seems like the FO views the position player side of the roster as being pretty well set, while the team hunts down a pitcher. Dipoto hasn’t expressed any preference about whether that pitcher is a starter or reliever, though; according to Ryan Divish, he’ll be focusing on getting the best pitcher he can.
On the possible free agent pitching acquisition, Dipoto wouldn't say that they have to focus on a starter. It could be a reliever. He said it's likely they go with an 8-man this year.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) December 12, 2017
The unheard part of that sentence is “the best pitcher he can, within reason.” Dipoto might be a little more willing to entertain wild Darvish dreams than in years past, but Dipoto’s preference will always be trades and creative thinking, especially as the team starts to see light at the end of the gilt-edged tunnel of Felix’s contract. Thanks to several clubs potentially committing to a rebuild earlier in the season than expected, there are trade options for the Mariners that should be attainable, even with limited prospect capital. Peter Gammons reports that several pitchers will be made available in trade talks during the winter meetings, and we’re starting to see that bear out in the rumor mill. Here are some situations to monitor as you’re feverishly refreshing Twitter:
Rumors surfaced that the Mets and the Rangers were considering a Harvey-for-Jurickson Profar swap, but as Profar is a young, versatile defender with lots of club control, the Mets would have to sweeten the deal—something that would be pretty hard for them considering their poor farm system. The Orioles are apparently also interested, and have the relief arms that the Mets are said to seek in trade. Harvey’s value is at a nadir after a brutal 2017 and he doesn’t appear to be in favor with the Mets’ top brass. A switch to Seattle could free him from the NY media and the ghost of his former self, and hooking him up with Dr. Martin might help the injury-prone pitcher, who missed all of 2014 with TOS. However, because his trade value is so low, the Mets might decide to hold onto Harvey, who will be a free agent next year, and let him rebuild value before flipping him around the trade deadline. That’s a pretty big risk to take for a player whose peripherals have all been trending the wrong way since his 2013 All-Star season; if I’m the Mets, I capitalize on the return the name “Matt Harvey” brings in now, however small that might be. At least, I think that would be the smart thing to do. Meaning the Mets will probably do the opposite.
Any Royals pitcher with a functioning arm (not you Nate Karns no take-backsies)
The Royals have intimated they might be headed for a rebuild, which is probably for the best for a team with one of the worst farm systems in baseball. The big name is Danny Duffy, which will be a blow for Royals fans. On a team beloved by their hometown fans, Duffy is especially beloved—he even has “KC” as part of his twitter handle—for both what he’s done on the field and off of it. When ace pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in an automobile accident last year, Duffy was the one who spearheaded collecting Ventura memorabilia to send to his mother in the DR. He’s been a Royal since being drafted in 2007 and has put up a positive, although unspectacular, WAR every year he’s played in the majors. Duffy’s track record will command a good haul from a team with a need in the rotation and a nice stack of prospects to deal, and unfortunately only one part of that description applies to the Mariners. The Royals did just hand Duffy a five-year, $65MM contract, though, so maybe he’s available if the team is looking to shed some payroll considerations.
Ian Kennedy may also be available; he attributes his lousy 2017 to a hamstring injury that robbed him of his changeup. Unlike Matt Harvey, the Royals are probably best served holding onto Kennedy until the trade deadline and letting him recoup value, trading him to a team desperate for pitching. Kennedy is an innings eater who has put up consistent, whelming numbers over the course of his career, and has been working hard this off-season to strengthen the hamstring that cost him effectiveness last year. The problem is he is getting paid a giant stack of cash—$16MM this year, and $16.5MM each of the next two years—so it seems like a team willing to offer salary relief, even if the prospect haul is slimmer, might be appealing to the smaller-market Royals. No one is excited about the idea of Ian Kennedy, which is fair—even when he’s good he’s not exciting. And he’s older and expensive and has been hurt. (When I suggested the idea that the Mariners acquire him on Twitter, Royals fans responded with a variety of “take him, please” gifs.) In a shorter-innings role, though, and under the guidance of Dr. Martin, there’s a chance Kennedy could be a steadying force in the rotation. Or maybe we could just get Sam Gaviglio back, who knows. (I secretly hope Sammy G becomes the de facto ace of the Royals staff this year.)
The Giants have missed out on both Ohtani and Stanton and are staring down another year of an NL West occupied by the worldbeating Dodgers, the prospect-laden Padres, and the competitive Diamondbacks and Rockies. The Giants also have the worst farm in the NL West, with very little help on the horizon. They might be looking for more prospects than the Mariners have to give, but the Giants have a hefty amount of salary committed to their rotation with Samardzija ($19.8MM per year for the next three years) and Johnny Cueto ($21.83MM per year for the next four years), plus $12MM for MadBum for his final year. The Giants are also paying Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt salaries in the mid-teens on up for the next four years. If the market for the mercurial Shark isn’t jumping, maybe the Mariners could use some of their international slot money to acquire prospects they could hand off to the Giants and agree to take on salary.
There will be other pitchers made available that are most likely out of the Mariners’ income bracket; even if they were to sacrifice the remaining valued talent in the minors, other teams could easily outbid them. The Pirates are making Gerrit Cole available but the Yankees want him, and since Clint Frazier is now their fourth outfielder, they have a pretty good chance. Oh also they didn’t give up any major prospects for Stanton so yeah, pretty good chance. The Rays will probably deal Odorizzi as they have some majors-ready pitching waiting in the minors, and might want to trade him to a not-division-rival; Minnesota seems a likely landing spot, or maybe Chicago if they don’t sign Cobb. And as much as it would delight John, Julio Teheran might be the most sought-after name in this echelon, problems at Sun Trust Stadium aside. I don’t see the Mariners having the prospects to give there, but you never know, and Dipoto does have the international slot money to use to acquire trade chips. It doesn’t seem like it should be legal for the Mariners to trade the Braves’ own forfeited prospects back to them, but I’m also not sure I saw that in the rules anywhere. Probably none of the above moves will happen because Jerry, like a KinderEgg, loves to surprise and delight. And occasionally there are small pieces that we choke on. But also, surprise and delight. Please bring us something good, Santa Jerry. Post-Ohtani disappointment, our emotional state is something hovering between “face down in a bowl of ice cream” and “first act of a Lifetime movie.” We just want a nice Christmas, Jerry. Please make it happen.