Yesterday morning reports came in that utility infielder Danny Espinosa had been signed by the Mariners after being released by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Today those reports were confirmed, along with the corresponding roster move to free up space. Hisashi Iwakuma, who has not pitched since May 3 and has looked like a series of Matroyshka doll shells of himself this year, has been transferred to the 60-day DL to create a spot on the 40-man roster. Iwakuma’s end of the deal is purely about the roster spot - since he’s been injured and out for over 60 days already he’ll be eligible to start rehabbing whenever he’s actually healthy. Unfortunately, since recent reports have him at a stage of only being able to throw light catch without pain, that will be no time soon. Moreover, with Kuma’s velocity topping out in the mid-80s when “healthy” earlier this year, it’s tough to see a scenario where the Old Bear is an improvement, even on the severely limited Mariners rotation.
That leaves Espinosa. The 30-year-old has been abysmal this year, helping the Mariners and their playoff hopes by dragging down the Angels with his 40 wRC+, .197/.237/.276 triple slash, and a 35.8% K% that Miguel Sano thinks is worrisome. Based on Espinosa’s previous body of work, the most staggering dropoff has been from his power. Because of a career K-rate just shy of 29%, Espinosa has gotten by with above-average pop from a utility-man, including a career-high 24 homers last year and ISOs of .169 in both 2015 and 2016. Both of those seasons Espinosa was around a league-average player, compiling 2.0 fWAR over the two seasons, so there is a recent history of MLB success within him. That is not the player that has shown up in 2017, however, and they haven’t even looked related. Perhaps Espinosa’s struggles can be rectified, but right now his hard hit rate is down, his line drive rate is even further down, and he has seemed to lose half a step on the bases, getting caught stealing on 5/8 of his attempts. Espinosa is has a track record of MLB success, which is more than any of the rest of the options have, but that’s it right now.
Since his blazing start, Taylor Motter has struggled mightily this year. Motter’s wRC+ of 70 is rough, and even though he’s hitting line drives at a well above-average rate, the results have not been there. Shawn O’Malley is DH-ing in the Arizona Rookie League right now while rehabbing, but is around the exact definition of replacement level when healthy and is still a ways out. Gordon Beckham has a .319 OBP and an 84 wRC+ in the PCL. The 25th man on the roster hasn’t been the reason the Mariners have underperformed, but outside of a few good weeks, they have not helped. Espinosa may be able to provide a boost, but he likey needs to make a big adjustment first.