This will not be one of my more verbose pieces because this week has been busy and there’s real (exhibition) baseball happening in about two and a half hours, and as a result our 40 in 40 series ends today. I’m looking right now to just get a sense of where folks are at. If you are a Mariners fan and spend time on Twitter I think you’d agree the feelings towards the organization are less than cordial right now. If you’re not a participant in that particular site’s brand of grisly service, I’m less sure of how you’re feeling headed into this season. What I’m here to appraise is what you think the team still needs to do.
From what we’ve seen, been told publicly, and heard whispers of, the Mariners’ budget is maxed out. That’s not something I think should be the case, but it’s where the people with the money appear to be at. Seattle is 7th in payroll right now (per Spotrac and Cot’s Contracts), sitting somewhere between $157 and $164 million. They’re closer to 11th than 6th, but it’s not quite fair to say the Mariners are being cheap relative to other teams. What is fair to say is that the limit on budget flexibility has hurt this team’s chances for success in 2018. Signings like Jaime Garcia, Jason Vargas, and Carlos Gomez aren’t blockbusters, but they’re an added layer of depth that, after last year, the fan base needs as much as the team.
So what’s left? And are there moves that fit within the budget at hand that could still be impactful? Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Lance Lynn seem assuredly out, unfortunately. Several pitchers with name value seem likely to sign minor league deals with incentives, including Clay Buchholz, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Jake Peavy, Tim Lincecum, and A.J. Griffin. Most of the remaining options aren’t even true upgrades over the Mariners’ in-house batch of young arms and NRIs. If Seattle wants an added layer of depth, however, there are a couple spots worth looking that won’t break the bank.
Frankly, this might work as a minor league deal too. Cahill’s 2017 was split into two parts - his dominant Padres resurgence and his catastrophic Royals relieving. In the middle, Cahill fell victim to a shoulder injury that contributed to his K% falling from 27.4% to 12.7% despite moving largely to the bullpen. Cahill turns 30 next week, is younger than most of the options available at this point, and would likely fit as a starter or long reliever with upside. We liked him as a target in our offseason plan, and that remains the case now.
I can make no better case for signing Trevor Cahill than Lackey’s presence on this list. If you can plug your nose and open your heart to baseball’s foremost mouthbreather, I commend you. Lackey’s results and peripherals fell off significantly last year, along with a slight dip in velocity, as they are wont to do when you’re 39 years old. Despite his 0.5 fWAR last year, Lackey has averaged 2.4 fWAR over the last three years, and other than missing all of 2012, he’s thrown 160 or more innings every year since 2003(!). If the Mariners need someone to eat innings, well, Lackey’s mouth is open.
Speaking of pitchers who were great in the mid-2000s, Liriano remains a free agent. He’s in his mid-30s and similarly saw his production slip last year, but his velocity didn’t see a similar decline. While Houston shifted him to the bullpen (in theory, at least, as he might as well have not existed in the playoffs), Liriano has also put up a 3.7 fWAR season a couple years back. Still, Liriano is mostly on here for legacy as opposed to production.
You’d be forgiven for thinking he’d dropped off the map, but at 43 years old Dickey is still providing value. His distinctive hard knuckleball has slowed, but if Seattle wants a more pleasant version of Lackey to provide 180 passable innings, Dickey is as safe a bet as any. He’s hovered between 1-2 wins above replacement for the past several years which is likely what Seattle already has a staff full of, but if nothing else you can trust Dickey not to get tired.
It’s slim pickings, I agree, but Erasmo Ramirez’s injury has already put a strain on the rotation’s viability. Unfortunately, if the team won’t invest more financially, this looks like what’s there. Are there moves you’d still like the team to make here? Or are the upgrades necessary those that seemingly are beyond what is in the bank?