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Mariners sign Wade LeBlanc to a major league deal, yes it’s still 2018

Wader Tot returns

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Chicago Cubs Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

No man can stand in the same river twice, but apparently Jerry Dipoto is willing to stand in Lake Charles twice, as he has brought back Louisiana native LHP Wade LeBlanc to prop up a Mariners bullpen that saw the loss of long reliever David Phelps for the season this past week. On the Wheelhouse podcast this last week, Dipoto suggested they’d look outside the organization for help, leading me to foolishly pore over the list of free agent pitchers remaining to see who might be a good candidate. Dipoto is one for zigging where you expect him to zag, however (or Zag-ging when you expect him to bring in a FA pitcher), and now Wade “Wader Tot” LeBlanc is back in the organization.

LeBlanc was originally brought to Seattle in June of 2016 from the Blue Jays for cash/PTBNL and I can’t find a player who was sent in return so let’s assume it was cash. LeBlanc crafty-leftied his way through the year, finishing with an FIP near 5. The Pirates picked him up in 2017 and an increase in groundballs to a career-high 46% helped LeBlanc lower his FIP to 4.28 and become a useful part of Pittsburgh’s bullpen. The soft-tossing lefty isn’t going to blow anyone away, but if he is able to get more groundballs and keep the ball out of the air (he’s run an above-average HR/FB rate for each of the past two years), that adjustment might transform LeBlanc from “emergency innings-eater” to “serviceable bullpen piece.”

If the choice of LeBlanc feels like cheaping out to you, well, it is. The Mariners were never going to sign Greg Holland—they’ve spent heavily in the pen already with Nicasio, and Holland comes with draft pick compensation—but surely there are other relievers or ex-starters out there who would like a spot in a major league bullpen, although there’s some competition now for those talents as pitcher injuries start to pile up. As far as internal options, it seems odd they wouldn’t try to squeeze more innings out of some of their middle/late relievers—in related news, Chasen Bradford was optioned to Tacoma today. Perhaps not over-taxing their young relievers is the better approach [shudders remembering the “every relief inning belongs to Dan Altavilla and Nick Vincent” approach of 2016]. But it’s not like they don’t know the timetable for Phelps’s return, and giving significant innings to Wade LeBlanc on a team that is supposedly competing is a choice, for sure. They might not be done yet. Let’s hope they aren’t.