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Mariners Exit Interviews 2019: Hello and farewell to two back-end bullpen arms

Anthony Bass and Matt Wisler weren’t Mariners for long, and now they aren’t anymore

Toronto Blue Jays v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Some combined news/analysis today, as the Mariners did some roster cleanup, and a couple organizations were around to snatch up the spoils:

With so many pitchers being machined through this season, we’ve been taking the Mariners pitching staff in parts for the exit interviews, starting with the crafty lefties and the walking wounded. With today’s news we say our final farewells to Anthony Bass and Matt Wisler, two stopgap reliever options picked up on the cheap and let go for equally cheap.

The Mariners picked up Bass in late May when he was released from the Reds organization. This was technically Bass’s second stint as a Mariner; he was also part of the Leonys Martin trade back in November of 2015, one of Dipoto’s first trades as GM. Bass never pitched as a Mariner, as the team released him before the 2016 season to pursue an opportunity to pitch in Japan.

Bass returned to the Texas Rangers, his original organization, before bouncing around some and winding up in Seattle this season, where he was surprisingly effective for a mid-season free-agency pickup. Bass’s 1.0 WAR led all relievers and ranked 11th on the team overall (FanGraphs awards him just .6 fWAR, still good for second-best among Mariners relievers). Bass also locked down five saves, tied for second on the team, and became the primary closer after the departure of Roenis Elias. Bass has always possessed a good fastball and, despite being on the “wrong side of 30,” maintains 94-96 mph velocity; he pairs that with a swing-and-miss slider that had a whiff rate of nearly 30% in September, although his overall strikeout numbers were fairly pedestrian on the year.

In contrast, Matt Wisler, acquired for cash from the Padres in early July, had the second-best strikeout percentage among Mariners relievers, punching out over 30% of batters he faced while keeping his walks in check. Wisler’s ERA of 10+ is belied by his FIP of 6.6, which is in turn belied by his xFIP of 3.77 and a SIERA of 3.33. Those numbers all suggest Wisler should have had better results, and a .406 BABIP backs that up, especially as Wisler actually gave up less hard contact this year than in previous years, raising his soft contact % to a career-high 21.4%. Wisler’s strikeout numbers are the result of his excellent slider, one of the best in the league, but the Mariners actually had him throwing the slider a touch less and the four-seam a little more compared to what he’d been doing in San Diego. Whatever experiments the Mariners had planned for Wisler will come to an abrupt end, however, as he’ll now be throwing baseballs for the Twins.

If the Mariners thought they could sneak Wisler and Bass through waivers, their calculations clearly failed. Bass getting claimed isn’t a huge surprise; although his overall season numbers won’t blow anyone away, he was a steady performer in a down year for relievers, especially as he moved into a high-profile role with the Mariners down the stretch. (Think of how much the Nationals would probably like having Anthony Bass in their bullpen right now.) Wisler getting claimed is a bit more surprising, and can be interpreted as another tip of the cap to the Mariners’ pitching development, as it’s getting harder and harder for the Mariners to sneak pitchers through waivers.

Another thing signified by this move is the opportunity available for young players in the organization. Reggie McClain, Art Warren, Ricardo Sanchez and even Matt Festa, who has struggled in his big-league looks, all remain protected on the 40-man; submariner Jack Anderson will need a 40-man slot before the Rule 5 draft in December. All the indications are that the 2020 Mariners will let the kids play, and while it’s fun to watch the Mariners pitching staff take on foster pitchers from organizations with less-than-ideal pitching development (sorry to the Nationals), it’s even more fun to watch homegrown players come up and get their shot, and today’s roster clearing-out points to exactly that.