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Who will be the Mariners’ FA pitcher mystery date?

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St Louis Cardinals v Arizona Diamondbacks
Wacha Wacha Wacha?
Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

With a flurry of signings this week, including the landmark Evan White deal, the stove is starting to heat up for the Mariners. Admittedly, it’s more of a camp stove vs. some other teams’ roaring infernos, but it keeps us warm nonetheless. As a side note to the Kendall Graveman signing, Divish dropped this bit of info:

Even after the Graveman signing, we knew the Mariners likely needed to plug another hole in the rotation while waiting for Justin Dunn and Logan Gilbert to arrive. So who will be the Mariners’ mystery date? We’ve broken the possible suitors down into tiers.

The Dream On tier:

Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel

At this point in time, the Mariners likely won’t be shopping for any of these pitchers, all of whom have a Qualifying Offer (and therefore a draft-pick loss/a draft pick gain for the home club) attached. The Mariners are going to give their young pitching prospects a shot to see what they’ve got this year, a year in which the team doesn’t plan to contend, and will re-assess in 2021 after the likes of Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, and Logan Gilbert have significant MLB innings under their belts. Maybe then we will finally get Chris Archer, Seattle Mariner, a long-held dream of the LL staff.

But who knows. Maybe the team will shock us all. Here’s an argument for signing Madison Bumgarner, courtesy of Tim:

Yes, he has a draft pick attached, but only a third-rounder. Bumgarner checks every box I think you’d want in a non-Gerrit Cole pitcher. Just 30 years old, he has the pedigree that there’s no question young guys would listen to him. While he’s been around for a long, long time, he has 1,846 innings under his belt, which is about where Felix was pre-2014—maybe the best year of his career. Of course, there’s no direct 1:1 comparisons but if anything, Bumgarner is even more favorable. At 6’4”, 242 pounds, he has the build to hold out much longer as a pitcher in the mold of other thickly built pitchers like Justin Verlander. Bumgarner also isn’t likely to command elite money or years, as his weaker 2017 and 2018 seasons (thanks to fluke injury troubles: a dirt bike accident and a line drive off his pitching hand) mean he should be more in the 4-5 year, 70-90mm range (which may even be optimistic for him) that will be neither back-breakingly expensive nor excessively long, while still aligning reasonably well with the Mariners’ window.

The “what’s two years and a few million dollars between friends” tier

Kyle Gibson, Michael Pineda, Cole Hamels, Rick Porcello, Gio Gonzalez

These fellas are all projected to secure contracts of at least two years and around $10M a year. That’s still potentially rich for the Mariners, who really like their young core, but if they feel strongly that one of these pitchers is a good match for the organization going forward, analytically-minded and disposed to leadership, they won’t have a problem opening the purse strings. That being said, none of these names particularly excite that kind of feeling.

The “what’s two years and a few less million dollars between friends” tier

Ivan Nova, Tanner Roark, Jordan Lyles, Julio Teheran, Josh Lindblom, Wade Miley nope not a friend

These pitchers are projected by FanGraphs’ Free Agent Tracker to earn less fWAR, and therefore less money, next season, although with all of them projected for two-year deals, that still could create a logjam in the rotation if all of the Mariners’ young arms work out [narrator: there is a very good chance not all of them will work out]. The most intriguing name on this list to us is Josh Lindblom, who was dominant in the KBO this past season. While in Korea, Lindblom developed his own study of analytics, acquiring a Rapsodo machine and upping the spin rate on his fastball, making him a good match for the analytically-minded Mariners, although the buzz around Lindblom, who won the KBO’s MVP award this year, might push his market past what Seattle is willing to commit. John, who loves a good pickoff move, has been yearning for Julio Teheran to be a Mariner for years, but he too will likely command more than the Mariners are willing to lay out at this stage.

The “commitment issues” tier

Homer Bailey, Jhoulys Chacin, Brett Anderson, Rich Hill, Danny Salazar, Tyson Ross, Matt Moore, Michael Wacha, Jerad Eickhoff, Clay Buccholz (Kyle Seager says no)

Now we’re getting into the level of players who really have a shot at being Mariners in 2020, lucky them. All of these pitchers have some significant warts, but for a one-year deal, all they need to do is gobble some innings and maybe prove to be a solid trade deadline piece. Hill, Salazar, Ross, and Eickhoff all dealt with injuries; Hill likely won’t be ready for the start of the 2020 season and wants to return to the Dodgers anyway. Eickhoff and Salazar are both tantalizing talents who have frustrated fans with an inability to be consistent; each has a transaction history page that reads like an episode of a medical drama. Freed from the Reds and GABP, Homer Bailey was the latest recipient of the A’s broke-down-pitcher devil magic, but it’s hard to see the 33-year-old repeating those exploits. [Tim: also his name is literally Homer, how much trouble do you want to ask for, Jerry] The most appealing name in this tier might be Michael Wacha, who has steadily been trending down over the past two seasons, but is only 28; maybe the Mariners have some small tweak they can give him to help him return to form. He’s reportedly a popular target for teams looking for cheap rotation help, though.

The “Please Spend Your Season in Tacoma” tier

Shelby Miller, Derek Holland, Matt Harvey, Edwin Jackson, Trevor Cahill

These are the guys who should really just get minor league deals with spring training invites. Their best case is 2019 Tommy Milone—who worked out great, relative to what the deal was, but still was not all that amazing in the big picture. Ideally, their services aren’t needed for more than maybe a single spot start, as young talent and established success theoretically can fill Seattle’s rotation all year. Shelby Miller has hardly pitched the last two years (60 IP total) and has continued his calamitous fall from top-prospect status to “guy whose biggest career achievement was being in one of the worst trades ever”, and walked nearly 6 batters per 9 IP last year with Texas. Matt Harvey’s 2019 was a big success for him in that he got paid 11 million dollars by the Angels, but was not in that he had a 7.09 ERA and ended the year in the Athletics’ minor league system. The main advantage of an Edwin Jackson signing is that he’s never played for the Mariners and could extend his major league record of clubs played for to 15. Trevor Cahill? Well, the Angels paid him and Matt Harvey $20,250,000 in 2019, and got a grand total of -1.1 fWAR for their trouble. You get the idea. Getting yourself excited about a signing in this category requires a lot of mental gymnastics, or a strong ability to smile and laugh at rival franchises wasting money.