The Seattle Mariners head in to the All-Star break with more questions than answers.
To be fair, I don’t think the Mariner offense is the major issue with the current situation the Mariners find themselves in.
Seattle ranks 4th in the American League in batting average, hitting at a very respectable .264. They are 5th in runs scored with 427 which is just under 5 runs per game. Mariners are also 5th in RBI’s with 405 and have done a pretty good job with on base percentage coming in at number seven, with a .750 average.
I see pitching being the biggest issue. Yes, I know the Mariners staff has been devastated with injuries in the first half. James Paxton missed most of May, Felix Hernandez missed all of May and most of June, Hisashi Iwakuma has only pitched in six games this year and Drew Smyly, who the Mariners targeted in a trade with Tampa Bay, is pretty much gone for the season.
It’s time to blow up the starting rotation:
Felix Hernandez: Keep
Felix is no longer the pitcher that he once was. His current ERA of 5.04 is almost two runs higher than his career 3.19. He can still be a very effective pitcher but he is no longer the ace of the staff. At best, he is your #3 in the rotation.
At 31 years of age, The King still as a lot left in his tank but only if he can adjust to pitching to contact. I think the Mariner fans, in order to support him, should put all of those K cards in a scrap book and stop the chants of “K!, K!, K!, K!” every time he gets two strikes on a batter. He wants to give the fans what they want but realistically, I doubt we’re ever going to see Felix reach double digit strikeout figures in a game.
He’ll need to stop nibbling at the corners, hoping batters chase pitches because he no longer has that devastating fastball to blow by them. He needs to become a more efficient pitcher, getting batters to hit ground balls and let his defense get the outs. He doesn’t have to be “The Man” anymore.
James Paxton: Keep
The Big Maple is the Mariners ace of the future. And the future is now.
Paxton has all the makings to be the ace of this team: A four-seam fastball that comes in at 96 mph (he has occasionally hit 100 mph), he also relies on a curveball and cutter. He also has in his repertoire, a change-up and slider to use if he needs to.
When he is on his game, it doesn’t make a difference what type of hitter he is facing. With excellent control down in the strike-zone, batters either give up on the pitch or just helplessly flail at it.
At some point in his career, Paxton will have a no-hitter. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
Hisashi Iwakuma: Release
When the Mariners first got Iwakuma, it was a great move. He has given Seattle some great years. Never a strikeout pitcher, Iwakuma is a right-handed version of a “crafty left-hander.”
But Kuma is 36 years old and with nearly 2,500 innings under his belt (combined innings pitching in Japan and with the Mariners), he is out of gas.
Mariners need to give Kuma his outright release after the year is over. He isn’t going to be worth much on the trade market and I don’t think there will be many teams looking to take a chance on an oft-injured pitcher with the kind of mileage he has on his arm.
Andrew Moore: Keep
I like the way Moore handles himself on the mound. He is an efficient pitcher and eats up innings, rarely taxing himself. He isn’t going to overpower hitters, his fastball tops out at 92 mph.
But he has good control of the strike zone with all of his pitches which in addition to his fastball, are slider, curveball and change-up.
He is a fly-ball pitcher which in some ballparks, can get him into trouble. But with the stuff he has, he can be a good pitcher at the bottom of the rotation.
Ariel Miranda: Trade
I know that Miranda has been a pretty good pitcher for Seattle in 2017 and that he has shown flashes of brilliance at times. But the one thing that keeps him from earning a permanent spot is the fact that he will allow other teams to have a big inning.
I don’t think that’s going to change and Seattle would be wise to trade him after the 2017 season while he has some good value. He is 7-4 right now and has been a pleasant surprise and teams are always looking for left-handers.
However, if the Mariners decide to keep him, he can be a good # 5 starter. He isn’t a power pitcher (fastball comes in at 92) and doesn’t strike out a lot of hitters. Right now, the left-hander relies mainly on his fastball, cutter and change-up. If he wants to have more success, I think he needs to use his slider more as it is a very effective ground ball pitch for him. He doesn’t use it often enough.
If he can incorporate that slider, I think it will mitigate the big innings that bite him from time to time.
Drew Smyly: Jury is Out
Smyly underwent Tommy John surgery July 6, 2017 to repair his right elbow.
If the surgery is successful, the Mariners just may have a number 2 pitcher. Problem is, we may not know until 2019 since the recovery can take 12-15 months. Another unknown is that we don’t know what kind of pitcher Smyly will be.
Starting in 2018, the Mariners will have 3 starters: Paxton, Hernandez and Moore. They will need to get another top of the rotation pitcher to follow Paxton and # 5 starter to eat up innings.
Right now, the Mariners farm system doesn’t give them a lot of options despite the fact over the first half of the season, we’ve seen a lot of pitchers come in: Chase De Jong, Christian Bergman, Dillon Overton, Rob Whalen, Chris Heston and Ryan Weber to name a few. And while these pitchers have gained valuable major league experience, they aren’t ready yet. Most of them need at least another year in the minors before making the jump.
So that means looking to free agency. And the Mariners have not had the best of luck in that area but the situation leaves little choice.
Best Free Agent Options:
Yu Darvish, Texas
Darvish has had some good success in while playing in Texas. He is 30 years old and still can be a very effective pitcher. He has a good four-seam fastball that comes in at 95mph with good movement. Add to that his slider and cutter and Darvish can be a dominating pitcher at times and when he uses his change-up, hitters swing and miss more often than not.
Darvish would be a very good fit as the number 2 starter behind Paxton.
Brett Anderson, Chicago Cubs
Anderson has spent most of career with the Oakland A’s and since 2014, he has pitched for 3 teams over the past 4 seasons.
Anderson is a groundball pitcher. His fastball and slider generates an above average number of ground balls and with the Mariner defense, it will keep him and the team in a lot of games.
He can eat a lot of innings and would be a good bottom of the rotation pitcher.
I doubt the Mariners will go thru the slew of injuries they did in 2017. But changes need to be made and the most important is to accept the fact that Hernandez isn’t the ace of the team anymore.
The offense will under go some changes but for the most part, it has been pretty good. Of course they have shown to go into funks but that is expected over the course of the season.
But of the starting rotation can stay healthy, then the bullpen can be used as it needs to be. Edwin Diaz will come out of 2017 learning a lot about himself and it will only make him a better closer in 2018 and beyond.
Seattle Mariners may not make it this year but if they can shore up the starting pitching for the next couple of years, they will contend and end the playoff draught that has been plaguing them since 2001.