The Starting Rotation Problem


It’s funny, reading lookout landing yesterday morning Jeff Sullivan mentioned the following:

"I don’t know how well this rotation is going to hold up down the stretch. It’s one of those concerns that everyone knows about, but no one wants to talk about, in fear of coming off like a wet blanket. I wonder about Michael Pineda. I wonder about Erik Bedard. I wonder about Vargas, and I wonder about Doug Fister. But as concerned as I am about the rotation’s future, enough can’t be said about the rotation’s present."

It’s funny because I have thought a lot about this and even more so this weekend with the way things went down against the Phillies (us winning 2 out 3!). While we’ve talked a bit about trades vs. the wavier wire with hitters the truth is that bats are in short supply and in high demand. Anything that you want to acquire is going to cost you more than what you really want to give up. If I’m the Mariners I’m trying to do damage control while flipping prospects and I want the best bang for my buck.

If that’s the case the value lies in the pitching on this years trade market and with having Michael Pineda on an innings limit for his development and keeping Erik Bedard‘s arm from falling off the Mariners may need to make a move.

I say “may” simply because there are alternative and internal solutions. Such as David Pauley, Blake Beavan and even Chris Seddon (yes, I went there). While none of them are overwhelming it stands to reason that the Mariners having two young hot shot right handers that are nearly ready to be in the big league bullpen and should be available in the second half of the season making someone like Pauley expendable for a move to the rotation.

I’ve said it a few times I think that Pauley would be a pretty solid 5th starter. He gets enough swings and misses on his curve that it’s so-so out pitch and he gets so many ground balls that he isn’t going to give up a lot of home runs. His style isn’t going to make him a top-of-the-rotation arm but it limits damage and keeps him in the game. That’s fine for a 5th arm but in this situation he may have to move to the 4th spot so the problem becomes what do you do with the other pitching slot?

Beavan and Seddon have both pitch been enigmas this year. Starting the year off pretty slow but coming on strong of late. Neither have tools that are going to set the world on fire, but could be average major league pitchers that eat innings.

****SIDE NOTE: I hate the term “innings eater” it just means you can throw a lot of innings and not get hurt. It has nothing to do with your level of production and I would take a guy that could pitch 6 great innings over a guy that pitch 8 okay innings EVER SINGLE TIME. End of rant****

While someone that’s just “okay” isn’t exactly what you need to take a shot at the playoffs. Breaking it down however, you can see that it’s only going to be about 18-24 total starts in terms of replacement for Pineda and Bedard with Pauley getting about 12 starts and who ever is the 5th starter getting somewhere between 7 – 12 starts depending on if they decided to skip any of those starts.

If the Mariners weren’t really sure if they were going to compete it’d be a relatively easy decision to give that 5th starter to either Beavan or Seddon and just see if they surprised and if they sucked give it to the other one. If neither of them couldn’t pull their weight then you could give it to Fabio Castro or one of the other numerous arms down on the Tacoma scrap heap.

The problem is that the Mariners are competing … at least for now.They need an arm that is some what reliable and has a proven background. So if the Mariners want to continue to give themselves a shot at this race they may need to go get themselves a durable back of the rotation arm. Here are a few suggestions that in my opinion fit the bill.

Kevin Slowey has been injured but he’s also under appreciated. He’s a worse version of Doug Fister but one that won’t hurt you. The Twins have been shopping him off and on all season (and I think a little bit longer than that). I don’t think he has a huge price tag and I think he works out well for his intended usage.

Paul Maholm the downside of Maholm is that he has a nice looking ERA right now and that is going to drive his cost up. But the Pirates are money conscious and if they don’t find a suitor (and I don’t suspect they will) they’re libel to take anything for him rather than letting him walk at the end of the year being that he’s in the last year of his contract. This could be a solid pick-up come August if the Mariners are still in the race. He’s not anything beyond a back of the rotation arm.

Jeff Francis is a guy that was thrown out into the discussion this past off-season and while he hasn’t been great he hasn’t been bad either. It helps that he isn’t giving up so many home runs and he is on pace to be worth 2.5+ WAR. His FIP is just a smidgen over 4 and he could see great returns in a park like Safeco.

This is an expensive yet viable option. Hiroki Kuroda is a decent pitcher if not an above average one. He even has a sparkly 3.06 ERA going for him. But being that the Dodgers franchise is falling apart I have to think they are going to be willing to sell on a few players (Matt Kemp … anyone …. bueller?) and with Kuroda being a free-agent at the end of the year this just makes sense to me. It may take a bit to acquire him but being that he is owed a bit of money and has pending free-agency it could all work out in the Mariners favor. The downside that I see is that he could be a type B free agent and the Dodgers would want compensation for that.

However, if the Dodgers are just ready sell him you could get a pitc her that not only can keep you in the playoff mix but also bring you an additional draft pick next year. Win-Win.

There are other options out there but, these are the guys that I keep coming back to. They are low risk guys that you know what you’re going to get out of them. They can give you consistent outings and limit the amount of damage over the course of a ball game.

At this point you can go ahead and try to upgrade the line-up but there are so many teams trying to do that. Unless you’re wanting to go out and get that “big name” lights out guy and give up a Nick Franklin then. But I’m talking Colby Rasmus or Matt Kemp maybe even Billy Butler type guys here…

There aren’t a lot of “big” impact bats available on the trade market. That’s partially because they’ve all been locked up in long term contracts or are still a bit away from free-agency (meaning that it’s unlikely they’ll be traded as they still present value to their club.)

I’m alright with all the names that Dave Cameron threw out (with the exception of Ryan Ludwick… just not a huge fan of his but I wouldn’t argue that i). There are also guys like Jon Jay, Kosuke Fukudome, Cody Ross, Will Venable (in my opinion a GREAT bounce back candidate) , Garrett Jones, Chris Heisey and Jason Kubel (strictly in a DH capacity) that could be available in some capacity.

I’m not against trading for a bat. But most of these guys are either gambles or marginal upgrades over young players still making adjustments. Do I think that Carlos Peguero is really the answer out at left or as the DH? No. But, I am really interested in seeing what Greg Halman can do and I’m not against giving Michael Saunders (.302/.431/.434 in 65 PA for Tacoma) more chances come August after he has had more time down in AAA to work on things.

My point here is while we don’t have great options in the field we do have options and despite the slim possibility that any of those guys work out they aren’t “terrible” . But when it comes to the starting rotation there are some question marks about the near future and while our offense is what has killed us the rotation is what has kept us in the hunt for the playoffs at this point.

If the Mariners want to continue to keep their dreams alive they may need to make a move end of July/early August time frame. Pushing Pineda or Bedard that far seems risky at best and the downside could not only harm our two pitchers it has the potential to cause irreparable problems for the future.