Seattle’s Future for the Starting Rotation


The future of the starting rotation in Seattle looks pretty bright between the dominance of King Felix and the future of the big three, but there are still many conversations to be had on the subject.

First of all, Felix Hernandez should not be traded. The Mariners have a 26 year old Cy Young winner in their grasp, why would they trade him? With the possible exceptions of Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, and Giancarlo Stanton, there is not a better player to build a team around than King Felix, in my opinion. If Seattle is trying to build a winning team, there isn’t a better guy to start with than Hernandez.

Jason Vargas is an interesting case because he is a pitcher who has really benefited from playing in Safeco Field. Take a look at these splits from last year.

Vargas at Home

Vargas on the Road






















Vargas leaving the mound after a poor road start. Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

As you can see, Vargas is not a great pitcher when he isn’t in the friendly confines of Safeco Field. With the fences moving in this year, Vargas’ value has diminished even more than before. The deep dimensions of left field and left center have had a direct correlation to Vargas’ success.

Outside of Seattle, he is probably a decent bottom of the rotation starter, but he has become a number two starter with the Mariners because of the stadium. Once the fences are brought in, we may see an instantaneous dip in the lefty’s numbers in the upcoming year, and for this reason, I am hesitant to pencil in Vargas as a starter of the future. He certainly won’t be a top of the rotation guy like he is right now.

Hisashi Iwakuma is another interesting pitcher in Seattle right now. He was brought here last offseason on a one year contract. After spring training, he was put in the bullpen before being promoted to the rotation mid-season where he shined. However, he too had more success in Safeco Field than in other ballparks, although the correlation was not as dramatic as in Vargas’ case. Now that he has a more substantial two-year contract, it appears that the 31 year old will be here for a bit longer. He could be a good middle of the rotation man down the road if he continues to post solid numbers as long as he remains affordable.

Last season, we had two young arms at the bottom of the rotation who struggled in Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi. These two guys had an xFIP of 5.01 and 5.08 respectively. They also posted a .288 and .266 BABIP respectively, so essentially, these guys posted horrible stats even when luck was on their side. What is going to happen when they aren’t getting lucky? Unless extreme strides are made in the coming seasons, I don’t see either of these pitchers being anything more than place holders in the bottom of the rotation until guys from the farm system are developed.

One of the young arms that is commonly overlooked is Erasmo Ramirez. The 22 year old rookie got limited time last year, but he put up better numbers than anyone realizes. As a starter, his 7.85 K/9 was better than any Mariner starter besides Felix. His 1.53 BB/9 was better than any starter besides Beavan, and Ramirez’ FIP and xFIP were both second among Seattle starters behind just King Felix. Let me reiterate that these numbers excluded Ramirez’ relief appearances, so they were only his stats as a starter. I think that Ramirez has earned a spot in the starting rotation next season, and I would much rather see him as the fourth starter over Beavan or Noesi.

There may be a few other starting pitching options currently at the major league level as well. Charlie Furbush has started games during his minor and major league careers and is capable of switching back to the rotation after spending 2012 in the bullpen. Historically, he hasn’t had much success starting games, but don’t rule him out as a possibility in the starting rotation next year.

Although improbable, Tom Wilhelmsen is another name that you may see penciled into the rotation. Many people forget that he was a starter in the minor leagues before moving to the Seattle bullpen. His power style of pitching fits better in the bullpen, but thanks to the diabolical curveball that he developed and the changeup that he refined into a reliable pitch last year, his stuff is beginning to look quite suitable for the rotation. There are a lot of good young arms in the bullpen such as Pryor, Capps, and Luetge, so the organization may feel comfortable enough with the pen to try to reestablish Wilhelmsen as a starting pitcher. I wouldn’t bet on this move, but it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

The big 3, Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, and James Paxton, are all exciting prospects in the Mariner organization and are currently the number 4, 8, and 74 prospects in all of baseball respectively according to I won’t call Danny Hultzen a “sure thing,” but it seems that Hultzen has already been penciled into the starting rotation of the future. The question becomes just how good the second overall pick will be. He has a very high floor as a prospect, so he should be at least a four or five starter down the road. Hopefully, he will become a top of the rotation arm, and he appears to have the stuff to fit there.

Taijuan Walker is a very different prospect from Hultzen. He is a high risk high reward player. His potential is incredible, but he not nearly as certain to realize his potential as his counterpart. I might compare Walker to Blue Jay starter, Ricky Romero. Like Romero, there is no doubt that Walker has the raw stuff to be a dominant major league pitcher, but it becomes a matter of putting all the pieces together and being successful.

There is a pretty good chance that one of these three guys will be traded at some point for a good bat. If the Mariners are successful in trading for Billy Butler this offseason, it seems almost certainly that one of these prospects will be moved.

Apart from the big 3, there are a few other good pitching prospects in Seattle’s organization. Among these are Brandon Maurer, Jordan Shipers, Tyler Pike, Andrew Carraway, Mauricio Robles, and 17 year old Victor Sanchez.

Considering Seattle has one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball and one of the deepest minor league pitching staffs in baseball, it appears that the Mariners will have a very strong starting rotation in the future.